13 November 2011

One Robin will not be enough.”

Batman: The Brave and the Bold, #13, issued this week, features six former and future Robins brought together by the convenient mystical powers of the Phantom Stranger. As with most of DC’s other semi-parodic superhero comics for young readers, it’s a simple, self-contained story that rests on and reinforces the archetypal characters.

In fact, the adventure stays simple to expand the space for interaction among the different Robins, their characters neatly summarized for us later in narrative captions. Batman is so archetypal that he’s actually back in Crime Alley witnessing a mugging (as in “To Kill a Legend,” Detective Comics, #500). And precisely because he’s Batman, he can breathe in space keep his sanity in a Lazarus Pit. Nightwing, ever optimistic, figures as much.

Scripter Sholly Fisch chooses to show Dick Grayson early in his Nightwing career, which makes him the obvious leader of the Robins and visually distinct from the rest. Penciler Rick Burchett differentiates the teens in red and green by picking up the important details of their canonical costumes. (In three panels, though, the colorist has mixed up the second Jason and Tim.)

Reading this magazine led me to two observations. First, regardless of DC co-publisher Dan DiDio’s public statements, the company’s creative people understand that Stephanie Brown was a Robin. Fisch’s script puts the denial of that obvious fact into the mouth of a ten-year-old boy, where it belongs.

Second, as I said about Tiny Titans, I’m puzzled by how young readers are supposed to respond to most of this comic’s references to the DC canon. I’m not talking about, say, the title spread’s homage to “Robin Dies at Dawn!”—that slips perfectly into this story without any rough edges sticking out.

But twice gags depend on knowing that Damian was once heir apparent to the head of the League of Assassins, a fact available in the regular Batman comics (the ones with people’s heads and faces getting chopped off) but not in this issue. At another point Carrie reels off some baffling slang, but the story never explains that she’s the Robin from furthest into the future(s).

As with Tiny Titans, such allusions left me feeling this comic isn’t really for kids. Its age label is just a screen that lets us older fans enjoy simple, archetypal stories.

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