Choose Your Fighters: Reviewing ‘Robin 2021 Annual’ #1
by Scott Redmond
‘Robin 2021 Annual’ #1 peels back the curtain to give a better look at some of the Lazarus Island fighting tournament contestants, as well as fits a fan-favorite legacy character back into the world at large. This series remains one of the true highlights of the Infinite Frontier era, constantly presenting a tried and true mix of fun, emotional weight, and character depth alongside artwork that elevates all of those aspects to even greater heights.
There are many things that are just beautiful all around about the tradition of oversized annual issues in comics. One of those things is just how versatile they can be.
They can be a way to tell a fully stand-alone story that is divorced from the main storylines that might be the focus of the regular main book. Sometimes they can be a larger issue that is used to help move the overall storylines ahead. Other times they can be something that is just to the side of the main story, filling in some gaps.
This last one is what we get within the pages of Robin 2021 Annual #01.
Through the series so far there have been a ton of characters introduced, which is natural for a story that is focused on a fighting tournament that needs competitors. Some of them are known DC Comics characters, both more and lesser-known already, and then there are several newer characters including Flatline, the new frenemy of Robin.
Slipping this issue into a place right between the fifth and sixth issues of the series, Joshua Williamson very wisely uses this issue to give us deeper glimpses at these characters. Setting it up as Robin searching through files (through the bat-computer thanks to the escrima stick given to him by Nightwing in Robin #5) was the perfectly logical and natural choice for how to go about this.
As the most prominent of the new characters, it’s only natural that a giant chunk of the first part of this issue is dedicated to showcasing the full origins of Flatline. From how she learned about her abilities to how she came to be with Lord Death Man and then joined the tournament. In just a few issues Flatline has already captured a lot of attention, and this just helps to expand that and make it easy to hope we see far more of her going forward.
A few of the other new characters get some really interesting single page, multiple panel, entries that give us a brief glimpse of them in action, and some info about their origins. The rest of the issue is split between some stories focused on Rose Wilson/Ravager and Connor Hawke. Rose is a great character and has been really interesting to see in this series and getting a little background (as well as a tease about her deceased older brother that could tie to the mysterious Respawn) about how she came to the tournament was nice.
Since it was revealed that Connor Hawke was part of this series, after being relegated to character limbo following the universe-altering events of Flashpoint over a decade ago, there were certainly many questions about this return. Whether he still had the same history that he had before the New 52 changes (since the events of Dark Nights: Death Metal opened the door to all continuity from DC history) and how he came to be with the League of Shadows.
As a fan of the character, it was great to see that indeed the old history is intact and his return to this reality left him displaced and hurt and on the shores of the League’s home. Having him be blinked out of existence only to reappear years later in this new timeline is perfect, as it allows for his old history to be intact but allows the sort of fish out of water story to work for him again.
For this issue, Roger Cruz and Victor Olazaba step in for pencil and ink duties respectively alongside Luis Guerrero who has colored most of the series to this point. Cruz has an intriguing style because it’s got a lot of the same energy and style to what Gleb Melnikov has been doing as the regular artist of the main series all this time. There are of course differences, as there are between artists, but it captures the same sort of fun and bright tone that has permeated the book (alongside the darker tones and themes that also fill the book) to give it that fighting tournament vibe.
The inks from Olazaba and the bright but also muted colors from Guerrero give it all a lot of weight and depth too. There are some really neat choices going on between some of the storylines, where slight to bigger changes in the color palettes or just the brightness levels make such a noticeable change. The art is the same but feels different between the more shadowed pages of Robin at night reading the files and then jumping right into the brighter world around Flatline in her origin.
Troy Peteri has been giving us the lettering magic across this series, and there is a ton to appreciate in this issue per usual. From the usual care put into the dialogue (little flares to make each person’s just a bit different) to the always awesome use of character’s name logos in place of just saying their name in the text. There are a ton of colorful and fun SFX here, but also even the little location/time subheads are just fun especially in Flatline’s story during her time with Lord Death Man. These little flares like colors added to certain bubbles or bits of dialogue or just changing the styles of bubbles for different moments take it up another level.
Robin 2021 Annual #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.