Game Corner [Robin Month]: Young Justice: Legacy (Xbox 360)


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Monday of April to celebrating the character?


Released: 19 November 2013
Developer: Freedom Factory Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo 3DS, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
After debuting in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, the Teen Titans had a relatively consistent presence throughout the 1960s and 1970s and acted as a way for DC Comics to appeal to younger audiences. The team arguably achieved their greatest mainstream success when writer Marv Wolfman and George Pérez breathed new life into the concept by introducing many characters who are now synonymous with the team but I actually became a fan of the group after reading the adventures of their later contemporaries, Young Justice. Although functionally similar to the Teen Titans, Young Justice brought together the then-modern incarnations of their predecessors, who had long since grown up and assumed other identities. Created by Todd Dezago, Todd Nauck, and Lary Stucker the team operated between 1998 and 2003 before disbanding (most likely so that DC Comics could captalise on the success of the Teen Titans cartoon (2003 to 2006)) before reuniting in 2019. Some four years after Teen Titans ended, the Young Justice concept was evoked for a new DC animated series that ran from 2010 to 2013 before finally receiving a long-awaited revival in 2020. Young Justice’s critical acclaim and popularity also led to the development of this videogame adaptation; unfortunately, the game suffered delays, ports to other consoles were cancelled, and it released to mainly negative reviews.

The Plot:
Taking place in the five-year gap between season one and season two of the cartoon, Young Justice sees the titular team joining forces against the combined might of “The Light”, a cabal of supervillains with intentions to take over (or destroy) the world.

Gameplay:
Young Justice: Legacy is a team-based beat-‘em-up with very light puzzle elements that sees players form a team of three (why it isn’t four is beyond me…) characters from a roster of twelve and fight their way through fifteen missions. If you don’t have one or two friends to play alongside, you can switch between the three characters with a press of left or right on the directional pad and, when you’re not playing as them, the computer will take over and batter any nearby enemies with a reasonable amount of competence. When selecting a team for the game’s main campaign, you’re unable to alter the story-based team leader, which can mean that you’re stuck with a character you don’t really like and limits the customisation options available to you, but that doesn’t really matter as, essentially, every single character plays the same way. Tapping X performs a light attack while pressing Y performs a heavy attack (you can also hold Y to charge this up) and you can mix up these button presses to perform a few clunky combos (although it has to be said that you can easily just run past the vast majority of the game’s enemies and not get bogged down in the monotonous combat). You can jump with A and certain characters can fly (more of a hover) with a subsequent press of A, perform an awkward dash with B that can help you move a little faster or dodge incoming attacks, hold the Left Trigger to block, and pick up and throw objects with B and X, respectively.

Combat is laborious and characters don’t really feel that different from each other.

Each character has four superpowers available to use; these are performed by holding the Right Trigger and pressing either X, Y, A , or B and can be performed as long as the blue bar on the heads-up display is full. This bar fills up over time and you’re able to pull off such ranged attacks as tossing Batarangs, shooting arrows, throwing fireballs, and blasting enemies with water, area blast attacks that may stun or knock back enemies, cast a healing spell or boost your attack, defence, and energy consumption, or freeze enemies, compel them to attack their allies, or turn your character briefly invisible. As you defeat enemies, you’ll build up your character’s “Hero Boost” meter; once it’s full, you can pull off a Hero Boost than defeats or heavily damages all onscreen enemies by holding RT and pressing the Right Bumper or build up all three characters’ bars and unleash a massive “Squad Boost” attack by holding RT and pressing the Left Bumper. Sadly, every character has the same Hero Boost attack and animation, which really limits the distinctiveness of each character beyond their individual superpowers. Combat in Young Justice: Legacy is mind-numbingly simple; as you run through painfully linear environments, you’ll be set upon by a near-endless supply of goons, all of whom might look a bit different area to area but basically attack in the same ways and can be put down with a bit of mindless button-mashing (or, as I said, avoided completely in some instances).

Combat is broken up by simple puzzles and a few tedious tasks.

Opportunities for exploration are limited; sometimes you can (and have to) smash through rock walls to access secret areas that lead to some collectibles or control panels and such but you won’t really find multiple paths through stages or areas that can only be accessed by certain characters and/or team combinations. The game also tries to mix things up with some extremely simple puzzles; these generally involve smashing something, usually a generator, activating a console to open a door, or pushing something big to activate bridges, open doors, or reach new areas. Stages are super linear but there’s a helpful mini map on screen at all times to point you in the right direction and you can look up your current objectives with a press of the ‘Back’ button but, while missions are split into three sub-missions at a time, the game’s monotony is made all the more frustrating by a serious lack of checkpoints. While you can’t pick anything up to refill your health, it will automatically refill once all onscreen enemies have been defeated and, if an ally is knocked out, you can revive them by pressing B. You can select from two difficulty settings (Normal and Hard) which, obviously make the game’s enemies a bit tougher and what-not but it can be extremely aggravating to get knee-deep into a mission only to have your health drained to nothing by instant-kill laser traps. Some stages are full of environmental hazards like this, such as flames and spikes from the floor and large statues that come to life as you progress through rooms. Other missions also prove unnecessarily frustrating, such as forcing you to clear out all onscreen enemies in a time limit (bizarrely without an onscreen timer to gauge your progress), rescue hostages, defend John Stewart/Green Lantern while health-sapping debris and waves of enemies attack you, avoid enemy-spawning search lights, smash engines or generators while avoiding missile-shooting turrets, or push forklift trucks to avoid being taken out by snipers.

Graphics and Sound:
I should stress here that I haven’t ever seen the cartoon that Young Justice: Legacy is based on but the game opts to use a variation of cel-shaded graphics to recreate the look of its source material and, for the most part, this works…unless you’re watching the game’s cutscenes. When playing the game, thanks to the skewed, top-down perspective, the lack of detail and rigidity of the character models isn’t as noticeable since you’re so focused on combat and the perspective is quite zoomed out but, when the game tells its story, characters are all very flat and kind of resemble lifeless puppets more often than not. While the main characters look fine for what they need to be, the enemies aren’t so great; you’ll fight the same goons and robots over and over, which all gets very monotonous very quickly.

Character models are okay but environments and cutscenes are a bit bland and stilted.

