I had no idea I was going to have so many ~opinions about this book. I guess I should have gone into Media Studies and written a dissertation on Batman.
Book Two starts out with Robin hanging a lantern off of how ridiculous many of Baman’s villains are. Which bringing up the odd fact that Batman has the best of all villains and the worst at the same time. The Joker? Iconic as the face of destructive madness. Manbat? A manbat, just what it says on the tin. Our current villain is dun dun DUUUUUUUUUUUUUN: Killer Moth. Oh yeah, baby, it’s ON.
The chase panels and Dick’s fight with the Killer Moth are all very cute and sentimental in a way because they’re Dick at his most charming, idealistic, and cocky. He’s a sweet kid who’s in for some tough times, but more on that later. I really enjoy the art in this book a lot; the retro feel was the perfect touch.
Oh, wait, Alfred’s also waiting for the other shoe to drop! How could strapping on a primary colored unitard and pixie boots to swing from jumplines whilst cracking wise at psychotic villains ever go wrong? Alfred’s narration does stray to maudlin on occasion in this installment. Own your destiny, Alfred! Just put your foot down.
A lot happens in a very short span. Apparently Alfred just lurks around in the car waiting for Dick when he’s hanging with the mundanes. We witness the first of a lifetime of cockblocks Batman puts on Robin (all of them). And Commissioner Gordon comes right out and voices the universal “…er, you know this kid sidekick thing is weird, right?” to Bruce.
Let’s give that last bit a deeper analysis, actually. In the panel where Gordon’s saying “it’s not protecting the innocent to drag this kid along” you have Robin sitting in an oddly suggestive pose with his leg up and crotch super prominent. He’s vulnerable, looks really young, perched on the edge of a building. I will just assume this is intentional because it seems too pronounced not to be. One of the central aspects of the Batman and Robin story that troubles people is this idea that Batman is a damned creeper. Even if all you know about the Batman mythos is what you gleaned through pop culture osmosis, you’re probably aware of the jokes about Batman being a pedo. So here you have Gordon inquiring if this kid is Batman’s son. Because to us in this era, ok, we could kind of write that off—a son is one thing, but if he’s NOT his son…where does that leave us? It would be worthwhile to mention that the current Robin IS Bruce’s biological son and the last Robin he adopted. Adopted son sounds better than his ward, right? It’s basically the same thing, and I hesitate to mention this, but I believe a committed pedo probably has cottoned onto this adopting an eleven year old idea.
When the kid sidekicks were introduced the concept was to appeal to children, if they put kids in the books then kids would want to read them. This was in an era when comics weren’t really for kids (exclusively). Comics evolved so that children were perceived to be the main audience, and I wasn’t around then, so maybe they even were. Robin was meant to soften Batman, make him appeal to a younger audience. I believe this strategy worked quite well as I personally came into comics as a lifetime fan through Robin when I was a child.
Children think magically, the issue of Batman being a pedo isn’t really on their radar. They fantasize about being Robin, being adopted by Batman and running away from boring school and tedious piano lessons. Robin is cool; he lives in a mansion with a butler and has awesome gadgets and unlimited resources and gets to stay out all night.
Fast forward to being a grown up. It doesn’t take one long to arrive at that “what the eff is wrong with this guy?” line of thinking when applying real world concepts to the fantasy world of Batman. And it’s rational to apply real world thinking when the books do themselves as witnessed by Dick going on a rollerblading date. In a lot of Batbooks there’s an eye to detail that lends them an almost creepy verisimilitude.
Further to this, it’s unsurprising that this sort of meta analysis crops up in the books themselves because dudes (and it’s almost always dudes) writing Superman and Batman titles grew up reading them, they’re just fans who landed the brass ring. So here you have Alfred griping to himself about Bruce being too mental to see how dragging Dick around as his sidekick is nuts and
Commissioner Captain Gordon telling Batman off for the same (and implying that there might be something very wrong going down here while not actually doing anything about it).
Then we segue straight into Bruce’s classic bad parenting technique of emotional blackmail. Dick missteps and Bruce punishes him for being a naïve kid instead of explaining himself in any meaningful way. This is telegraphed in the “think about it” thought bubble. Dick’s supposed to reason out adult concepts all on his own? Really? Later we see Dick sitting sad and forlorn in the dark (crying on the inside) while Bruce clearly sees him AND SAYS NOTHING. Jeez, that fantasy of being adopted by Batman seems misguided in retrospect.
The plot of this book is pleasantly stereotypical: corruption at the heart of Gotham’s justice system has far-reaching consequences. Crime has a butterfly effect in Gotham. It’s probably a good idea to live in Star City, to be honest.
Once again, I wonder why the first act of a villain after knocking Batman out isn’t to take his mask off. Some people solve this by assuming the cowl is boobytrapped. I choose to assume that all of Gotham’s villains are written as insane to avoid this very question. Being able to answer BECAUSE THEY’RE CRAZY to all inconsistencies is convenient.
Next time: we learn if Dick lives. I believe you can hazard a guess.