In Robin & Batman, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen spin a tale of the early days of the Dynamic Duo, showing Dick Grayson’s first outings as Robin the Boy Wonder!
Right away, Dustin Nguyen’s artwork grabs the reader and pulls them into the story. His watercolors always manage to somehow capture both the dreariness of Gotham and the wild colorful nature of its inhabitants in one swoop, and this is perfect for a story in which Robin is trying to find his own inner light. In the opening fight scene, we are introduced to Dick Grayson in a gray training suit, looking exactly like the kind of dutiful soldier Batman would hope to train. While Dick fights efficiently (in a beautifully choreographed street brawl in which he uses the size of his opponents against them), it’s clear that he doesn’t quite feel like himself yet. There’s something missing, some way of reminding himself who he is as he wages war against the criminals of Gotham.
He’s not at all like Batman — who finally appears in a terrifying silhouette that just screams “weird figure of the night” — nor should he be. The fundamental differences between Bruce and Dick loom large in Lemire and Nguyen’s first chapter, which shows just how rocky things were in the early days of their partnership.
These differences are further highlighted by Steve Wands’ excellent narration boxes, which cast the Batman’s very thoughts in shadow and Dick’s in bright circus tent red. Wands also gives a certain supervillain’s speech a distinct look and feel, one that hints that maybe there’s some kindness underneath his growling and monstrous exterior.
What may surprise many readers is how the Dark Knight really lives up the first half of his nickname in this issue, at least for the first half of it. This is a Batman who is putting his first sidekick through the ringer in the name of making sure he’s prepared for the horrors of Gotham City nightlife. Because of that, he’s gruff with both Dick and Alfred, casually dismissing their attempts to appeal to his softer side. This may give some readers pause, but it also makes perfect sense. Batman is in completed uncharted waters here, and he doesn’t want to make the mistake of sending a young person into the field when they’re not ready. So while Bruce’s cold demeanor may be difficult to see here, it ultimately lines up with what he hopes to accomplish here. What is a bit more unclear is his sudden change of heart later in the story. Is Bruce being manipulative, or has Alfred gotten through to him in some way?
Speaking of which, the relationship between Alfred and Bruce is another of the book’s major high points. Of course Mr. Pennyworth wouldn’t be too thrilled by the idea of Bruce taking a kid into battle, and so he pushes back in some cutting ways. Alfred makes it clear at every turn that he feels this situation has gotten out of hand, but he does so in a way that still implies that he trusts Bruce implicitly. I’m excited to see this dynamic continue through the rest of the series.
Of course, the reason we’re all here is for the character above Batman in the title, and this creative team delivers everything that readers love about Dick Grayson as Robin. From the first moment he flashes his cocky grin at Bruce following the opening fight scene, it’s clear that this kid was always meant to be the hero he’d become. But even with that level of confidence, he is still a traumatized little boy, plagued with horrible memories of his parents’ deaths. He’s barely able to focus in school, instead spending his time thinking about the previous night’s fight and the future opportunities he’ll have to try to force the world to make sense. Whether it’s his relationship with his newfound family or his need to set things right, Dick Grayson is not going to give up without a fight.
It’s this honest look at loss and duty to oneself that makes this book worth seeking out. Robin & Batman manages to add more depth and emotionality to a story we thought we already knew.
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