Monday, June 13, 2016

Comic Review: Robin: Son of Batman Vol. 1: Year of Blood

I’ve been a Damian fan for a while now, I’ll admit that right up front. So it didn’t take much convincing for me to go out and buy the newest volume of the youngest Robin’s solo adventures after his disappearance from Gotham City.

Robin and Goliath
Get-up's fresh, Damian.
Now for those who don’t know, Damian Wayne was a creation of Grant Morrison during his epic Batman run that started in the 2000s and ended with the 2nd volume of Batman Incorporated in the early 2010s. Morrison wrote Damian as the spoilt, athletic, prodigious son of Talia Al Ghul and Batman during a sordid affair the two had previously. In a way, he was a sort of second try at a character like Jason Todd; a troubled youth who would pose a challenge to Batman as a sidekick.

Well over the course of the next ten years, Damian proved to be just that. A well-spoken but arrogant and entitled brat with admittedly unparalleled fighting skills and a highly advanced intellect. On top of all of this, he was a killer. Over the course of Morrison’s early run, Bruce had to deal with all of these traits in his long lost son, helping turn him from a killer for the enemy, to a killer for the righteous – not a huge improvement. It wasn’t until Dick temporarily inherited the Bat-Mantle that Damian really started to show holes in his borderline sociopathic persona. Dick-Bats ended up being one of the greatest role-models for the young assassin, showing him how to tap into his empathy in the way only the optimistic Richard Grayson could.

The following Tomasi run during the New 52 went even further, showing Batman (now Bruce Wayne again, back from the dead because, you know, comics) work with the young Damian to almost completely change him from an unrepentant killer, to a much more subdued and at times sympathetic fighter for justice.

In Gleason’s Robin: Son of Batman, we find the young Robin on a redemption quest to make up for the violent and wrongful acts committed during a trial year staged by Talia during his early childhood known as the “Year of Blood”. During this test, Damian had committed numerous acts of theft on ancient peoples and guardians from an exotic island. Each of the initial 6 issues takes us back and forth between the Year of Blood and Damian’s current redemption quest showing us the parallels as well as highlighting the difference between the unrepentant asshole Damian began as (and who I initially despised) to the rough-around-the-edges, still-spoilt, but empathetic and highly complex character he has become. So does the privileged spoilt son of the Dark Knight stand on his own two feet without the Caped Crusader in this series?

Oh, he fuckin’ does.

Damian and Goliath
Damian... bruh... :'(
Along with the daughter of one of Damian’s previous victims, a giant flying Bat-Monster named Goliath, and an uneasy temporary alliance with Talia, Damian kicks absolute ass as he goes from location to location on the exotic island returning stolen treasures and atoning for his past sins to the locals. Throughout the process, we watch Damian redeem himself not only in his actions and to himself, but in the eyes of those around him – an acknowledgment that is important as it acts as a sort of final nail in the coffin of his past life as a ruthless assassin. Damian may have proved himself changed in Gotham, but it took a homecoming to face his past ghosts and atone for them to those whom he really hurt.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is how it addresses Damian’s nature. How does a sociopathic child even manage to make a real change for the better? Not just start killing for the “right” team, but actually feeling empathy and realizing an actual difference between right and wrong? Gleason answers these questions by using the flashbacks to the Year of Blood to show us that perhaps Damian had the seeds of empathy in him after all, in which case, Talia's upbringing clearly played a larger role in fostering Damian's garbage demeanor.

I'd be doing a huge injustice to artist Mick Gray if I didn't mention his work, alongside writer Gleason's contributions, to create an incredibly vibrant world for Damian and Co. to inhabit. The bright colors and expressive faces as well as fluid line-work make every scene look like a living, breathing cartoon. Damian has never looked more adorable/dangerous. When he scowls, you feel the shade he's throwing. When he cries, your own eyes well up too, its simply some of my all time favorite comic art and I will be searching for more of their contributions to the comic world in the future!

When you boil it down, the entire book is a tight, self-contained work of pure art. Damian lovers rejoice, the best Robin is getting his due.

4/5 returned artifacts

Now leave a pissed off comment about how Dick/Tim is the best Robin and why I'm completely wrong.

Edit: So I've just found out that Gleason is doing the art for the Superman Rebirth ongoing... pretty pumped!

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