Environments are surprisingly big considering how linear and empty they are; there’s usually a lot of open room to manoeuvre and you’re rarely forced to fight down boring, narrow grey corridors. You’ll visit places like Siberia, Santa Prisca, Gotham City, and battle on LexCorp hovercrafts, all of which provide a decent amount of visual variety to the game. It’s just a shame, then, that there’s very little opportunity to explore; you can go off the beaten path but will often find only a dead end or useless boxes to smash, and there’s no opportunities to platform or utilise specific character powers outside of combat. At one point, Edward Nygma/The Riddler challenges you to solve a light-based puzzle in a neon-drenched sewer system-made-funhouse, which is quite a unique area, but there’s really not that much on display here to keep you that engaged, which only adds to the game’s repetitiveness. The music and sound effects are equally bland but, while the game appears to utilise the same voice cast from the cartoon, this is actually to its detriment; characters will spout the same quips and lines over and over again and I was about ready to snap the disc in half after hearing Dick Grayson/Nightwing moan about being “whelmed” all the damn time!

Enemies and Bosses:
A slew of generic goons will dog your progress in every mission. After playing through the first stage, you’ll basically have encountered every enemy the game has to offer as they simply get swapped out with different character models in each mission. You’ll battle teleporting, sword-wielding members of the League of Shadows, a variety of robots (Spider Bots and larger, more humanoid robots being the most common), Bane and David Hyde/Black Manta’s mercenaries, and the Riddler’s baton and shotgun-wielding goons throughout the game’s story. Things get interesting in the game’s final missions, where you’ll battle a larger mech, fight against mummies, and come up against gigantic statues that deal massive damage and get jumped by an assortment of enemies in enclosed areas.

Cheshire and Sportsmaster require a hit-and-run strategy to whittle down.

Each mission culminates in a boss fight against at least one member of the supervillain cabal known as The Light; the first mission ends with you battling Jade Nguyen/Cheshire, who teleports around the arena in a puff of smoke and throws projectiles your way but, while she’s the toughest enemy you’ll have faced at that point, she leaves herself wide open for an attack when she pauses to setup an explosive device and isn’t too difficult to whittle down as long as you keep moving, attacking, and reviving as necessary. This strategy basically applies to every boss but will become abundantly clear when you battle the second boss, Lawrence “Crusher” Crock/Sportsmaster. Sportsmaster is accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of goons, all of whom cause a massive headache when you’re trying to dodge Sprotsmaster’s health-sapping spinning and charge attacks. Thankfully, though, these enemies are finite and, if you quickly take them all out, you can focus on battling Sportsmaster using hit-and-run and ranged attacks.

Many of the bosses cannot be attacked directly and must be stunned first.

In Siberia, you’ll fight Crystal Frost/Killer Frost as Spider Bots attack you; Frost can’t be attacked head-on as she hides atop an ice column and blasts ice attacks at you, so you need to destroy her platform to knock her down and then beat on her before she can build a new one. Cameron Mahkent/Icicle Jr. takes over the ice-based duties for the next boss battle, where he teams up with Sportsmaster. You can utilise the same tactics to take out Sportsmaster and it’s best to focus on one enemy at a time; Icicle Jr. is different from Killer Frost in that he can freeze you and encases himself in an ice sphere that refills his health. After defeating them, you’re faced with a harrowing mission where you must battle through rooms of annoying enemies with no checkpoints and no refillable health as Clark Kent/Superman holds back an incoming avalanche, which was one of the most aggravating parts of the game on my first playthrough. Afterwards, in Santa Prisca, you’ll battle against Bane who, again, requires a little more strategy; when pumped full of Venom, Bane is invincible and you need to lure him into charging the nearby columns to stun him. He also busts out a big ground pound attack and can bash your brains in if you get too close for too long, so again it’s best to hit and run and use ranged attacks to whittle him down.

While you can bypass Black Manta, Psimon and Riddler require a more hands-on approach.

Next up, you’ll have a tough battle where you must disable Black Manta’s submarine; the game doesn’t make it massively clear how you do this but basically you have to fight off Black Manta’s goons and push these red bars near the large generators to overload his sub, all while avoiding his instant-kill lasers by taking advantage of the big metal shields that rotate around the arena. After that, you’ll fight Black Manta himself; make sure you avoid his massive eye beams but don’t worry about fighting him or his goons as you can simply attack and destroy the shield generators to end the fight that way. While at Haly’s Circus, you’ll have to fight through waves of enemies in a mini gauntlet before battling with Doctor Simon Jones/Psimon, who spawns in mirror versions of your team (who seem to randomly stun and defeat you without really landing any attacks) and then rains massive red energy lasers into the arena but if you simply mash the attack button, he’ll go down pretty easily. Finally, you’ll have to do battle with the Riddler, who randomly spawns bombs, poison gas, goons, and other hazards into the arena. To defeat the Riddler, simply ignore everything and attack and destroy the panels on his big circus-wheel-thing in perhaps the game’s easiest (if tedious) boss battle.

The final boss battle just goes on and on and even contains a game-breaking glitch!

The game ends with a gruelling and aggravating multi-stage fight against Klarion Bleak/Klarion the Witch Boy, Mark Desmond/Blockbuster, and the eldritch beast known as Tiamat. While Klarion and Blockbuster aren’t too difficult to best (simply lure Blockbuster into Klarion’s meteor attack to stun him and then beat on him until he goes down), the fight against Tiamat feels like it’s never-ending! In the first phase, he blasts the arena with water attacks that will basically kill you in one or two hits and he can only be damaged when he dips down into the water. In the second phase, he shoots a massive mouth laser at you and tries to swipe and squash you with his claws and fists; after avoiding his attacks, pummel the limb with everything you have until his health is drained. In Tiamat’s final phase, he flies about above you and comes crashing to the ground, unleashing a devastating series of attacks that will leave you “whelmed” in seconds. The only way to damage him is to attack the minions that spawn into the arena; after defeating two, you’ll build up your Hero Boost and you must unleash your Squad Boost to damage Tiamat, and then attack him immediately afterwards to whittle him down even more. This is easily the most frustrating boss battle in the entire game because of how tough Tiamat is; make sure to bring a healer like Zantanna Zatara or M’Gann M’orzz/Miss Martian or else you’re gonna have a bad time but be warned as there’s an almost-game-breaking glitch in this fight that can see the enemies stop spawning in, leaving you unable to finish the fight and forcing you to quit the game and try again but, thankfully, there are save points between each phase of this finale.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you defeat enemies, you’ll gain experience points (XP) that will cause you to level-up; each character has different statistics that affect how much health, power, and energy that have and levelling-up allows you to increase the power and range of each character’s superpowers. You can also find crates in stages and earn “Hero Points”, which can be spent on Wayne Industries upgrades, two of which can be equipped to each character after being purchased and will increase your melee or weapon attacks, energy consumption, and a host of other stats. Thankfully, these Hero Points seem to be shared amongst every character; so, if you have ten Hero Points, you can spend them upgrading Tim Drake/Robin’s superpowers and then switch out to Kaldur’ahm/Aqualad and spend the same ten Hero Points upgrading him, too. Sadly, though, there are no pick-ups on offer; yes, you can pick up and throw boxes and barrels and such, but you can’t pick up weapons or power-ups during gameplay, making smashing all those boxes pretty pointless.

