BATMAN AND ROBIN ANNUAL #2/ Written by PETER J. TOMASI/ Art by DOUG MAHNKE with PAT GLEASON/ Inks by Various/ Published by DC COMICS
The strangeness of DC’s New 52 timeline is felt in Batman and Robin Annual #2, but writer Peter J. Tomasi keeps enough focus on the characters to make this Dick Grayson flashback tale worthwhile.
Tomasi’s storytelling is the main attraction here. Through his narrative we’re taken back to Dick Grayson’s first foray into the wonderful world of sidekicking. The tights and Errol Flynn booties of the classic Silver Age Robin are gone, “updated” to a predictably hideous New 52 Robin costume that combines the Tim Drake suit with elements of a ‘90s action figure. Aesthetic changes aside, it’s a familiar Dick Grayson in the suit and Tomasi’s spot-on characterization makes the new/old Robin presentation easier to accept.
Dick’s first Robin adventure (“Week One”) briefly features Damian Wayne, the recently deceased son of Batman and heir to the Robin mantle. Tomasi writes Damian with a care and energy that rivals that of creator Grant Morrison’s own. The bookend glimpses are short, but Damian’s spirit looms large over the entire issue.
Grayson starts his tenure as Robin as a 16 year-old with a little dash of Jason Todd’s brashness mixed in with the character’s banter. His circus origins are mined, including a flair for tasseled leotards that pokes sly fun at the old school Nightwing costume (a bit of déjà vu all over again).
The repositioning of Dick Grayson’s Robin days to an undefined time closer to “now” does some curious blending and altering of mythos, but delivers enough elements in the right proportion to feel legitimate. Grayson is still a circus orphan and ward of Bruce Wayne. Alfred runs the cave. The fundamentals are solid, making the continuity trappings feel somewhat forced and ultimately irrelevant.
The bulk of the book is classic Batman and Robin fare. The villainous Tusk is conducting a mafia-tinged initiative and Batman’s on the case. Tomasi does a great job positioning Bruce Wayne as a stern mentor and an intensely focused crime fighter. Robin brings levity and unpredictability to his first mission, and an uptight Batman does not react well to it. There’s a balanced aggressiveness to the way Tomasi writes Batman that works wonderfully, showing the Dark Knight from a teenager’s point of view.
The artwork is mostly great. Doug Mahnke lays out clean and concise action beats. His work really shines when Batman and Robin swing into action full-on. The issue does suffer in places from a disjointed look and feel, not surprising considering there’s a pencil assist from Pat Gleason and six different inkers listed in the credits. Still, when Mahnke’s firing on all cylinders the look is great and delivers some classic looking Batman and Robin pages.
Batman and Robin Annual #2 is an enjoyable self-contained issue with strong character moments from key members of the extended Bat Family. The nebulous New 52 history presents a few odd hiccups, but the core of the story is a classic look at Batman and the multiple great characters that have been called Robin.