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Sunday Slugfest: Red Robin #1

Posted: Sunday, June 14, 2009
By: Thom Young

Christopher Yost
Ramon Bachs (with Guy Major, colors)
DC Comics
Tim Wayne (nee Drake) leaves behind Gotham and travels to Europe where he fights crime as Red Robin.

Robert Murray:
Stephen Joyce:
Alexandru Lupp:
Jason Cohen:
Thom Young:




Robert Murray:

Chris Yost and Ramon Bachs have created a perfectly vanilla introduction to the Red Robin ongoing series. No, this isn't where I'm going to compare this first issue to the divine blueberry vanilla shakes that the Red Robin restaurant turns out (to any Red Robin managers out there, you can send gift certificates to the e-mail address above.).

What I'm referring to is the generally unexciting way in which the creators introduce us to the character and his mission, leading me to wonder whether this will be the status quo for the series or if this is merely a case of first-issue jitters. I think the main thing that really sets this issue back as a beginning is the flimsy basis of Tim Drake's quest as Red Robin.

I mean, how the heck is Tim so certain that Bruce Wayne is alive? Has he been put upon so many times that he has finally gone over the deep end, or does he have proof that Bruce is not dead?

From the way the issue is built, it seems that Tim has become Ahab--globetrotting for clues to the whereabouts of his adopted father with an obsessive focus. This isn't the Tim Drake I've come to know and love. This guy is as obsessive as . . . What a minute! Could this be Tim's answer to the death of the Batman and what he has personally gleaned from his apprenticeship?

Tim has Batman's obsession, Dick has Batman's strategy and cunning, and Damian has Batman's strength of will. Put together, they equal the icon that was the Bruce Wayne Batman. Apart, each lacks certain elements that will produce the ideal crime-fighter that Batman was--as proven in this issue by Red Robin's first fight and his lack of discipline. As intriguing as this separation of elements may be, Red Robin #1 is an uneven first issue that fortunately shows promise for future installments.

The big problem with this comic is that even though the main premise is Tim's mission to search for Bruce Wayne, he doesn't actually search for him. Granted, he travels to Madrid and Paris--presumably to search for any clues he can find. However, instead of finding anything that might give the readers a buzz moving forward in the series, Tim fights some bad guys and then sits around brooding about missing his adopted father.

Yost should have put some clue in the issue that, while not proving that Batman is alive, would give Tim's quest a little credence and the series a little momentum. Did any of you see Veronica Mars? The first episode set up the entire series because a clue was thrown into the mix that really excited viewers and powered the plots to come. Something similar is what should have happened in this first issue rather than random fisticuffs that ultimately didn't add anything to the story to come.

True, the ending does give me hope that clues are on the way soon (in the form of an old Batman nemesis), but this issue doesn't cut it for getting my juices flowing.

Action? Sure.

Drama? A little.

Suspense/Intrigue? Not too much.

Bachs's artwork is in the same category as the scripting. Good, solid linework and fine inking, but not a whole lot of exciting images or wonderful constructions to get me amped up. It's as if Bachs is playing it safe here, not taking too many stylistic chances to ensure a comfortable reading experience for all of the newcomers. However, what this approach ultimately does is make the comic standard fare--not the exciting introduction that fans of Battle for the Cowl were hoping for or expecting.

This isn't the worst first issue I've ever seen, and being a fan of the current storylines filling the Batman books, I know that the mediocrity of the first issue won't drive me away from further issues. If nothing else, it will remind me how much I love my neighborhood Red Robin's delicious cheeseburgers. Yes, I'm writing this before dinner.




Stephen Joyce:

Batman . . . Bruce Wayne . . . is dead. Or is he?

Tim Drake doesn't think so, and he's willing to travel the world to find his adoptive father. With a new kid wearing the Robin costume, Tim reinvents himself and decides to do things a lot rougher than he normally does.

Another Robin has stepped out from the shadow of the Caped Crusader and takes up a new persona. The character of Tim Drake has needed to grow for a couple of years now, but is this the correct way to go?

It's too early to tell just yet. Red Robin #1 starts off extremely well, and it convinces me that this is a good move for the character. As the issue opens, Tim is in Spain doing what he does best--protecting the innocent and stopping the criminals. Hopefully, the line "And I'm sure as hell not Robin" is the line that will set the tone for this book.

The strongest scene in the issue is a flashback to Tim and Dick in the Batcave discussing Tim's role. The best part is how Tim strikes out at Damien; it shows where Tim is in his mind and it really makes you feel for this character. This is a young man, who lost his birth father not long ago. Now he has lost his mentor and adoptive father, and he feels that he has lost his identity when Damien steps up as Dick's pick for Robin.

