Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chronic Review: Red Robin # 16!

Red Robin # 16
DC Comics

Script: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Marcus To
22 pages for $2.99

To me, this is how superhero comics should be done. Where to start?

Red Robin is Tim Wayne, formerly the artist known as Tim Drake, also formerly known as just plain Robin before Damien took that over. In DC Universe terms, he's a sidekick, a B-lister at best.

In pure storytelling terms, he's a bright emerging adult with a really unique history and a rich Gothamy backdrop to draw upon. Where most people screw this up is they continue to define the "B-list" character through an "A list" lens, thereby constantly reminding the audience that they are reading something less. The most common error is the "wounded ego striving to separate/evolve from the shadow of The Elite", which in this case would be Batman.

People, even professional people, forget that the magic is really as simple as this - have the character say and do his/her own interesting shit. That's it.

Fabian Nicieza has loaded this Red Robin book with great big truckloads of interesting shit. You cannot possibly read this and think you got cheated because Batman wasn't in it. The driving hook is that there is a new Anarky in town, and he is a giant, murderous dick. He's got it in for Robin, and he intends to erase any and all likely candidates until he finally scores the real deal. That's worth reading about right there.

But aside from the A plot, there is Tim's developing relationship with the previous Anarky, now helping him electronically while in a coma. I'm a huge Lonnie Machin fan, so that's a nice bonus. That's a complex relationship, and it might get even more complex, because there's a possibility that Lonnie's condition might be reversed. What then? Fun, that's what!

There's a scene dealing with Tim's relationship with the press and his expanding role with the Wayne corporate machine. He's got his own causes, his own goals. He's got a little "non date" that's actually a date with Tamara, a big fight with Anarky, and a prison visit with the man who killed his father.

This was packed into one issue, folks. An issue populated with two splash pages and a double splash page. In 2010, that's revolutionary.

By the way, I picked this up at part 4 of the arc. Everything was spelled out perfectly and organically so I could immediately start swimming. Granted, I had a little advantage because I've read most everything that Lonnie appeared in, so I knew some of the relevant history going in. But I'm not up on current Bat events, and that was all addressed in such a manner that I could jump in fairly seamlessly, and the exposition didn't shove a literary screwdriver underneath a fingernail as many comics are wont to do.

Fabian Nicieza is one of those guys who doesn't get as much credit or as much work as he should. Honestly, Red Robin should be taught at Comics U for how superhero comics ought be done. Set the scenes in a way that pulls new readers in without insulting your regular audience. Have the character do interesting shit. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Too many blockbuster comics are overpriced, overdull, and decompression leaves you feeling like the portions were miniscule. Nicieza and Red Robin may not be marquee names, but don't let the label fool you - this is 24 ounces of prime rib action superhero comics at a great price.

- Ryan

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