It’s 12am, October 21st, and a man with more hair than dignity sits at his desk, typing away at his Justice League review. He’s listening to a Spotify playlist, though he doesn’t recognize any of the songs. There’s a peace to his routine – a happiness and contentment to reviewing comic books he enjoys, nestled in the warm comfort of his bedroom.
He almost doesn’t notice the thunder rumbling over the hills outside of his window.
Dread begins to seep over him, as he is ripped from his happy ramblings about how cute Dick Grayson looks in his new outfit. His face falls, adopting an even paler complexion than he’s used to (he’s very white). There’s only one thing he’s capable of feeling in this moment, as the storm looms closer and closer: and that feeling is fear.
The storm’s name is the Robin King.
For those unaware, this is actually the second entry in a two-part train of thought, stretched between both of my reviews for this week. Dark Nights: Death Metal is not a book I have a lot of fun with, and I found that both Doom Metal and Robin King work as microcosms about what I both love and hate about the event. If you’re looking for a positive, generous review, you’re going to want to read my Justice League one; this one won’t be so pretty. While that review elaborates on everything about this “anti-crisis” that I enjoy, this one will also talk about what I dislike.
…No, not dislike. Hate.
Because I hate this comic.
I’m not going to pretend it’s incompetently made, mind you! As always, any opinions on my comic should not reflect on its creators: it takes a lot of work to make a comic at all, and there are so many factors that go on behind the scenes that contribute to a book’s success or failure. Writer Peter J Tomasi and illustrator Riley Rossmo are genuinely fantastic creators, and have made more stories that I sincerely love than I can count. There’s effort going into the book, too: one spread that particularly impressed me involves a detailed diagram of every one of the Robin King’s tools in his utility belt, and what it’s used for. It’s well thought-out, well presented, and wonderfully detailed. Legitimately good stuff there.
I say all of this now, because it’s not where I take issue with the comic. This review isn’t about disrespecting those behind the comic whatsoever, or the effort they put into making it. No, my problem with this comic lies far deeper than its execution: it resides in principle. This comic, put simply, should not exist.
Why do I say that, aside from dramatic effect? Well to answer that, I’m going to have to go into spoiler territory: all I need to do to explain my point is to describe the saga of the Robin King.
So, the Robin King’s story begins in Dark Nights: Death Metal #2. The Batman Who Laughs, reincarnated in the body of a Dark Multiverse Bruce Wayne with Doctor Manhattan’s powers (now called the Darkest Knight, in case things weren’t confusing enough), grants one seemingly innocuous Robin the prestigious title of “Robin King”. It’s implied he has a rather sinister backstory.
Then, we find ourselves reading Legends of the Dark Knights, in which a short story (again, by Tomasi and Rossmo) details the origins of the Robin King. Who is this Robin? A Dick Grayson gone bad? A Jason Todd who never grew up? A Damian Wayne, twisted beyond belief? What are you, a moron or something? It’s obviously a child Bruce Wayne, who killed his parents and Alfred, before branding himself the Robin King.
Okay, fine. Every villain in this event has to be Batman for some reason, whatever. But then how, exactly, does this “Robin King” connect with the boy that the Darkest Knight grants powers to? They’re clearly different characters.
Ah, but surprise! They are, indeed, very much the same character! That’s the secret genius of the intricate Robin King™ plotline. You see, Bruce Wayne chose to be a Robin instead of Bat, because he saw a robin “cheer”ing at his parents’ funeral. Why wouldn’t he be a Robin? They are, after all, the most populous birds in the country, which must mean they’re secretly evil. That’s definitely the impression I get when I see a robin. So, okay, Bruce is now “king” of these Robins – a Robin King.
He then immediately uses his vast resources of wealth to collect a belt filled with items that will kill the heroes of the world, for reasons that are so clear I don’t need to go into them here (or ever). Hang on, you might think: isn’t this the same thing that the Batman Who Laughs does? Why yes! Does it make sense for a child to be able to do this? Didn’t Bruce Wayne require years of training to- you know what, doesn’t matter. Why would it matter? Look at how cool it looks when tiny Bruce Wayne murders a character you like!
So, then this Robin is found by the Batman Who Laughs – and we find out that Batman has a giant facility, similar to ACE Chemicals, where he places Robins from all multiverses into vats of acid. At the end of this process, each child emerges as one of the Robin slaves we saw in Metal and beyond. Young Bruce is the latest of this factory’s victims – but aha! He downs a secret pill he’d engineered to store someone’s mind inside a dying body, and hid his personality after being turned into a regular Robin. Truly, we’re looking at a professional 4D Chess player here.
And now, it all makes sense! That’s why this seemingly normal Robin can recall his memories, and speak to the Darkest Knight to make him a Robin King once again. A lesser man might think it would have been easier – better, even – just to make an interesting story with an actual Robin, that didn’t involve grimdark Bruce Wayne and gratuitous mass homicide in place of any emotional stakes. But those men are fools, and can’t comprehend the true spectrum of intelligence that we’re seeing at play here.
…Oh, what’s that? You wanted an actual story as well? Sure! Have Animal Man – the real one this time – being eaten alive by his own family. You guys like that, right?
The only saving grace of this book is its backup story: The Quiet Ones, written by Tony Patrick and illustrated by Daniel Sampere. I’m not going to go into it much, but there’s a fun sidequest going on here – it involves several of the Gotham City heroes that didn’t get to join in on the main event, while also serving as a way of building on Duke Thomas’ character. Definitely a relief to read something that felt genuinely good at the end of this issue, and certainly the only reason I would recommend picking this thing up.
Robin King #1 did an excellent job of explaining what I thought was a plot hole. Really, top marks on that front. I’d like to congratulate Death Metal on going to such lengths to give the most overcomplicated explanation of a story discrepancy that I’ve ever seen in my life. And that’s the thing – that’s all this issue accomplished. This book (and, in my view, all of Death Metal) is so obsessed with connecting things – from plotlines to event comics and continuity issues – that it forgets to tell a compelling narrative underneath it all. In the den of the Robin King, plot comes before story; and in doing so, the book neglects to provide anything that emotionally resonated with me, save for the gratuitous murder of three characters I genuinely like. I have no feelings towards the Robin King, but when the only way you can connect with your audience is by murdering characters we do care for (as if death even fucking matters anymore), then the book has failed to do anything but make me angry that I thought it could be better than it was. Death Metal promises that “everything matters”, yet in its pages, I find that the meaninglessness of it all sings louder than ever. Funnily enough, the singing sounds like a robin.
- You’re insane? You’re insane and you like watching DC characters die like you’re reading Marvel’s Ultimatum all over again?
- Duke Thomas and other members of the Bat-Family matter to you in the midst of this event, and you wanna see what they’re doing.
- If you or a loved one has been emotionally injured by reading Robin King #1, you may be entitled to financial compensation.
I would like to end this review with an apology – I know that I come across as very critical at times, and there’s an argument to be made about how much of that is really necessary. If you liked this issue, I’m very happy that you did, and I’m sorry if I come across as attempting to invalidate that. But I can’t write anything other than how I feel… and how I feel when I read this book is sad. Angry. Frustrated that we could have had something different: something that focused on character over slapping an evil Bruce Wayne in the book and calling it a day. Paying customers deserve more. This event deserves more. I want it to live up to its own expectations, but it doesn’t. I don’t like Robin King #1, and I don’t like Dark Nights: Death Metal.
…And the outfits are kinda stupid. So there. >:(
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch