As soon as Robin & Batman was announced it shot right up to the top of my most anticipated comic books of the year. One reason is that we’ve not gotten a modern retelling of the origins for the original Dynamic Duo. Anytime this era of the DC Universe is visited it is in flashback form or to make jokes of Robin’s costume. Getting a full mini-series that modernizes the beginning of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as the Dynamic Duo has been a long time coming. But the real reason Robin & Batman was so anticipated for me for the creative team of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. Lemire and Nguyen showed that they are a dream team with their work on the Descender comic books. Let’s see how they start this new series together by checking out Robin & Batman #1.
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Taking Batman’s lead, Robin (Dick Grayson wearing a pure black costume and domino mask) takes on some robbers. When Robin gets overwhelmed by the three thugs Batman tells him to abort the mission. Robin goes against this order and is able to defeat the three thugs.
Batman arrives angry Robin didn’t listen and shows Robin didn’t control the situation as he stops one of the three thugs Robin didn’t defeat from attacking his young ward from behind. Batman then tells Robin to get in the Batmobile.
After a silent ride back to the Batcave, Batman tells Dick Grayson that because of how he almost got himself killed Dick will undergo more training before going out into the field again. Dick storms out of the Batcave pissed that he has to do more training as he thought he and Bruce were partners.
Bruce asks Alfred not to say “But he is a child, Master Bruce.” They then have a back and forth about what is best for raising the young Dick Grayson. Bruce eventually decides to shut himself off in the Batcave to do work, mentioning creating a better suit for Dick to use in the future.
The next day, while studying and attending classes at school, Dick thinks about his life with his parents and the training Bruce has put him through up until now. Dick then starts thinking of what he wants his superhero name is and starts designing a costume.
At the end of the day Alfred picks Dick up from school. On the way back to Wayne Manor Alfred reveals to Dick that Bruce destroyed his vigilante costume. This pisses Dick off even more. Alfred tries to calm him down by talking about training more but Dick says that wasn’t part of the deal.
Alone in his room, Dick uses all the designs he has done for his superhero costume and starts making his own, knowing it will piss Bruce off when he finds out.
Elsewhere in Gotham City, Bruce is mad that he let raising Dick Grayson blind him to what the true intention of the thugs from the night before were. Batman finds the same thugs and follows them as they go into Gotham City’s sewers. Batman follows the thugs but does not notice that Dick Grayson in his Robin suit was tailing him as well.
In the sewers Robin loses sight of Batman and decides to use his intuition to follow Batman. Robin ends up finding where the thugs from the night before are at.
Before he can follow them Robin is confronted by Killer Croc. Killer Croc easily overpowers Robin and demands to know why he is there.
Batman suddenly shows up and gets Killer Croc to turn his attention to him. Overpowered by the villain, Batman is able to blind Killer Croc to force him to retreat.
Robin apologizes and asks if they will be going after Killer Croc. Batman says he has two broken ribs so they will end their night now.
Back at the Batcave, Batman is pissed that Alfred let Dick Grayson go out wearing a costume.
Dick admits he thought Bruce was testing him to show the determination that’ll prove he is ready to be Batman’s partner. Bruce questions the costume Dick is wearing. Dick mentions it was inspired by his family. Bruce reveals he knows this and unveils the Robin costume that he has finished making for Dick. (Which has a design similar to the Robin costume Dick Grayson wore in the first season of the Young Justice cartoon.)
After the initial surprise is gone Dick realizes that Bruce read all of his secret journals to create the Robin costume. Bruce says that can’t have secrets between them. Dick is pissed because those journals were just his to read.
As Dick storms out of the Batcave Bruce says the Robin costume was supposed to be a gift.
In his room, Dick rips up his journals with his superhero ideas.
Elsewhere, Killer Croc makes his way to the abandoned Haly’s Circus area in Gotham City. Killer Croc goes into the tent were the Flying Graysons performed and finds a torn poster with a kid wearing a similar costume to what Robin was wearing. End of issue.
The Good: With Robin & Batman being a three issue mini-series giving each issue the oversized page count treatment was the best thing for it. Because as Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen showed, the extra page count allowed Robin & Batman #1 to come across as reading a first chapter of a short novel. There was room for every scene in this issue to breathe so even with Dick Grayson as the main narrator each character in this issue was given time to develop.
Starting Robin & Batman #1 off at a point after Dick Grayson’s parents died and has already received training from Bruce Wayne was a smart call. Dick Grayson’s origin when it comes to the death of his parents is as well revisited as Bruce Wayne’s parents murder. That is all context even casual readers picking up this series will know. Fast forwarding right away to Dick’s first field operation as a vigilante is also close enough to this time period that allows Lemire and Nguyen the opportunity to explore the very beginning of the Dynamic Duo.
