The most intriguing element (among many) in last month’s sensational Robin #1 was the deftness with which creators Joshua Williamson and Gleb Melnikov architected a premise that was at once thrilling and expertly poised to dig into the heart of Damian Wayne’s identity as a character.
This week’s second issue features some of that character work taking a backseat to establish more plot mechanics and the lay of the land — but with a setting as unique and full of interesting characters as Lazarus Island, this is hardly unwelcome.
Carrying on perhaps the most well-worn tradition in all of superhero comics, the issue begins with the revelation that Damian’s death at the end of the previous installment was not as permanent as it initially seemed. He wakes up to find Ravager, a foe now turned reluctant ally, explaining to him (and the audience) the rules of the road — chief among them is that no one dies on Lazarus Island. As Ravager shrewdly points out, we might have gathered this from the name alone.
But that’s not all. What initially seemed a very straightforward tournament fighting premise actually comes with lots of caveats: All fights will be to the death, but fighters can be resurrected back to life a total of three times. If you choose to continue fighting until your resurrections run out, the death will be permanent. The tournament proper begins only after each participant has died at least one time.
As expected, the unloading of all of this information takes up precious time and space, and therefore this issue doesn’t have quite the same scope as the last one. The balance between exposition, character moments and story progress is well proportioned, but each segment feels a little more truncated than it might otherwise be.
Regardless of their brisk pace, the beats being hit continue to intrigue in the way they build up the world. This issue features even more emphasis on introducing new characters who will be fighting in the tournament — the choice of my personal favorite goes to Black Swan, whose origin I need to see illustrated in its own book pronto. There’s also much made about the mysterious identity of Respawn — another Deathstroke look-alike — and the presence of Connor Hawke, whose similarities to Damian will surely be a thematic focal point.
This book is elevated greatly once again by the fantastic penciling of Melnikov and color choices from his collaborator, Luis Guerrero. The mixing of more naturalistic and stylized panels works to great effect and is on display from the first few pages. One standout example is Damian’s resurrection. The panel of him jolting to life fills half the page and is colored in all shades of red and black, with no background save for red motion streaks over blank white. It’s simple and understated while still remaining dynamic and highlighting Melknov’s wonderful facial expressions and physicality.
The aforementioned exposition is also lifted by a dazzling splash page that seamlessly blends a montage of several characters, as well as their vastly different color palettes. The blend of pigments is a bit jarring for the eye at first, but then again, Lazarus Island is a bewildering place.
The most significant progress to the main narrative comes from a few pages toward the end of this issue when Damina sneaks off at night to spy on the islandS’s higher-ups engaging in some predictably weird ritualistic business. The visuals are gripping, and the implications point toward unraveling some of the elements of mystery that have pervaded thus far. But it’s evident from the pivot at the end of this issue that it may be a while yet before we start to really dig into the truth of what’s happening. Luckily, the diversions look incredibly fun, and I’m keenly looking forward to seeing Damian completely out of his element in the next issue.
Robin is a bit of an unusual series in that the first issue seemed to move with effortless grace, while the second is burdened with the lion’s share of the setup work. Regardless, Williamson, Melnikov, and Guerrero are such a capable trio that issue #2 still reads like a brisk and fun adventure with the promise of much more on the horizon. The characters and setting are endlessly fun, and the story is brimming with potential both for excitement and satisfying exploration. I’m happy to take it in small doses if they’ll all manage to be this sweet.
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