Saturday, November 28, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight - Robin Special #1 Review and *SPOILERS*

Written by: Peter J. Tomasi
Art by: Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, Rob Schwager, Travis Lanham
Cover Price: $2.99
Release Date: November 25, 2015

Looking Out for Number Two

*Non Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*

The city of Gotham as defined by the comic books is known to be different than the city as defined by Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight video game. For one thing, it rains less often in the comics. The game offers a kind of pastiche continuity, pulled from the Batman comics, cartoons and movies, to create its world. Then there are characters like Tim Drake, the current Robin of the Arkhamverse, who is normally little more than a placeholder and babysitter for villains that Batman beats up. Is there more to this red-breasted sidekick, or is he Gotham’s equivalent of the wizard from Legend of Zelda who tells you that it’s dangerous to go alone and gives you a wooden sword? Read my review to find out!

Explain It!:

There are two ways to tell whether the Tim “Robin” Drake you’re dealing with is from the DC comic books or from the Rocksteady video games: for one thing, the video game Tim has a buzz cut. For another thing, the Tim Drake in the comics has developed over years from an insecure Batman fanboy into a sober and resolute leader, while the video game’s Drake is essentially a mannequin. He showed up in Batman: Arkham City and again in Batman: Arkham Knight to complain about Batman not trusting him enough, and then somehow screwing the pooch and needing rescue (though playing as his character was awesome in Arkham City.) He gives Bruce necessary gadgets, he sits with knocked-out villains requiring pickup by the authorities, but otherwise he’s wallpaper. Here was Batman master Peter J. Tomasi’s chance to make a compelling character out of the video game Tim Drake, and since he’s been doing a great job on the other tie-in books there’s no reason to expect less here.
Okay, maybe we can expect a little less.
The story begins explosively, with Drake fighting a unified onslaught by Clayface, Killer Croc, and Bane, three of the most memorable boss battles from the video game, and he’s not doing so well. He gets his shots in, but is ultimately overcome, and that’s when we find out this is a training simulation being run in the Batcave. Which, by the way, is bullshit. That has to be the most lame and contrived bait-and-switch in comic books and perhaps in story telling on a whole. Perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago the protagonist might have awoke from a dream about losing to his nemesis, but in the comic books the premise where we see the Joker being pounded into paste and it turns out to be a Joker-bot or whatever is about as old as capes themselves. Frankly I was disappointed to see such a stupid opener and it didn’t set a great tone for what was to follow. While he fights these fake versions of villains, Tim has an inner monologue about how he’s in a better position than Batman because it means the attention is off of him, which is incongruous with his character from the video game and not relevant to the action happening in-panel because Tim is getting his ass kicked.
Perhaps less internal monologue, more punching might help.
The next day we find Tim Drake at snooty prep school Robinson Academy where he is a science teacher. I don’t remember this being established in the game, but I suppose it’s an okay cover story. Even weirder, Tim teaches Chemical Engineering, where I would have expected him to teach Computer Science (if anything), but hey there’s no reason he can’t be a multi-disciplined nerd. He’s taking his class to WayneTech Labs, but first he plays a prank on them and makes the class believe he is drinking from a pitcher of the last batch of Titan, the body- and mind-deforming steroid that killed the Joker in Batman: Arkham City. The entire class reels in shock until Mr. Drake informs them it’s a harmless mixture of grape soda and kale juice, which sounds so nasty that I’d rather he drank the Titan. The kids get over to WayneTech and meet Doctor Emma Witt, who shows them around the place while commenting about Tim being a ward of Bruce Wayne and some other inconsequential stuff that seems like filler.
For my next trick I'll make you think a Hostess Devil Dog is dog poop.
That’s the odd thing about this book: through the games, we learn a lot about Bruce Wayne, the Joker, Commissioner Gordon—even Batgirl and Arkham Knight get lots of back story in the most recent game in the series. But Robin doesn’t get a lot of development, so this would have been the prime opportunity to fill a lot of that in. Instead, we get a bunch of facts: Tim Drake is a high school teacher, Tim Drake is Bruce Wayne’s ward, Tim Drake learned Chemical Engineering from Dr. Emma Witt. That’s all well and good, but who cares? I would have much rather read a story about how Tim became Robin, what happened in his life to make him choose the domino mask that claimed the life of his predecessor. It seems like a missed opportunity, exacerbated by the fact that three terrorists try to get into the lab to steal the last squirts of Titan, and then Robin defeats them. This is the bulk of the comic and it can be described in a sentence. The action is depicted well, but it’s just too much fluff and not enough substance.
He also ain't no English teacher.

We close the book with Drake doing another training simulation with fake Bane, fake Killer Croc, and fake Clayface, which only reminds us of the shitty opener. This time, however, Tim fares better and clobbers them into metal parts, which is when we learn that these practice dummies were actually robots. This was really the proof that this comic was slapped together without so much as an afterthought, considering large parts of the video games involve artificial reality simulations where holographic constructs take a temporarily solid form. I’m not saying the science is sound, but it’s established in the video game as being a WayneTech invention, so there’s no reason he would have robots here. Add to that some unpolished artwork and uninspired coloring and you’ve got a lukewarm comic book that hardly anyone wanted in the first place. Which, if you think about it, says more about Robin’s character than anything else.
And while you're at it, don't get a haircut.
Bits and Pieces:

Tim Drake comes across as wooden and one-dimensional in the video games, and Tomasi does his job to bring that dullness to the comic book page. I imagine Drake is a vapid, douchebag Jersey Shore-type character that fights for justice because fuckin’ A dude, someone’s got to be the hero. What the fuck, Killer Croc, you lookin’ at my girl?! I’ll flex my tribal tattoo and knock yer ass into next week, brah! You’re lucky Batman’s holding me back because I would wreck you, dude, so don’t try it. Tim Drake, never fake, your face will break hahahaha nah jus’ playing bro pass me a Coors Light.

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