Additional Features:
Young Justice: Legacy comes with forty-eight Achievements for you to earn; many of these pop simply by playing the main campaign and defeating a certain number of enemies, the game’s bosses, and finishing the game on Normal or Hard. You can also snag some G by destroying crates, finding collectibles, or playing the game in co-up but there are also some stage-specific Achievements, such as avoiding searchlights in the Gotham City docks and solving a puzzle in a certain way.

Additional collectibles, costumes, characters, and challenges are also on offer.

Every stage in the game has a few collectibles to find; these include dioramas, additional costumes for the game’s characters, and journals left behind by Roy Harper/Red Arrow. Playing through the campaign on Normal and Hard will see you unlocking additional characters, which is always nice, and there are four additional characters available to purchase as downloadable content if you like the sort of thing. Also on offer are an array of challenges; while these can only be played in single-player, these will pit you against ten waves of enemies that progress in difficulty, or have you battling against a time limit and you’ll unlock additional challenges and stages by playing the story mode. You can also view character biographies, concept art, and take part in a quiz that will test your knowledge of the cartoon to earn points.

The Summary:
I wasn’t expecting much from Young Justice: Legacy except some mindless, arcade-style beat-‘em-up action; I’ve played team-based, top-down fighters like this before and been perfectly satisfied with them but I have to say that this game is just a repetitive, tedious, aggravating experience from start to finish. There’s a decent amount of characters on offer and some of them have more appeal than others, but they all essentially play exactly the same way. Since they lack character-specific super moves, you may as well just pick anyone and it’s ridiculous how you can just run past enemies to progress or simply look away from the screen and mash the X button to win. There’s very little actual skill or intelligence needed for this game, which would be fine if it was actually fun but it really isn’t; it’s dull and down-right infuriating at times, with some bland bosses, linear and empty stages, and very little incentive to replay the game beyond mopping up any missed Achievements.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Have you ever played Young Justice: Legacy? If so, what did you think to it? What character and team combination was your favourite? What did you think to the combat and gameplay and which of the game’s missions and bosses was your favourite? Were you a fan of the cartoon and, if so, do you think the game did a good job of recreating the action and energy of the show? Would you like to see more videogames based on Young Justice and/or the Teen Titans? Feel free to share your thoughts on Young Justice: Legacy, and Young Justice, down in the comments.

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?


Released: 4 April 2017
Director: Sam Liu
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Sean Maher, Kari Wahlgren, Stuart Allan, Christina Ricci, Gregg Henry, and Miguel Ferrer

The Plot:
Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Maher) rejoins his old team mates, the Teen Titans, who are now training a new generation of costumed heroes. Alongside their newest recruit, Tara Markov/Terra (Ricci), the Titans work to end the maniacal aspirations of Sebastian Blood/Brother Blood (Henry). However, things escalate when Blood hires mercenary Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Ferrer) to kill the Titans and the team are faced not only with Slade’s burning desire for revenge against them but also a very real threat from within their ranks.

The Background:
The Teen Titans first came together in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, some four years after the debut of their adult counterparts, the Justice League of America. The team was comprised entirely of the teenage sidekicks of DC Comic’s adult superheroes, potentially to appeal to younger audiences. The team had a relatively consistent presence throughout the 1960s and 1970s but was given new life when writer Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, who introduced characters like Victor Stone/Cyborg and Princess Koriand’r/Starfire who would become synonymous with the team for years to come. One of the team’s most celebrated stories was “The Judas Contract” (Wolfman, et al, 1984) in which they were betrayed by one of their own thanks to the machinations of the vindictive Deathstroke. An animated adaptation had been in the works for some time but, after a few false starts, finally came to life as part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. The film, which was the third in this new animated continuity of films and iconic actor Miguel Ferrer’s last role before his untimely death, made over $3,250,000 in home video sales and was modestly received compared to what had come before it.

The Review:
The film begins with the original incarnation of the Teen Titans – comprised of Dick Grayson/Robin (Maher), Wally West/Kid Flash (Jason Spisak), Roy Harper/Speedy (Crispin Freeman), Garfield Logan/Beast Boy (Brandon Soo Hoo), and Karen Beecher/Bumblebee (Masasa Moyo) – meeting Starfire (Wahlgren) for the first time. If you’ve watched the awesome Teen Titans (2003 to 2006) cartoon before then many of the Titans’ characterisations will be instantly familiar: Robin is the composed leader, Beast Boy is the comic relief, Kid Flash is impatient, and so forth. This version of Starfire, while still being somewhat naïve and innocent, is far less childish compared to her counterpart; however, she nevertheless forms an immediate bond with the team after learning to communicate through kissing.

After a random flashback, we rejoin the Teen Titans adjusting to their new team dynamic.

We then jump ahead to “NOW” to find Brother Blood and his lover and right-hand, Mother Mayhem (Meg Foster), packing up their most recent Hive base. Choosing to ignore Deathstroke’s warning, the cult are caught completely off-guard when the Titans – now made up of Nightwing, Starfire, Beast Boy, Rachel Roth/Raven (Taissa Farmiga), Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle (Jake T. Austin), Damian Wayne/Robin (Allan), and newcomer Terra – break into the facility using Terra’s power over earth and rock. Nightwing, who has only recently rejoined the team, finds it difficult adjusting to the new dynamic, which places Starfire as the field commander, but his experience and combat strategies are nevertheless appreciated by Starfire and his older teammates. There is, however, some discord within the team; not only are Nightwing and Starfire a little distracted by their intimate relationship outside of the team but she doubts her place as the team’s leader (despite Robin approving of her) and Robin constantly clashes with Blue Beetle over the unpredictability of Jaime’s alien Scarab suit. Still, the team takes out Blood’s goons and reconvenes at Titan Towers, where their teamwork and interpersonal relationships are developed a little more. Damian continues to have a somewhat disconnected and abrasive personality and remains fully committed to his role as Robin (he’s the only member to never appear outside of his costume during the film) and, interestingly, the film makes a subtle allusion to unpredictability of the Scarab to puberty during Jaime’s video call with his parents (Maria Canals-Barrera and David Zayas, respectively) and his interactions with a young girl he is attracted to that helps to highlight how, despite their superpowers or physical abilities, the Teen Titans remain just that: troubled teenagers trying to find their place in the world.

