Tag Archives: Robin

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #232 (1971)

How to introduce a new Batman villain? Hide him in plain sight.

Ra’s al Ghul gets a distinctive introduction in Batman #232, an issue Batman: The Animated Series adapted over twenty years later.

Robin the Boy Hostage is kidnapped. Then a mysterious man moseys on into the Batcave, claiming that his daughter Talia—whom Batman had recently met—has apparently been kidnapped by the same people.

It opens up a unique Bat-villain dynamic from the start. In a (by comic book standards) subdued bit of macho posturing, this guy has deduced Batman’s secret identity before ever meeting him and immediately brandishes this knowledge as his “hello.” And then he proceeds to lead him around the globe so Batman can find a kidnapper who’s standing right next to him the whole time. But Batman’s one step ahead of him…because he’s Batman.

The whole thing is a test, which brings us to the next reason Ra’s isn’t like all the other bad guys. Batman isn’t just a potential enemy—he’s a potential son-in-law and successor.

We don’t learn everything about Ra’s in his debut issue, but we don’t need to be inundated with all details at once. Slow introductions are often better; we can appreciate the various facets as they slowly emerge. So much more interesting than an info-dump, and it saves surprises for future issues.

For now, we get a clear sense that Ra’s is cunning, resourceful, and used to getting his way. A successful hook. Objectively successful in hindsight, given that he’s been a major foe ever since and Liam Neeson played him in a movie11.

Also, this issue is written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams—two of the people responsible for rescuing Batman from his campy phase. That was one trap he couldn’t escape on his own.

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Penciler: Neal Adams

Inker: Dick Giordano

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Tales of the Demon (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Robin #127 (2004)

There have been quite a few Robins, and it hasn’t entirely been a boys club.

Stephanie Brown, previously the amateur vigilante Spoiler, got a brief turn as Batman’s sidekick. In Robin #127, we see her relishing the role. Meanwhile, her predecessor Tim Drake adjusts to a post-Robin life…and the fact that his ex-girlfriend is now the new Robin.

Since this was Tim’s series, we could safely assume he’d be back in the sidekick saddle before too long, but the role-shifting made for an interesting change of pace, and one that didn’t drag on for long at all. (Stephanie would go on to have a far more successful stint as Batgirl…at least until a continuity reboot interfered.)

Comics have been replacing familiar characters with different versions for a while now, since long before 2004. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This worked because it was intended as a temporary change and it provided opportunities for two established, main characters to grow and learn.

Plus, some superhero roles have greater replaceability than others, and teenage sidekick roles tend to be at the higher end of that scale. Teenagers are still growing up and figuring themselves out, and a superhero persona can often provide a cocoon in which that discovery takes place. Adult superheroes, however, have more or less cemented personalities. Batman is only Bruce Wayne, but Robin works just as well whether he’s Dick Grayson or Tim Drake…and Stephanie Brown had potential, too. And they work because each one is likeable as an individual character, not by virtue of being “Batman’s sidekick.”

Writer: Bill Willingham

Artist: Damion Scott

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Annual #3 (1984)

The Teen Titans never achieved the tremendous levels of popularity the X-Men enjoyed for many years, but for a period in the early ‘80s, the quality of stories and characterization was pretty damn close.

The classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez run on The New Teen Titans reached its creative climax with a storyline called “The Judas Contract” (which has an animated adaptation coming out soon). At this point, the title had been renamed Tales of the Teen Titans and a new New Teen Titans series was about to come out. If this were a television series, the storyline would feel like a satisfying season finale, one that ties up lots of threads that have been laid since the series’ earliest installments while continuing to flesh out characters.

One of the Titans is a traitor, which was revealed to the reader shortly before these issues. And this traitor has been working with Slade Wilson, alias Deathstroke the Terminator. Wilson’s son had taken out a contract with the villainous organization HIVE to capture the Titans, dead or alive, though he died in the process. Now, Wilson feels honor-bound to fulfill it, and it’s clearly taking a toll on him.

Nevertheless, with the aid of a psychotic teenager, he captures the Titans one by one—except for Dick Grayson, who had recently relinquished his Robin role.

Watch Robin grow up into Nightwing. Watch all the Titans reel from a member’s cold-hearted betrayal. Watch them cautiously accept a new member. Watch Slade Wilson acquire far more depth than the typical comic book super-villain. And generally admire the amazing execution of the whole thing.

Don’t start with this storyline, though. Begin with The New Teen Titans #1, consider “The Judas Contract” the pinnacle, and maybe read a little bit further. And, aside from the occasional aspect that’s a little dated (or a lot), you’ll enjoy one of the all-time great superhero team series. (Especially if you already like the X-Men.) (Not meant to be an endorsement the Teen Titans Go cartoon, which was purely for the kiddies and dreadful for adults.)

