RED ROBIN #1 (second printing) by Chris Yost and Ramon Bachs:
This title has surprised me by how good it is. I haven’t read much of the Tim Drake aka Tim Wayne saga before, except once a few years back when I was persuaded to pick up a Robin TPB. While I really liked the story (by Bill Willingham) I wasn’t motivated to start following it any further. On the other hand, I picked up Red Robin #2 on a whim and now I’ve gone back and sought out the first issue. After reading this, I finally care about Tim Wayne and will follow this story to the end, and then maybe even through the second story arc.
The basic premise of this book is that of a loner/self-outcast, now on an investigation that no one else seems to believe has any merit. Tim is determined enough to see it through, no matter how much adversity he must endure or obstacles in his path. That is a foundation that should appeal to a lot of readers who will empathize with his situation.
Tim is globe-trotting in search of the missing/presumed dead Bruce Wayne. The first issue takes him through Spain, where he stops long enough to rescue a kidnapped daughter of a prominent politician from extortionists/terrorists. This serves as an introduction to both the new costume and new fighting style of Red Robin, who takes more chances than Tim Drake/Robin did and engages in bolder actions against his foes – like a nose-breaking, glasses-shattering aggressive head-butt.
There’s also a flashback sequence where we see a disheartened Tim find out he’s not part of the new Bat-team and has to endure the insults of the new Robin (the smart-ass bad boy Damian) before he turns his back on Batman/Dick and walks away from it all. Move forward now to Paris and see Tim acrobatically bring a moving car of armed robbers to a crashing halt while he walks away, unscathed and not bothering to see if anyone’s trapped in the wreckage. The captions reveal to us his new resolve: “And everywhere I go, there are distractions . . . . . Garbage like this. . . . . Keeping me from what’s important . . . . Keeping me from the search.” That is one determined man. This issue moves very quickly and ends with another unofficial member of the Batman family (Damian’s grandfather) observing these events and setting his game pieces (assassins) in play. To be continued. . . .
The only quibble I have (and it’s minor) is that if Tim has truly changed his name and costume in order to distance himself from connections to Batman and Robin = then he should have picked a different costume and a less obvious name. (Although I really enjoy Red Robin’s gourmet cheeseburgers.) That costume seems to incorporate elements of both the Batman costume as well as the Robin costume. Perhaps if the name “Red Robin” wasn’t associated with the costume nobody would catch on . . . but really? (And maybe DC needs to leave enough similarities/connections to the Bat family to avoid any interested readers from passing up the book by accident. OK, I’m more willing to accept that.)
For a better name for this character for use when in costume - - would you support “RED HERON”? - - - a mix of the “red herring” mystery plot device with a bird image replacing the fish. Place your votes now.
BATMAN: STREETS OF GOTHAM #2 “City On Fire” by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen PLUS “Who In The Hell Is ‘Jane Doe’ ?” by Marc Andreyko and Georges Jeanty
I don’t like this title quite as much as I do RED ROBIN but it remains interesting and the cliff-hanger endings to both stories will bring me back another month to see what happens. The best highlight of this issue is the art by Nguyen on the fight scene between Firefly and Batman (which Jeff also mentioned in his review). Great images that tell the story without need of captions or much dialogue. It moves quickly.
I’m looking for words to describe the art style of Dustin Nguyen. It’s somewhat different and unique and the best description I can come up with is that it looks like a Vertigo style (simpler lines, simpler backgrounds) with more color (adding blues and more vivid reds/oranges to the normal monochromatic earth tones that a majority of Vertigo titles display) and has a bit of a cartoonish-look to it in places without giving an impression of being juvenile.
Dini does his usual good job with the story, managing to mix a little character reveal here and there amongst all the action/plot details. The good-natured Alfred is taken advantage of and the devious nature of Tom “Hush” Elliott serves him well as he impersonates Bruce Wayne and puts a major hurt on the family without lifting a finger. Does he ever !! - - Wonder how they will handle this.
In the second feature Manhunter continues her investigation into the mystery of “Jane Doe” both in her daytime role as District Attorney and her evening streets persona as Manhunter. The trail takes her to Arkham Asylum where she meets one of the creepiest female villains in Gotham. The art is good but I’ve seen better from Jeanty. I am sensing the possibility of a “Streets Of Gotham” style in the art for this book. Like the front story, there is a Vertigo look to this second feature with the same use of simpler backgrounds and similar colors as described before. Huh.
BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS TPB #2: THE SNARE Chuck Dixon, writer and art by Carlos Rodriguez, Julian Lopez and Ryan Benjamin
The Bat book frenzy/fever has got me sweating enough that I actually traded some titles in order to pick up this book and give it a read. Well, I did enjoy this but it wasn’t and isn’t essential reading. Chuck Dixon is a good writer, well-versed in the DC continuity and capable of working within any title’s boundaries - - and that may be the problem I have with some of his work. It’s good and competent but rarely great and often lacks that one or two things that would enhance the story.
There’s certainly enough going on here in these stories from 2008 (Issues #6-10): OMAC has been taken over. There’s a secret space program funded by several corporations that seems to be creating a weapon of some kind. Some of the Outsiders get caught (or trapped) within Chinese borders trying to commandeer their secret space shuttle. Batman and The Outsiders have to figure out how to best utilize the Remac, a friendly version of Omac , that requires a human operator to don a virtual reality type hardware/headset. The artists are all good at depicting teams in action and their styles are similar enough that you don’t get a shock when a new artist comes on every other issue.
But there’s just too much stuff here and not enough substance. I’ve read this twice and have trouble remembering the core details - - probably because Dixon’s scatter-shot story-telling style failed to engage me in these events enough to care.
It doesn’t help that rather than being a complete story arc this volume is just a continuation of events that weren’t resolved in Issue #5, then introduces some more conflicts and sort of resolves those (with lots of questions left unanswered) and then drops a brand new plot development in the last two issues before it all ends abruptly. You’d think DC would try to break this up evenly - - but I think it’s Dixon’s style that makes it impossible to find a good stop point - - so just print the next 5-6 issues and leave it at that.
I’m reminded of the overdose of superhero titles from the 1990’s and the Image bonanza of super-team books. They all had good art and interesting stories but you couldn’t keep them straight and really didn’t want to. It’s one and done for me with Batman And The Outsiders. Will I give Dixon another chance? Oh, of course - - I’ve read too many good works by him. But this is sloppy, and I don’t care about what’s happening here.