Blood is a twisted zealot who hires Deathstroke to capture the Titans and fuel his desires for Godhood.

Brother Blood is a ruthless zealot of a man; having organised Hive into a cult-like following, he believes that he has the gift of foresight and is fully willing to kill any who blasphemes against his beliefs. Regularly bathing in the blood of his enemies to maintain his youth and vigour and with a penchant for hanging out in graveyards, Blood has constructed an elaborate machine that is powered by the lifeforce of those connected to it that he plans to use to absorb the Titans’ superpowers and abilities to become a demigod. To that end, he hires Deathstroke to deliver the Titans to him, a task he takes great pleasure in given his past history with Damian and has prepared for by augmenting his already-impressive physical abilities by regularly bathing in a Lazarus Pit.

Deathstroke manipulates Terra into infiltrating the Titans to get revenge on Robin.

Terra constantly feels underappreciated by the team and perturbed by Beast Boy’s constant attentions and remains dismissive and bitter towards their personalities, hobbies, or issues. Aggressive and snappy, Terra has little interest in helping others in a way that doesn’t involve busting heads with her powers and is weary of the team’s constant attempts to reach and befriend her. Tormented by memories of her life in Markovia, where she was beaten and hounded and accused of being a witch, Terra has grown angry at and resentful towards humanity and has no interest in serving it for the greater good. Thus, she willingly infiltrates the team on Deathstroke’s behalf and allows him to capture Damian for Blood. Terra is absolutely besotted with Deathstroke after he saved her life in Markovia prior to the start of the film; devoted to him, she sees him as more than a mentor and father-figure and constantly attempts to seduce him in some truly awkward scenes that have her dressed in an overly provocative outfit. Although he rebukes her advances, he nevertheless commands her complicit behaviour by promising that they’ll be a couple and take command of the League of Assassins once the contract is fulfilled. Thus, begrudgingly, she returns to Titans Tower, now equipped with an audio/visual link up to Deathstroke, to continue her subterfuge. Though her anti-social personality begins to crack when she sees just how appreciative they are of her and she even shares a kiss with Beast Boy, she nevertheless lures each of the Titans into a series of traps that lead to them all being captured by Deathstroke and placed in Blood’s machine.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract shares the same quasi-anime, stilted animation as other DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Still, the animation and visual presentation is made more appealing due to the aesthetic distinctiveness of each of the Titans and their individual powers. Raven, for example, exudes dark, ethereal magic while Beast Boy cycles between a variety of amusing animal forms as part of his somewhat awkward and hyperactive personality. Unfortunately for me, many of the Team’s appearances are taken from their New 52 designs, meaning that Nightwing is wearing his awful red suit; however, Deathstroke more than makes up for this with his bad-ass outfit that is only made all the more intimidating thanks to Ferrer’s distinctive gravely tones. The voice acting, in general, is really good, actually; Stuart Allan is particularly great at capturing Damian’s dickish attitude, I’ve always had a soft spot for Christina Ricci (and it’s great to see her voicing Terra rather than someone more cliché, like Raven), and (though I’m not really his biggest fan) the film even includes a brief cameo by Kevin Smith.

Terra’s abrasive attitude begins to crack but she remains loyal to Slade … right up until he betrays her.

Having the reveal of Terra’s dual nature quite early into the film makes for a great bit of suspense as we see her emotionally and physically manipulate each of the Titans into Deathstroke’s traps. The relationship between Terra and Slade has always been an unnerving and disgusting one full of appalling sexual subtext and this remains largely prevalent in the film as Deathstroke manipulates Terra’s motions in order to craft her into the perfect double agent. Even though Damian, with his unique insight into both Deathstroke and the League of Assassins, attempts to reach her, Terra is ruled by her bitterness and anger and is thus completely blindsided when Deathstroke betrays her in order to fully deliver on his contract with Blood.

In the end, Terra shows her true colours and sacrifices herself to help stop Blood and Deathstroke.

In the finale, Nightwing frees his friends thanks to faking his death at Deathstroke’s hands and interrupting the party. Still, Blood is able to absorbs most of the Titans’ powers, which transforms him into a demonic creature and makes him more than a match for Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Blue Beetle while Nightwing and Robin attack Deathstroke head-on in easily the film’s most impressive fight scene. Despite his near-unstoppable new powers, the Titans are only able to overcome Blood when Raven unleashes the full extent of her supernatural powers to strip him of his abilities and render him helpless, though Mother Mayhem kills Blood before he can be brought into the Titans’ custody. At the same time Terra, enraged at Deathstroke’s betrayal, mercilessly attacks and kills him with her incredible powers by bringing the entire area down him. Unable to live with her betrayal and pain, she then destroys the entire temple, taking herself along with it in recompense for her actions but, while Beast Boy is left heartbroken, the team honour their former comrade as a Teen Titan to the end.

The Summary:
As an adaptation of the source material, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract does the best that it can in its limited time; obviously, the story has been changed a little, the team is almost completely different, and even Deathstroke’s motivations are very different compared to in the original story but a lot of this is to be expected from the adaptation process. The film’s main concern seems to be with telling another story in the  DC Universe Animated Original Movies series; however, while it might be beneficial to have seen Justice League vs. Teen Titans (Liu, 2016) for a bit of additional context, it works pretty well as a standalone story. I do question why the film went to the effort of including a prelude where an almost completely different version of the team first meets Starfire as this doesn’t really tie into the main story (maybe it would’ve been better to have the older team be comprised of grown-up versions of the characters seen in the prelude) and I also feel like the story might have been better served by removing Brother Blood completely and instead focusing on Deathstroke and his vendetta against the Titans as the primary antagonist. Still, it’s a decent enough animated venture and adaptation of the seminal storyline, with some engaging action and intriguing character beats and some great vocal work from Allan, Ricci, and the late, great Miguel Ferrer especially.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Teen Titans: The Judas Contract? Were you a fan of the changes that the film made to the story and the new team line-up? Have you ever read the original comic book the film is based on and, if so, where does it rank for you amongst other Teen Titans stories? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on this film, Teen Titans, and Robin, leave a comment below and thanks for joining me for Robin Month!

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Batman: Under the Red Hood


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?


Released: 27 July 2010
Director: Brandon Vietti
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Wade Williams, and Jason Isaacs

The Plot:
Gotham City’s underworld is terrorised by a murderous vigilante known only as “The Red Hood” (Ackles). In investigating this new threat, Batman (Greenwood) is forced to face the greatest failure of his career as old wounds reopen and old, once buried memories come into the light.

