I’m dipping my feet into graphic novel reviews, and I’m going to focus on some of Batman’s greatest allies. To kick things off, I figured I would start with Tim Drake. This might seem like an odd place to start – I mean, any sensible person would start with Nightwing or Batgirl – but considering the attention Tim has received since Rebirth, he seemed like the prime character to cover. If you didn’t start reading comics until the New 52, there’s a good chance that you don’t understand the mass love that is usually associated with Tim. In fact, you probably think those of us who speak so highly of him are crazy! To put it lightly, the Red Robin/ Tim Drake that is featured throughout the New 52 is NOT Tim Drake. Those of you that have frequented Batman-News and read our comic reviews should be aware that we’ve been highly critical of any title containing Tim. He’s stand-offish, arrogant, rude, and completely not a team player. It was such a turnoff for me that I spent years hoping DC would fix his characterization, before ultimately giving up… And then Rebirth happened. James Tynion took over Tim’s character in Detective Comics, and in my opinion, completely restored who this character is at heart!
So, who is the real Tim Drake? Well… That answer begins here, in Robin Vol. 1: Reborn.
After discovering Batman’s identity, Tim Drake must now endure months of intensive physical training before he can publicly debut as the Caped Crusader’s new partner. Given an all-new hi-tech costume and the encouragement of former Robin Dick Grayson, Tim is finally ready to don the identity he was born for: Robin! But when his parents are kidnapped by the Obeah Man, will Batman be able to save them or will tragedy find Tim Drake?
Then, Robin must survive a final baptism by fire as he travels overseas to learn martial arts from one of the world’s greatest fighters—the deadly Lady Siva. Flying solo for the first time, he comes across a diabolical plot by Batman’s old enemy King Snake and must prove that he is worthy of the mantle of Robin!
ROBIN: REBORN collects in chronological order for the first time ever BATMAN #455-457, DETECTIVE COMICS #618-621, and ROBIN #1-5. Detailing the journey of fan favorite Tim Drake’s transformation into Robin are classic comic creators ALAN GRANT ( BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT), CHUCK DIXON (NIGHTWING), NORM BREYFOGLE (BATMAN BEYOND) and TOM LYLE (STARMAN)!
These issues essentially create the following three stories:
- “Rite of Passage” (Detective Comics #618-621)
- “Crimes of Whim” (Batman #455-457)
- “Reborn” (Robin #1-5)
Before reading Robin Vol. 1: Reborn, I highly recommend that you become familiar with the two previous Robins: Dick Grayson and Jason Todd. It’s not required, but it definitely helps you understand the character differences between Dick, Jason, and Tim. It also doesn’t hurt to know Batman’s stance concerning Robin, and whether or not he needs one, or should have one.
Robin: Year One
Here it is: Robin’s baptism by fire as he dons the costume of Robin, the Boy Wonder for the first time and patrols the night by Batman’s side. In his earliest adventures, Robin learns very quickly that what he thought would be fun is actually a matter of life and death.
Of course I’m going to recommend that you start from the beginning! What kind of comic book nerd would I be if I just threw you to the wolves? If you’ve never read this story, it’s a brilliantly fun read and I highly recommend it!
Batman: Death in the Family
Batman readers were allowed to vote on the outcome of the story and they decided that Robin should die! As the second person to assume the role of Batman’s sidekick, Jason Todd had a completely different personality than the original Robin. Rash and prone to ignore Batman’s instructions, Jason was always quick to act without regard to consequences. In this fatal instance, Robin ignores his mentor’s warnings when he attempts to take on the Joker by himself and pays the ultimate price. Driven by anger with Superman by his side, Batman seeks his vengeance as he looks to end the Joker’s threat forever.
One of the most famous Batman stories of all time, Death in the Family provides so much context for Robin Vol. 1: Reborn. You may be familiar with the story itself, but if you haven’t read it, then you need to take the time to do so in order to truly understand the struggle that Bruce faces throughout Robin Vol. 1: Reborn, as well as the hesitation Tim Drake has about donning the iconic role of Robin.
