Last year’s annual was a tough act for Peter J. Tomasi & Doug Mahnke to follow and while I don’t think this issue quite reached the same heights as Damian’s home alone adventure, it came close and that’s a heck of a compliment.

If there’s one thing that the Batman & Robin title has been lacking for the better part of a year, it’s been in the Robin-department. With Damian dead, The Dark Knight went through a grieving process where the “& ___” aspect of the book was filled in by various other members of the bat-family. In recent months we’ve dropped all good guys entirely by just renaming the comic “Batman & Two-Face” during an arc centered around Harvey Dent’s past and this spring the title will have yet another name change where it’ll featuring various big name DC heroes. But there will be no fill-ins here! Not with the annual! In fact, we’re doubling down and readers better brace themselves because your double dose of Robin begins on page one.

“Batman and Robin: Week One” as it is called is about the first few nights that Dick Grayson officially hit the streets as Batman’s partner. If you think that these events would contradict with Kyle Higgins’ Nightwing #0, well, Dick Grayson broke the rules and put on the costume against Batman’s wishes in that comic whereas he completed all of his training and earned the A-O.K. here. So I think the stories can co-exist if you place this one a few months/a year or so later. However, “Week One” appears to give us a different example of where Grayson was living at the time because it looks like he’s staying in Wayne Manor (just like in the pre-New 52 days) but Nightwing #0 had him living at the Wayne Care Center (of course, we could assume Dick eventually moved into Wayne Manor). A minor complaint, and that’s pretty much the only variety of complaint I found myself having about this issue.

So how do we get onto the subject of Dick Grayson’s debut in the first place? The entire issue is told in a non-linear narrative, but not so much so that we go beyond Forever Evil (though it might be odd for some to see Dick visiting Gotham AGAIN or for him to be so chummy with Bruce given the events of Death of the Family) or make a pit-stop in Zero Year. We begin with an average night out on patrol where Nightwing and Damian squat on a rooftop and just chat like old pals or, more appropriately, brothers. Dick is playing the big brother trying to share stories and offer up advice to the know-it-all little sibling. It’s a fun scene that plants the seed for what will be driving the rest of the entire comic: What’s in the box?!

We flash forward a few months, post-Damian’s death where Bruce finds a hidden box with a note that reads “Payback for Grayson telling me that long boring story about his first week as Robin.” Bruce won’t open it without Grayson present and since Grayson is such a showman, he won’t open it without sharing the very same long story with Bruce and Alfred. And with that we flash back again and see a story that beautifully illustrates Dick Grayson’s excitement at the prospect of being a crimefighter. Where we see the idea of being a superhero as a being fun again! There are some hilarious scenes that show him anxiously watching the clock at school so he can run home and stock his utility belt, somber moments between Bruce and a disapproving Alfred, triumphant scenes of the dynamic duo at their finest, and Tomasi even creates an all-new villain intended to feel like an old one.

This new character, Tusk, is discussed at length as being a thorn in Nightwing’s side for years with a rivalry that was forged from the very beginning, but after flipping through a Bat-encyclopedia (I own 2) and Googling a bit I came up with nothing. So here’s hoping whoever takes over the Nightwing title remembers this baddie and builds on the foundation seen here to hopefully give Grayson a worthwhile rogues gallery. The character’s been around for about 74 years now, let’s stop dilly-dallying! Tusk’s appearance is going to be pretty over-the-top for some and I’ll admit that it pulled me out of the comic for a moment, but he’s definitely not forgettable and if he has a decent origin story then it just might work! No, my only real grievance about Tusk is the way his story ends– how this story ends.

The final battle with Tusk had a weak excuse for its change of scenery and it just seemed to radiate this sense of being cut short. There’s a lot of content here and so there had to be some heavy editing to make it all fit and I think that the final fight with Tusk is the element that became unstable as a result. I’ll go into greater detail in spoiler tags, but again, it’s a really entertaining comic with more than enough action, heart, and respect for these characters and their history. I highly recommend picking it up so don’t let my mention of a somewhat unsatisfactory villain fight dissuade you.

Spoiler

My problem is that we get another one of those really cheap excuses to not kill the hero even though there is absolutely no reason not to finish the job here and now. I feel like if you’ve written yourself into a corner where your villain walking away is the only option for your hero to survive, you’re better off scrapping a few pages and doing a rewrite. John Layman has done this twice during his Detective Comics run, but unlike leaving the scene of the crime and telling Batman that he’ll get what’s coming to him some other time, at least Tusk only moves his victims to another location. You see, Tusk and his many henchmen all have guns on Batman and Robin, but before offing the heroes, Tusk tells everyone to load them on the chopper instead and they’ll toss them into the river. What’s the point? Wouldn’t it be better just to shoot them here and then finish the heist that you just started? We cut directly to the chopper where they’ve for whatever reason kept Robin conscious and the number of henchmen has dwindled down to 2 instead of 5. And since the chopper is carrying 4 men and 1 elephant man, it’s not getting a whole lot of lift so the fall isn’t really fatal.

The artwork is quite good despite there being so many different folks involved. Doug Mahnke and Pat Gleason collaborate on pencils, 6 different men inked those pencils, and Tony Avina colored it all and colored it really well. Although Mahnke handles the bulk of the book, these pages retain the same look and feel you come to expect from Gleason and Gray’s usual output. Mahnke shows impressive range, capturing comedic, dramatic, and action scenes brilliantly with more than enough expression and detail. The annual also offers no shortage of eye-candy in terms of two-page spreads and splash pages. There’s a 2-page spread featuring the original dynamic duo side-by-side that I expect will make many fans swoon and the reveal of Tusk was particularly memorable. I really appreciated the attention to detail on his jewelry and hide.

Recommended If…

  • The period Nightwing #0 took place in is something you’d like to explore further
  • You’ve been waiting for DC to elaborate on the New 52 history of Dick & Bruce
  • You miss Damian Wayne
  • Adding a new baddie to the Nightwing rogues gallery interests you

Overall

Peter J. Tomasi created another great annual issue well worth the premium price. It’s a fun and heartfelt done-in-one story told well through Doug Mahnke’s visuals. I had a few minor criticisms here and there, but I gotta say, it’s a must-buy for fans of the Boy Wonder– whether your favorite sidekick was Dick Grayson or Damian Wayne.

SCORE: 9/10