There are few books that bring me as much joy as Batgirl/ Robin: Year One. Originally two separate trades, they’ve been joined together to make one magnificent book! When the opportunity came for me to review this trade, I jumped on it. Why? Because I love this book so much, and it was a perfect excuse to read it again. Ironically, prior to picking this title up for the first time, I avoided reading it for years! But once I finally did read this book, I couldn’t believe I’d put it off for so long! What was I thinking?

Since then, I’ve always looked to these two stories as the standard for writing Dick and Barbara, and ultimately believe Year One to be the foundation of these characters. Whenever a new creative team takes on Nightwing or Batgirl, I compare their work to what Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty created here. If I can imagine a natural progression from where these two young heroes are in this story, to where they are in current or newer stories, then I feel the creative team did a respectable job. In other words, Batgirl/ Robin: Year One sets the bar.

 

SYNOPSIS

BATGIRL AND ROBIN BEGIN! He fights alongside Gotham City’s greatest protector, the light to Batman’s irrepressible darkness. Against all manner of foes he overcomes inconceivable obstacles, ever skirting the line between heroism and death.

HIS NAME IS DICK GRAYSON.

Inspired by the dynamic duo in Gotham’s skies, she will join the war on crime any way she can. She is the city’s newest vigilante, and she doesn’t take orders from the Dark Knight. With the odds against her and her own father trying to shut her down, she’s determined to keep fighting.

HER NAME IS BARBARA GORDON.

For Batman’s two young allies, the first year on the job is a baptism by fire. They must fight their way through a host of thugs, mobsters and killers, losing more often than not, learning the hard lessons and sacrifices that come with being a masked hero. Patrolling with the Caped Crusader is never easy – do these two crime fighting rookies have what it takes to survive?

From SCOTT BEATTY (Gen) and CHUCK DIXON (Batman: Knightfall) with art from MARCOS MARTIN (Daredevil) and JAVIER PULIDO (Human Target), Batgirl/ Robin: Year One collects together for the first time the companion miniseries Batgirl: Year One and Robin: Year One.  

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED

  • Robin: Year One #1-4 written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella.
  • Batgirl: Year One #1-9 written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez.

 

RECOMMENDED READING

the-long-halloweenBatman: The Long Halloween
“THE LONG HALLOWEEN is more than a comic book. It’s an epic tragedy.”–Christopher Nolan (director THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) Taking place during Batman’s early days of crime fighting, this new edition of the classic mystery tells the story of a mysterious killer who murders his prey only on holidays. Working with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon, Batman races against the clock as he tries to discover who Holiday is before he claims his next victim each month. A mystery that has the reader continually guessing the identity of the killer, this story also ties into the events that transform Harvey Dent into Batman’s deadly enemy, Two-Face. Collects Batman: The Long Halloween #1-13.

dark-victoryBatman: Dark Victory
Collecting BATMAN: DARK VICTORY #0-13, this epic continues the story of THE LONG HALLOWEEN. It is early in Batman’s crimefighting career, when James Gordon, Harvey Dent, and the vigilante himself were all just beginning their roles as Gotham’s protectors.

Once a town controlled by organized crime, Gotham City suddenly finds itself being run by lawless freaks, such as Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and the Joker. Witnessing his city’s dark evolution, the Dark Knight completes his transformation into the city’s greatest defender. He faces multiple threats, including the seeming return of a serial killer called Holiday. Batman’s previous investigation of Holiday’s killings revealed that more than one person was responsible for the murders. So the question remains: who is committing Holiday’s crimes this time? And how many will die before Batman learns the truth?

I should note, in no way are Batman: The Long Halloween or Batman: Dark Victory required reading before taking on Batgirl/ Robin: Year One. That being said, both Batman titles are incredibly good, and serve as a nice companion to this book. Batman: The Long Halloween is essentially “part one” of a story, while Dark Victory is the second part (or sequel, I guess). The great thing about Dark Victory is that it features the retelling of a certain Boy Wonder’s origin, but also does a lot with Two Face – who just happens to play a prominent role in Robin: Year One. So if you’ve never read either of these Batman titles, do yourself a favor and read them first. You can thank me later.

 

THE STORY:

Let me be clear, this is not an origin story. This is, instead, a look at Dick Grayson’s first year as Robin.

As I’m sure most of you know, Dick Grayson is my favorite DC character. You might think that makes me biased towards him, however, I’d argue that it makes me more critical of his stories. The slightest moments or mishaps can completely alter how I feel about certain books or arcs. If the characterization is off, the dialogue is bad, the decisions that Dick makes seem off, then my enjoyment will be hindered. All of these aspects play a heavy role in my overall opinion. So how does Robin: Year One fare? Simply put, this book is magic!

