Friday, July 8, 2011

Red Robin Volume 1: The Grail

Writer: Chris Yost
Artists: Ramon Bachs & Marcus To
Company: DC Comics

Summer continues to rage on, especially here in Texas.  So what should be done to escape such certain death and dehydration?  How about reading some comics, which let me tell you, is always a good idea no matter the temperature outside.  As with a lot of people my age out there, Tim Drake is the Robin that we grew up with.  He is the ultimate Detective, one of the only people to have every figured out who Batman and Robin and Nightwing were, and he just happens to know a thing or two on how to expertly use a bo staff in a fight, thanks to Lady Shiva.  Chuck Dixon cemented the character into Batman history and really made the book he starred in a title that was always enjoyable on multiple levels.  He made Tim human and a hero to root
for.  Chris Yost continues that same tradition here with the first volume of Red Robin.

The Grail, timeline wise, takes place right after Final Crisis and we see the aftermath of that event and how it effected the Wayne family household.  With the apparent death of Bruce, Tim feels cut off from everything.  He lost his real Father Jack Drake to Captain Boomerang not too long ago, and in a 180 move that he never saw coming, Dick chooses Damian as his Robin.  Tim also discovers something in the mansion that cements in his head that Bruce is in fact not dead, but no one takes him seriously and believes that he needs to move on and grieve.  It's an interesting place for the character to start.  The character moments that pop up as a result of that situation though as the people in his life react and talk to him, people like Wonder Girl, Stephanie Brown and Dick Grayson, creates a great showcase of emotion that works so well.  Tim comes off as kind of an ass at times, but it's completely understandable and human and real.  Still, this title is not mired in Emo-ism, it also hits the fun button at a frenetic pace as we see Tim take up the Red Robin mantle and go galavanting across the globe.

Seeing superheroes outside of their normal turf has always been a favorite thing of mine to see.  When Brubaker had Daredevil in Paris taking on the likes of the Matador, it felt so cool and memorable to see a hero be somewhere else and be put into new situations.  It's been done with Batman before too, of course, but it felt like a return to Tim Drake's roots, as it was what he did before becoming Robin.  Chris Yost, writing solo this time, revels in the fun that this notion brings as we see Tim search for clues as to Bruce's whereabouts.  Through internal dialogue, a storytelling device that can sometimes feel dated and hammy, though not here, we get a play by play of what is happening as Tim goes up against global kidnappers, thugs, and thieves.  He also adds a huge player by incorporating The League of Assassins and Ra's Al Ghul into the story.  Watching Tim manipulate and be manipulated by these entities gives the story a very Batman-like feel.  It also elevates Tim to another level that we haven't seen before.

Drawing The Grail is Ramon (Civil War: Frontline/Azrael) Bachs.  His style reminds me of a simplified Frank Quitely, which is a strange thing to say.  Truthfully, I wasn't wowed by Bachs' art when this first came out in single issues.  It was serviceable, sure, but there wasn't a WOW effect.  Upon re-reading however, I believe that I may in fact have been blind.  The action is sort of the meat potatoes variety, but there are some great details that set his stuff apart from others, namely his ability to the let the characters move effortlessly and organically on the page.  I could complain about some plainness in his backgrounds, but again on closer inspection, the plainness (notice how I did not say there was a lack of backgrounds, as there's not) allows Tim and the other members of the cast to really leap off the page.  Still, the accessibility and entertainment value is there in spades.

Chris Yost rises to his best heights here with Red Robin.  It exceeds any of his X-work, mainly because there's more heart and cool story beats packaged within these five issues.  He gets Robin.  He gets who he is and doesn't just make him an action star, he makes him a thinking man and a detective who goes into every situation not just with his fists at the ready.  That's what makes Tim Drake unique.  It's a hell of a read, certainly something to take your mind off your troubles or the pulse-pounding death heat that is the Summer.

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