The second issue of Dustin Nguyen and Jeff Lemire’s Robin & Batman puts the Dark Knight even further in the background than the debut, allowing for a closer look at Dick Grayson’s introduction to the superhero community — and perhaps even a better idea of who actually raised him to be the man he’d become. Picking up from his falling out with Bruce, Dick spends his birthday getting into fights at school. When he naturally wins, this leads to an awkward conversation between Alfred and the headmaster of Gotham Academy.
This scene is tense and heartbreaking, showing not only the concern that the faculty has for Dick, but also Alfred’s conflicted feelings toward Bruce. He knows that Bruce is a good man in his heart, but he is still allowing this kid to be put in danger every night. You get the sense that it’s one thing for Alfred to lie and cover up Bruce’s secret identity, but it’s another thing entirely for him to be party to the creation of Robin.
Duality is a concept that carries through the rest of the issue, which sees Robin meeting the other sidekicks on the JLA Watchtower. These sequences are a lot of fun, showing in a brief amount of time just how different these kids are from one another. They all seem to feel like they have something to prove, which manifests in different ways. Nguyen also gives all of them slightly updated designs that still feel instantly familiar and recognizable.
In fact, the design elements of this issue are fascinating in how they combine modern day tech with classic character designs. For instance, Hawkman is seen using a smartphone while Zatanna is rocking her ’80s costume. These little touches allow the story to feel updated and current while also setting it firmly in the past; it’s a perfect synthesis of nostalgia and innovation.
While the first big battle of the issue feels a teensy bit rushed, the first missions of the future Teen Titans play out overall like a series of perfect little short stories. Each of these one-page vignettes are action-packed, allowing Lemire and Nguyen to throw in a ton of fun cameos and spotlight the fact that Dick Grayson is a natural born leader. There’s a joy of discovery in these pages, and I was smiling ear to ear throughout.
Of course, it all comes crashing down with a reveal towards the end of the issue, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say that the divide between Bruce and Alfred seems to grow by the day, and the early years of Robin’s career feel well and truly reframed by the closing moments of this issue.
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