Following possibly its best singular run of issues, Grayson returns for its penultimate collection. Collecting Robin War #1-2 and Grayson #13-16, A Ghost in the Tomb covers Agent 37’s adventures in Gotham and abroad as he goes from training new We Are Robin recruits to uncovering the lingering mysteries of Spyral.
Robin War (Robin War #1-2; Grayson #15)
The thing with Robin War is that it was a great idea on paper. If it had focused solely on the repercussions of vigilantism and sending “child soldiers” out in the war on crime, it may very well have been a stone cold classic.
If this arc needed to be collected, it was a wise choice to include it with Grayson. Where most of the other tie-ins were filler at best, the Grayson installment is an incredibly entertaining issue in its own right. Following the solid and intriguing opening chapter, it serves as a reminder of how good the arc started and how great it could have been.
When a young teen in a Robin costume is involved in a convenience store robbery, he accidentally shoots and kills both the perpetrator and the officer dispatched to the scene. This leads to city-wide backlash against vigilantism, with any and all sides coming out in force. Tom King handles the media response pretty well, mirroring real-life reactions to similar events without outright demonizing anybody one way or the other. There are those that blame the child, those that blame the officer, and those that blame the criminal. They’re heated reactions, and some exaggerated reactions at that, but while nobody necessarily gets painted in a good light, King doesn’t take a firm side either.
Enter Councilwoman Noctua. Noctua is the driving force behind the “Robin law” that is enforced after the opening scene’s deaths. Despite evidence to the contrary, her motives are not for the greater good of the public; no, Noctua has ulterior motives.
See, Noctua wants to be a member of the Court of Owls. She feels that if she strikes a blow against vigilantism, the Court will view her favorably and give her a mask. As tired as I am of the Court, I thought this was a pretty compelling plot device. It puts the focus on “street level crime,” which always makes Gotham feel bigger, and reaffirms that the questions posed don’t have any easy answers.
It’s certainly a strong start, with a solid script from Tom King that’s full of great ideas, big questions, and dry humor.
About the biggest knock against the first installment is the wildly inconsistent art. There are something like a dozen artists and colorists credited on the two Robin War issues, and it’s glaringly obvious. None of it looks particularly bad, and there’s some great talent here, but the styles do not mix well at all. It’s bad enough reading a trade with a bunch of disparate artistic teams, but reading a single issue where the style can change by the page? That’s pretty rough.
Thankfully the story is strong enough in the beginning that the visual whiplash doesn’t keep it from being enjoyable. The conclusion, however…
Well, we’ll get to that.
After the solid opening, Grayson #15 gives us a visual breather with the always incredible work of Mikel Janín and Jeromy Cox. Let’s take a bit of a break and just enjoy their work.
Yeah, that’s nice.
As I said, this is the strongest of any of the tie-ins, thanks in no small part to its consistent theme. The “real Robins” Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian gather all of the We Are Robin recruits together to put them through Robin School. It’s a fun concept, albeit a simple one, and while the storytelling isn’t groundbreaking, the look into the values of each of Batman’s partner’s is enlightening.
Keep in mind that at this point, Bruce hadn’t been Batman for the better part of a year in real time. While that translates to weeks, maybe months in the comics, these guys are still hurting and missing their mentor and father, whether real or surrogate. There was Jim Gordon
Bat-Chappie “Robo-Bat,” but like us they knew he wasn’t the real Batman. So, the boys impart their own styles and interpretations of Bruce’s teachings on their groups of recruits. Tim, Jason, and Damian have their own ideas about what it means to be a Robin, and they aren’t completely wrong with their “number one thing.”
It should be no surprise, though, that Dick is the one who gets it right.
Remember how I said that the Court of Owls was involved? How Councilwoman Noctua enacted the Robin Laws to get in their good graces? Well, by the time Robin War #2 rolls around the Court is all over this crossover.
And with the Court come Talons.
Lots of Talons.
Lots. Of Talons.
Things really, really go off the rails here, as what began as a pretty realistic look at some real world issues turns into a giant brawl with a bunch of zombie assassin things. Factor in the massive artistic team and it’s a mess that’s as confusing as it is boring.