There's also a feeling that Tim is losing his mind. Everyone is telling him that Bruce is dead, but he refuses to believe it. Yet when he really thinks about it, he questions his own mental health. Is he crazy? This is only the first issue, so it's still too early to tell, but most signs are pointing to probably.

What really prevents this issue from being great are the small moments between the major plot points. Tim seems to have changed too quickly. This Tim is the one I would expect to see at the end of the first story arc, not the beginning of the first issue. That being said, I still think it is an interesting place to put the character that opens up a lot of great story options down the road.

As far as art goes, Ramon Bachs has moments where is does really well and moments where the art is sloppy. When Tim is in costume the art is great and the character couldn't look better. Unfortunately, Bachs doesn't do as well with Tim out of costume. The character appears way too old and too similar to Dick. Speaking of Dick, he looks simply horrible in this issue. If he wasn't in the Batman outfit I'd never known it was him.

The issue wasn't horrible, but I expected more from a first issue--something to really grab me. I'm iffy about returning for the second issue because this one just wasn't as strong as it should have been. The strongest scene was a flashback, and that doesn't speak too well for a new ongoing series. It had its moments--but they were just interesting, not entertaining.

If you're a hardcore Batman or Tim Drake fan this book will appeal to you.




Alexandru Lupp:

Tim Drake, or maybe Tim Wayne, is in a bad place. First his dad dies, then he loses his good friend Connor Kent, then Bart Allen, and then finally the one man that was apparently holding it all together for him, Bruce Wayne. So, naturally, that means he should don a new suit and go globetrotting in search of his dead mentor, whom he thinks is still alive. And yes, in case there was any doubt, it is Tim under that Red Robin mask-that point was never really a mystery, and Chris Yost never treats it as such.

Now, granted, we all know that Bruce will eventually return. Just like Red Robin's identity was never much of a secret, neither is the fact that Bruce is still somehow alive been made much of a secret by Grant Morrison. However, we can pretty much assume that Tim will not succeed in his search. At this point DC would be quite silly to squander the wonderful opportunities they've just created for themselves story-wise.

This book is just such an opportunity. It is an opportunity to take an existing character and allow him to mature. It is an opportunity to have a book with an international scope. It's something that has an incredible amount of promise, and something that should allow Tim Drake to become more than just Batman's sidekick. However, I'm not sure Christopher Yost is going about it the right way.

The last page reveals the identity of a villain that may plague Red Robin for a while to come. The choice is a logical one given both Tim's recent history, and the apparent international setting of this series. Unfortunately, all it does is recycle one of Batman's old villains, which is really kind of boring. There's nothing wrong with the coming confrontation itself, but is it really the best way to begin a new title?

Grant Morrison had the right idea in Batman and Robin #1 as he began with something fresh and exciting that allows Morrison to redefine the familiar mythos. Morrison's is the right approach, while recycling a villain in Red Robin is perhaps not such a good choice.

Otherwise, the book is adequate. The pacing is really fast, and Yost manages to squeeze quite a bit into the issue--which is generally a good thing. Here, though, the fast pace actually hurts the story a bit since it takes away from what could be an interesting exploration of some foreign locales.

Instead, of getting a sense of Spain or France, these countries are just names on a page. Also, I'm not certain what the status of "Czechoslovakia" is in the DC Universe precisely, but someone might have to inform Yost (and his editor) that the country by that name no longer exists. It split into two countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia (unless, of course, the action in Red Robin is supposed to be set sometime before 1989--time travel, perhaps?).

Snark aside, given the supposed globetrotting setting of this title, the name of a country is not something you want to get wrong. The international aspect could have been quite an interesting nuance, but it is instead woefully misused--and the setting is such an important element in any story. Gotham, for example, has defined Batman as much as anything else.

Yost does handle Tim's ability as a detective fairly well. He highlights it largely through Tim's inner monologue, which (in conjunction with Ramon Bachs's art) gives this book something of a noir vibe. The artwork is good and also fairly gritty. It creates an atmosphere that is appropriate for a teenager that has lost so much. In fact, that's one thing that Yost gets quite well. Tim's denial makes sense, and his characterization works.

Tim's experience is the sort of shock that can act as a transformative moment. Of course, we won't know how successful it all is for a while yet--and that's the catch. If I want to find out how all of this affects Tim's development, I have to be back next issue--which is the point, obviously--so in that regard, it is a successful first issue.