Batman: Year Three & Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying
Batman: Year Three
Featuring the first appearance of Tim Drake. As Batman investigates the murder of multiple mob bosses, Dick Grayson returns to Wayne Manor for the first time in two years–just in time for the parole hearing of Tony Zucco, the man responsible for the death of his parents!
A Lonely Place of Dying
Following Jason Todd’s death, Batman is pushed to the limits. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson goes on a journey of self-discovery as he returns to the place where it all began. As the Dark Knight and Two-Face face off, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake discuss the future of Batman and Robin.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why these narratives aren’t included in Robin Vol. 1: Reborn, or why they haven’t at least been re-released as a graphic novel recently. Yes, technically both of these stories are more of a Dick Grayson story than a Tim Drake story, however, these are the two stories that actually introduce Tim Drake, and set up his relationship with Batman, as well as the concept of the idea that Batman needs a Robin. It plays so well into Tim’s arc, and I’m sad that it’s not included in this collection since I view this as Tim’s true origin.
THE STORY: Considering this trade is titled Robin Vol. 1: Reborn, it ironically has very little of “Robin” in it. That’s not a complaint though. Tim Drake is featured in all three stories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the focus. Instead, this collection places a spotlight on Tim’s relationship with Bruce, the idea of Robin, and the relationships Tim has with other people around him. The book explores multiple themes that define what it means to be a hero, as well of the sacrifices it requires. Each story focuses on a specific theme, shaping Tim mentally and physically along the way. The real test isn’t in Tim’s physical ability though, but in whether or not Tim can emotionally endure the trials ahead of him.
“Rite of Passage”
The opening story has very little to do with Tim directly, but everything to do with him indirectly. As Tim naively dreams about becoming the next Robin, he’s suddenly forced to come to terms with the reality of this lifestyle when his parents go missing during a business trip. After finding the Drake’s plane crashed and abandoned, a rescue mission begins to try and find Tim’s parents. Scared and overcome with emotion, Tim begins to shut down as he realizes the danger and sacrifice this lifestyle could pose not only for him personally, but his loved ones as well… It’s a huge burden to carry, especially for a young kid, and he hasn’t even taken the commitment to suit-up yet.
With very few leads, and the outlook rather bleak, the GCPD receives a video of the Obeah Man who has kidnapped the Drakes, and is demanding ransom for their return. With it established that the Obeah Man isn’t opposed to taking a life, and with very little time to respond, Batman begins his mission of finding and saving Tim’s family. If this weren’t enough, a cyber-criminal by the name of Money Spider is terrorizing Gotham’s wealthiest citizens by stealing their fortunes. Trusting Batman will find his family, and needing to focus on something other than his parents, Tim puts his fears behind him, and continues to investigate the Money Spider crimes.
While the actual plot is more than entertaining, it’s the emotional weight of this narrative that really grounds the story. Everything that happens in this arc serves as a catalyst for the two stories that follow. More than anything else, this is a psychological journey for Tim as he attempts to come to terms with the darkness of the world he’s entering… But with a potential lifestyle steeped in death staring him in the face, his response to his current situation is what will define whether Tim has the mental capacity to even become a hero.
Obeah Man serves as a great villain, and is definitely scary in his own right, even if his portrayal could be considered stereotypical for a Haitian criminal. Equally matching his fear and doubt he creates though, Tim represents an equally strong example of hope. And it’s that trait that makes Tim such a fan favorite character: hope. At the moment, Batman is the best hope Tim has, but that doesn’t guarantee that he’ll walk away without experiencing some form of tragedy… And if he does experience tragedy, will Tim be able to continue to believe in himself, as well as Batman’s mission?