The Background:
As I detailed in my review of A Death in the Family (Starlin, et al, 1988), readers were first introduced to Jason Todd in March 1963. With the original Robin, Dick Grayson, having grown up and gone away to college, Jason was initially almost indistinguishable from his predecessor until he was given an “edge” by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Readers didn’t take kindly to the new Robin and, in a moment that went on to define Batman for years to come, DC Comics made the decision to kill the character off in the aforementioned Death in the Family storyline. For over fifteen years, Jason Todd stayed dead and his death haunted Batman; his monument in the Batcave served as a constant reminder of Batman’s greatest failure and he was long considered one of only a handful of comic cook characters who would stay dead. The character made a surprise return during the “Hush” storyline (Loeb, et al, 2002 to 2003) before being officially brought back to life (through cosmic, reality-bending shenanigans, of course) in the “Under the Hood” arc (Winick, et al, 2004 to 2005; 2005 to 2006). Jason’s resurrection was generally positively received and he has gone on to become a popular anti-hero as the Red Hood and, 2010, Winick came onboard to write the animated adaptation of his influential storyline. Batman: Under the Red Hood was the eighth animated feature of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line-up, which aimed to be more mature than the DC Animated Universe popularised by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini. Batman: Under the Red Hood was one of the most successful of DC’s animated ventures, making over $12 million in sales and being critically applauded; a follow-up even surprisingly landed in 2020 in the form of an interactive animated feature that was also quite well received.

The Review:
I never really had any strong feelings for or against Jason Todd as I read comic books so sporadically as a kid that, by the time I even read A Death in the Family, Dick Grayson had already become Nightwing and Tim Drake was already the third Robin so, if I didn’t like what happened to him, it was too late to be mad about it. I do feel, though, like the idea of bringing him back was great…on paper….but that DC Comics screwed it up in execution. Personally, I think Jason should have been Hush all along as his outfit in Hush was way better than the Red Hood look and, considering DC kind of retconned that Jason was present during Hush anyway, I think this would have made a lot more sense. Plus, it took DC a long time to find a way to mention Jason’s dramatic return without having to reference the reality-breaking shenanigans of Infinite Crisis (Johns et al, 2005 to 2006) and, in that regard, if feels like Under the Red Hood tells a far simpler and much more coherent version of events surrounding Jason’s resurrection thanks to the benefit of hindsight.

Still haunted by Jason’s death, Batman hears of a new player muscling into Gotham’s underworld.

Under the Red Hood opens with its interpretation of the events of A Death in the Family; in this adaptation, Ra’s al Ghul (Isaacs) allied with the Joker (DiMaggio) in his latest bid to disrupt Europe’s economy. He realises the error in his judgement all-too-late as the Joker captured Jason Todd/Robin (Vincent Martella) and was busy amusing himself by taunting Robin and mercilessly beating him with a crowbar. Although Jason remained defiant, even with a collapsed lung and having been beaten half to death, he was helpless against the Harlequin of Hate. Despite Jason struggles with all his failing might to hold out for Batman, who raced to aid his young partner, he was killed when the warehouse that he was trapped in explodes (again, take note: Jason is killed by the explosion and not by the crowbar!) The film then jumps ahead five years to find Gotham’s criminal figureheads lured into a meeting and confronted by the mysterious Red Hood. Red Hood delights in taunting the criminals and muscles his way into the operation, promising to protect them from both Batman and Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Williams) on the proviso that they don’t peddle their wares on young kids and proves himself a credible threat by presenting a bag full of the severed heads of their lieutenants. Meanwhile, Batman continues to operate within the city; however, his experiences with Jason have left him more of a loner than ever, to the point where he even out-right refuses Nightwing’s (Harris) help in taking down Amazo (Fred Tatasciore), a superpowered android with all of the powers of the Justice League. Nightwing, of course, completely disregards this and helps anyway and, in the process, the two learn of the Red Hood’s bid to muscle the Black Mask out of power and control Gotham’s underworld.

The Red Hood makes an enemy of both Batman and Black Mask through his violent actions.

When the Red Hood kills the thugs transporting Amazo, Batman gives chase in the Batwing but loses him in the Axis Chemical Plant (though not before having a flashback to his first encounter with the Joker, who, at that time, was hidden under the guise of the original Red Hood). Back at the Batcave, Batman and Nightwing analyse the footage of the biker-gear-clad vigilante and note that, since he arrived in town, crime has fallen significantly. Suspecting that the Joker may be behind the new Red Hood, they head to Arkham Asylum to interrogate the Clown Prince of Crime, who denies any involvement in his activities but takes the opportunity to rile Batman up over failing to save the former Robin. Meanwhile, the Red Hood’s activities have angered Black Mask, the ruling mob boss of Gotham City. In this incarnation, Black Mask is similar to Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull in that, rather than wearing a mask or a helmet, his head is literally a charred black skull. Apart from that, he’s a bombastic, maniacal gangster who viciously beats anyone who dares to stare at his gruesome appearance. His efforts to kill the Red Hood meet in failure as he is closely monitoring Black Mask’s meetings and movements so that he can steal his weapons and merchandise. Thankfully, Batman has also been monitoring Black Mask, correctly guessing that the Red Hood would hijack his latest shipment, and as a result comes face-to-face with Gotham’s newest vigilante once more after an exhilarating chase through a construction site, across the city rooftops, and even across the city’s famously impractical blimps.

Revived by the Lazarus Pit, Jason enacts a plan of revenge against the Joker.

