02 February 2014

Batman and Robin, Together for the First Time Again

Batman and Robin Annual, #2, offers a story, by Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke, about the first big night on the job for the New 52 Universe’s Dick Grayson.

In its basic outline, this adventure’s a variation on a theme that DC Comics writers have been using since “Batman Plays a Lone Hand” in 1942: Batman snaps at Robin to stay home for his own safety, Robin disobeys, and after their narrow triumph the partners realize how much they need each other.

This time that tale is sandwiched by a framing story involving memories of Damian Wayne, who becomes more pleasant and beloved the longer he’s dead.

The new villain, Tusk, is well designed as a nemesis for Dick Grayson. He’s huge, muscular, and ugly as all get-out. In contrast, Dick as Robin is thin, lithe, and very pretty. The action in the story works nicely, even if requires some suspension of disbelief or gravity, and is beautifully drawn by Mahnke. Tomasi scripts fine interplay between Dick, Bruce, and Alfred, the three characters who really matter.

This story also underscores the biggest change that the New 52 has made in the Dynamic Duo mythos: Dick is already nearly grown. He’s in his late teens during his first official mission as Robin. That’s about the age when he left Wayne Manor for the Titans in the last two continuities.

This Robin is no longer clearly the littlest guy in the fight as the character was in 1940, or in more recent retellings like Dark Victory and Robin: Year One. He has much less maturing to do. Accordingly, Bruce and Alfred must have much less influence on this version of Dick.

Robin’s status as a young adult is underscored by a panel in which Tusk is gripping the top of his head, apparently holding him off the ground. Except that this Robin is so tall already that his feet don’t fit inside the panel. Obviously he was never a Boy Wonder, always a Teen Wonder.

Next week brings a Batman Black and White story not beholding to the current continuity which promises a littler Robin early in his career.


Thoughts About Dick Grayson said...

It makes me so sad that Dick isn't as young as he once was. I think it harms his character, his relationship with Bruce, and all the following Robins. Bruce is now getting them younger and younger, which reverses the dynamic and makes less sense to me. It seems to me that as Bruce aged he would realize he shouldn't have such young partners (Damian being the exception). Now it's the reverse. Alas. Your thoughts?

J. L. Bell said...

The New 52 timing isn't exact, because it's superhero comics, but I sense that the latest Dick, Jason, and Tim all became Robin at about the same high-school age. And then stayed Robin for less than two years.

In the previous universes, they all became Robin in their early teens or before. Some stories had Dick saying he was eight or nine when he started, and even those that didn't give an age showed a kid no more than twelve. Tim was explicit about being thirteen in "A Lonely Place of Dying." The first Jason Todd looked about the same at most. The second Jason's age was more ambiguous because of his toughening on the streets and because artists of the late 1980s drew him with great variance, but he seems to have started at about the same age.

In that universe, when Bruce Wayne took in Damian at such a young physical age, he was somewhat replicating his experience with Dick. In the New 52 continuity, training a sidekick that young had to be a completely new experience. And yes, one logical reaction could be that it's not wise to employ a sidekick that young (unless there's no better course), but that sidekicks in their older teens have a 2/3 chance of turning out okay.

Another aspect of the relationship between Bruce and Dick in this story is all the talk about a "boss" and "firing." Dick comments that Bruce is Alfred's boss, too. At least in this early story, there's much less talk of friendship or family than in the previous versions of the mythos.

Icon_UK said...

I think what irks me is that Dick now becomes a kid partner at an age when most kid superheroes are debuting as solo heroes; Static, Spider-Man etc...

J. L. Bell said...

True, but at the same time the New 52 Dick spends relatively little time as a sidekick—only a year or two at most. In Dan DiDio's possibly joking words, being Robin has become an internship, time-limited preparation for full-time work on one's own (at least until Damian arrived). The New 52 Dick's apparently been Nightwing much longer than he was Robin.