I just realized that there's a theme in some of the books I read last week. The titles were BATMAN: DARK VICTORY #0-#13, ROBIN: YEAR ONE #1, and BATMAN: TURNING POINTS #1 and #2. All of those deal with the earliest days of Robin. It's interesting to see how they compare and contrast.
BATMAN: DARK VICTORY, of course, is the just-concluding 13 part series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. This might be heresy to many, but to me the major mystery of the story is secondary to the way it's told. It's too large a mystery with too many clues and too many players for me to try to guess from month to month. More power to you if you can, though. Yes, I played a long to a certain degree as I read it. I fell for a couple of the red herrings, and the identity of the Hangman and all the rest of the goings-on pleasantly surprised me. I stood most in awe of the storytelling, however. Tim Sale draws a heck of a super-hero noir book. He manages to tell a very detailed and dark story across thirteen issues without relying on dense page layouts. Jeph Loeb doesn't need to cover up the frequent splashes with caption boxes to explain everything. It's interesting to read. You feel like you've read a complete chapter after every issue is over, but you're amazed at how quickly you read it. This might be a good thing - it gives you time to go back and drool over some of the art, and look for some details you might not notice in the backgrounds as you read through.
Robin here is portrayed as a young tough-looking kid. He's just orphaned from the circus, and he's grown up there. Sale, however, gives him something of a street smart, young toughie look. It's a bit odd when I think about it now, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Sale makes up for it by drawing a very lithe and limber Dick Grayson, even when he's standing still.
ROBIN: YEAR ONE #1 is written by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, with art by Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella. Lee Loughridge colors the whole shebang, and I'll get to that in a minute.
This is a four-issue prestige format mini-series - cardboard covers, square binding, glossy pages. Usually, I would say a mini-series like this doesn't need the expensive treatment, but I'm not arguing with the results here. The book shines in this format. I couldn't imagine this on duller or plain white paper. This book cries out for glossy paper and it holds the art very well. Loughridge is one of the most underrated colorists in the business. He displays a similar sense of color-keying that Laura Depuy does, letting one color predominate scenes. But he has an amazing sense of shades of the colors and good use of gradients. It never distracts, and it always enhances the mood of the story and the artwork itself. That's a nifty trick.
Sean Konot does the lettering, and I like it all except the annoying cursive font used for Alfred's thoughts. It's tough to read. You get used to it after awhile, but it still slows you up.
Javier Pulido is a great choice as an artist for this book. He's a great storyteller, and his style is just simple enough to be a bit of a flashback to the art styles used at the time Robin was first introduced. He's not needlessly cross-hatching his stuff, he's got a great sense of character and design, and knows when to draw backgrounds and when to let the characters guide the action. I don't think I've ever seen his stuff elsewhere before, but I'll be keeping an eye out for him after this one.
This book has the young Robin struggling with the mix of school and crime fighting, but enjoying every chance he gets to do some detective work. It takes place a bit after the events Loeb and Sale introduce in DARK VICTORY to where Robin is an active part of Batman's crime-fighting, but not yet for a long enough time that Batman trusts him implicitly. He's still worried about his young ward, and very protective. The flashbacks to bits of Robin's origin are perfectly in line with DARK VICTORY, as well.
BATMAN: TURNING POINTS #2 looks at the relationship between Gordon and Batman, right at the time that Robin first appears on the scene. Ed Brubaker delves into the strain on the relationship that Batman's new sidekicks adds. Gordon, to put it mildly, is not terribly sure that adding a brightly colored kid to Batman's side is a good idea. This story functions to put Gordon's mind at ease.
Unlike the other two stories mentioned above, Robin looks more like a teenager here. Artist Joe Giella recaptures a lot of the spirit of the time in his artwork here, and part of that has Robin looking like a gawky teenager at Batman's side. His Robin is a little less lithe-looking. He's still got all the moves, but doesn't convey them in all the little ways that Tim Sale, for example, goes out of his way to show.
It's also not possible to tell exactly how far along in his training Robin is. It seems a bit odd, though, that he's completely earned Batman's trust in this story in a relatively short span of time. I mean, Gordon is just beginning to hear stories of Robin at the beginning of this issue. The only way for Robin to earn Batman's trust is by going out in the field with him, right? There had to be a lot of stories wafting up into the police precinct by the time this issue starts. Brubaker shows some of that early on, and even has Gordon musing to himself about the "last few weeks" that the stories began bubbling up. It seems odd that Batman didn't tell Gordon about Robin for so long, but he's The Bat. He knows what he's doing, right? Even when the two (Robin and Gordon) meet in this issue, it isn't exactly in the most controlled of circumstances. It's out of necessary, but Batman doesn't mind, given the circumstances. (Of course, this is also the blue-suited Batman who was more prone to cracking a smile. ;-)
The first TURNING POINTS issue, by the way, was a collaboration between the WHITEOUT team of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. (Lieber gave up enough control to let Willie Schubert handle the lettering, though. =)
The story itself is completely straightforward, almost simplistic, and doesn't provide for much action drama. The crux of the story comes in seeing the beginning of Gordon's relationship with Batman and how the terrible loss of close family can affect two men differently. Heck, you can write a whole psychological dissertation on this issue, if you want to get into trust issues. One of the focal points of this story is Batman's tendency to hold back until he gets the OK from Gordon. He does this in order to earn Gordon's trust and not flout his authority. The basic question we all have to ask ourselves, of course, is how we earn and how we give trust. There comes a point where one party has to step out on a limb and test that branch, praying it doesn't snap underneath them. This story is one sample of how Gordon learned to trust in The Batman.
Lieber's admittedly David Mazzucchelli-influenced artwork looked uncomfortable to me here. I wasn't sure why that was at first. After all, it looked gorgeous when I saw the black and white photocopies he had with him at the Small Press Expo last month. That's what it was, though - the previews were in black and white. Lieber's art works much better that way. Tom McCraw does a fine job with the coloring on this issue, don't get me wrong. But Lieber's composition and spotting of blacks and shadows and all the rest is geared to a black and white look. There are times when any color would be glaring on these pages, no matter what McCraw did.
Both of the TURNING POINTS issues have been good reads so far. I'll be reading the third one this weekend, delving into the aftermath of the death of Jason Todd and the shooting of Barbara Gordon. I'm sure I'll be getting to that in Tuesday's PCR.