Robin & Batman is not a bad comic.  Visually, it’s a wonder, with Dustin Nguyen’s paintbrush telling amazing stories with gorgeously illustrated characters and environments.

And at this point, Jeff Lemire has proven he is an excellent writer, and he’s plotting and dialogue and consistent and engaging, never the least bit boring.

And said script, being realized in print with the lettering of the ever-reliable Steve Wands?  You can’t get much better than that.

No, Robin & Batman is not a bad comic.  It is, however, a sad comic, made even more so by the stretches of joy and wonder.  It is a comic that will remind you why you got into these books in the first place: dashing heroes in colorful costumes, teaming up together to go on grand adventures to fight giant robots and villains themed around playing cards.  You’ll feel the same sense of excitement as Dick Grayson, who gets the best birthday present of all: the chance to visit the Justice League’s Watchtower.

Which is in space.

And Hawkman is there!

After a solid enough first issue with a few spotty moments, you’ll think that this is a book that has hit its stride, with the sophomore outing letting both Bruce and Dick grow more comfortable in their respective roles so they can enjoy being heroes together.  More than that, you’ll be happy that Dick gets to meet and mingle with heroes his own age, like the gracious and optimistic Wonder Girl, the excitable Kid Flash, the quiet Aqualad, and the clearly hurting Speedy, who is also desperately in need of affirmation and love.

Yes, you’ll have fun for most of this issue, only for the air to be sucked completely out of the room when you find out why you were allowed to have fun: it’s part of the mission.

It’s sad that Dick Grayson was given the opportunity to be a better man, when ultimately it was only so he could prove to Batman that he can analyze his colleagues’ weaknesses.  It’s sad that the previous issue ended with Batman realizing he was too gruff with the boy, coming across genuinely wounded that his gift wasn’t well received, only for his characterization to double-down on the brooding jerk that has long worn out his welcome.

It’s sad that Alfred is the only one willing to take him to task for his heartlessness, and sadder still that Bruce’s entire justification for not letting Dick enjoy his childhood is that he “never did.  Why should he?”

I know that not all stories need to be a constant stream of jokes and silliness and what have you.  That yes, there is darkness in the world, and art doesn’t need to– and oftentimes shouldn’t– ignore that.  Art can be a mirror just as much as it can be a window to escapism, and they are not mutually exclusive either.

But for me, with Batman, I’ve long since grown weary of the cynical, jaded soldier who trusts his loved ones less than he trusts enemies.  The word “fun” has bad connotations in some circles, which is another subject in itself, but why come to entertainment if not to be entertained?  Where is the entertainment value in a grim, borderline hateful man who supposedly has a tight-knit and loyal surrogate family, but treats them like expendable pawns in his ongoing crusade?

I know there’s a sizable audience that would prefer Batman only work alone, without any sidekicks or partners or connections to other heroes at all, and I’m not saying that preference is wrong.  There are plenty of great stories out there where Batman works alone, so it’s not that he needs to have someone at his side at all times.  Considering the fact that Batman didn’t exist for an entire year before getting a sidekick, though, it’s hard to make a case that Robin and other partners are not an important part of the mythos.  So having a comic that’s trying to be a celebration of Robin, but giving Batman a demeanor that makes you wonder why anyone would want to associate with him?  It’s trying to have your cake and eat it too, and it’s a failure on both fronts.

I want to read new stories just as much as I enjoy reading old stories, so this isn’t just me shaking my fist at a cloud.  Going into the first issue, my anticipation was ridiculously high, and only dampened slightly by a few hiccups.  The second issue here didn’t assuage any of my misgivings, though, and instead doubled-down on the things that I didn’t like the first time around.  Assuming the intentions of an artist can be a slippery slope, but I don’t get how this story is supposed to pay homage to and potentially even improve on this:

Robin & Batman will have its place and purpose, but I don’t see it being anything more than a footnote that didn’t reach its potential, when it’s clearly aiming to be the definitive story of Dick Grayson’s early years.

Recommended if:

  • You like wonderful art.
  • You like a jerk Batman.

Overall: Sad and disappointing, Robin & Batman should be an easy recommendation, and instead it’s just one more exhausting traipse through joyless Batman comics.  That it’s made with such craft and skill makes it all the more disappointing, as it looks stunning, and the writing isn’t even bad on a technical level.  As a fan of the characters, I just find the choices to be baffling and frustrating, since this could have been one of the best comics of the year.

SCORE: 5/10