My complaints aside, I will be back next month. Largely, because there is plenty here that could be exploited for good stories down the line, and I like to be optimistic. Thus, while this beginning is not great due to small-but-glaring errors and a somewhat uninspired choice for a villain, there is still plenty of promise and opportunity here.




Jason Cohen:

As interesting as the concept is of Tim fighting crime in Europe as Red Robin is, I can't help but think "what is the point?" As seen in the flashback where Tim leaves Dick and Damian, I think I would have rather had Tim stay with them and help Dick as his "equal."

We were told that Red Robin is searching for Bruce Wayne, but there's no explanation of why he's in Europe or why he even thinks Bruce is still alive. Regardless of whether the answers come later, this point seems like poor planning with a paper-thin plot.

Continuing from his last adventures in Robin, Tim falls further and further from what Bruce taught him as he continues to cross lines that he knows are wrong. His internal monologue displays somewhat of a struggle between what he knows is right and what he thinks will get the job done. Hopefully, this struggle will continue to be a theme throughout the series and he will eventually come out on top. Tim's explanation for why he chose the identity of Red Robin is possibly the best part of the issue; it points to recent stories and sums up Red Robin's mission statement in a few words.

I see potential for this series to be an interesting globetrotting adventure. However, if the important details aren't hammered out soon and supporting characters aren't introduced, I feel this series will end up being just one big question mark in purpose. I hope Yost will find a way to incorporate characters from other countries that will help create a more cohesive story to the greater DCU. He has already started creating usable characters, and the villain revealed at the end will hopefully open up a world of possibilities.

As for the art, the quality drastically changes over the course of the issue. At first, Bachs's line is very weak and dull; it seems almost washed out. Then, when we finally see Red Robin in costume for the first time, the art picks up. From that point on, the characters are bold and the colors by Guy Major are rich and defining.

For some reason, though, Tim (a 17 year old boy) is depicted as a grown man when in costume but a boy when out of costume. It seems a little awkward--especially with the scene where he's holding a girl that should be around his age and he is at least twice her size.

If you're a Tim Drake fan and are wondering what he will be doing throughout this changeup, you may want to check this one out. If you're more of a fan of storytelling, you'll find that this issue offers a poor sampling. Either way, flipping through this book should be the way to go--leave the purchasing of it for those who truly need this issue.




Thom Young:

As Jason mentioned in his review, one of the first things that struck me about this issue is the change in Tim's appearance when he's in costume. He seems to grow by about a foot, and he adds about 50 pounds of lean muscle. I guess it's amazing what foot-high platform shoes and a muscle suit can do for a boy.

In that regard, Ramon Bachs's work as the illustrator falls short. Overall, though, Bachs does an adequate job with a style that took me a few pages to warm up to, but that I was fine with after that. There were a few other problems with the illustrations--the transition panels between flashbacks and flash forwards--which I'll get to later in this review. However, the real problem with the issue is the writing.

The concept isn't bad. In fact, it has the potential to be really interesting. As my fellow reviewers have mentioned, Tim Wayne (nee Drake) is supposedly searching for Bruce Wayne because he's certain his adoptive father is alive. Why is Tim so certain that Bruce is alive?

It's just a feeling he has--sort of like the feeling often expressed in news reports by a mother whose child has been kidnapped. The mother claims to "know" her child is still alive because a mother would be able to psychically sense if the child had died.

Sadly, 90% of the time (or more) the mother is wrong as the child's body is recovered and the autopsy reveals the time of death was shortly after the kidnapping occurred. People faced with death--either their own impending death or the death of a loved one--usually go through five stages of grieving (according to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying): denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Tim starts off in the denial phase here--as do the mothers (and fathers, too, no doubt) of kidnapped children. He doesn't have any reason to truly believe Bruce Wayne is alive, well, and hanging out with Anthro in the Paleolithic period (as revealed at the end of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis). Instead, he is simply denying that he has had yet another death of a loved one in his relatively short life.

It would be interesting, though, if he actually had clues that indicated that Bruce was transported back in time to the Paleolithic period--and that Tim is actually scouring Europe in search of a time machine. However, that's not the case. Besides, if Tim wanted to travel back in time to find Bruce all he would have to do is visit Bruce and Dick's old friend, Professor Carter Nichols--the renowned Gotham City scientist who is considered "the world's foremost authority on time-travel" (according to Batman #36 in the story "Sir Batman at King Arthur's Court").