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Dick Giordano

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #826 (2007)

detective_comics_826This is a nice Christmas comic…kind of like how Die Hard is a nice Christmas movie. So maybe it’s not “nice” exactly, but the holiday season provides a backdrop to gripping tension and action.

During a moment of desperation, Robin (Tim Drake) makes the mistake of getting into a stranger’s car. Turns out, the Joker is at the wheel. (And that’s why you don’t get into strangers’ cars!)

Joker ties up the Boy Wonder in the passenger’s seat and makes him watch helplessly as he runs over random pedestrians. And whenever he gets bored killing innocents, the Joker will probably kill Robin, too. It’s a death trap with psychological torture thrown in.

This is one of those done-in-one short stories writer Paul Dini excels at, particularly when it comes to Batman’s world. The Joker is at his most terrifying, and Robin needs to be at his most resourceful…which will require him to maintain his calm in the face of horrific murders.

It probably won’t get you into the Christmas spirit, but it is a great comic.

Writer: Paul Dini

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Wayne Faucher

Cover: Simone Bianchi

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Detective (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman Annual #11 (1985)

superman_annual_vol_1_11Since we’ve entered the holiday shopping season, how about a classic comic that’s basically about giving a gift? And Superman Annual #11, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” is a gift, one given to us by the team behind Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It’s Superman’s birthday, so Wonder Woman, Batman, and the then-new Robin (Jason Todd) visit him at the Fortress of Solitude, all bearing thoughtful presents. But what do you get the man who has everything? The villainous alien Mongul has the perfect gift for him—a life of contentment, which happens to be all imaginary.

A symbiotic plant called the Black Mercy traps Superman in his own head, where he’s living a perfectly normal life on a Krypton that never exploded. He has a wife and two children, and the weight of the world isn’t constantly on his shoulders. It all feels so real and satisfying.

But outside that fantasy, Mongul begins his quest for world domination by taking on Wonder Woman and the Caped Crusaders. To save his friends, and the world, Superman must abandon the peaceful life he always wanted, rejecting a loving family in favor of his Fortress of Solitude.

When you have a character as powerful as Superman, especially this old-school version, you’ve got to be creative to hurt him and even more creative to make him work for his victory. And trapping him in happiness, and requiring his own strength of will to erode the façade, is perfect.

The comic is so good that Justice League Unlimited adapted it into an animated episode. The comic does some things better, and the cartoon does other things better, but really, just check out both.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The New Teen Titans #38 (1984)

new_teen_titans_vol_1_38Wonder Girl’s secret origin—inattention to detail.

The character was originally intended to be a younger version of Wonder Woman, just as the original Superboy was the Man of Steel when he was a lad. But when DC Comics banded its teen sidekicks together as the Teen Titans, they forgot and included Wonder Girl in the mix, creating a comic book paradox and a character without a past.

This also created an opportunity for an excellent story—an opportunity writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez seized in The New Teen Titans #38. Dick Grayson, in his final outing as Robin the Boy Wonder, puts his detective skills to use helping one of his oldest friends learn about her past, and he and Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) piece the clues together one at a time.

Wolfman and Perez wisely omit two things from this story: super-villains and shocking revelations of any paranormal nature. Instead, they focus on Donna’s strictly human origins (while leaving the door open for other possibilities down the line), and this approach allows them to craft a superb short story about how family doesn’t necessarily mean blood, as one friend helps another uncover details about the people who cared for her in her earliest years.

I still say this was DC’s best series in the early ‘80s.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Romeo Tanghal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #25 (1998)

Nightwing_Vol_2_25Nightwing and Robin have a nice conversation. But they converse while blindfolded atop a moving train—intentionally. This is how Batman’s boys bond. (For the few of you who might not know, Nightwing is the original Robin, Dick Grayson, all grown up, and this Robin is Tim Drake, the third to carry the name.)

Nightwing #25 is a charming issue that’s not directly part of any larger arc, but it’s possible only because of many years’ worth of accumulated stories. We already know Dick and Tim as Batman’s sidekicks, and we know them as the stars of their own solo series (both of which were launched by the writer of this issue, the always reliable Chuck Dixon). So now it’s fun to just watch these two hang out.

Of course, a “talking heads” issue doesn’t play to the medium’s strengths. They need to be doing something as they chat, and it needs to be visually interesting. So blindfolded on a moving train it is. The gimmick feels exactly like something Batman’s proteges would do for a workout, and Scott McDaniel’s dynamic artwork sells it. Between McDaniel’s fluid layouts and Dixon’s crisp, in-character dialogue, this “talking heads” issue moves.

