07 November 2010

Red Robin Reviewed

Back when DC Comics was launching its Red Robin magazine, the company arranged for scripter Christopher Yost to speak to Comic Book Resources.

The result was a curious interview since Yost not only couldn’t talk about his own storytelling surprises, but he also couldn’t even confirm that he was writing about Tim Drake. The oversold Battle for the Cowl was still going on, and DC didn’t want to confirm that Dick Grayson would soon be Batman and Tim would be Red Robin—as if anyone had any doubt.

Yost did drop one name in that interview, however—the name of Jason Bourne. He compared his protagonist to that amnesiac former agent:

This character is a very motivated person. And they’re looking for something. And that quest is going to take them all over the world. I guess if we had a model, it would be the something like “The Bourne Identity.” It’s got that kind of action and that kind of international feel to it.
That allusion seems casual in a studied way, but it became clear that the Bourne movies were the model for these Red Robin issues when the first series penciler, Ramon Bachs, also spoke to CBR after the first issues had come out:
“Everything in this book reminds me (and I hope the reader) of spy movies. As Chris said, everything is going to have a similar flavor to the one of the ‘Bourne’ movies.”
And why shouldn’t DC try to create its own Jason Bourne? Those movies are a successful thinking-man’s action franchise, managing to provide traditional espionage thrills in an ultra-connected age.

Yost’s Red Robin adventures, now collected in volumes subtitled The Grail and Collision, offer several variations on the Bourne movies formula. Young man alone on a quest across Eurasia? Check. Furious hand-to-hand battles on exotic rooftops? Check. Young woman caught up in this mess and in need of rescuing? Check. Seemingly infinite supply of killers for hire? Check. Character on cell phone revealed to be speaking from a nearby building instead of far away? Check. Mystery that the hero solves by returning the home he fled? Well, more about that next week.

To make Tim a loner, Yost had to show him breaking ties with all the people he loves in Gotham and the Titans. Of course, Yost also needed to get the story rolling with lots of action and mystery. He therefore broke up those interpersonal confrontations and goodbyes over several issues, which all jump back and forth in time from “Before” to “Now.”

The second volume continues in the same manner for a while, except that most of its “Before” bits show the creation of the Council of Spiders, a group of murderers intent on taking down the League of Assassins. (There are also the Seven Men of Death. As I said, seemingly infinite supply of killers.)

While that “Before/Now” structure provides some confusing moments, especially for readers also trying to fit these episodes with the concurrent Batman happenings, I think it ends up being part of the books’ appeal. The structure becomes a puzzle for us to piece together, like the overall arc. Tim Drake is a cerebral character, and Yost shows us his immediate tactical thoughts but not his long-term strategic thinking. Is he really working with the villainous Ra’s al Ghul? Will he find Bruce Wayne? (More about that next week.)

By the end of the book, Tim has executed the all-important Turn Toward Home (an idea I plan to develop in my workshop on plotting for next spring’s SCBWI New England conference). He’s back in Gotham. He’s started to mend relationships, especially with Stephanie Brown (ex-Spoiler, ex-Robin, now Batgirl) and Dick Grayson (ex-Robin, ex-Nightwing, now Batman). He’s out of the “bad place” where DC’s editorial plans left him in 2004. There are some fine moments in Yost’s final issues, satisfying both within this adventure and within Tim Drake’s overall history.

NEXT WEEK: But there’s also a big hole in this story arc.

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