Tuesday, June 8, 2010

VINTAGE - Robin Year One

Batman Schmatman. If it came down to which character I really love in the dynamic duo, it hands down has to be Robin. Let's face it, the Boy Wonder rocks. He's a pre-teen, butt-kicking superhero in his own right.

Robin Year One by Chuck Dixon deals with the early days of Dick Grayson donning his mask and tights. Narrated by Bat-butler Alfred Pennyworth, this trade paperback deals with some of the early reactions to Batman suddenly having a little kid he introduces around as his "partner." Jim Gordon, still a Police Captain and not yet a Commissioner, seriously has a problem with it. Gordon and Batman are barely on speaking terms over the whole thing. Meanwhile, the recently escaped Two-Face sees Robin as an easy target, ultimate proof that the Batman "has a heart." As the Joker rises as Batman's ultimate villain in most of the great stories, it's really Two-Face here who is this Robin's primary antagonist. In this tale he is one scary dude. Or is it two dudes? I always get confused when it comes to good ol' Harvey Dent.

Besides the looming threat threat of Two-Face, Robin also faces off solo against the mind-controlling Mad Hatter and the chilling Mr. Freeze. New villain Shrike, a child stealing killer from the League of Assassins, also lends an element of danger towards the tale's climax. There's also fun cameos from villains like Killer Moth, the original Blockbuster, and The Joker. The graphic novel includes a lot of foreshadowing moments which, if you read a lot of Chuck Dixon's contemporary work on the Batman titles, make you smile with childlike glee. Also when the Joker says he called "dibs" on Robin, it's slightly disturbing; it is the smiling clown who is the villain that ultimately kills Grayson's replacement, Jason Todd, after the latter assumes the Robin role. It's interesting that Batman is relegated more to a supporting role, with Alfred featured more as the person taking care of Dick and forming an interpersonal "fatherly" relationship with him. It's obvious that Dick being in Wayne Manor makes both Bruce and Alfred happier, and "lightens the mood" - which was the whole point of Robin's creation in the first place.

I don't usually gush about the art, but here? It's good. Beatty's style initially looks simplistic, but once the action starts happening, your mind fills in all the blanks between his pointed panels of intense physicality. When Robin is taking down Shrike's kiddie ninjas, or leaping out of the way of Mr. Freeze's ice gun, you are right there with him every step of the way. Some scenes, especially as Robin sneaking up on people, don't even have words on them; you really don't need any further explanation. He constantly has characters drawn partially obscured; when Robin is "fired" for instance, you see the tears streaming down his face but not his actual eyes. Two-Face is often shown part-in focus, depending on how monstrous Dixon is writing him in the particular part of the story. It really sets the scene for Dick one day becoming Batman, which if you read current issues of "Batman" out by DC Comics, you know is the current Bat-plan. It's worth trying to track this one down, buying it, and then loving it for all time.

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