We Begin Again: Reviewing ‘Robin & Batman’ #01
by Scott Redmond
What’s old is new again as Robin & Batman presents a gorgeous retelling of the first days of the iconic dynamic duo, focusing deeply on the characters and their traumas, personalities, and the struggles to retain who they are in this burgeoning partnership. Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, with letterer Steven Wands joining them, showcase just why they work so well together and have won awards for their collaborations as they take a break from creator-owned to visit Gotham City.
Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo. They go together like peanut butter and jelly — where one is, the other is usually not far behind. There have of course been multiple Robins over the decades, but the very first one was the one and only Richard “Dick” Grayson.
At this point in time, Dick has been Nightwing for almost as long as he was Robin (thirty-seven years versus forty-four years). Outside of some flashbacks here or there, his time as the boy wonder isn’t often explored in the main DC Universe continuity. Even when Flashpoint rebooted the line and The New 52 happened, the line of five Robins was kept and Dick was still Nightwing. The last real exploration of Grayson’s time as Batman’s sidekick was in 2000’s Robin: Year One from Chuck Dixon and Scott Beaty.
Enter Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, and Steve Wands, who are ready to take a peek back at those early days through a more recent modern lens with the three-part Robin & Batman.
As noted by the title switching around the names, this retelling spotlights Robin/Dick as he struggles to adjust in the very first days of training with Batman/Bruce Wayne while still dealing with the recent loss of his parents. Just like the title pair, Lemire and Nguyen are a dynamic duo of their own after several years of working together on books like Descender and its sequel, Ascender.
Right away, one is hit just by how gorgeously moody and emotional this book is, with Nguyen’s watercolors showcasing the dreariness of Gotham City as well as the bright colorful bits of those who call the city home. There are tons of close-up style panels, as the panels then shift and morph and expand in so many different ways through the issue. Page one gives us a twelve-panel layout featuring all kinds of different images that are teases of what is to come, what has happened, and what is about to happen once the page is turned.
Whether at a distance or close-up, Nguyen’s take on Batman is an intimidating force that seems beyond human yet, at the same time, is a man on a mission trying to mold a young soldier. There is a beautiful mix of colors throughout the pages, shifting from darker, dreary ones around the world that Batman inhabits and wants for Dick, while Dick’s world still has brighter reds and other colors.
This is the same in the caption boxes brought to life by Wands. Where Dick’s are still full of his circus roots reds, Batman’s are shadowy. Those same sorts of colors are part of the variety of SFX that populate some of the more action-packed pages. This attention to showing differences in characters’ personalities or moods carries over to the other dialogue too, even with the way that the bubbles are formed for the Batman rogue that pops up near the end. They are rounder and a bit softer than one might expect for such a rough character, but seems near the endpoint to what might have been for this character in the past.
We’re treated to a Batman here that is rougher and stern — not to the point of the current Batman, who while still stern shows genuine love and care at times for his variety of allies, wards, and children. Instead, Lemire shows us an accurate depiction of a man on a mission who has internalized that goal and only sees that, butting heads with a young man still reeling from loss and not wanting to give up who and what he is. At the same time, we see that part of what Bruce is doing here stems from the fact that he fears taking a child into the battlefield if they are not a hardened soldier.
There is a lot happening in this issue, but the majority of it centers around the relationship between the dynamic duo and their stalwart alley Alfred as well. The father figure and butler is trying to straddle the line between supporting the man he helped raise and helping that man realize that he can’t just mold this child into another version of himself.
While we see glimmers of the Dick Grayson that we all know and love at this point, it’s important that this book take its time to actually explore trauma and grief, the different ways it manifests, and the different ways people deal with it. This is truly one of the best looks at the early days of these characters that we’ve gotten in quite some time.
Robin & Batman #01 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.