Between 1944 and 1953, Professor Nichols appeared in 18 Batman and Robin stories in Batman, Detective Comics, Star-Spangled Comics, and World's Finest Comics (and in two issues in 1985 that were set in the 1940s). Sure we would have claimed at one time that those stories involved the Golden Age Batman and Robin of Earth-Two, but Grant Morrison's take is that all of those stories have happened to the modern incarnations of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.

Thus, I think it would be very fitting to bring back Professor Nichols in about a year as Bruce Wayne is brought out of the past and into the present. However, that plot sounds like a Morrison story rather than one that Yost should work on--though it will probably be a multi-crossover event that weaves between all of the titles in the Batman Family books, and it will undoubtedly suffer the problem of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Anyway, back to Red Robin #1.

The premise is interesting, and I'd like to see a story in which Tim goes through the five stages of grieving over the course of a 12-issue series (though he seems to have some anger and depression already showing up in this first issue while not trying to bargain with God to help him find Bruce or restore Bruce to life). However, that scenario doesn't seem to be what Yost has in mind--or, if it is, he simply doesn't execute it very well.

Instead, we get Tim-in-Denial going to Spain for no apparent reason other than it gives Bachs a chance to draw a round building of Spanish architectural design that has the name "Sombra" over its door. I don't know if this round "Shadow" building is an actual landmark in Toledo, Spain, but perhaps it is.

For the most part, the settings in this issue--Madrid, Spain; Toledo, Spain; Prague, "Czechoslovakia" (Alexandru has already pointed out the problem with that setting, so I won't repeat it here); and Paris, France--don't seem to serve a purpose other than to show us that Tim is traveling all over Europe in search of nebulous clues that might tell him where Bruce is.

I guess Bruce actually is in Europe, come to think of it--and probably somewhere in the Basque region between France and Spain (which should be where Anthro lived, based on archeological and genetic evidence that indicates that the Basque people are more closely related to our Cro-Magnon ancestors than are any other populations on Earth)--so Tim might actually be on the right track. However, it would seem to be quite by accident that he's in the right place (generally) at the wrong time.

Two of the biggest problems with the writing are the chronology of the scenes and the dialog that Yost writes for Damian.

The story opens in Madrid, Spain with the kidnapping of a girl that Tim narrates for us. On the second page, Time notes that he "had just arrived in Madrid four hours prior. It was all over the news."

Unfortunately, we never learn why Tim's arrival in Madrid four hours earlier had been all over the news.

What?

Oh!

Yost meant that the kidnapping of the girl was all over the news--not Tim's arrival four hours earlier.

Pronouns with antecedents that would seem to relate to information in the sentence immediately preceding the use of the pronoun are tricky, aren't they?

Anyway, upon catching the news about the kidnapped girl, Tim "Hulks out" so that he can fill the Red Robin costume. He then sets out to rescue the child after the Madrid police and the Spanish Secret Service bungled the plot to catch the kidnappers during the ransom exchange.

Later, after he "drop[s] the girl off with the local police," Tim returns to his hotel room where he "Hulks down" and removes his costume to tend to the right hand that he burned during his confrontation with the kidnapper known as "Manos de Feugo" (Hands of Fire).

The problem with the depiction of Tim's injured hand is that it was his right palm (gloved right palm, actually) where he took the blow from the man with the hand of fire. Yet, it is the back of Tim's right hand that is shown burned. I suppose Guy Major just colored a burn pattern on the only part of the hand that was visible as Tim ran cold water over it in the sink.

Tim then drops to the floor and leans against the wall--a position that transitions into the next panel where Tim is sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall in a different setting (which we eventually learn is in Wayne Manor)--which is the visual key for us to enter the flashback to the scene at Wayne Manor. However, as we turn the page, we don't get the flashback that had just started. Instead, we get one page of Tim in Toledo, Spain for no apparent reason.

He shows a photograph to three men sitting on a bench in Toledo--presumably a photo of Bruce Wayne, but it's not clear that's who it is--and one of the men points off to his left (as in, "I saw the man in your photo go off in that direction"). Tim then wanders off into the Batcave below Wayne Manor.

Wait a minute!

I was certain that the page in Toledo must have been printed out of order. An accident that frequently occurs now that the pagination is no longer penciled into the artwork at the bottom of most comic book pages.

However, I can't find any place else in the story where that Toledo page logically fits--except, perhaps at the beginning of the story if Tim had landed in Toledo four hours earlier and the man on the bench then told him to "go that direction over to Madrid where there is a kidnapped girl you can rescue instead of looking for the man in your photograph."

