05 April 2009

Wondering about The Teen Wonder

DC Comics has announced a paperback collection called Robin: The Teen Wonder, to be published this spring. It will contain seven stories in full color. It will have an Alex Ross cover, which is almost mandatory for DC's major anthology volumes.

So why isn't the Oz and Ends editorial staff more excited? Because this volume will include stories that I already own, or could easily obtain in in-print collections. Only one of the issues it collects will be reprinted for the first time:

Perhaps this paperback is meant to introduce new readers to all the teenagers who've been Robin as they maneuver over Bruce Wayne's legacy in the current Batman comics. Alas, most of the designated stories are only one part of a multi-chapter tale, and therefore likely to be more mystifying than satisfying for new fans. I think self-contained tales would work better.

Now it's easy to complain about a volume like this leaving out one's favorite stories. Anthology editors get the big bucks by making tough choices about what to include and what not to, and critics should acknowledge the limits that those editors work under. Otherwise, it's like naming nineteen favorites to a Top Ten list.

This volume is pegged at 160 pages long (the stories listed above total a little more than that, but sometimes anthologies skip some non-essential pages in the original magazines). So I'm going to confine my alternate choices to about 160 pages as well. It looks like all the stories have to come from the post-Crisis period, and they emphasize Robins' early adventures and encounters with each other, so I'll take those strictures as well.

I won't concern myself with other considerations that go into an anthology like this, such as including stories from big names in the field. (No Denny O'Neil? Too bad!) And of course I'm not privy to contract details that might make one reprint more profitable for the company than another.

One of my most important criteria is that, to the best of my knowledge, none of the stories I list already appears in an easily obtained anthology. As a result, my choices cluster in the 1990s since practically everything Batman-related in the last decade has been reprinted in one paperback or another.

I'll start with the re-telling of how Dick Grayson became Robin in Robin Annual, #4. In contrast to the version slated for DC's volume, this story comes from young Dick's point of view, and it shows him doing a lot more. It's also 55 pages long, which leaves space for only five regular stories. And they would be:
  • Batman, #416: This one tale from 1988 crams in how Dick stopped being Robin, a summary of how the second Jason Todd took up the role, and how those two met--plus Dick as Nightwing telling off Bruce in a soul-baring confrontation in the bat-cave. Amazing how much story they used to fit into the same number of pages!
  • Detective, #648-9: Tim Drake, early in his Robin career in 1992, figures out that the Spoiler is Stephanie Brown, estranged daughter of the villain he and Batman are tracking, and then all three take that man down. Unlike issue #648, my collection would print all the pages in the right order.
  • Robin, #10: From 1994, a temporal anomaly throws Tim and Dick together at the same age. Each Robin shows his strengths as they solve a case together.
  • Batgirl, #53: Stephanie Brown, having just become Robin in 2004, helps the second Batgirl on a case. A double dose of Batman's young crimefighting protegées!
Other Robin fans are welcome to play this game. But remember--only about 160 pages!

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