Thanks to the Red Hood’s impressive skills, physical aptitude, and apparent knowledge of Batman’s weapons and tactics (all of which Nightwing, and even Batman, admit to being amazed by), this proves to be a trap as Batman and Nightwing are lured into an explosion that leaves Dick’s leg injured. Both of them marvel at the Red Hood’s physical abilities and skills and knowledge of Batman’s tactics but Batman is stunned when he reviews the playback of their encounter and hears the Red Hood calling him “Bruce”. Black Mask steps up his campaign against the Red Hood, beating, threatening, and killing all of those who have sold out to him and hiring mech-wearing mercenaries to hunt him down, but Batman interrupts the fracas and takes the mercs out alongside Red Hood. Although Batman is disgusted when the Red Hood uses lethal force to kill one of the mercenaries, he nevertheless attempts to offer Red Hood help but the helmet-clad vigilante angrily refuses, believing that his willingness to kill is making an actual difference as opposed to Batman’s more merciful ways. By analysing the Red Hood’s blood, Batman confirms, without a doubt, that he is Jason Todd resurrected. Realising that only one man could possibly have been responsible for Jason’s return to life, Bruce angrily confronts Ra’s and learns about what happened all those years ago: remorseful for allowing the Joker to kill Bruce’s young partner, Ra’s recovered Jason’s body (leaving a dummy in his grave) and revived him by submerging him in the restorative Lazarus Pit.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Aesthetically, Under the Red Hood greatly resembles many of DC’s other animated efforts; characters aren’t quite as exaggerated or cartoony as they are in the DCAU but are still quite stiff and rigid. Luckily, this allows the film’s many chase and fight sequences to shine even more, but it does make prolonged scenes of dialogue and exposition to appear a bit inflexible. The voice cast, however, is pretty stellar; Bruce Greenwood makes for a gravelly and intimidating Batman, even if he is imitating the iconic Kevin Conway somewhat, and the film does a pretty good job of showcasing the impact Jason’s death had on him and his rage at allowing himself to be so easily duped by Ra’s’ deception. John DiMaggio makes for a serious and menacing Joker who appears to be evoking both Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s take on the character, and Neil Patrick Harris makes for a great Nightwing as well and makes an impression despite being taken out of the film before long (although it’s a bit odd that common thugs know about his past as Robin) but it’s Jensen Ackles’ wit and biting tongue as the Red Hood and Wade William’s explosive portrayal of Black Mask that are the highlights of the feature for me.

Jason goes from carefree youth to violent and unhinged vigilante as he grows and changes.

The film is peppered with flashbacks to Batman’s time working alongside Jason; during the boy’s (Alexander Martella) first year as Robin, he was an excitable, carefree Boy Wonder who Batman first met as he was in the process of stealing the tyres off the Batmobile and delighted in being Batman’s brightly-coloured, hyper-chatty crimefighting partner. As he grew into a teen, however, he became and angry and bitter young man who constantly defied Batman’s orders and brutalised criminals without mercy. His dip in the Lazarus Pit saw him awaken from death half-crazed and unstable and set him on the path towards becoming a murderous vigilante and making both Batman, and the Joker, pay for their actions. Driven to the edge by the Red Hood’s disruptive actions, and the vigilante’s direct assault on his offices with a rocket launcher, Black Mask arranges for the Joker to be smuggled out of Arkham and sets him loose to kill the Red Hood on his behalf. This, however, was exactly what the Red Hood wanted as it allows him to get his hands on the man who murdered him and deliver a measure of payback with a crowbar.

Batman refuses to compromise his moral integrity and remains haunted by his failures.

Luring Batman to Crime Alley, the Red Hood finally reveals his face to his former mentor and demands to know why the Joker is still alive after everything he’s done but especially for taking Jason away from Bruce. He makes a damn good point, one that has been endlessly debated, and states that he can forgive everything Bruce has done and that he’s not talking about mass murder of every two-bit thug or supervillain, but he cannot forgive (or understand why) the fact that Batman hasn’t killed the Joker in recompense for his years of slaughter and for killing him (as in Jason). After a brutal fist fight between the two, Batman apologises but states that he could never kill anyone, not even the Joker, because it would be “too easy” and lead to him becoming just as bad as the criminals he hunts on a nightly basis. Enraged and distraught, Jason demands that Batman shoot him before he executes the Joker; when Batman adamantly refuses to betray his morals, Jason triggers an explosion and disappears once again. In the aftermath, Bruce refuses to have Jason’s monument removed from the Batcave as he never wants to forget how badly he failed young Jason and turned him from a cheery youth and into a damaged, violent killer.  

The Summary:
Batman: Under the Red Hood is an incredibly bleak and sombre examination of Batman’s greatest failure; one thing I always liked about Jason being dead was how this incident weighed heavily on Batman’s mind and that a constant reminder sat in the Batcave for years so that he (and the reader) would never forget those dramatic events. When Jason returns to life as a violent and unhinged vigilante and twists Batman’s teachings and moral codes into a spiteful vendetta, Batman is forced to confront his failure, and his past, head-on and the film does an excellent job of not only adapting the source material it is based on but also adding to it and, in many ways, improving it. Having Ra’s be the one responsible for Jason’s resurrection as opposed to an alternative version of Superman punching reality just makes so much more sense and seeing Jason snark, shoot, and muscle his way into Black Mask’s dealings was really great thanks to Ackles’ portrayal of the character. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Jason’s youth and even the Joker’s origin, which helped add some additional context to those who may be unfamiliar with these elements, and overall the film is a great example of the unwavering commitment Batman has to his “no-kill” rule and the impact that has on his never-ending war against crime.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Batman: Under the Red Hood? How do you feel it works as an adaptation of A Death in the Family and Under the Hood and did you enjoy the changes that the film made to the story and Jason’s resurrection? What did you think to the voice cast, particularly Greenwood, DiMaggio, and Ackles? Were you a fan of Jason Todd when he was Robin, or do you prefer his anti-hero persona? Would you like to see elements of this story make their way into a live-action Batman movie someday? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month?  Whatever your thoughts on this film, Jason Todd, and Robin, leave a comment below and check back next Monday as Robin Month continues!

Back Issues [Robin Month]: Batman: A Death in the Family


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?


Story Title: “A Death in the Family”
Published: September 1988 to November 1988
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Aparo

The Background:
Having been a regular part of Batman’s adventures since his debut, Dick Grayson eventually grew from a “Boy Wonder” and into a “Teen Wonder” as part of the Teen Titans; to continue the Batman and Robin dynamic, writer Gerry Conway and artist Bob Newton created Jason Todd to, quite literally, fill Grayson’s boots as the new Robin. Originally having a background and personality that was almost an exact copy of Grayson’s, Jason’s backstory and demeanour were dramatically altered by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Now a rebellious, impulsive brat from the streets with a volatile temper, readers came to dislike the new Robin and it was writer Jim Starlin who first proposed the idea of killing the character off. Dennis O’Neil decided to run a telephone campaign where the fans themselves would decide whether Jason lived or died following a brutal encounter with the Joker. Starlin and artist Jim Aparo crafted the story and produced two potential outcomes, one where Jason lived and one where he died but, despite some controversy, the results were heavily in favour of the young Robin’s demise. Jason’s death was a pivotal moment in Batman’s career; he kept a monument in the Batcave as a constant reminder of his greatest failure, mentally and physically struggled with the boy’s death even after Tim Drake took on the Robin mantle, and for fifteen years Jason was one of only a handful of comic cook characters whose death actually stuck.