Choosing this time period also opened the opportunity for enough time to pass so Dick’s arc isn’t just about how he is dealing with his parents death and who murdered them. That is definitely still an important part of his narrative but it isn’t what defines him. With getting the opportunity to enter the superhero world at an early age the excitement of this possibility highlighted how truly young Dick was when he first became Robin.
The youthful exuberance that Dick Grayson showed gave greater weight to why he would lash out every time he felt Bruce Wayne or Alfred Pennyworth were holding him back. As with any kid presented a new toy the worst thing that can be done to Dick is getting things taken away. It all feels like the end of the world to someone his age. That is where Nguyen’s artwork in particular shines. There is so much anger in the way Dick is acting during his outbursts that make the words he yells at both Bruce and Alfred at different points in Robin & Batman #1 be even more powerful.
Showing that the start of the original Dynamic Duo wasn’t at all smooth is also a good reality check for fans that may look back at this era with rose tinted glasses. As with any partnership, it will take time for Bruce and Dick to build the chemistry that has become so legendary when most people think of the original Batman and Robin as the Dynamic Duo. Lemire and Nguyen do a great job at emphasizing this through both the writing and artwork for both characters.
Robin & Batman #1 was also a reminder that when Bruce took on Dick as his ward/adoptive son he was still early on in his career as the Dark Knight. He has only been in the game for no more than three years when he made this decision. That means he was still learning to be the ultimate Batman as he wasn’t carrying all the experience we associate with him.
How that inexperience on Bruce’s side of the narrative was handled very well. Because outside of Alfred he hasn’t interacted with anyone in a meaningful way since his parents died. So taking on a parental and mentor role is a whole new world for him. Even if he has Dick Grayson’s best interest in mind his cold approach is not as welcoming as he believes it is.
And while he may not view what he is doing is training a child soldier there is a lot of truth to Alfred telling Bruce this. Which all gets into how until Bruce is able to relate to Dick not as Batman but as Bruce Wayne his methods won’t work. If he does want to give Dick the opportunity to become a superhero rather than a child soldier he has to take more of Alfred’s advice to heart.
Lemire also does a good job at positioning Alfred as the middle-man between Bruce and Dick. The way Alfred acts shows that he wants Bruce to be the one to take on the parental role more. Which is why even he is a bit more distant with Dick in these early days as he knows how important it is for Bruce and Dick to create a bond first. Setting up Alfred in this way will make how he continues his middle man approach an interesting sub-plot to the story.
Killer Croc being positioned as the main villain for this story was both unexpected and very much welcomed. Being one the most physically powerful villains in Batman’s rogues gallery presents him as a unique challenge for the Dynamic Duo. For one he towers over the young Robin to the point he could crush Batman’s sidekick with just one stomp. The other reason is that, as he showed in his quick fight with Batman, he won’t go down easy, especially with Batman not having yet developed his advance technology to deal with every villain. It will take both Batman and Robin working together to defeat him.
Also making Killer Croc to have an even greater gangster vibe with how he dresses was a great change that makes him an even better fit within Gotham City. Nguyen did a very good job at making sure it made him appear even more dangerous rather than silly, which would’ve been easy to do if he wasn’t careful with his artwork. This design for Killer Croc added even more interest into why he would immediately go to Haly’s Circus after fighting Batman and Robin.
The Bad: With the $5.99 cover price of this comic book it is tough to say this in single issue format is for more than just the hardcore Batman fan. It is very high cover price to charge, especially for a story that most fans are well aware of. Even some of the new content isn’t enough to fully recommend this comic book for to the non-hardcore Batman fan with such a premium cover price.
As much as I enjoyed Nguyen’s artwork there were a few pages in this issue that did not look as sharp as the rest of the issue. There were various like with some rough inking during the Killer Croc vs Batman and Robin or Batman swinging that appeared that the art was being rushed. It did not get in the way of the enjoyment of this comic book but is noticeable because of how polished the majority of Nguyen’s artwork is.
Overall: Robin & Batman #1 is a very good start to the modern take Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen are going for with the early days of the original Dynamic Duo. Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred Pennyworth are all well developed to give the reader good insight into the characters mentality at this point in the DCU’s history. The cover price will certainly make this a comic book for hardcore fans. But if you are a big Batman fan or a fan of Lemire and Nguyen’s past work as a creative team I recommend checking out Robin & Batman #1.
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