Robin, as in “Batman and Robin”, is suddenly everywhere.
Two years back’s The Dark Knight Rises stirred speculation that the character might be featured in a sequel. The Batman television series from the mid-60’s is in the midst of a resurgence; all 120 episodes of the show will soon be released on DVD and Blue-ray; DC Comics is currently publishing stories featuring the Adam West/Burt Ward version of the Dynamic Duo. Casey Kasem’s recent passing brought back fond memories of his voice characterization of Scooby Doo’s friend Shaggy, but also of his work as Robin, the Boy Wonder. A bats-hit crazy version of the character currently leads a team of oddball heroes on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go!
The prevalence of the character should not be too surprising. After all, Batman’s acrobatic young sidekick is one of the most influential characters in comic book history. Without Robin there would have been no Bucky Barnes to fight alongside Captain America and, hence, no Winter Solider. Without Robin there would have been no Kid Flash, no Aqualad, no Speedy, no Wonder Girl. They are, after all, imitations of Dick Grayson, the original Robin.
And the influence doesn’t stop there. The mantle of Robin itself has been taken by a host of imitators over the years. There are, by my count, currently four versions of Robin in the mainstream DC Universe. There is Damian Wayne, son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul, sometimes-Robin, sometimes- Red Bird, currently dead. There is Tim Drake, formerly Robin, now Red Robin. There is Jason Todd, the Robin famously killed-off by readers in the late ‘80s, now reborn as the anti-hero Red Hood. And there is Dick Grayson, original Robin, former youthful sidekick to Batman, former leader of the Teen Titans, former Nightwing, now headlining a new book simply titled Grayson.
The obvious question is whether or not Dick Grayson can carry a book, minus his mask and superhero identity. The answer, at least in this first issue, is yes, yes he can. As a matter of fact, the absence of the cluttered “Robinverse” makes the inaugural installment of the new book refreshing. This is not a Nightwing, Robin or Batman Family story; it is a Dick Grayson story.
Grayson, now an agent of Spyral, comes off as a young James Bond or Jason Bourne; minus mask and cape, he looks a lot like Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He is, as would be expected considering his history, quite an accomplished agent. As a spy, Grayson’s years as a superhero clearly work to his advantage. Whether or not they will also bring challenges is yet to be seen.
This first adventure is a tight and exciting story. The reader, following a one-page introduction and retrospective of the character, is dropped immediately into the caper and aboard a speeding train. The action doesn’t let up until the final pages, where the scene-setting and character introductions that often clutter the beginning of a story are wisely placed.
I am especially impressed by Mikel Janin’s artwork. The opening sequence, first aboard a train and then in an abandoned nuclear power plant, is something of a tour de force. It moves along with cinematic speed. Whether illustrating the tight interactions between characters on the train or Grayson’s athleticism, Janin is a nearly perfect fit for the story being told. Page designs are interesting and logical; no panel is wasted. Like the story itself, the art is simultaneously thrilling and efficient.
This all means that I like this story a lot more than I thought I would when I first saw the cover, its horrible pink and yellow color scheme perhaps meant to draw attention away from the pistol pointed over my shoulder.
Grayson uses a gun once in the story in one of the best scenes; instead of firing it, he throws it like a batarang. I suppose that I have no problem with that. I assume that Spyral demands that its agents go into the field armed and I appreciate that the writers found a way to use the “spies carry guns” requirement without having the character do something out-of-character.
I do have a problem with the gratuitous use of the gun on the cover, however, even if I understand that it was probably intended to signal to the reader that this is a spy story rather than a superhero story. But, of course, this isn’t just any spy story. This isn’t James Bond; it isn’t Jason Bourne; it isn’t Ethan Hunt. It is Dick Grayson; and Dick Grayson, Nightwing, Robin the Boy Wonder has no business brandishing a gun and especially no business pointing it over the shoulder of the reader at the innocents I happen to know are back there.
Good story. Bad cover. ‘Nuff said.