The entire Dixon/McDaniel run on Nightwing is fun stuff, by the way.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Scott McDaniel

Inker: Karl Story

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 3: False Starts (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #646 (1992)

Detective_Comics_646This review series is basically an extended “thank you” to the industry that has provided me with ample enjoyment over the course of many years, particularly in my youth, so I have to acknowledge the first mainstream superhero comic I ever read.

Detective Comics #646. Part three of a three-part storyline. Also the conclusion of writer Chuck Dixon’s first story arc on the title. Starring Batman and Robin as they try to save Commissioner Gordon and his girlfriend Detective Sarah Essen from an electrically powered lunatic hell-bent on revenge.

Previously, my main exposure to Batman was reruns of the Adam West show, which of course I loved. It was so much fun, and innocent fun at that, with all the bright colors and POW! BOP! ZAP!

Then I open this comic, and the villain actually zaps a man—and kills him—right on the second page. It’s nothing gory, and it’s not gratuitous. Rather, it serves the (at the time) new Robin’s ongoing development, as young Tim Drake continues to learn just how dangerous his new life is. A tense confrontation with the villain later in the issue hammers the lesson in a bit further.

At the time, of course, I didn’t realize this Robin was new and wasn’t Dick Grayson, and I doubt I could have articulated how the stakes appeared much higher and more genuine than in the old TV show. Nor did I notice that Robin grew up a little more somewhere between page 1 and page 22 (that certainly didn’t happen on television).

But I did understand that this comic was far better than POW! BOP! ZAP! and I would be coming back for more. Lots more.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Tom Lyle

Inker: Scott Hanna

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology;

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Robin #56 (1998)

Robin_56_coverAmong Chuck Dixon’s many Batman-related accomplishments in the 1990s was turning Robin the Boy Wonder into a viable solo character. Technically, he did this with two Robins if you count Nightwing. But he did it first with the then-current Robin, Tim Drake.

Robin #56 is a typically solid example from the middle of Dixon’s long run on the title. Yesterday, I raved about Ms. Marvel as a stellar example of a teen superhero book, and many of the same compliments hold true for 1990s Robin stories.

Tim’s heart is torn between two girls—his girlfriend Ari from his civilian life, and the Spoiler, whom Robin has been spending more crimefighting time with lately. Meanwhile, the Spoiler’s criminal father, the Cluemaster, is up to something (cue ominous music).

This Robin was such a great role model for kids. He was smart and resourceful, and though he’d make mistakes, he would always try to do the right thing (such as insisting that Spoiler pay for the soda she takes from the convenience store they save). Plus, Dixon took the time to develop Tim’s personal life, giving him school friends who had nothing to do with Batman’s world. For a Bat-character, Tim Drake was downright well-adjusted.

And the Spoiler was an excellent supporting character (a creation of Dixon’s, if I’m not mistaken; he at least wrote her debut). If you enjoyed her brief stint as Batgirl, as I did, these were her formative years.

Track down the back issues and grab them for your kids (or yourself!).

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Artists: Staz Johnson and Stan Woch

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #647-649 (1992)

Detective_Comics_647And now I present the first complete comic book storyline I ever read (that didn’t involve mutated sentient turtles, that is). The previous issue of Detective Comics was my actual starting point, but it was a part three of three. These were my first parts one and two. If this storyline wasn’t any good, I might be blogging about basket weaving or something now.

While those Matt Wagner covers certainly didn’t hurt, Chuck Dixon’s story is what sold me. And that story is notable for more than my own personal reasons—it’s the introduction of Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. the Spoiler, who years later would become a Robin and then a Batgirl (an excellent Batgirl at that, for too short a time). Here, we meet her as the daughter of the Cluemaster, a second-rate costumed criminal who’s basically a poor man’s Riddler. Stephanie is not a fan.

The story also serves as a good showcase for then-newish Robin, Tim Drake. (I was initially very confused when Batman called him “Tim” instead of “Dick.” I was all like, “How does Batman make a mistake?”) Tim was a great Robin and generally a great character in the 90s, and he really began to soar in Dixon’s stories. He’s smart, resourceful, not above goofing up—relatable and a solid role model for kids.

I enjoyed these issues when I was nine, and I’m delighted to say they hold up just fine. (I had excellent taste as a child, clearly.) A great new character and, for me, the birth of a lifelong hobby…all in three unassuming issues at a mere $1.25 a pop (the good ol’ days!).

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Tom Lyle

Inker: Scott Hanna

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up