Writer: Jon Lewis
Artists: Pete Woods (p), Andrew Pepoy (i)
The book opens with Robin being brought back to the city by Alfred, and once he's back he's delighted to discover his dad has emerged from his depression, and looks to be ready to enjoy his life again. However, his trouble radar is tweaked by the odd behavior that his family & friends seem to be engaging in, and when the 19th of July rolls around Tim finally decides that enough is enough, and demands to be let in on the secret they've been keeping. We then learn that it's Tim's sixteenth birthday, and having spotted that it had completely slipped his mind, his step mother decided a surprise party was in order. As Tim spends the day basking in the fact that he has friends & family who are prepared to make such a big deal out of his birthday, we see his cheery mood is cut short when a mystery package is delivered, and Tim is wary to open it as it might be from one of his enemies. After the party we see Tim hooks up with Batman, and the two take the package to the Batcave, where it's subjected to a battery of tests. While these test don't really offer up much insight about what the package might be they are able to figure of the identity of the person who delivered it, and the fact that this person is a muscle man who has worked with several of Gotham's less that reputable felons, Tim gets a big surprise when the package's purpose is revealed.
Robin has his sixteenth birthday in this issue, and much like most of Jon Lewis's work on this book the opening issue of this latest arc moves along at a rather deliberate pace, as the material takes the time to examine several aspects of the material that aren't exactly essential to the plot, but highly enjoyable none the less. I mean we really don't need to see what Tim received for his birthday, but the sequence does a nice job of laying out the idea that Tim does have friends & family that care for him, and like most teens he also has the mother figure attempting to convince him that all the cool teens wear dress shoes to school. The same goes for the scene where Tim gets a tour of the new, improved gadgets that Batman has added to the Batcave, as Bruce almost comes across as the kid who is showing off his new shining new toys to the envious kids in the neighborhood. The idea that Batman also forgot about Tim's birthday, in spite of numerous hints from an annoyed Alfred was also a cute little touch, and much like Tim's earlier forgetfulness, it nicely plays up the idea that Bruce is so focused on solving the problems of the world around him that he neglects the elements in his life that are more personal in nature. Plus, how can one not love an issue that even shows readers what Tim favorite pizza is (Canadian bacon and onion, with artichoke hearts for you trivia buffs).
The book also manages to insert a fairly interesting mystery into the festivities of Tim's birthday, as he receives a mysterious package that he comes to suspect was given to him by one of Robin's many enemies. Now the mystery isn't all that difficult to solve, but it does allow Batman to show off his array of new toys, as he has one to give us a look inside, but it's the old fingerprint scanner/criminal database that provides the real lead as to who delivered the package. Still the real surprise is when the box opens itself in the final pages, and Robin discover who sent him the package, as the answer is certainly an unexpected one. Plus, given I'm a sucker for time travel stories, I can't help but feel a bit giddy about the prospect of receiving one here, especially since this one offers up the promise of an apocalyptic future is waiting in the wings if Robin doesn't perform some vital task in the past. The investigation of the mystery also provides us with a rather interesting little exchange between Robin & Two Face, though this scene does make one wonder if the various Bat-editors actually talk with each other, as while Two Face is locked away in Arkham in this book, he's busy tormenting Detective Montoya over in Gotham Central, while over in Batman he looks to have undergone plastic surgery, and is currently running around calling himself Hush.
I really like Pete Woods' work and I honestly don't feel that he gets nearly enough credit, as he's not only proven himself to be a highly dependable monthly artist, but his grasp on the fundamentals of comic book art is about as strong as one could hope for. His characters move with a wonderful sense of body language, as one can almost tell when what mood these characters are in simply by looking at their posture, though if you need something more, the art is also quite strong when it comes to facial expressions. For example take a look at the scene where Tim opens his various birthday gifts, as you can practically read his inner thoughts about each of the gifts, and in some cases even the nervous tension of the people that gave it to him, as they wait to see if he enjoys their gift or not. I also enjoyed the panel where we see Tim's family & friends collective reaction as they are watching the kung-fu films later that evening. There's also some fun little visuals, like the panel where the Batmobile drives through the holographic cave wall, or the various bat-gadgets that are brought into play to investigate the mystery package. The final page is also rather interesting, as we not only get a good look at the dire future that awaits Gotham City, but our mystery person who made the package also looks to be in a pretty bad way, with his robotic arm.
A somewhat leisurely-paced issue, but this is pretty much the overall tone that I've come to expect from Jon Lewis, as he does seem to prefer building up his material in a slow manner, that gives reader time to absorb the ideas that are playing out before them. Now this does result in stories that feel more true to life, and this issue does an exceptionally strong job of playing up the idea that Tim has family & friends that care a great deal about him. In fact if nothing else this issue deserves full marks for reinforcing why Tim is such a levelheaded character, as we see he does have a reasonably stable home life, and it's not until an aspect from his other life intrudes upon the party that we get a look at his devotion to his role as a costumed crime-fighter. This issue also offers up some strong moment of interaction with Batman, as while he comes across as remote & distant, there are some cracks in Batman's doom & gloom persona when he's showing off his new bat-gadgets. The little conversation that Bruce has with Tim about Alfred's foul mood was also rather cute.
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