Monday, June 22, 2009

Red Robin #1

The recent death of Bruce Wayne has affected his extended family in different ways. Dick Grayson has assumed his role as Batman, Alfred mourns by throwing himself into his work, Jason Todd has… well, he's become even crazier. Naturally, the news has affected his long-time sidekick and adopted son, Tim Wayne, perhaps most dramatically. Thing is, Tim doesn't entirely believe that Bruce is dead, and in a way of dealing with his conflicting emotions, he's set out on a quest to prove it. Having left behind the role of Robin, Drake has embarked on a broad tour of Europe in search of his fallen mentor wearing a new outfit and a different moniker: the Red Robin.

He's got a lot of ground to cover in this first issue, but Red Robin's writer, Chris Yost, does so magnificently. In his first test drive with Batman's traditional players, Yost shows no hesitation. He dives right into the impending confrontation between Dick (the new Batman), Damian (the new Robin) and Tim (the odd man out), lets the events play through to their logical conclusion, and moves us forward to the present. This month's narration travels quickly, jumping from the Bat Cave to a hostage sitation in Madrid, a rest stop in Spain to a street-side explosion in Prague, but it hardly feels strapped for time. No single scene lingers for longer than it needs to – there simply isn't enough room for wasted pages – but it also doesn't seem excessively rushed or short on detail. From all indications, this is going to be a breakneck tour of Europe but not at the expense of good storytelling.

Yost tells much of the story via Tim's own internal narration, but show similar restraint there as well. He doesn't muddy up the artwork with a flood of narrative boxes, but instead uses them sparingly and effectively. The brief glimpses we're given into Tim's thought process are enough to establish the character, convey his mindset and reaffirm his reluctance and frustration. No one is more uncertain of what he'll find on this little adventure than Tim himself, but he knows undoubtedly that it's something he has to do before he can move on with his life. He's growing as a character and as an individual right before our eyes, graduating from sidekick to standalone in what's becoming a natural progression for former Boy Wonders.

For the character's new ongoing series, artist Ramon Bachs has brought along a more appropriately mature visual style. Blending the talents of Tony Moore, Tony Daniel and Darick Robertson, Bachs envisions a series of cities that are consistently gritty, seedy and filthy without producing an uncontrollable flow of linework in the process. His work is simple but serious, uncomplicated but not juvenile. In that respect, he reaches a nice balance between the relative innocence of the youth Tim's left behind with his Robin costume and the more serious, no-nonsense landscape he'll be dealing with as one of the big boys. It's perfect for the lead character's current predicament: no longer childish, but not quite ready to be a grown-up.

In a word, this is good stuff. Well, actually that's two words but you get the point. It's unusual for such a well-defined character to get as fresh a start as Tim is enjoying in Red Robin, so it's great to see his creators acknowledging that fact and taking full advantage. All the familiar aspects of this character that you've loved are still intact, but the apparent death of his mentor has changed him fundamentally and Tim is still trying to understand precisely what that means. This issue was just the first step. It's a wild ride that navigates a variety of emotions, before delivering a teaser at the end of the chapter that's left me hungry for more. Buy it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8

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