So, anyway, the beginning of the flashback scene on the previous page had Tim sitting on the floor of Wayne Manor dressed in blue jeans and a brown shirt--which is what he's wearing as he enters the Batcave on the next page following his quick jaunt to Toledo, Spain. He then gets insulted by a very bratty and smart-aleck Damian before storming off to his bedroom in Wayne Manor where he busts up the furniture and then sits on the floor with his back against the wall.

Even if we ignore the inserted page of Toledo, Spain, the chronological sequence of events doesn't make specific sense at it jumps from the bathroom of the hotel room in Madrid, to Tim's bedroom in Wayne Manor, to the Batcave, and then back to Tim's bedroom. What we have then is a flashback to the bedroom followed by a flashback to the cave that then leads to the bedroom (and we just ignore the weird page set in Toledo).

Then that flashback ends with Tim sitting on the floor of his bedroom and moves us into a parallel visual panel of Red Robin sitting on the floor of the bathroom of the hotel in Madrid, Spain. I guess during the flashback (and the side trip to Toledo) Tim must have "Hulked out" again and had to put on his costume before returning to his positon on the bathroom floor.

Of course, it might be that when the flashback ends Red Robin isn't supposed to be on the floor of the bathroom in Madrid. The few minutes of flashback might have been enough time for him to leave Madrid, travel all the way to Paris, and take up a position in which he's sitting on a roof--because he's in Paris in his Red Robin costume the next time we see him (after an interlude of two pages set in Prague, "Czeckoslovakia").

Tim narrates the events that occur in Prague--even though he isn't there and probably shouldn't know what was happening there while he was flashing back and forth between the Madrid hotel, Wayne Manor, and either the Madrid hotel or a roof in Paris.

This is just sloppy storytelling from the writer and the illustrator. I'd like to know if the confusing visual transitions between the flashback and the flashforward were decisions made by Bachs or if they were in Yost's directions in the script. Either way, it's poorly done.

Finally, Yost doesn't have any sense of who Damian al Ghul is. In Batman and Robin #1, Morrison scripted dialog for Damian that clearly matched who the character is--a child raised in an elitist environment whose sense of entitlement springs from who his biological father is. Additionally, Morrison revealed through the rhythms of Damian's dialog (not what Damian specifically said, but how he said it) that he's also a kid who is aware that he wants to live up to his father's legacy and who finds himself growing comfortable around Alfred Pennyworth and Dick Grayson despite himself.

Morrison conveys all of that information through Damian's use of Alfred's last name, the pauses in his speech, and his constant references to "his father"--as I indicated in my review of Batman and Robin #1:
When Alfred descends from the penthouse with a "light supper" of sandwiches for Dick and Damian who are working in the Batcave, Damian first instructs the butler to "leave it down by my toolkit, Pennyworth." However, a second word balloon then has Damian add "Thank you."

The "thank you" was an afterthought as Damian is still getting used to having to be polite to "the servant"--indicating with that one panel and two-word-balloon sequence that Damian is a child who feels a sense of entitlement but who is trying to remember to think of "the little people" whom he otherwise believes are beneath him.

Then, in the next panel (on the next page), Alfred shows an interest in what Damian is working on (the gyroscopic array of the new Batmobile), and Damian responds by stating that he promised he'd finish what Bruce Wayne had started working on. However, he then catches himself responding almost familiarly to "the servant" (symbolized by a word balloon containing just an ellipsis) and so he quickly adds, "That will be all, Pennyworth."

Notice Damian's use of the surname when addressing Alfred; it indicates that unlike Bruce, Dick, and Tim Drake before him, Damian does not view Alfred as "part of the family," and he wants to be certain that the butler knows his place.
In contrast, Yost gives us a Damian who refers to Tim as "Drake"--probably meant to annoy Tim by not referring to him by his adopted name of "Wayne" rather than for the same reason that Morrison had Damian refer to Alfred as "Pennyworth."

Yost's Damian is a smart-aleck brat who doesn't speak as an elitist child with a sense of entitlement. Intead, Damian says such things as, "We'll have to upgrade the security in the cave, Batman. Keep out the riff-raff" and "Sorry, Drake, you're still part of the team--maybe the Batgirl costume is available."

These aren't the words of a kid who considers himself priviledged because he is descended from royalty--Ra's al Ghul and Bruce Wayne--and who sees a distinct social divide between himself and Tim Wayne. Yost gives us the dialog of a middle-class American adolescent with a smart-aleck attitude that would seem to be masking his own insecurities.

In other words, Yost didn't consider who the character is and how the character should actually speak.

Fortunately, I won't be coming back for more, so I won't have to suffer from this inept writing and storytelling.



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