During a typical wait time for the wife, I checked out the local Barnes & Noble for new reading fare. I ended up with quite a list to give the wife to get through her inter-library loan and picked up a couple of other items. Only one of which was comic related. I was actually disappointed with B&N's comic selection. Plenty of manga, to be sure, but no SHOWCASE or ESSENTIAL volumes. There were a couple of other things that looked interesting but the one I eventually chose was ROBIN: YEAR ONE.
This is a compilation of the four issue limited series that came out EIGHT years ago! Ye gads! Where has the time gone? Anyway, like the title says, it is Robin's adventures during his first year as Batman's sidekick but immediately AFTER Robin's origin. It's written by Chuck Dixon and Scotty Beatty with artwork by Jadier Palido and Robert Campanella. I confess that I was not then, or even now, very familiar with the artists but knew the writers' names very well. I recalled enjoying this series quite a lot when it first came out and, by flipping through the pages, knew that I'd like to read it once again.
Now, THIS is what superhero comics SHOULD be today. It's exciting, thrilling, filled with great characters and evil villains, touches all the right notes of nostalgia and is a joy from cover to cover. Dixon and Beatty have a great handle on Robin's personality and it shines through in his scenes. The plucky, happy-go-lucky Robin has never made as much sense or seemed so real as he does here. Alfred is his dedicated self, playing the roles as confidant, friend and ally to the young lad and Gordon has one of his best roles in years. We see him uncomfortable with the idea of Batman taking a young boy as a partner and the fragile trust he gives Batman.
The art itself is wonderful and expressive, alternately showing Robin's joy at his superhero escapades and then the dark dangers that befall him. In some ways, the art is reminiscent of Tim Sale's work on other Bat-epics like THE LONG HALLOWEEN, but it remains uniquely its own. It harkens back to both the Silver and the Golden Age with some of the designs so much that one is never particularly sure when the story is taking place. Is it 1940's Gotham or today-15 years? It's hard to tell and, what's more, you don't care! A good story is a good story no matter where or WHEN it's set.
But, more than anything else, this story excels in it's portrayal of Batman. A supporting character, he commands every scene he is in both physically and emotionally. Here is the classic Batman. He is smart, capable, well trained and dedicated. The one thing he is NOT is fricking NUTS! I am so tired of today's writers portraying Batman as one step removed from Arkham himself. This Batman is the one who has set his life upon a path from which there can be no deviation. He is not insane and knows full well the risks that he faces himself and to which he exposes the boy. In short, this Batman is a hero. Perhaps he should be introduced to today's version so he can have a LONG talk with his wayward descendent.
This book is a wonderful example of how a superhero comic can be both modern and nostalgic. It incorporates the best of both worlds without denying either. It is concrete, absolute PROOF that you CAN produce a superhero comic that is exciting, fun AND dangerous without resorting to 'dark' and gore. It should be required reading for anyone who writes a Batman comic from now on.