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 — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 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 Comic — Batgirl #16 (2011)

Batgirl_Vol_3_16This Batgirl was such a fun series before the New 52 killed it.

It starred Stephanie Brown, the former Spoiler, as the new Batgirl operating under the guidance of the original, Barbara Gordon. As written by Bryan Q. Miller, this Batgirl’s personality leapt off the page and set her apart from DC’s ever-growing cast of Batman-related characters. She’s a fantastic lead.

Issue #16 is a typically solid example of what made this book a joy to read. Batgirl is wanted for a crime she didn’t commit—murder, specifically—which of course turns the police and public against her. And that plot serves the character; the situation highlights Stephanie’s drive to be the best Batgirl she can be, perhaps for a mix of altruistic as well as selfish approval-seeking reasons.

But it never pulls her down to a dark or brooding place. For the most part, she retains her lighthearted demeanor, and the book retains its strong sense of humor.

Example one from Stephanie’s first-person caption narration while she’s falling through a roof:

And it was only then that young Stephanie truly realized gravity would forever be her enemy.

And example two, this exchange with her police officer friend/crush:

“Your boomerang—”


“You realize that sounds more ridiculous, right?”

“Ridiculously awesome.”

Truly one of the most purely fun Bat-books in recent years, and one cancelled much, much too soon.

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller

Penciler: Dustin Nguyen

Inker: Derek Fridolfs

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batgirl vol. 3: The Lesson (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 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