We Are ... Robin #1
Written by Lee Bermejo
Art by Jorge Corona, Rob Haynes and Trish Mulvhill
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jake Baumgart
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
More and more recently, the two big super hero publishers are willing to mix up the status quo in order to attract new audiences and different audiences. What was an occurrence every five years now happens every year, with varying degrees of success. With the recent critical praise that the revamped Batgirl received, it was inevitable that DC Comics' other young heroes would receive a Barbara Gordon-style makeover. Enter We Are ... Robin, as writer Lee Bermejo and artists Rob Haynes and Jorge Corona build a Gotham where the teenagers have turned their passion from musicians and models to the Dark Knight. Higher-ups at DC are sure to be happy because the concept of hundreds of different Robins fills their diversity quota and audiences get to enjoy something completely unique from the Batman universe. Luckily for readers, the concept pays off well.
However, it should be said that appealing to the younger demographic can be tough. With young audiences able to sniff out a fake from miles away, the most successful of Young Adult comic books manage to be relevant without condescending. In this, We Are ... Robin has passed the first hurdle. There are no ham-fisted references to pop culture or attempts at any manner of slang (real or fictional). Instead, Bermejo writes protagonist Duke Thomas just like any other person trapped in a broken system and trying to get out. He doesn't attempt to portray him as a pouty teenager. Duke, and his audience, is too smart for that. Even when the Robins are communicating with each other via text messaging, they use a shorthand that seems to have developed out of convenience - not a contrived effort at punchy dialogue by the writer. There might have been a few attempts to court hip-hop culture early in the issue but those clunky details might have fallen on the visual side of the story telling.
Meanwhile, artists Haynes and Corona make a great team, with fluid layouts and panels packed with momentum. That said, while We Are ... Robin has much of the same teenage spirit as Batgirl, Haynes and Corona’s vision of Gotham isn’t quite as fully realized visually as Babs Tarr’s dynamic, fashion-forward Burnside. Small touches like clothing choices and hair styles could have really built the world for We Are ... Robin. Although major fashion faux pas were averted, Haynes and Corona's take on Gothamites came off a little bland. One too many times the characters in Duke Thomas' world appeared as caricatures of types of people: thugs, doctors, sassy women. Still, one can look forward to the world of We Are ... Robin growing and becoming more colorful as time goes on.
That being said, it truly is impressive that the creative team was able to dodge the biggest obstacle in appealing to young readers: playing down to them. The stakes for Duke Thomas are real and the character is grounded. Although the parkour in the beginning of the story might have been a bit ambitious, Duke's constant mental chatter regarding mortality and a disdain for heights gives the character a sort of charm and code of conduct that readers will enjoy. There is tons of potential here for fans, old and new alike, to become smitten with this new Robin. It's easy to see Duke as the new favorite to don the domino mask. Although the notably diverse group of Robins have yet to be given any real voice, there is real potential here for all kinds of readers to identify with the Robin that most reflects themselves under Bermejo’s stewardship.
We Are ... Robin #1 does a lot of things right in its opening issue, while avoiding pandering moves to attract young/diverse readers on the surface. If DC is honest in its commitment to bring in different characters, from different background, that more reflect their desired audience base, then We Are ... Robin might be the best place for a young reader to dig in and invest in a new group of characters - so long as Bermejo, Haynes, Corona and the rest of DC Comics can steer clear of becoming out of touch with a notoriously fickle fan base.