The new Batman is a cop. The new Robins are pretty much a gang. So, yes, the new Batman is probably going to have to arrest the new Robins. And Batgirl, too.
This week sees the release of We Are Robin #1, a new series that introduces a whole squad of teenagers who’ve taken up the iconic R-insignia of Batman’s young protege and turned it into a symbol for a new sort of grassroots crimefighting.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, the new Robins work in secret, communicating online and crowdsourcing gear, info and resources based on who’s got stuff they can use.
The series’ debut issue — by the team of Lee Bermejo, Jorge Corona and others — has them scoping out a possible new recruit Duke Thomas, a kid who left orphaned after the Joker zombified millions of people in a recent storyline.
Things have changed all over the DC Universe and, in Gotham, that’s meant that former police commissioner Jim Gordon is now Batman. The newest incarnation of the city’s protector wears a giant robot suit, the result of a partnership between city government and corporate technology. So, the changes wrought to the Robin part of the “Batman and Robin” tandem offer up a stark contrast against the new Batman status quo. These kids are operating on the fringes with nobody’s blessing, like many real-world teenagers.
Used to be that there was only one Robin. And every time Batman’s trained a new young person to assume the role of his sidekick, some drama has ensued. The person who originated the role of junior partner to the Dark Knight was Dick Grayson. He grew up and continued fighting crime as Nightwing. Following him was Jason Todd — who infamously died at the hands of the Joker after fans voted to kill him — and Tim Drake, a gifted detective who figured out who Batman and Robin were. Before We Are Robin, the latest Boy Wonder had been Bruce Wayne’s actual son, raised by Talia, who’s the daughter of archenemy Ra’s Al Ghul. Throughout the decades, there have been other notable Robins, too, like Carrie Kelly from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
As the first issue of We Are Robin moves through its plot, It’s pretty clear that Duke will wind up in the ranks of the Robin corps. What’s more intriguing is how different his circumstances — and those of the other Robins — appear to be from their predecessors. Ever since his parents have disappeared, Duke’s been floating through foster homes and getting into fights. There’s no rich mentor swooping in to save him from himself, no fancy gadgets that will help him in his quest for justice.
There’s only a bunch of kids just like him, and some mysterious supplier who’s apparently helping them. You can see the creators trying a bit too hard to capture the ephemeral flavour of today’s youth culture with the way they use urban slang, setting and DIY/parkour signifiers. (My colleague Chris Person called it Jet Set Radio Robin, when I described it to him.) But, winces aside, the concept at its core is still strong enough to make me curious.
The new Batman status quo gets yet another wrinkle in a plot point shown in the latest issue of Batgirl, also out this week from Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr and others.
In it, Jim Gordon reveals that he’s the new Batman to his daughter Barbara. She, of course, is Batgirl and is taken aback when her dad tells her that part of his job will be arresting the vigilantes operating in Gotham.
Yes, vigilantes like her.
Both of these comics feel like they’re making good on the promise of the recent changes to DC’s Bat-family of books. The reconfiguration of the Batman idea in the character’s main titles lets creators handling affiliated characters find different tensions in the areas of the Dark Knight’s mythos that have previously been set in stone. If Commissioner Gordon can be Batman, anyone can be Robin. There are going to be fireworks pretty soon in Gotham City.