There are many things to consider when writing Dick Grayson – especially a young Dick Grayson. He’s confident, chatty, and the perfect yin to Batman’s yang… Literally. There are so many comparisons to Batman and Nightwing in present day stories, particularly in how they’re different and what sets them apart. That commentary is alive and well here. Bruce lives in darkness. He’s inherited it, become it. Quite possibly, he could have lost himself to that darkness. But then there’s Dick. In joining in Bruce’s mission, Dick also chooses the live in darkness, but he doesn’t inherit it, nor does he become it. When Bruce is teaching Dick so many things, their roles manage to reverse where it matters most – the heart. Dick shows Bruce that you don’t have to let it consume you, and that, in turn, reignites a light in Bruce that was starting to diminish. But while Bruce accepts this light, Dick runs with it.

In that respect, one of the aspects I love the most about Dick Grayson as Robin, is his sheer joy while fighting crime! He’s having a blast – something that will carry forward into his adulthood. Dick’s energy jumps off the page every time he dons the Robin costume, and it’s incredibly infectious. Whenever Bruce tells him to suit up, I get excited! I want to suit up! I’m a thirty year old man, and I’m suddenly a kid again with grand daydreams of being a super hero. This title explores Robin’s journey as he trains and learns under Bruce while taking on the likes of Blockbuster, Mad Hatter, Two Face and more.

With his development comes mistakes though. Considering this is Dick’s first year as Robin, and especially considering his age, he has a lot to learn. All Dick can see, is his hero. All he can imagine, is a life full of Batman and Robin fighting and stopping crime. His child-like outlook on the role he’s taken blinds him to the dangers he faces each and ever night, and as quickly as this book establishes the joy of this character and his mission, it flips that idea over to show you the harsh reality. A reality, it appears, that is seen by everyone except Dick and Bruce.

There are plenty of conversations introduced in Robin: Year One pertaining to the morality of having a child operating as a vigilante. Most of these concerns come from Jim Gordon and Alfred, but both have their own unique stance on the issue. While Gordon is concerned for Dick’s safety, Alfred grows concerned for Dick’s childhood. Both arguments are completely valid, and probably the “sane” perception to have. It’s often the perception of adults/ non-comic fans when approached with praise for super heroes, especially Batman and Robin. And while the kid in me wants to defend what I love so much, the adult in me surrenders to think, they’re absolutely right.

 

 

Why would anyone in their right mind think this is cool, or good? It’s absurd and dangerous. Reckless and irresponsible. But Batman believes in Dick, as well as Batman and Robin. But is his belief denial? How much of Batman and Robin exists, simply because Batman needs Robin? Dixon and Beatty blatantly accuse Batman of thinking only of himself and well being, instead of actually looking at the impact of his mission on the innocent. What world did he throw Dick into? How is this lifestyle impacting him? Above the danger, how is Batman’s mission effecting Dick’s emotional development? That’s the theme and question of this entire story, as Dick tries to find his place in this world. Is the life of a vigilante really a path he chose, or is it one that he was pushed into? More importantly, what tragedies will he have to experience to discover this? All of those questions and ideas are presented and discussed, and it creates one hell of a read! Robin:Year One is not only one of the best Dick Grayson comics I’ve ever read, it is easily one of the best comics, in general, that I’ve ever read… Perhaps because most of the story is told from Alfred’s perspective – a unique, yet fascinating approach.

 

 

 

Batgirl: Year One shares many of the same traits as Robin: Year One, so it is easy to understand why this is also a great read. If there’s one major standout, it’s that despite how charming Barbara is, she doesn’t have the charisma that Dick has. But where she lacks charisma to the degree of Dick, she exudes confidence and self-awareness, and in many ways, is more relatable than the Boy Wonder. Why? Because she makes more mistakes – quite possibly mistakes that we could see ourselves making if we chose to become heroes.

Unlike Robin: Year One, this is an origin story, and it’s told from a first-person perspective. With heroes like Batman and Robin, Black Canary, and the Justice League making front page news on a regular basis, it’s natural that people would be inspired to be better. Barbara’s inspiration is a little more realistic though. She simply wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a cop – a career and lifestyle that Jim Gordon has no intention of letting his daughter fall into. Naturally, knowing Barbara, you know how this is going to turn out.

 

One of my favorite aspects about this book, is the attention to detail that’s put into the practicality of Barbara becoming a super hero. From the basics of hiding her identity, to sneaking out of the house, establishing an alibi, to creating her Bat suit – all of which is featured as a progression throughout the story. These ideas, questions, and solutions build a well-thought foundation for one of comics most iconic heroes. Unfortunately, Barbara’s hope that this  new adventure into vigilantism will be accepted by Batman turns south…. mostly.