The entirety of the blame shouldn’t just rest on the shoulders of the visual team, though. Had the story been genuinely good then the inconsistent artwork could be forgiven. As it is, the resolution is pretty humdrum. It turns out that the entire point of the story was to get Dick to finally come over to the Court. It’s not out of the blue, as there’s foreshadowing all over the place, but it’s disappointing that all of the solid groundwork King laid down is pretty much undermined by a lackluster ending. It’s made even worse knowing that it doesn’t really go anywhere, with most of Dick’s attacks on the Parliament not occurring until months later.
There’s one pretty great moment where Damian begrudgingly bonds with Duke that’s good for a decent laugh, but overall Robin War just wasn’t great.
A Ghost in the Tomb (Grayson #13-14, 16)
It’s hard to view this arc objectively, especially knowing how the series ends. So, I won’t even try to. Instead, let’s focus on how crazybananas Grayson got towards the end here.
I loved the whole spy angle of the series, and it was strong enough and written well enough that it carried the whole run. But man, when Dick and Tiger start going up against weird robot spiders as they try and unravel the motives of Otto Netz? That’s brilliant.
There are some great images from Stephen Mooney revolving around Netz’s history and worldview. He makes great use of close-ups, patterns, and multi-panel layouts to illustrate how weird this guy really is.
Mooney’s style was always pretty hit-or-miss with me, but I really like his work here. It has that B-movie vibe that makes the subject matter feel a little creepy and really schlocky, but in the best possible way.
Seeley handles the scripting and plotting for the first two installments of the arc, and there’s some good stuff. Dick and Tiger’s chemistry is suitably strong early on, though it stumbles a bit in the second act, and bringing back a lot of Grant Morrison’s ideas for Spyral was a no-brainer. Things tend to drag a bit when Dick and Tiger encounter Ladytron, and there are tunes when it feels like some fat could have been trimmed to make this a single issue instead of a two-parter. I will say, though, that it does read better collected together instead of spread out over four months.
No matter how much better they flow on a second reading, though, the 13th and 14th issues serve mostly as buildup to issue 16.
You know, the one with the song.
Tom King himself has said that this is his favorite issue of the entire series, and it’s hard to argue with him. Just about every panel is perfect, full of energy, excitement, and hilarious character bits. I will always love Tiger’s begrudging acceptance of Dick as his partner. And Dick himself is just so incredibly obnoxious it’s hilarious.
I mean, what else are you going to do when the woman you’re kind of into who is now the head of the spy organization you’re a part of sends a bunch of deadly assassins after you and your partner so you have to jet around the world and stay one step ahead of them while also making your final moves so you can take down said organization because they’re headed by a crazy Nazi mad scientist and his two daughters and oh yeah you’re also incredibly handsome?
We’ve all been there.
This was King and Seeley’s penultimate issue on the title, and the last one to feature Janín. Mikel especially pulls his weight (which is hardly surprising, but still), with some of the best layouts that I’ve ever seen from him. Seriously, Dick’s theme song is so funny that I’m tempted to pull some pages and post them here, but I don’t know what I’d choose. It’s all so good and works together so well, both the words and the visuals, that you just need to take it all in together.
And it’s not just that one stretch, either. The whole “globetrotting chase” concept works brilliantly, and this is probably the most this book has ever resembled the spy genre. The stalwart team of King, Seeley, Janín, and Cox certainly did something special here, delivering one of the single best issues of this or any series in the past few years. Even if the book itself didn’t go out on top, this trade certainly does, and this issue is so good it’s almost worth the cover price by itself.
Bonus material: Three variant covers. That’s it.
I mean, real talk: I’d read the crap out of this crossover.
But the pickings are slim and barely worth mentioning.
Value: Amazon has the print trade for fifteen and change and the digital for thirteen bucks. There are some great issues here, and having two separate arcs makes it feel like there’s more story for your money, but I’d say try and grab it on sale.
Overall: The highs are high and the lows are low. The goodwill earned by the two good issues and the one great issue goes a long way, and the arcs almost mirror each other in quality: Robin War starts strong and ends weak, while A Ghost in the Tomb starts weak and ends strong. While it’s certainly a must for Grayson fans, coming off the great singular run of the previous trade makes the flaws in this one all the more apparent. That song sure is great, though…