Friday, February 20, 2009

Robin #183, The Final Issue

"Robin Dies at Dawn"

Well he doesn't actually die, of course. He simply has a dawn meeting with the unbeatable Lady Shiva, who is irritated by his presumption at assuming the role of Gotham City's protector in Batman's absence. (Being one of his earliest mentors, and one of Bruce's as well, it seems she has that right.)

Before their Wild West showdown Robin takes care of business around the city and in the Cave, tying up loose ends and doing what he does. ("Stop eleven muggings. Six bodega hits. Three bank robberies.") He finally ends his ill-fated romance with school mate Zoanne Wilkins. He relays Bruce's final message to Jason Todd, flexing his muscles but giving him another chance. He chats on the phone with his "as-close-as-it-gets-to-being-a-best-friend" Ives. He calls Spoiler but hangs up before leaving a message. He spies on his GCPD contact and her date with his PI, in a very Batman-esque moment. He strategerizes for his future battles with Anarky.

And then he waits for Lady Shiva. Boldly, standing tall like a man, fearless. They fly at each other, and separate, and in the best sequence of the book Robin lands, half-collapses and thinks "Three ribs broken. Channel the pain. Easier said than done. Don't let the pain spoil the moment." We see Lady Shiva fully collapse in the background. "Hmm. Doesn't spoil it. At. All."

In a classic Tim Drake move, Robin takes down Lady Shiva the only way he knows how. By matching overwhelming skill and experience and brawn with detection, foresight and intelligence. He tracked her movements well before she contacted him, and dosed her hotel chocolates with heart-rate activated paralytic poison. (His only gamble was that her heart rate would go up four beats while fighting him, which explains the out-of-character pre-fight threat of "before I kick your ass..." as an attempt to rile her up.)

He proves her wrong, saying "It's only presumptuous if I can't protect Gotham."

Nightwing is in the shadows, which Robin also knows, his constant ally and brother. As he swings off into the early sunlight of Gotham City he acknowledges that Gotham needs a Batman. "The obvious candidate will step up soon enough" he says, humbly voicing the nearly unanimous fan opinion that Dick is the only one who truly deserves the mantle of the Bat. Until then, Gotham has Robin, a stronger, more mature, more Batman-like Robin.

Fabien Nicieza wrote a fantastic final issue. (100 times better than the penultimate one, and far superior to the majority of issues in Robin's surprisingly long run.) He gives Tim's solo title a send-off it deserves, with a clearly defined individual who does not exist in the shadow of his mentors, but under the weight of his own expectations and ambition. Even Freddie Williams manages to draw Tim as more of a grown-up, rather than the mini-Robin so often seen in the animated series or the main Batman titles. In his final pages Tim has poise and presence, and judging from the art leaked by Tony Daniel this will continue in Battle for the Cowl.

The extra unexpected pleasure was the Origins & Omens backstory, which dealt with Obeah Man, the Haitian terrorist who killed his mother years ago (with poison) within the reach of a fighting Batman, before he was officially even Robin. I have often wondered about this villain, about his whereabouts and if he would resurface. The story of Tim's mother's death was a strong and haunting one, and hugely defined his early progress. (He was busy tracking down the original Anarky while Batman went to Haiti to save his parents. Talk about full-circle, villain wise.) To see Tim confront him, to infiltrate Obeah Man's base with ease, to shake off his cheap (and often overused) attempt to bring Tim down with dark memories of his tragic past and knock him out in one strike, was truly cathartic and symbolic of his maturation.

Robin has reached a new level. He is a man now, a capable leader, a detective. He is also the only one who believes Batman will return (partly out of denial, but partly because he sees things realistically without logic being tainted by overwhelming emotion, as happens with Dick and Alfred.) While I am more excited than ever for Battle for the Cowl, for the conflicts and differences in morality and technique while fighting for Gotham, this final issue leaves me with great contentment.

Tim Drake is the best Robin there has ever been, and has the potential to be the most interesting hero in the DCU. Thank you for proving it, Mr. Nicieza. You didn't disappoint. At. All.

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