“Crimes of Whim”
The second story, and in my opinion the weakest of the three stories, “Crimes of Whim” continues to explore Tim’s psyche while on the path to becoming Robin. After the tragic outcome of Batman’s encounter with the Obeah Man, Tim struggles to figure out what is next for him in life. Although this narrative doesn’t dig as deeply into Tim’s psyche as “Rite of Passage,” it does a good job in continuing Tim’s overall development.
Doubting himself more than ever, Tim begins to shut himself off and question his ability as he tries to measure himself up to the two previous Robins. What I love about this story, though, is that it allows Tim the opportunity to actually deal with what took place in the previous story. I feel like comics rarely slow down long enough to let characters properly react or grieve, but that’s definitely not the case here.
Yet again, Tim’s journey isn’t the main focus though. Instead, a murder mystery is presented when citizens in Gotham City start getting killed without any apparent connection or motive. Things get even weirder when it’s discovered that the murderer is actually multiple people, but none of them remember committing the crimes, nor do they know why they committed the crime.
Batman jumps on the case, but he’s not alone. One of Gotham’s brightest, young reporters, Vicky Vale also begins to investigate the murders after accidentally uncovering leads that could shed some light on who is really behind all of this. After unsuccessfully convincing the police of her findings, she sets out to prove her own case – a decision that could turn tragic for her. Batman’s investigation also becomes a rescue mission, but he may be the one in need of rescue when one of Gotham’s most dangerous rogues is revealed to be the mastermind behind it all.
While Tim’s arc is really strong, and the mystery behind the murders are initially engaging, the story slowly fizzles out as the narrative progresses. My biggest issue with “Crimes of Whim” is that I feel like it greatly undersells Batman’s ability. I understand why the writers chose this direction because it opens the narrative up for a pretty incredibly and heroic moment for another character, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. The identity of the rogue behind the murders also becomes pretty lack-luster considering the foreshadowing and hints become incredibly obvious leading up to the reveal. I honestly found myself enjoying “Crimes of Whim” quite a bit early on, before finally wishing the story would wrap up so we could move on. Granted, the closing page of this story is definitely one for the books!
The third and final story of Robin Vol. 1, is most likely the story you’ve been waiting for. After enduring themes of fear, judgement, and the idea of what shapes a hero, Tim has proven he’s capable of handling the mental and emotional struggles of serving as Batman’s sidekick. Now he needs to prepare himself for the physical needs of this calling – which, ironically, involves just as much mental preparation.
Now, officially, crowned Batman’s new Robin, Tim travels to China to train with the last remaining master of an ancient martial art. The discipline focuses on defense, attack, healing, and weapons training, and is the final test to ensure Tim really is ready for the streets of Gotham. But when Tim’s training causes him to cross paths with the Ghost Dragons, a mission presents itself.
Assuming he’s asserted himself in a casual crime, Tim quickly learns that the issue at hand is much more dangerous than he could’ve predicted. After saving a man by the name of Clyde Rawlins, Tim inadvertently chooses a side in a war of vengeance between Rawlins and King Snake. The stakes grow even more dangerous when Lady Shiva involves herself, presenting her own mission and desire. With the world’s most dangerous man and woman pitted on either side, Tim is clearly out of his league. But when Tim discovers King Snake’s master plan, he has to heed against his better judgement and follow his moral compass, knowing that his first solo mission will most likely be his last.
With so many high-profile characters making their appearance throughout this story, as well as the introduction of one of Tim’s long running rivals, Lynxx, “Reborn” serves as the most entertaining of the three stories in this collection! The stakes are high and incredibly dangerous, but that doesn’t stop Robin from doing what he knows is best. Managing a number of x-factors, Robin establishes his own identity and creates his own path in this incredible debut.
LET’S TALK SPOILERS, THEMES, AND MY VERDICT:
For me, this book serves as the standard for setting up a “new hero.” So much time and detail are spent building up WHO Tim Drake is as a person, before he ever even puts the Robin costume on. Even then, he questions whether he really is the best pick – whether he really has what it takes to become a hero or not.