The Review:
A Death in the Family begins by immediately emphasising that the dynamic between Batman and Robin has gotten a bit out of whack lately thanks to Jason’s reckless and impulsive attitude. After spending three weeks tracking down a kiddie-porn ring and cutting Commissioner Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police department in on the bust, Jason decides to go off script and attack the thugs head-on. Once they have subduing the pornographers, Batman chews Jason out since not only did his actions mean that Gordon missed out on the bust but they also lead to him (as in Jason) almost being shot in the back.

Jaosn’s reckless ways lead to him being grounded right when the Joker escapes from Arkham!

Although enraged at the time, Batman is left stunned at Jason’s cavalier attitude towards their job and, once back at Wayne Manor, confides in his butler and long-time confidante, Alfred Pennyworth, about Jason’s recent chaotic actions. Alfred suggests that Jason is still struggling to come to terms with the deaths of his parents and that being Robin is probably not the most productive way to work through his grief, a suggestion that Bruce begrudgingly agrees with. Jason, however, is angered at them talking about him behind his back and even more outraged when Bruce grounds him from being Robin and tries to get him to talk about his parents. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Batman is called out to Arkham Asylum (during the day, no less), where Gordon informs him that the Joker was able to get into the janitor’s storage room, mix up a version of his lethal laughing gas, kill a bunch of guards, and escape. Both Batman and Gordon are determined to use every resource available to track Joker down after he crippled Gordon’s niece, Barbara, in Batman: The Killing Joke (Moore, et al, 1988). Joker, however, is fully aware of the heat hanging over him and has a big plan to dismantle a cruise missile he has stored away in a warehouse and sell it off to terrorists and buy his way into politics.

Jason’s solo venture to find his real mother coincides with Batman’s search for the Joker.

Still fuming, Jason wanders around Gotham City and ends up at his old home near Crime Alley. This provides the story with the perfect opportunity to recap how Jason’s mother, Catherine, died of a “disease” when he was young and his father, two-bit criminal Willis Todd, ended up being murdered by his boss, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, leaving Jason in the care of an orphanage. Quite coincidentally, Mrs. Walker, a friend of Catherine’s, recognises Jason and provides him with a box of his personal effects, much to his stunned amazement. However, when looking through these documents, he discovers that Catherine wasn’t his real mother; thanks to the Batcave, Jason narrows down his mother’s true identity to one of three people and, believing that neither Bruce or Alfred would approve or support his endeavour, steals Bruce’s credit cards and heads out to track his true mother down. Although obviously wishing to chase after Jason, Batman is forced to continue tracking down the Joker after discovering the madman’s plot; this leads him to Lebanon, but he is constantly one step behind the Harlequin of Hate. Thankfully, though, Batman’s investigation and Jason’s search for his mother align when they come across each other in Beirut. Despite being angered at the boy’s impulsive actions, Batman is pleased to be working alongside his young partner once more and, together, the two are able to disrupt the Joker’s sale of his missile, something made all the easier when the missile explodes on its launcher and takes the Joker’s money with it. On the downside, the Joker escapes and Sharmin Rosen, an Israeli agent who helps the Dynamic Duo, turns out to not have ever sired a child, though Batman vows to help Jason track down the other two names on his list.

Shiva turns out to be a dead end and Sheila, Jason’s true mother, is in league with the Joker!

However, when they track down Shiva Woosan, they find that she has been kidnapped by Shite terrorists. Thankfully, Batman and Robin are able to infiltrate the Shite camp, where Shiva is revealed to be the deadly assassin and martial artist Lady Shiva and responsible for training the terrorists. A brutal fist-fight ensues between the Dark Knight and Shiva but Batman get the upper hand thanks to Jason choosing to help his mentor in subduing her. After destroying the camp, though, Jason is once again left disheartened when (after being subjected to sodium pentothal), Shiva reveals that has also never had a baby. This leaves Sheila Haywood, the last name on Jason’s list, who turns out to actually be Jason’s birth mother. While Jason is overjoyed to be reunited with his mother, he’s horrified when it turns out that she’s being blackmailed into helping the Joker get his hands on some medical supplies to help with his financial woes. This time, Jason does go to Bruce for help and Batman explicitly orders Jason to stay behind while he intercepts the supply trucks tainted by the Joker’s laughing gas. True to form, Jason doesn’t listen; he reveals his duel identity to his mother and she immediately sells him out to the Joker.

Superman is sent to keep Batman from avenging his partner’s death at the Joker’s hands.

While Batman disrupts the Joker’s plot, he’s left relying on one of the supply trucks to get him back to Jason since he loses his little Bat-mini-copter. As a result, Jason is left entirely at the Joker’s mercy and subjected to a brutal beating; he smacks Jason with his pistol, kicks him in the face, has henchmen put a beating on him, and then beats him to a bloody pulp with a crowbar! Note that the Joker does not beat Jason to death with the crowbar; he “merely” bludgeons him into a broken, bloody mess. Indeed, Jason is still cognizant enough to free his mother when the Joker betrays her but the two are caught in a massive explosion when the bomb the Joker left in the warehouse with them explodes. Batman arrives just in time to witness the explosion and, despite hoping against hope and knowing better, is devastated to find that not only has Sheila perished in the blast but so has Jason. Again, while it is a bit unbelievable that Jason’s body isn’t strewn over the wreckage in bloody chunks, it is the bomb that killed Jason; not the crowbar! Anyway, Bruce immediately sets about coming up with a suitable cover story for how and why Sheila and Jason were there and laying him to rest. However, Bruce refuses Alfred’s offer to contact Dick Grayson to help track down the Joker but Batman’s desire to bring the Joker to justice for his actions are complicated by the arrival of Clark Kent/Superman. Although sympathetic to Bruce’s plight, Superman reveals that he has been explicitly asked by the State Department to stop Batman’s vendetta since the Joker has been made he new Iranian ambassador and has thus been granted diplomatic immunity from all prior crimes!

Batman goes out looking for blood and remains unsatisfied with the Joker’s apparent end.

