Well, with Jeff writing about TV shows and Graeme recommending podcasts, I was gonna join the non-comics parade. I figured I would either review the new Momofuku outpost in DC or present and annotate my Best Music of 2015 list (that new Grimes album!).
Then I read a whole bunch of comics in the ongoing Robin War crossover from DC and figured I should write about that instead.
(To alleviate the disappointment from the two of you who got fired up by those two other options, though: I found Momofuku CCDC to be underwhelming — the things that must’ve made David Chang’s restaurants so interesting when he started feel commonplace now, and I was hoping for more. And my top album of 2015 is probably either that Grimes album or the CHVRCHES one, but I haven’t really worked it out yet.)
Anyway: ROBIN WAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As I write this, I’ve read the first three parts of Robin War (Robin War #1, Grayson #15, Detective Comics #47) and two tie-ins (Gotham Academy #13 and Red Hood/Arsenal #7). The story is a very thinly-veiled allegory for the recent spate of police-related shootings and beatings; basically, one of the Robins from We Are Robin is involved in the accidental murder of a Gotham police, which allows the Gotham City Council to declare open season on Robins, or anyone wearing Robin colors.
(How did DC not call this book Robin Season? God, what a catastrophic oversight.)
Anyway, the four “real” Robins — Dick Grayson, superspy; Jason Todd, Red Hood; Tim Drake, Red Robin; and Damian Wayne, current Robin — step in to protect their name and legacy by training the gang of Robins, while the eeeeeeeeeeevil Court of Owls from Scott Snyder’s Batman run work behind the scenes to evil their evil while Gotham evil evil evil Gotham Gotham, or something. (The involvement of the Court of Owls is structured as something of a surprise ending in the initial one-shot, but the GIGANTIC FREAKING OWL MASK on the cover renders the effort kinda moot.)
So that’s the primary action of the opening one-shot and, look, we’ve gotta get this out of the way first: there’s something VERY odd about the fact that this story is running concurrently with Batman & Robin Eternal, another miniseries that focuses on Batman’s former sidekicks and partners, and their interrelationships, and how they function in his absence. But whatever — it’s not my marketing and sales departments. (Besides, B&RE has gone kinda off the rails for me in the specific way that Snyder’s stories sometimes do, getting bogged down in the portentousness of its own mythology rather than rushing headlong through plot beats, so I’m ready to throw all my B&RE affections at the feet of Robin War. I am nothing if not a craven quisling.)
As an opening chapter, it’s fun, it’s intriguing, it’s relevant (if heavy-handed). And, perhaps most importantly, it’s kicking off a crossover that’s only a month long: this runs through the one-shot and this month’s ancillary Bat-books, and that’s it.
The initial one-shot is written by Tom King and illustrated by too many artists for me to even contemplate listing here, and it’s amazing to me how quickly I feel like I can comfortably describe something as “a typical Tom King book”. He’s written something like 25 published comics, give or take.
But, yeah, this is a typical Tom King book, a solid superhero story with an intense awareness of its characters’ histories and a formalist bent that occasionally feels forced. (The pastiche of the iconic “Dead Waynes” moment definitely thinks it’s saying something, but I wasn’t quite sure what.) Like his Grayson work, it’s got a little more humor than some of his other stuff, which is for the best in a story where a bunch of rich dudes dressed up as mime-owls concoct an elaborate scheme to harass a (theoretically) dead man’s former sidekicks.
Part 2, in Grayson, is also written by King, co-plotted by Tim Seeley, with typically lovely art from regular series artist Mikel Janin. The formalism and homages work a bit better here, partially because there’s only one artist, and partially because that artist is Janin. There’s a pastiche of the much-homaged cover of Batman #9 (Batman and Robin in a spotlight, shielding their eyes) that’s just lovely to look at, and that seems more thematically relevant than the one-shot’s similar efforts.
There’s a recurring dialogue bit that felt forced to me, where each of the former sidekicks (now being called The Originals, in contrast to the new mob of Robins) explains what’s really at the core of being a Robin, only it’s deep, see, because it says more about them than it does about the job. But the issues as a whole is plenty strong enough to overcome that clunkiness.
Part 3, Detective Comics, had me worried, as it’s the first non-King book in what has to this point felt like a very King-driven crossover. But Ray Fawkes does a solid job writing, and some Steve Pugh art is always a welcome sight, so I was still pretty happy with this. And, again, the fact that the issues come in such quick succession helps me forgive a lot of minor quibbles I might otherwise have.
(This is the third straight issue of the crossover to end with a mime-owl standing there making a dramatic pronouncement, though — the quick release schedule emphasizes samenesses like that as well.)
The other two books are labeled (and listed) as “tie-ins”, which means they figure related characters and peripheral stories but aren’t essential to the main plot. On the one hand, it’s a good way to clearly signpost which books are essential to the crossover. On the other hand, it further emphasizes that these books are kinda inessential.
Gotham Academy features one of the We Are Robin crew alongside the book’s regular cast. I’m a good four or five issues behind on Academy, but this is an easy read to come into midstream, and it does a reasonable job of appearing to deepen some elements of the crossover. There’s a genuinely inexplicable appearance from one of The Originals at the end that seems to be in direct conflict with his status in the main crossover (something made doubly problematic by Detective Comics very clearly signposting the timeline of the intersection with this tie-in issue ), but maybe I misread, or maybe it’s a deliberate plotpoint to be explained later; either way, it was jarring but not a deal-breaker.
Which is also an apt description for the other tie-in, Red Hood/Arsenal. It’s amazing to see how much Scott Lobdell still sounds like the Scott Lobdell of old X-Men books — that bizarre blend of Claremont’s cadences and character focus with a mediocre stand-up comic’s plotting and dialogue choices. Not GOOD to see, necessarily, but amazing nonetheless. This issue has more to do with its own continuity and a bit less to do with the cross-over, but it does have a nice conversation between Original Robin #2 and Original Robin #3 that’s thematically relevant.
All of these crossover books are good; none of them are even close to great. What IS great is the pacing of the event, and the relatively low required buy-in for fans. It’s doing a good job of spotlighting the other books in the line, while also telling an enjoyable story. They could still screw the whole thing up, but by the time I realize that they’ve done so, it’ll already be over — and Secret Wars probably still won’t.
[Pretend this is a picture of a mime-owl saying something ominous to indicate that the review is over.]