I have been unreasonably excited for Robin since its announcement. Part of me wanted to curb that enthusiasm so I wouldn’t be disappointed, but come on. Damian? In a fighting tournament? Just take me back to my teenage years where I was glued to the TV watching the likes of Yu Yu Hakusho and Saint Seiya why don’t you? The premise is nothing but fun, and with every new interview or hint of artwork I saw I grew more excited to get my hands on this title.
My excitement was dampened a little by the Robin backups since they told us very little that we didn’t already know. And while they worked to help set up the story a little bit, they didn’t excite me nearly as much as I’d hoped they would. Still, I wasted no time digging into this comic and, it is so much fun. Not only that, but it’s got a lot of heart.
So, where do we start? In the thick of battle on Lazarus Island? With Damian reveling in a first victory? With any kind of fight at all? No, no, and no. In fact, the story opens with Batman search for Damian and reflecting on their relationship. This whole opening scene does a great job catching up new and old readers on everything we need to know. From Damian’s reasons for leaving, to where the people he’s left behind stand, and just what they plan to do about all this. If you were going into this book thinking it was just going to be Damian on a solo mission then this introduction shatters that misconception. While yes this is a book about Damian, it’s not a book designed to strip him of everything he is or was. In fact, it feels very much like a next step for him.
The rest of the book is centered on Damian’s attempts to get entrance to the Lazarus Tournament, and the island’s brief introduction. Williamson doesn’t rush us into Lazarus Island, or in explaining any of the rules either. We are put in a position close to where Damian is on this, and learn things as he does, first as he fights to claim a spot in the tournament and then as he learns what’s waiting for him when he arrives, and the true stakes of what he’s gotten himself into. Now, some of it I think readers can guess before Damian does, but Williamson is taking his time pulling us into the story and I appreciate that. We’re getting foundations here, reasons for why characters are doing what they’re doing, told in chronological order instead of jumping around or through the use of frequent flashbacks. Which if you’ve followed me through some of my previous reviews you know is something I appreciate.
I love how Damian’s portrayed here. He’s cocky and a brat and everything a young teenage kid should be, which is fun and wonderful to read. But at the same time, we his softer side. Willamson includes a few different scenes showing this, from Damian reading manga to giving him a moment reflecting on how Alfred might feel about all of this. He feels like a balanced character here in personality. One who’s looking for himself, but who has more traits than simply being angry or dangerous.
He’s also competent, but not overly so. It’s very clear in this first issue that he’s a kid, a highly skilled and trained kid, but a kid nonetheless. His actions have consequences, which we see pretty fast. He’s jumped into this tournament without really knowing all the details when he really should have asked some questions. But, that only helps illustrate how young he is and where he needs to grow.
The one thing I really have to pick at about this issue is the fact that by the end we still don’t know much more about this tournament than we did going in. We do learn some information, but after two back ups and a whole issue I kind of want to know how it all works, what the rules are, and just what the competitors get out of this. So much of this issue is about getting to the island there’s not really time for us to learn to much about what Damian’s adventure is going to look like from here on. And in a book that works very hard to build a foundation for its narrative I find it a bit frustrating that the job isn’t completed. Even the stakes of all this, however drastic they are, aren’t counterbalanced by the ultimate goal. The prize at the end of this tournament cannot just be the title of the “Strongest fighter in the DC universe”, but without knowing what that is. Still, out of everything it’s a small thing to take issue with.
I also have to talk about Flatline. She’s been pretty hyped up so far, and it’d be silly of me not to mention her in this review since it’s her debut. And honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about her just yet. Her page count amounts to just long enough for her to introduce herself and swing some punches which really isn’t long enough for me to make a decision on if I like her or not. I have a feeling she’ll probably win me over in a few issues, but we will see. What I do like about her, is her design. It’s goth, and totally in theme with her name, and I love that it fits into this whole tournament based around Lazarus stuff.
Hopping off that, I’m a fan of all the designs presented in Robin so far. Gleb Melnikov did a good job coming up with new outfits and characters to show up here. I haven’t had a chance to really comment on Damian’s new outfit yet but I like it. I went back and forth on it for a while, but a friend pointed out that it has Robin Hood vibes and the color scheme is a lot like Damian’s back when he first showed up, and I like the idea in both of these. It’s a kind of going back to his roots symbolically as he finds himself–at least to me.
Also, I have to give huge props to Melnikov for not only drawing the whole book, but doing the colors and inking as well. The book looks stunning, and I am very quickly becoming a fan of his style. The more I flip through this issue the more I love the colors and shading. Each scene almost feels like it has its own pallet. The fight with King Snake is done in heavy greys, which turn to soft blues as Damian’s waiting, then green on his trip to the island and at the island proper everything is much brighter. It tracks night to day, and Damian’s journey in a clear way.
I have to wrap this review up with a discussion of the ending. Specifically that cliffhanger because boy is it a real heart-stopper.
I. Have. So. Many. Questions.
Death being the outcome of losses in the tournament was something I had a feeling would happen. But there is no way I was expecting it to be on Damian’s end so early. Because of that, it raises a hundred questions in my mind about how the rest of the narrative will work.
While this ending is shocking, do you see why I said earlier that not knowing the full scope of the rules and prizes kind of hinders the feeling of stakes in the story? Yes the stakes are high, but what are they exactly? The title of this book is Robin and despite my fellow reviewers joking that Flatline or Ravager will become the main character now, we all know that’s not going to happen. It’s Damian who’s the center of the narrative, and there will be some way for him to come back/stay alive. Which kind of removes the amazing tension built up here. If we had all the rules, those stakes might feel different.
That said it’s a fantastic cliffhanger because it does defy almost every expectation I had for the end of this issue. It promises that this isn’t going to be easy for Damian, and shows that he can lose. Plus, it just really makes you want to run out and get the next issue, which is the whole goal of an ending like this.
Suffice to say, the story wraps up in a cliffhanger that has had me yelling since I read it. It’s the kind of thing that makes me so eager to get my hands on the next book I’m actually a little angry at having to wait. And I love that. It’s the kind of excitement and confusion and eagerness I want to feel stepping off this first issue. I am legitimately excited for the rest of this series.
- Damian’s back!
- Issues that take time to really set things up are your thing
- You want a fun book that has good fights and amazing art
This first issue of Robin is a lot of fun. It does a great job getting all the pieces in place for the rest of the story it plans to tell. Williamson takes his time both showing us Damian’s journey to Lazarus Island, and where the other people in his life are right now. While I’d like to have learned a little more about the tournament itself, I do enjoy the fact that we’re learning alongside Damian as he too figures out the rules to all of this. This is a great way to start off the next phase of Damian’s journey, and I have high hopes that the rest of the series is just as enjoyable as this issue was.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
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