With “Batman and Robin” having transformed into a “Batman and (Guest-Star)” team-up book, it’s nice to see the “Batman and Robin Annual” shift back to the old title for this issue. While there’s a small appearance/flashback by Damian Wayne, the bulk of the book has Peter J. Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and Patrick Gleason show the first week of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson working together as Batman and Robin. All in all, it’s rather charming.
The plot is fairly straightforward, as Tomasi presents how Batman slowly began to trust Robin and accept him as a part of the team. It’s a very logical progression, from “you hang back” to “you’re off the team” to “all right, this is going to work.” The strength in the writing is with the characterization, and the very human reactions from both Bruce and Dick to how their partnership is working. It makes perfect sense to have Bruce initially not on board even after he’s agreed to have Dick as Robin; this is a character who’s notorious for not letting people in, and these little half-steps mesh well with everything we’ve seen about him up until now.
The biggest attraction here, though, is Dick’s confidence even at such a young age. Not only does it mesh well with the portrayals of Robin as a burst of energy that explodes onto the scene with wisecracks, but also with the idea of a character that was a circus acrobat. That’s a job where a lack of confidence could literally kill you, and having Dick swing in almost without thinking fits perfectly with that profession. When he and Tusk are up in the helicopter and Dick is swinging around it, it’s a moment where there’s no thinking, just action. Tomasi clearly understands the character of Dick Grayson here.
Mahnke and Gleason both turn out some beautiful pages, even if the two don’t have styles that blend into one another. Mahnke’s art is a little more detailed and wrinkled in places, while Gleason’s is cleaner and slightly rounder. Where the two click well, though, is in terms of strong storytelling (with easy to follow pages and panels), and the overall sense of energy on them. For a book that focuses primarily on Dick Grayson, having the young performer able to swing and bounce across the page is critical. Not only do both pull that off, but we also get some lovely counterpoints, like the confined, cramped images of Dick in high school. It makes his restlessness come to life through the visuals, to the point that you almost don’t need Tomasi’s dialogue to understand what’s going on there.
“Batman and Robin Annual” #2 continues a strong, enjoyable trend for this series. Tomasi and Gleason have been working together very well for some time here, and it’s nice to see Mahnke enter that mix with ease. If Gleason needs a break down the line for a few months, Mahnke would certainly be a nice substitute. All in all, another good installment for “Batman and Robin.”