Saturday, April 23, 2016

We Are Robin, Volume 1: The Vigilante Business

 Having grown up in New York City seeing "The Guardian Angels" on the streets and on TV, this seemed like an interesting concept: Concerned young people, fed up with the crime and corruption that their city has become known for, band together to patrol the streets and protect the innocent.

 The accelerated timeline that "The New 52" uses is confusing enough (The new universe has had a Batman for a little over five years, and he's already had three Robins...), so adding a whole slew of new Robins to the mix had me less than thrilled, but writer Lee Bermejo won me over, although it was a bit of a rough go for a while there....WE ARE ROBIN, VOLUME 1: THE VIGILANTE BUSINESS starts off with the story from DC COMICS SNEAK PEEK: WE ARE ROBIN #1, which probably should have been placed somewhere else within the body of the main story, or as a bonus feature at the end. This is NOT a good way to open a brand-new book, with a story that has a half-dozen new characters, all masked, communicating via text messages using code-names. I was totally lost. I decided to give the book another twenty minutes or so before throwing in the towel, and I'm glad that I did. Bermejo is relatively new to writing, being primarily known as an artist, so it takes him a bit to find his footing, but he eventually does a decent job of making his large cast stand out as individuals, rather than just parts of a whole. The art, by Jorge Corona, Rob Haynes, Khary Randolph, James Harvey, and Carmine Di Giandomenico, is vibrant and colorful.

 The overarching story involves a mysterious mastermind who is controlling an army of homeless people and forcing them to commit terrorist acts, in hopes of destroying Gotham City landmarks. The bulk of the book's narrative is spent introducing the large cast of Robins, but this subplot runs throughout the collection, and never really concludes...the book ends with the Robins confronting this mystery man, but there is no resolution.

 Another running subplot concerns the person who is gathering the Robin recruits and funding them. I won't get into spoilers, but I will say that the identity of this person just didn't ring true to me. This was never a person who approved of putting children in danger, so it was hard to believe that he would put masses of children in danger, all at once. It's an interesting plot device, but one that was hard for me to swallow. The book also features appearances by the new Jim Gordon Batman, and Batgirl.

 The main Robin is named Duke Thomas, who I vaguely remember from Scott Snyder's BATMAN, and who I gather played a prominent role in BATMAN ETERNAL, as well as being featured in BATMAN AND ROBIN ETERNAL. Having not read any of them except for Snyder's BATMAN, I was afraid I'd be lost here, but Bermejo does a solid job of keeping readers aware of everything they need to know to understand the story.

 I was a bit afraid of the "all inclusive" nature of this book, as it's roster reads like a social justice warrior's checklist of diversity (Indeed, a Newsarama quote on the back cover exclaims "WE ARE ROBIN is a great example of how comics should bring more diversity into the mix..."), but Bermejo makes the whole team feel like an organic gathering, rather than something cooked up by DC to satisfy some imaginary quota. Say what you will about DC's output these days, but you have to admit that they're the publisher taking the most chances with off-the-wall books like this one. I'm sure WE ARE ROBIN will be relegated to the trash-heap of cancellation when the new DC reboot hits in a few months, but kudos to DC for taking a chance on a strange concept like this.

 (Addendum: I was going to include a few words praising DC for maybe learning their lesson, since they (Thankfully!) kept this collection free from any intrusive crossovers, which I feel have marred "The New 52" since it's inception. Then I discovered that this volume is continued in a collection called "ROBIN WAR", which is a nine-issue crossover that will also mar GOTHAM ACADEMY, another book that I read. I thought DC was learning, but I should have known better. Fool me once.....)

 DC Comics provided a review copy.