Red Robin #1 (2009)

Red Robin #1 (August, 2009)
“The Grail, Part One of Four”
Writer – Christopher Yost
Artist – Ramon Bachs
Colorist – Guy Major
Letterer – Sal Cipriano
Assistant Editor – Janelle Siegel
Editor – Mike Marts
Cover Price: $2.99

Today we’re going to discuss the first issue of a series that eluded me when it first hit due to my more or less hitting the skids financially.  2008 was not a kind year for this humble blog-guy… 2009 was even worse.

That’s all behind me now, and I’m glad that when I was able to come back around there were still things called “back issue bins” for me to throw on a breathing apparatus and dive into.  Let’s get to it.

We open in Madrid where the daughter of an outspoken politician has been taken hostage by a couple of balaclava’d baddies… not sure if that’s the correct term for their headgear, but I’m a sucker for alliteration.  They kill her security detail and hold her captive for their own political statement… along with some tasty ransom money.  Well, all of a sudden there arose such a clatter… and it’s here that we are introduced to the hero of our story, Red Robin.  He’s handling things a bit differently then before… with seemingly much less regard for the figurative “line” that all good guys struggle with staying on the right side of.  He’s so shaken by current events (more on that in a bit) that he’s not even sure that “line” exists anymore.

Red Robin proceeds to beat the hell outta the bad guys, until he comes across what he describes as a “cyborg”.  He names it “Manos de Fuego” due to the fact that he has some fiery damn hands.  The fact that a cyborg guardian is placed here tips Tim off that the girl is likely still alive.  Manos throws a flaming punch… which Tim, get this… catches… that’s gonna leave a mark.  He headbutts the ‘borg, grabs the girl and skadoos out the window.

Our young Master Drake Wayne returns to his hotel room where he considers the profound stupidity of catching a flaming fist.  He then sits in reflection in regard to his current lot in life.  Ya see he’s been on something of a European whirlwind tour, four cities in seven days.  He’s on the trail of something… a hunch (more on that in a bit).

Next up we get a flashback… and boy is it a goodie.  Tim is in the Batcave talking to Batman… who at this point in time is Dick Grayson, onna count of Bruce Wayne being dead and all.  Tim appears to feel as though Dick is keeping him at arm’s length… it’s a fairly uncomfortable situation, however, for a dysfunctional bat-family mark like me, quite enjoyable.

The discomfort grows several fold with the arrival of Damian Wayne… in full Robin costume!  Tim takes this as a slap in the face.  Why would Dick choose Damian over him?  Damian suggests that Tim can still be “part of the team” and offers that there might be a Batgirl costume hanging in a closet somewhere.  Whatta jerk!  With the relatively “softer, kinder” Damian we now enjoy, it’s a bit of a trip to remember how awful’a kid he used to be.

Tim does not react kindly to Damian’s suggestion… and so, socks him in the face!  That’s pretty hardcore considering that Damian, for all his assassin training, is like eight-years old at this point!  Dick separates the two, and Tim leaves the cave… however, trashes a room in the Manor in a rage.

We shift back to the present, and watch as a limousine is blown up in Prague.  The blower-upper remained holed up elsewhere for awhile… however, before truly being able to enjoy the fruits of his labor he is killed by a creepy chittering critter.

We return to Tim as he motors through the streets of Paris… we know it’s Paris because the Eiffel Tower is in the background.  He takes out a carfull of criminals on the street… and does so pretty brutally.  He puts a rod through the engine causing it to explode.  He sees this as nothing more than a distraction from following up on his hunch.

We briefly return to the flashback.  Tim is sitting in the room at Wayne Manor he’d just thrashed, and his right hand is bleeding.  After a few static (identical) panels, he finally speaks… “He’s Alive.”  His hunch is that Bruce Wayne is still alive, and it would appear the direction of this series is going to be focused on Tim’s search for the truth.

Back in Paris we watch as Tim collects his thoughts.  He has a map pinned to the wall with all of his leads.  Turns out we’re not the only ones watching, as a trio of jerks has him in their sights as well.  I must note that Tim is not wearing his Red Robin costume at this point, so these folks are seeing him in all his mask-less glory…

… and they are reporting in to the person they are spying for, Ra’s al Ghul.

Pretty strong opening chapter here… a real nice look on the post-Batman R.I.P. Bat-family.

Now I probably should start by getting my bias out of the way.  Anyone who has read my thoughts on the Bat-books over this past year knows I’ve got a soft spot for any issues that spotlight the dysfunctional nature of the Bat-family.  This issue features a brief, but excellent scene depicting that… and it is interesting because the three members we see are all reacting in very different ways.

Tim is having a problem letting things go.  He is still stuck with a focus on Bruce Wayne… and this is even before he concocted the theory that Bruce is still alive.  Point is, he’s looking to the past.  Damian is being a little jerk, almost overcompensating in his jerkiness to (perhaps) assuage feelings of sadness for losing his father.  They weren’t terribly tight at this point, but blood is blood.  He’s looking to the future, and his new role as the Boy Wonder.  Dick is in the middle… he’s too busy focusing on the present to concern himself too much with the past or future.  It’s clear he’s chosen Damian as Tim’s successor to keep an eye on him… to keep him from, ya know, killing a bunch of people.  Dick seems to see his role in all this as a peacekeeper… a Bat-cop.

I really appreciated Tim’s new outlook on brutality… questioning whether or not there is still a line to avoid crossing in this new Batman-is-dead-world.  We see him take out criminals with a new level of ferociousness… really not worrying himself with their mortality.  Early on, he escapes an apartment as it’s blowing up… with about a half-dozen terrorists still inside.  I would venture to say there were at least a couple of fatalities there.  Later on, he see him flip and explode a car… I don’t think there’s gonna be many walking away from that.  Even if they survive… they’re not going to be “whole” anymore.

Does this make sense?  I’m not sure.  I know I kinda dig it… and I recall some of the rumors swirling online at this point.  Folks were seriously viewing this as signalling a heel-turn from Tim… like, he was going to eventually take that one step too far, and become an irredeemable villain.  After reading an issue like this, I gotta say, it would not have surprised me had DC decided to go down that path.  Best yet, it’s one of those “shades of gray” things… I would guess that many would see Tim’s turn to the dark side as almost justified considering the grinder that the post-R.I.P. books put him through.

Yost’s storytelling is great… I’ve been a fan of his, along with his writing partner of many years Craig Kyle, during their time on the X-Books… I always thought they had a great voice for the younger characters, which makes him writing for Tim a natural fit.  The art here… it’s a bit rough… like, not bad… but it’s a “rough style”.  I’m more accustomed to  a cleaner style when it comes to Robin stories… however, and this is a big reach… this was purposefully done to illustrate that this is a “rougher” Robin.  I’m almost positive I’m reading too much into this, but it’s fun to consider.

Definitely one I’d suggest you check out.  It is available digitally, and like many of DC’s #1’s, it’s only a buck.  It’s also been collected in trade paperback, however, it appears to be out-of-print, and thus inflated to a somewhat ridiculous price online.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see many local comic shops still carrying this trade at-or-below cover price.  Happy hunting should you decide to check it out!

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