10th Nov2021

‘Robin & Batman #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Jeff Lemire | Art by Dustin Nguyen | Published by DC Comics

This book was such a natural idea, it’s a wonder it has never been pitched before. Or maybe it has, and the time wasn’t right. Former DC boss Dan Didio certainly wouldn’t have green lit this book, he hated Dick Grayson. We’ve endlessly looked at Batman and his early years, and at Bruce and his often dysfunctional relationship with the various Robin’s he has taken under his Batwing. Not so much at the very early years of Dick Grayson, that is entirely told with him as the central character, rather as the side story to Bruce’s. We know about the death of Dick’s parents, and how he came to be made Bruce’s ward and Robin, but only in a broad general sense. We haven’t really seen how Dick Grayson the ward evolved into Dick Grayson, Robin. Now we can, as Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen are going to show us.

We open with some fantastic art from Nguyen, especially the two page spread as young Dick Grayson swings into action. REALLY young Dick Grayson, swinging into action against some low level thugs, with just Batman’s voice in an earpiece to keep him company. We see straight away the things that are going to haunt this relationship through to the modern day. Robin is good, but never as good as he thinks, certainly not yet. Yet he is better than Bruce gives him credit for, and credit is in short supply when it comes to Bruce. Robin looks up to Bruce as his father, but Bruce looks at Robin almost as a job. The silent drive home in the Batmobile made me smile, as it probably did every parent with children that age.

Back to the familiarity of the Batcave, and emotions get the better. Bruce decides Dick is not good enough, so suspends live operations for a while. Dick disagrees, feeling that Bruce is deliberately holding him back. Alfred, ever the diplomat, can see it from both sides, and Jeff Lemire has fun with that. Alfred understands Bruce ‘s need to both train and protect Dick, but tries to show him that he is also supposed to be an emotional support, helping a young boy get over the death of his family. He gets in a good zinger too, by reminding Bruce that Dick isn’t him, and doesn’t need to be. You can guess the frosty response.

Dick Grayson, of course, does have some benefits. He now goes to a top school, and has to be a regular boy most of the time. It seems he spends most of that time reliving in his mind his days with his family, which he recognises as being a tad unhealthy. So, what’s a boy to do? Think up a superhero name. Has to be Batboy, right? Nah. Dick decides it has to be a name he won’t grow out of. Nighthawk? Nightwing? (very good, Lemire). He has a name in mind though….The drive back from school with Alfred is fun, with Lemire and Nguyen mirroring the ride back earlier with Bruce. That was silence, this was Alfred being the real father figure. He, does, though bring bad news. Batman has destroyed Dick’s costume.

That’s the final straw for Dick. In his mind, he came to live with Bruce for a reason, so he could be trained and fight crime alongside him. Bruce is breaking that promise. So, his costume will be the ultimate act of rebellion. He will make his own. Rather than being like Bruce’s, which is probably what he would want, it will be the exact opposite. Bright. Obvious. A reminder of his family. So, dressed up in his red, green, and yellow costume he tails Batman on his patrol, ending up in the sewers. This is easy, right? Until Killer Croc throws him into a wall of course. Bruce rescues him, but at the cost of two ribs. This has all gone exactly as Bruce said.

This was such good writing from Lemire, as up to now you were fully on the side of Dick and Alfred. Bruce was clearly in the wrong. But with how badly this went, added to the fact that Bruce had, quietly, had his own costume created for Dick, using the Robin name and colours, makes you reassess your judgement. For one second. It turns out Bruce did this because he read Dick’s secret diary. He did the right thing, but for the wrong reason. Sigh. An interesting epilogue with Killer Croc elevates this to top tier level. Killer Croc seemed startled by Dick’s costume, and we find out why. He was a sideshow attraction in the same circus that the Flying Grayson’s performed in. It’s a small world after all.

This was superb. Interesting, thought provoking writing that didn’t just rehash old stuff yet again, but added to it, gave us fresh insights. Bruce, Alfred and Dick Grayson were perfectly written. The art and colours by Nguyen were stunning, an absolute visual treat. No two pages had the same layouts in terms of panels or pacing, apart from the intentional car journey pages, keeping every page fresh and exciting, and always attention getting.

Without doubt, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

***** 5/5

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