Batman’s beloved sidekick got a prestige-format special issue from DC Comics to celebrate his 80th anniversary in March.
Courtesy of DC Comics
This book was cast aside, relegated to my to-read pile for two months.
It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to its release. No, I was waiting to have something to celebrate, as DC Comics’ “Robin 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular” was one of the final new comic books shipped to direct market retailers in March before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the distribution of new comics until late May.
The 100-page issue looked spectacular on top of my stack of new comics, carefully bagged, boarded, and collecting dust, with a cover illustrated by Lee Weeks and Brad Anderson depicting Robin’s left arm stretched out as if he’s reaching to touch Batman’s cape — waiting for me.
With Diamond Comic Distributors up and running again, and DC Comics now selling its books through recently formed micro distributors Lunar and UCS, the right moment struck to crack open the special prestige-format one-shot. This seemed a little ironic since the industry distribution model that DC Comics is breaking free from is the polar opposite of what the publisher is doing within the pages of its books, as the company's editorial team relishes in building continuity and embracing the legacy of their intellectual property and characters going back decades.
Dick Grayson, who now wears the Nightwing suit, was the original Robin. His debut came in the pages of “Detective Comics No. 38,” released in 1940, with a creative team of Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. Since Grayson hung up his Robin suit for the last time, there have been four other Robins playing sidekick to Batman: Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne, Batman’s most recent sidekick to don the costume. The son of Bruce Wayne, Damian was created by Grant Morrison and Adam Kubert in the 2000s.
Having five Robins and two Batmans (in addition to Bruce Wayne, Grayson was Batman for a time) is as convoluted as it seems, but that’s superhero comics from the big two publishers in the United States for you, especially at DC, where legacy cannot be escaped.
Courtesy of DC Comics
Grayson is the anniversary issue’s lead character, featured in four of the comic’s 10 stories. His most intriguing vignette comes in “The Lesson Plan,” an eight-page adventure co-written by Tim Seeley and Tom King, with art by Mikel Janín. With a top-notch creative team, the episode is bold in its storytelling as it depicts Grayson from the publisher’s New 52 experiment, when he shed himself of his Robin and Nightwing identities to work with covert-ops group Spyral as Agent 37.
Each of Grayson’s adventures in the one-shot have a distinct tone and slant, depicting the beloved hero throughout his superhero career, including when he’s most vulnerable and considering moving on from being Batman’s partner. Also unique is each story includes new narrative threads, rather than strictly rehashing a lot of what’s already been covered, which adds a coat of fresh paint to an 80-year-old character.
James Tynion IV and Javier Fernandez’s eight-page special, “Boy Wonders,” is the vignette which best captures the essence and legacy of the different Robins as Drake is shown struggling with his identity as Red Robin. Drake seeks out advice from Grayson, Todd, and Damian, who replaced Drake in the Robin suit. David Baron’s colors gives Fernandez’s linework some extra texture, which gives Gotham additional prominence and grit not seen throughout other stories in the anniversary special.
None of the issue’s tales are particularly groundbreaking, and I would have gladly given up a couple of the pin-ups for more pages of story to expand a narrative thread or two, especially in Judd Winick and Dustin Nguyen’s “More Time,” which depicts Todd reflecting on his partnership with Bruce Wayne from when he wore the Robin suit. “More Time” has the strongest emotional through-line of all the stories within, and its plot deserved more pages, as Todd, who is arguably the least popular of the characters to put on the Boy Wonder costume, gets just one story and nine pages to himself in the anniversary special.
Regardless of how one may feel about Robin or the young characters who have put on the costume, the issue truly is spectacular and is a worthy installment in DC Comics’ 100-page specials that are slated to come out this year. If the anniversary spectaculars for Catwoman and Joker are nearly as impressive as Robin's, I've got a good summer of reading ahead of me.