Friday, October 16, 2009

Three Little Birdies: You Gotta Have Faith

It's not easy being a Robin.

Robin - as a character - has had to deal with more loss, and carry more guilt, than any other major character in the DCU right now. This is examined through a number of new books this week, and if the theme was intentional then I have to give kudos to the DC Editorial team.

There have been 5 Robins overall - Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and the current Boy Wonder, Damian Wayne. I'm going to leave out Jason Todd because I don't like the character (never have) and he's not really on the radar this week. I'm also omitting Damian Wayne because he's too new to the job, and Damian is a completely different kind of Robin altogether. That's an essay for another time. I'll be focusing on Dick, Tim, and Stephanie here.
  • Dick Grayson: Just when I thought I was out...
Dick Grayson has ceased to be Nightwing, accepted the Cowl, and become the new Batman in the wake of Bruce Wayne's death during Final Crisis. He's making the job his own, has taken Damian on as his Robin, and is coming to terms with his place in the universe. So why not pick off the one scab that won't ever heal?

Over in "Blackest Night: Batman" #3 Dick is face-to-zombied-faces with the Flying Graysons after they've been resurrected as Black Lanterns. He's aware that these monsters aren't his parents, but once he hears his father's voice say "Heads up, Richard! Time to FLY!" he throws his arms up and joins the Graysons on the trapeze inside the circus tent they've constructed. Dick remains lucid and knows that he has to do everything he can to stop them, but once Black Lantern Zucco arrives, Dick flies into a rage. He begins to beat the former circus owner to a pulp, making his heart ripe for the plucking. With the help of Etrigan and Deadman, Dick comes to his senses and evades the Black Lanterns. He'll fight the Graysons again, and he'll win, but he won't like it.

Meanwhile, back at the Batcave (in "Batman" #691), Dick is sparring with another monster - Harvey Dent. See, Harvey has figured out that This is Not His Batman, and has breached the Batcave so he can throw a major league hissyfit over it. (Seriously...Harvey is grieving. It's a little unsettling to watch.) Dick and Alfred join forces to convince Harvey that this "new" Batman - the one that smiles, allows himself to be photographed, and has obviously allowed most of the security measures on the cave to expire - is, in fact, the "same" Batman, but Harvey's point was heard loud and clear...if Dick is going to be different then he needs to make a clean break.

Dick is letting Bruce go, and opts to mothball the Batcave. Everything goes into storage (including the Robin tunic worn by Jason Todd; "That is Bruce's cross to bear, not mine." Dick says.) or to the new HQ underneath the Wayne Industries building. While taking down the case that hold's Bruce's costume, Dick discovers a flash drive hidden in the base. On the drive is the case file on the murder of the Flying Graysons - something Bruce was reinvestigating at the time of his death. Even from the grave, Bruce knows just what buttons to push.

If there's one thing that Dick Grayson has in spades, it's Faith. Faith that no matter how bad today was, tomorrow will be better. In "Booster Gold" #25, Dick and Damian bust Booster breaking into the Batcave to put back a few items that he "borrowed." Dick and Booster have a long conversation about Booster's role in the DCU, and about what Booster calls "solidified time." There are little things that you can tweak in history, but there are things that just are the way they are and cannot (or should not) be changed. The death of Dick's parents is solidified time, and Dick knows that. Dick needs a little Faith Restoration, and asks a favor of Booster. Dick goes back in time, to a Christmas long past, and stands outside the house of his parents while his younger self is opening presents. This is all Dick needed to see to buoy his spirits, and strengthen his resolve.

Dick has more than one family name to carry on, and he will do so proudly.
  • Tim Drake: Running with the Devil...
Tim, in contrast to Dick, won't let anything go. Tim has lost so much in such a short period of time, he's kind of becoming the Sipowitz of the Bat-Family. First his mom, then Stephanie, and then his dad, and Connor, and Bart, and Bruce...Tim is suffering from serious Survivor's Guilt, and is admittedly "all screwed up right now."

