Friday, June 12, 2009

The Grail: Part One of Four (DC)
Red Robin #1 When: August 2009
Why: Christopher Yost How: Ramon Bachs

The Story So Far...
The death of the New Gods brought about a final crisis for Earth as Darkseid and his evil minions were reborn among us as gods-as-men intent on bringing about the Fifth World through out doom. On this day when evil won; the majority of humanity was enslaved by Libra, harbinger of the Anti-Life Equation, and leader of the unionized Society of super-villains. Only a few free minds are left to rebel, but in the end it was one of the first to fall, Batman, who stands between a renewed Darkseid and the end of everything.

In possession of the only weapon capable of stopping Darkseid, Batman willingly sacrificed himself in a stalemate stand-off that resulted in Darkseid's defeat at the apparent cost of his life. In truth, the Dark Knight was not killed, but rather shunted through time and space as a result of the Omega Sanction -- the death that is life. Misled by the smouldering corpse left behind, the superheroes and adopted family who survive the Batman must strive to honor his legacy and fill the massive void his dark shadow once filled.

For Bruce Wayne's adopted son and sidekick, Tim Drake, there is cause to believe his mentor did not truly perish under the bizarre cosmic circumstances that fooled the world. Driven from the Batcave by Dick Grayson's decision to induct Damian Wayne as the Robin to his Batman; Drake assumes the identity of Red Robin -- a violent guardian trekking across Europe to seek answers from the world, and from within himself.

Though the orphaned Drake assumes his new mantle to avoid association with the prestige and integrity of his mentor's brand, his globetrotting does not escape the notice of powerful forces. While he distracts himself with cases in Europe - such as a political kidnapping in Madrid - there are larger forces at work, such as those in the employ of the League of Assassins and Ra's Al Ghul!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Fire Hands 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Red Robin 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Red Robin 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Red Robin 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Red Robin 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Red Robin 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Fire Hands 3 (Explosives)

- The death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, weighed heavily on Batman.
With the original boy wonder, Dick Grayson, having grown into his own mature hero; the Dark Knight's world turned invariably darker as he internalized the struggle of his responsibility. Recognising this grim turn, a young boy embarked upon a mission to return balance to the Batman's life by enlightening him to the value of the famous sidekick.

Tim Drake, having deduced the dual identities of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, showed an aptitude for detective work that made him unique candidate for the legacy of the boy wonder. When Batman and Nightwing's lives were in peril at the hands of Two-Face, Grayson donned the costume for the first time, forcing even the gruff Batman to accept the possibility of training a new Robin.

Under Bruce Wayne's tutelage, Tim Drake developed the acrobatic and combative skills associated with the previous Robins. Drake also further honed his skills as a detective, benefitting from the Batman's bredth of knowledge, experience, and technology. Drake also expanded his network, following in Dick Grayson's foot steps as a member of the Teen Titans. When Dick Grayson appointed Damian Wayne as his new Robin, Drake travels abroad, distancing himself and his actions from his family under the new identity of Red Robin.

- In Spain, the fifteen year old daughter of an outspoken politician, Yessenia Penalba, was taken hostage by forces whose agenda was uncertain, but included additional demands for a ransom secret police did not expect to save the girl's life. Working with the kidnappers is a cybernetic assassin capable of channeling flames through his prosthetic hands. During their battle, Red Robin considers a Gotham-like handle for the super-powered crook; Manos de Fuego, "Fire Hands."

Math: Red Robin Ranking: Red Robin (#53)

What Went Down...
Despite the unlikliehood of retaining the kidnapped daughter of an outspoken politician alive, the Spanish police were willing to bow to demands for a sum of cash from the group responsible for taking her hostage. In their attempts to track the cash collector, Spanish Secret Service are fooled by an exchange, unnoticed by their agents, but witnessed by a more cunning force for good.

When the cash mule arrives, he collapses in the doorway as throwing discs shatter lighting in the apartment hideout of the kidnappers. The darkness provides a dramatic entrance for the black and red garbed Red Robin!

Four men make-up the kidnapping cartel, but only three of them possess visible arms. While the unarmed fourth among them stands his ground, Red Robin disables the most immediate threats, crushing one gunman's nose beneath his fist, before tripping another with a fluid pivot of his extendable fighting staff.

Making mental comparisons between the Madrid wildlife and what he's used to in Gotham City; Red Robin evades a hail of shots from the bald goateed leader of the group. Considering the possibility the city is the Gotham of Spain, Red Robin is confronted by the unarmed man who wields a hidden power within cyber-organic synthetic arms.

Red Robin puts himself between the bound blindfolded girl and his opponent as the mysterious Spaniard unleashes a focused inferno from his synthetic hands.

His cape protects him from the licking flames, but the defensive strategum has left Red Robin with an environment now posing as big a danger as his enemies. With the apartment building beginning to burn, he recognises the urgency of his situation and plays it accordingly.

Presumably unfamiliar with the practises of costumed vigilantes, "Fire Hands" has reason to be boastfully ignorant of his opponent's abilities. With his hands engulfed in flame he readys his attack, only to have his burning fist caught by the unerring fist of Red Robin!

From the grapple, he executes a short and sharp headbutt that shatters Fired Hands' nose and glasses. It's a harsh but efficient finishing move for an increasingly dire situation.

