Let’s all get to know Dick Grayson, the love of my life.
This trade is too long to do all in one go, so we’ll do it part by part.
Robin: Year One, part 1
Just to get it out there, I love Chuck Dixon, and I doubt you’re going to run into many Batfamily fans who would say otherwise. He loves Batman and the Robins, and you can see it in his writing. If you’re going to go off book and scout your local comic shop for stuff on your own, look for his name, you’re probably going to pleased with the book you buy (or at least you won’t make emoticon faces at the panels while crying blood). He also wrote Nightwing: Year one (our next book), co-wrote Batgirl: Year One and all of the big events in the Batbooks in the 90’s (a golden age of Battitles). Get to know him, he’s your friend. (Unlike others who I will lampoon in due time.)
Just a head’s up, this book starts in medias res with Dick already kicking it with Bruce and Alfred in Stately Wayne Manor. That’s because Robin is actually introduced in Batman: Year Three, but we ditched the Batman: Year By Year series because we have other shit to do and don’t need to waste time on that series.
Meet Dick! Check out his onesy and pixie boots! What you don’t see in this book (because it happened in another one, get used to it) is that Dick was born in the circus. No, really. His family were trapeze artists and were killed by a bad guy. Bruce happened to be at the circus that night (oh my god, what a coincidence!) and he brought Dick home with him. It was a different time, people. (No, that was always weird, idk, that guy who said this story was pedo was right.)
(We will revisit this whole circus thing in Nightwing: Year One.)
Now for the action:
Luckily for Dick, Alfred (Bruce’s butler) is a pretty good mom, so he makes him cookies and gets the blood out of his uniform. He’s the only rational person in all of the Batfamily. The use of Alfred as a narrator changes the tone of this book from the usual unhinged angst to a normal person’s perspective on, you know, dragging a little kid out into dark allies to beat up criminals with guns. Alfred thinks this is a bad plan that will end badly—because he’s not INSANE.
On page 11 of book 1 we learn two things: one, Bruce’s a classist who doesn’t know the difference between middle and high school, and that Dick’s been macking on the ladies since the seventh grade (at least). I feel these are fundamental insights into the characters.
Isn’t this a sweet book? Dick’s so cute, and he’s full of quips. Alfred’s a nurturer! Bruce’s charmingly old fashioned and drives a super hot roadster convertible! …wait, is the plot of this comic about child sex trafficking? I guess we needed our sugar cut with battery acid.
Rheelasia? you scoff. You’ll get used to the ridiculous made up country names. Or you won’t. I still laugh at them.
Aside: when Commissioner Gordon mentions his daughter—his adopted niece—he’s talking about Barbara Gordon. You might have heard of her through pop culture osmosis because she’s the original Batgirl. Depending on which continuity (hold on, I will explain) you’re discussing, she’s either Gordon’s daughter or niece. Just pick what you like and defend it to the death.
On this concept of continuity: comics are sort of always happening in a sustainably constant present. Sometimes there’s a reference to an amorphous past and future, but most comics aren’t tied to a specific timeline of days and years or even hours. Every once in a while the entire universe is just rest, the way you want to do with your life after a big break up. Comicbooks get to do that, just say, eff it, I’m over it, let’s burn this mother to the ground. Then POOF, there’s a whole new CONTINUITY that writers and artists set about making up all over again until it sucks too much, then mother burning and POOF again. It happens enough that even though we get worked up in righteous rage when a favorite character dies, we all know that they’re coming back. Probably wrong and broken, but they’ll be back.
The lack of time specificity is why Dick Grayson is currently in his 20s and not seventy or so. There was a whole story that explained why Batman’s still young, but it was dumb and unnecessary since only the kid sidekicks really age—and then only up to a point. (Google Lazarus Pit if you really care.) From what I can tell, Tim, Dick, and Jason (the main Robins) are all about the same age right now.
I think one of the things Dixon does really well with the Battitles is how in all his books there are the little glimpses of what amounts to classic nostalgia for long term Batfans, such as the panel of Dick asleep at the computer bank in the Cave and how Alfred’s always pushing food on his charges, while still being accessible to noobs.
Which brings me to the appeal of this book in general. Dick’s the quintessential child sidekick for all the things you see in this book: he embodies exactly what a child reading the comics would think it would be like to be freed from the drudgery of school, soccer practice, music lessons, chores, mom and dad fighting, stupid siblings getting attention. Dick’s no reluctant hero. He revels in it. He tumbles off buildings laughing and exploding with uncontainable pleasure. Bruce says “don’t get in trouble” and Dick completely and totally ignores him while being the least subtle investigator of all time. Alfred tuts at him and Dick’s not bothered, he recognizes it as loving babying. Who wouldn’t want this life? Dick figures out the bad guy’s plans and always has someone there to save him if things get out of control. This is a lovely look at what it’s like to think like a well-loved child who never questions that his parents will be there every time he falls. It appeals to adults on this level, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if life was that simple?
This book is also a big reminder that it’s lucky Alfred’s around, amirite? It’s really rewarding to see Bruce be the old Bruce, the one who tipped drinks into ship navigation systems, listened to Alfred without being a jerk, and who told Robin/his ward that he has a good heart and that he made the right decisions based on that heart. Where did this guy go? Oh, right, the Jason Todd fiasco and Frank Miller. More on this topic later.
I really enjoy the retro art in this. All the little touches like the shape of Robin’s mask and the way his gauntlets fold. There’s something about the original Robin costume that reminds me of being very young watching the old 60’s live action show on my grandparents’ cabinet television that they probably bought contemporarily with the show being made. I think that’s intentional. The whole swinging 60’s vibe is palpable in the art in general. Deft.
As a real world aside, yeah, the whole Asian dictator kidnapping white girls for unspoken nefarious purposes does come off as creepy in a completely unintentional way. Sex slavery, for one, tends to roll the other way. If the bad guy had been from the Balkans, though… ? No?
Back to Dick Grayson being as cute as icanhascheezburgers then!