 

Where Barbara’s hope begins, so does Batman’s disapproval, thus creating the prominent themes of this story: acceptance and persistence. Batman takes his calling seriously. He chose Dick to be Robin. Batman personally trained him, shaped him. He doesn’t approve of others brashly taking to this lifestyle, and he especially doesn’t approve of them adopting his namesake. Thankfully Barbara is stubborn. She defies Batman and continues to operate against his will. Batgirl doesn’t have a mentor like Batman to train her. She’s doing this all on her own. Every mission she embarks on is an education – lucky for her, she has solid instincts and is a quick study.

Robin, mostly due to infatuation, begins to teach and guide Batgirl, and even convinces Batman to give her a chance. Over time, Barbara adopts additional mentors, gains more experience, and becomes more capable. With this lifestyle comes mirrored oppositions though. Batgirl soon finds an archenemy in Killer Moth – a joke of a villain to both Batman and the underworld. With the right tools and motivations though, even the biggest jokes can be dangerous.

The one thing that stands out with Batgirl: Year One are the relationships that are created and explored. Barbara’s relationship with her father is front and center, but there are also budding relationships with Robin, Black Canary, and officer Bard. All of these develop and grow in various ways to foreshadow stories that Barbara will face head on in the days to come. Then there’s her relationship with Batman. With Bruce, it’s a matter of trust. If Barbara is going to be Batgirl, she needs to earn Batman’s trust – a feat in and of itself.

In the end, this is an incredible journey, and a motivational one. There are moments where the pacing appears to slow a little, but that is a small complaint. After some of Barbara’s trials and tribulations, the plot to stop Killer Moth and Firefly become the focus. Batgirl: Year One is high energy, endearing, and full of heart!

 

THE ART: Before I started reviewing comics, I had no appreciation for art. I own that. If the art wasn’t realistic, I paid no attention to it, or did, but wished it contained more realism like the works of Finch, Lee, Fabok, Janin, etc. The art in both Batgirl: Year One and Robin: Year One was actually one of the things that kept me from picking up either of these titles for years. I found it cartoony, and if it looked cartoony, then surely the book itself was too. Right?

Wrong! I’ll openly admit, I was (potentially still am) an idiot. It took me a while, but works from artists like Loeb, Cooke, and eventually Martin and Pulido began to resonate me. I no longer looked at art as “How much does this look like an actual person,” but more so, “How does the art assist the story?” I learned to understand the weight art had in sharing the narrative, completing it, and adding that critical element of the unspoken word.

I grew more interested in how the art, no matter the style, conveyed emotion, energy, action. Layouts become more apparent. I started witnessing and experiencing the impact layouts made to the narrative. Then colors also became more noticeable. The richness. The brightness. And at times, the darkness. How all of these artistic elements came together to create or advance moods and tones for the book as a whole. And then, then I learned to appreciate art. Martin and Pulido manage all of these aspects beautifully. They make each of their books more than just a narrative, but an experience! A damn good experience!

 

 

BONUS MATERIAL: At the back of the book, there are various sketches from Martin and Pulido. Aside from the covers that are inserted throughout the story, this is all this book has to offer in terms of bonus material, but there are quite a few sketches. From design concepts to potential covers, there’s quite a bit to take in if you’re a fan of the art process!

 

 

THE PRICE: Trust me when I tell you that this is a steal! For just $16.99, you get two amazing stories in one collection. Let that sink in… Two amazing stories (over 400 pages) for $16.99! What are you waiting for? Go buy Batgirl/ Robin: Year One! 

 

OVERALL: If Batgirl/ Robin: Year One is not part of your collection, then you’re failing at life. Trust me. The attention to detail that Dixon and Beatty provide, as well as the genuine care, depth, and clarity they bring to Dick and Barbara in these stories is magnificent. The characterization is perfect, the plots are strong, and the antagonists are plenty, believable and entertaining! In most cases, you could stop there with the praise and people would still be eager to pick up a copy, but my praise shall continue! Meta aspects that shape these characters’ lives are hinted at or introduced throughout both stories – moments that are sure to resonate with any reader. The art is beautiful, gripping, and energetic. But mostly, Batgirl/ Robin: Year One is sheer joy. It’s the bright light in Gotham that makes you want to become a super hero, and will make you want to overcome any obstacles or preconceived notions to be better. This book doesn’t just deserve a spot in your collection, it deserves a full-on face-out feature on your bookshelf!

SCORE: 9.5/10