Thursday, September 18, 2008

Robin #178 Review

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Freddie Williams II

The publication of Robin comics continues at breakneck speed. This is the fourth Robin comic I've reviewed since I started this site. To compare, I have only reviewed one comic of either Fantastic Four or Final Crisis. I'm not entirely sure what is driving the bi-weekly publication of this comic, but the rush is beginning to show somewhat. The last four issues have become progressively weaker and weaker, beginning with the excellent Robin #175, in which Robin realises he may need to take down Batman and leading into the slower, less focussed story concerning whether or not Robin will become Batman's replacement.

What is curious about this issue is that it is starting to show the cracks in the Batman premise, cracks which the franchise generally (and wisely) covers up. Batman is, at the end of the day, a vigilante, who strives to create fear in the criminals of Gotham City, a city so corrupt that no legitimate means can be found to fight the crime. Even the police commissioner and the former (and now insane) district attorney are willing to condone his methods because of the depth of the corruption. Now that Batman has retired at the end of the R.I.P. story, a war is beginning to brew among the gangs, this time started by corrupt police hoping to use the war to advance their own agenda. In the middle of this gang war, one of the gangs tries to recruit a young boy into their gang, and Robin defends the boy by beating them up.

Of course, they come back to recruit the boy again, leading to a rather interesting conversation with Ragman who, quite rightly it seems, believes that Robin can't actually protect the boy from the gangs, since they'll just come back the second Robin leaves. This is quite a reasonable objection to Robin's methods. How exactly does he think he can prevent gang violence in the city by dressing up as a bird and beating up criminals? Even when he uses Tim Drake's detective skills, it would seem that the desperate people in a city need, well, help. For some strange reason, things like poverty fail to get even a single mention in this issue. One would think that it would at least occur to Robin that maybe his methods can't actually stop youth violence in the city, and perhaps something other than a costumed vigilante or brilliant detective might be the solution to this boy's problems. I realise the city is corrupt, but did it even occur to him to call a social worker? Or one of the police that isn't corrupt?

This lack of any reflection on Robin's part on the social or economic factors in causing crime or any consideration of non-violent solutions is especially strange given that the vast majority of this issue includes Robin trying to figure out his purpose and how he can stop gang violence. The only alternative to his "putting out brushfires" through isolated bullying that he considers seriously is Jason Todd's alternative of violently uniting all of the gangs. Even Ragman just talks about "choosing between evils", as though the only other option is something like Jason's. It is a little jarring to have Robin spend an entire issue in self-doubt without ever doubting the efficacy of private violence per se. By the end of the issue, it appears that Robin has decided that it is time for him to become Batman or at least to replace his role. However, as a reader, I just wanted him to call Children's Aid.

There are some questions that a comic book like Batman or any book in that franchise simply can't ask, and one of them is whether or not Batman's vigilantism could really improve a city like Gotham. It simply has to assume that it can or provide some quick explanation of why the city really needs is a costumed crime fighter, or else there is no story. By bringing in a street kid being pushed around by various gangs, Robin #178 takes material from serious real world problems and provides a comic book solution. By having Robin spend an entire issue in self-doubt, it asks a question it can't afford to ask. By having Robin not even consider non-violent solutions, it accidently reveals that Robin doesn't have an answer.

C+

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