Throughout its short run, Robin & Batman has told a gripping story of fathers and sons, exploring the early days of the Dynamic Duo’s partnership through Dick Grayson’s eyes. While there’s a great deal of excitement to be found in Dick Grayson’s first adventures, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen have not shied away from the ugliness that would certainly come along with such a tale. After all, this is the story of a young boy who has had everything taken away from him, the angry outlaw who tried to give him a second chance, and an old man who is trying like mad to ensure that he doesn’t lose his surrogate son.
This final issue, which sees Killer Croc finally confronting the young vigilante after recognizing Dick from his circus days, fully embraces the darkness. In doing so, it reveals some important truths about why Robin and Batman need one another.
Once again, Nguyen’s visuals are absolutely stunning. He creates a Croc that is all at once monstrous and pitiable. The brief glimpses of his early years go a long way towards selling his bitterness towards the world. In this miniseries, everyone is sad and isolated in their own way; the biggest difference between them is how they choose to harness those dark feelings.
In the early goings, Robin finds comfort in his vengeance; he’s able to slip away and lose himself in the fight. What he doesn’t realize — and what Nguyen brilliantly communicates by showing us a blank-faced Grayson who stands in stark contrast to his smiling and exuberant classmates — is that he’s losing more than his pain. He’s letting his innocence slip away, no longer taking any joy in anything. He’s so close to becoming stunted like Bruce or hateful like Croc. With this finale, Lemire and Nguyen show us a Dick Grayson who makes a strong case for becoming the Dark Knight — but finds reasons to become something better.
Before then, though, Dick is in for the fight of his life. Nguyen pulls out all the stops for the big showdown. The circus grounds look appropriately like a graveyard, with only a few brightly-colored segments standing as ominous monuments to the life Dick had taken away from him. A harrowing sequence underwater sees the young hero’s color drained away from him as he comes perilously close to giving up. And the last moments of his confrontation with his reptilian stalker are an exhilarating release of all of his anger, focused into a single triumphant point.
A few characters and plot threads feel slightly shortchanged here at the end. It would be nice to see a bit more of the resolution to Alfred’s resentment towards Bruce and the path upon which he’s set the young Grayson, but this is ultimately Dick Grayson’s story. At the end of the day, Robin & Batman is one of the finest takes on Robin’s origin story in any medium.
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