There’s so much humility found in Tim, that when you compare it to his ability, it’s inspiring. The kid discovered Batman and Nightwing’s identity through detective work in stories leading up to this trade, and then faces unimaginable trauma in this story… yet somehow he still continues on with the mission. When his parents were being held hostage by the Obeah Man, he put his faith in Batman, and turned his attention to where it was needed. It showed Bruce that Tim was dedicated to fight the good fight, despite whatever personal transgressions plagued him. But what’s really interesting, is how Tim deals with loss as a person. Beyond the heroism Tim displays, we are allowed to see his vulnerability as well.
Yes, he’s sad. Yes, he’s angry. But he’s not going to allow himself to be consumed by either. Bruce, Dick and Tim all found their path to becoming heroes after experiencing similar tragedies, yet they each are uniquely different in how they accept and take on their roles. Out of the three, Tim’s approach and mindset towards being a hero is probably the most noble. Ultimately, he just wants to make the world a better place, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. That’s what makes Tim such an amazing character though – his eagerness to do well; to do what’s right, and do it to the best of his ability.
If there’s another homerun found in Robin Vol. 1: Reborn it’s how relatable Tim is. Some people have expressed that Tim is too perfect. To a degree, I can understand their point considering how smart he is, his ability to learn and adapt, and so on… But more than that, I see how hard he tries. I see how much he struggles with having to choose a “normal life” or the life of a “hero.” How he doubts himself, but tries anyway… No, we may not relate to those things as adults, but the inner child in me – that kid that grew up believing he could do or be anything if he put his mind to it and worked incredibly hard – yeah, that kid relates to Tim Drake… And that kid springs back to life when I read Tim’s journey.
Then, there’s only complete satisfaction when Tim not only fully embraces his role as Robin and takes on King Snake without Batman. Yes, he still gets help from Clyde, and is further influenced and trained by Shiva, but he also stands his ground. He maintains a moral compass, and when forces of nature are telling him his approach is delusional and that there isn’t a path of integrity in the world he’s chosen, he decides to create his own path.
THE ART: If you’re new to comics, and you’re only familiar with works of art from the past five years or so, then you might find the art in this book to be rather simple and basic. From a technical standpoint, it is a little lacking compared to today’s standard (Fabok, Finch, Janin, etc). I’ll openly admit that. However, from a storytelling perspective, the artists deliver tenfold! There are so many brilliant choices that are made using color, or symbolism, and combined with the layouts, the story told with the script is flawless. You feel the emotions. You sense the energy and danger. It’s a brilliant delivery, and proof that sometimes less really is more.
BONUS MATERIAL: There’s not much in the way of extra material here, but there are a few variant covers. What I really enjoyed seeing were the multiple costume designs that were considered for Tim Drake’s Robin. The range of options that were drafted up are quite diverse, and some aspects of the designs that weren’t selected have popped up over time with other Robins, or various incarnations for other mediums. There’s also a nice breakdown of the final costume that was selected for Tim, and the significance of the design.
THE PRICE: There may not be much in the way of extras with this trade, but ????? is a great price considering how incredible this story is! Purchase it! It’ll serve as a great addition to your collection!
OVERALL: With so many questionable approaches concerning Batman’s “side-kicks” or “allies” these days, I’d really love for creative teams to refresh themselves with Tim’s story, and the time that was taken to fully develop him. Although this showcases Tim’s transformation into Robin, the story is more about who he is as a person, what inspires him, and the lengths he’ll take to do what is right. This isn’t a story about Robin the sidekick, or boy wonder, or hero. No, this is the story about a kid who wants to make a difference, can make a difference, and is determined to do so with the utmost integrity. Tim is the example of what we all hope to be: honest, sincere, strong, and just. Every hero has their path, and while Tim’s is similar to those he looks up to, Robin Vol. 1: Reborn defines his character and demeanor, setting him apart from the Robins that came before him, and the Robins that will eventually follow after him. If there’s ever a book to inspire you to be your best, this is it.