Tim has changed his costume as well, donning the heavy leathers of the Red Robin uniform. Tim wants to physically feel the weight of his burdens, and as Connor points out in "Adventure Comics" #3, punish himself for not being able to save anyone he's cared for. In Tim's titular book, he's on a quest to prove that Bruce is alive. Tim doesn't know where (or when) but he knows Bruce is out there, and he's in league with Ra's al Ghul to help him find out.

In "Blackest Night" Tim's demons are manifested as Black Lanterns. Jack Drake and Captain Boomerang replay the night they killed each other, and Tim BEGS Dick to let him save his father this time. Tim walks right into the scenario, gets his "father" out of the way of the boomerang that killed him, and then proceeds to - like Dick with Zucco - beat the tar out of the Black Lantern Boomerang. Pure Rage. He's pulled out by Dick, and admits that he was wrong about his parents, but reiterates his belief that Bruce is alive.

Back in "Adventure Comics," Tim has the first real conversation he's had with Connor since Connor returned from the 31st Century during Final Crisis. These two are best friends, and each are struggling with their new identities. As they discuss what's going on - Tim's search for Bruce; Connor's need to find some good in Lex Luthor - they both start to relax and realize that they don't have to go it alone. In the end, Connor says the three words that Tim most needs to hear: "I believe you." Francis Manapul's art beautifully shows the sorrow on Tim's face turn to hope and resolve, his Faith restored.
  • Stephanie Brown: I've been dead before...
Stephanie had the shortest, and most controversial, run as a Robin. After operating for years as Spoiler, Stephanie forced Bruce to take her on when Tim went on a sabbatical after Jack Drake found out he was Robin. Despite her training, Stephanie still felt she had something to prove and went off the reservation a few times, and Bruce cut her loose. When Stephanie attempts to take on the Gotham Underworld on her own using one of Batman's famous "contingency plans," things go horribly awry, and she is tortured by the Black Mask, and dies of her injuries.

It is later discovered that her death was manufactured by longtime Batman confidant Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who takes Stephanie out of the country with her and away from Bruce and that life. I found this to be a HUGE disservice to both characters, mostly because this was completely out of character for Leslie.

Stephanie is back in Gotham now, and has taken over the role of Batgirl, abandoned suddenly and without any real explanation by Cassandra Cain (another big problem for me). Stephanie needs this. While she still has a great relationship with her mother, Stephanie found a real family in Tim and Bruce and is not going away without a fight. In the middle of a battle with Scarecrow, Barbara discovers Stephanie's new hobby and is not pleased. Barbara is dealing with her own issues, and still has some unresolved anger over being put in a wheelchair by the Joker - something else we've learned in the "Booster Gold" series that is solidified time; Booster tried to prevent the incident several times and was unable to. Babs sees that she is needed as a mentor and teacher not only to Stephanie, but also to recently paralyzed Teen Titan Wendy Harris, who she's counseling at Leslie Thompkins' clinic.

Barbara breaks into the Batcave (this also seems to be a recurring theme) and gets Stephanie through her initial melee with Dr. Crane, and sees the potential Stephanie has. At the end of "Batgirl" #3, Barbara and Stephanie go through the Pledge in the Batcave. Barbara here is finally - and officially - passing the torch of Batgirl to someone else, complete with a modified version of the original Batgirl costume, which Barbara says is "something [Stephanie has] earned the right to wear."

Barbara and Stephanie vow to have Faith in one another; something that Stephanie needed to get, and Barbara needed to give.
  • In Conclusion: Shut the frak up.
I think we may be looking at the genesis of one of the most cohesive Bat-Families in years. Now, if they would only get together now and then to recite the Serenity Prayer...

1 comment:

A.C.K. said...

And then Steph and Tim re-hook up and Babs and Dick re-hook up and I quit reading Batbooks which can't get the heck out of the past.

I found the Batgirl book to be pretty weak, and a rehash of Dick's oath which was rehashed for Babs once before, as well as Steph's first arc being a rehash of Tim's first arc.

Sure, a more cohesive Bat-family at the cost of any reasonably coherent storylines for most of the outlier members of the Bat-family.