With the kidnappers thwarted, Red Robin rescues the girl - not far his junior - and leaps from the window in a gust of flames and broken glass! His pneumatic cable line sends them to safety and a happy ending the local law enforcement never anticipated.

The Hammer...
We continue to be embroilled in the world of Batman: Reborn as Tim Drake picks up his first victory under the guise of Red Robin!

In a lot of ways, this was the Reborn series I was least looking forward to, but on reflection, might actually be the longest lasting change to come from the post RIP/Final Crisis shake-up of the Bat-family titles.

While I'm inclined to expect Grant Morrison to make good on plans to be the man who resolves Batman's Omega Sanction conundrum, it's Red Robin that's already alluding to the canonical possibility that Batman did not actually die. This might be more about the state of mind of a young man whose world has been turned upside down. Then again, I might be getting ahead of myself...

For those of you who don't know -- Batman is not dead!

Though mainstream news outlets were quick to report the death of the Dark Knight, it was readers of Final Crisis [#7] who had it immediately made clear that the fate of Batman was far from final. Granted, the specifics of his current status remain overlooked; deliberately passed in favour of more immediate creative concerns of the DC Universe; we do know that Batman suffered the same fate that shunted Sonny Sumo through cracks in time to land in feudal Japan.

Such is the cosmic fate of the Omega Sanction -- described by it's master, Darkseid, as 'the death that is life,' as opposed to your standard Omega Beam which just disintegrates you in your boots. Not your standard Gotham City fare, but not as silly as it might sound to the uninitiated. [With any luck we'll be able to document the events more thoroughly, later in the year.]

Assuming the silhouetted owner of a utility belt carving Bat symbols into Anthro's cave was indeed Batman, we can assume that there's some sort of archaeological evidence to be found regarding his predicament. That's the fact that makes Tim [Wayne]'s journey to find evidence of Bruce Wayne's survival such a compelling premise -- assuming, of course, he isn't just being a bitchy teen.

With Damian Wayne invited into the family business as the second half of Dick Grayson's Batman and Robin, Tim has been quite unceremoniously ousted from his position as the boy wonder. In many ways, he was the wearer of the costume to whom the role meant the most. He was the first to actively seek-out the mantle during a period of darkness that saw Batman working alone, abandoned by Dick Grayson (who had become Nightwing), and dwelling on his failure to protect Jason Todd from a fatal beating by the Joker. Drake was the self-appointed light to Batman's dark -- a cunning young boy who chose this life, intent on protecting Gotham City's protector from self-destruction.

After growing into the role and losing his biological family, Tim Drake became more like Bruce Wayne than many of the other heroes who have dwelled within his Batcave. It is clear that being Robin was an important part of the person inside the character, so the underlying angst and emotion of Red Robin is a really fun additional arc to the book. It casts into doubt the reliability of the narrator's perspective, but gains a lot in the flow-on effect felt through characterization.

We saw this character attempt to be Batman in the pages of Battle for the Cowl [#2], and it's here that we're likely to reconcile the aging of the character. Damian's induction makes Drake's permanent status as Red Robin an obvious choice as he mature enough to be somewhere between boy wonder and dark knight. This, to go back to the beginning, is what makes the series one with a lot of potential to have lasting effects beyond the temp-Bat focus of other books.

Ramon Bachs isn't spectacular inking his own work, giving it a bit of a rough and unpolished look akin to some of the attrocities committed against Scott Kolins' work, earlier in the decade. More unflattering, however, is the colour palette provided by Guy Major, who weighs heavily on the book with a motley hue of dark colours peppered with bright highlights. I imagine both artists worked in the digital realm, and it hasn't produced very attractive results.

The writing struggles to elevate Red Robin from it's B-status, particularly with much less focus on the high-concept fodder. Keeping Tim Drake away from a contemporary "emo" attitude will be a bold task, but I hope, particularly as plotlines involving Ra's Al Ghul gear up, is one Yost is up to.

There isn't a spectacular amount of meat in the issue, but it's important to note that the action is never in excess. Yost and crew use their pages to communicate adequately a Tim Drake who has become weary and darkened by Bruce Wayne's death, too driven to distraction by his superheroic goals to work through the emotions of his perceived abandonment (by Grayson). We get that sense of drive through his movements through the world, methodical planning, and even the artwork, which undoubtedly captures the mood of the book, regardless of preference of style.

I think Red Robin will unfortunately struggle against the intrigue of all the other titles in the Bat-family relaunch. Despite being a fairly decent read, it lacks the immediate colourful hooks and glitz of the other titles. It's a fantastic read and I hope fans of the Tim Drake Robin will be able to embrace his maturation into a new type of hero, which will be a process I'm sure the title will deal with as long as it exists. With minimal connection to the character, I would interpret it as a very appropriate step forward, even as it accordian folds time in the DCU.

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4

Red Robin is currently appearing monthly from DC comics, but despite this, apparently you can already preorder the collection of the first big storyarc via Amazon! I would recommend pooling more information on the series before making the investment, but believe it will be well worth it for anyone interested in the developments in the character, and where this storyline might potentially go. By using purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars! You can find more collections featuring reviewed issues in our Online Amazon Shop. Navigating the Secret Archives will also lead you to more from these characters, including other titles in the Batman: Reborn relaunch, and major issues from 2009!

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