Unimpressed, Bruce ignores Superman’s warnings, and those of the United States government, and prepares for a final showdown. He (as Batman) makes one final attempt to appeal to the Joker’s decency and sanity but that obviously fails, and he spends a great deal of his inner monologue postulating on the mysterious connection between him and his enemy. Here, we learn that Bruce regrets not killing the Joker years ago, lamenting that he let Joker’s clear insanity stay his hand, but he can no longer justify allowing him to live any longer. Equal parts driven by rage and a moral obligation to spare the world (and other children) the Joker’s wrath, Bruce sets aside his usually strict moral code and commits himself to killing the Joker…or dying in the attempt. When Batman’s suspicions about the Joker’s true intentions at being a United Nations ambassador come to fruition, Superman is luckily on hand to put a stop to his attempt to gas everyone but, thanks to panic caused by his explosive back-up plan, the Clown Prince of Crime is able to escape to his helicopter on the roof. Batman, fuelled by a desire for revenge, pursues his enemy and, in the fracas, both are shot by one of the Joker’s henchman. Though Batman is only wounded, the Joker takes a slug in the chest and, with the helicopter in a death spiral, Batman bids his archenemy adieu and dives to safety. However, he remains unsatisfied when the helicopter crashes since he knows that no-one, not even Superman, will be able to recover a body to confirm the kill.

The Summary:
A Death in the Family is the quintessential Batman for me. Never mind your Frank Miller’s and Scott Snyder’s; I grew up with the likes of Jim Starlin and the simple, agile elegance of Jim Aparo. Although I’ve never been a fan of Batman’s blue-and-grey suit with yellow oval, it is still an iconic and timeless look for the character and Starlin’s characterisation of the Dark Knight is pretty much spot-on. Under his pen, he’s not just some grim, stoic avenger of the night; he’s a trusted ally of Jim Gordon’s, a respectable partner of the G.C.P.D., a stern (yet, crucially, fair) mentor, and a master detective. Indeed, as adept and skilled as Batman’s physical prowess was during this time (and in this story), it’s his intellect that is often given just as much time to shine, which really help to redefine the character as a more intellectual superhero.

As formidable as Batman is, he is still human and vulnerable.

Still, that’s not to say that Batman doesn’t get his fair share of action in this story. Both he and Robin get more than enough chances to shine; Starlin is sure to characterise the two as being a well-oiled unit even when Jason’s explosive temperament causes him to go off the rails. Batman is depicted as being cool, calm, and collected even when facing multiple armed foes and having to account for Jason’s volatile nature. While the everyday, run of the mill goons Batman fights don’t pose that much of a challenge to him, the story still goes to lengths to emphasise the physical skill, co-ordination, and special awareness Batman has to do what he does and it thus makes even more of an impact when Lady Shiva is able to match him blow-for-blow and deal some decent damage to Batman. Indeed, while Batman is characterised as being a master at what he does, he is by no means infallible; not only does his rage drive him into a wholly justified murderous vendetta by the story’s end but he also suffers a few significant physical injuries, including a bullet wound to his arm.

Jason’s reckless nature eventually leads to his brutal death.

Of course, a focal point to this story is Jason. While far from the insolent little prick he’s often characterised as being in flashbacks these days, Jason is still an emotionally-charged liability. He’s an angst-ridden teenager, one struggling to deal with the worst tragedy of his life and given free reign to unload his anger and resentment on Gotham’s underworld. While Dick was a daredevil and a risk-taker due to his background in the circus, Jason is just reckless and leaps into battle without a plan or a care for his own safety or the intricacies of Batman’s operation. Enraged at being shut out from his responsibilities as Robin, Jason finds renewed purpose in his search for his true mother; this helps mend the fences between him and Bruce, who of course sympathises with his young partner’s plight and genuinely wishes to help him in any way he can. Bruce agonises over having to pursue the Joker instead of Jason and this only adds to the grief and guilt he feels weighing upon him when he arrives all too late to save his headstrong partner from a gruesome fate.

Strapped for cash, the Joker goes to extreme measures to re-establish himself.

This is an interesting story for the Joker; like Batman, Joker went through a period of time where he was either absent from DC Comics or significantly altered but his threat really ramped up after Dennis O’Neil came onto the main Batman book. Now a calculating, vindictive, and incredibly intelligent villain, the Joker’s usual madcap nature is supplanted by a desperate need to quickly build up his finances and assume a position of real power through a political career. This backfires on him when he is arrogant enough to think he can assemble and reassemble a cruise missile, costing him his cash in the process, but also drives him to spiking medical supplies and trying to gas the United Nations while being protected from reprisals by diplomatic immunity. It’s a story very much driven by the Joker’s psychopathic and callous ways but not necessarily overwhelmed by him; it remains a dramatic tale of Batman struggling to help his unpredictable partner that culminates in a showdown with the Joker rather than him becoming the sole focus of the story like in a lot of later Batman/Joker stories.

Jason is beaten to a pulp with a crowbar and dies in a desperate attempt to save his mother.

Of course, you can’t really talk about A Death in the Family without mentioning the brutal and sadistic torture and death of Jason Todd. One of the things I like about the story is that, as much of a little ass as Jason is, you can totally see where he’s coming from; he’s young, hurting, and lashing out in blind anger. His demeanour shifts from being reckless with his safety to trying to find his birth mother once he finds out that she’s still alive and there’s a definite sense that he just wants to have that gaping hole in his heart filled, which is again obviously something Batman can very much relate to. This is emphasised to the fullest when Jason, beaten and clearly dying, uses the last of his strength to try and save his mother from the blast that kills them despite the fact that she betrayed him to the Joker. In the end, he died every bit the hero Batman raised him to be and is fully deserving of Bruce’s adulation in death. Indeed, while Jason was talented and gifted, he wasn’t quite the all-rounder that Dick was and nowhere near the suitable protégé Tim Drake would prove to be and yet, in making the ultimate sacrifice, he gave himself to Bruce’s cause in a way beyond his other partners and it was fascinating seeing Bruce slowly self-destruct in subsequent stories because of his guilt over Jason’s death, and seeing the incident being brought up every so often to remind him of his greatest failure.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever read A Death in the Family? What did you think to DC’s decision to kill Jason off? Were you a fan of the character back then or did you think he was an annoying little brat who deserved what he got? What did you think to the characterisation of Batman during this time? Were you a fan of the Joker’s inclusion in this story, and did you like the wrinkle of Superman being brought in to keep Batman in check? Did you realise that Jason died by a bomb and not the crowbar? Whatever your thoughts on A Death in the Family, and Jason Todd, leave a comment below and stick around for more Robin content this month.

Screen Time [Robin Month]: Titans (Season One)


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?


Season One

Air Date: 12 October 2018 to 21 December 2018
UK Network: Netflix
Original Network: DC Universe
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Teagan Croft, Anna Diop, Ryan Potter, Alan Ritchson, Minka Kelly, and Curran Walters

The Background:
In July of 1964, the sidekicks of DC Comics’ most powerful superheroes came together under the leadership of Dick Grayson/Robin to form the Teen Titans, a crimefighting group of teenagers who were designed to better appeal to younger readers. Since then, the group has undergone many changes, with runs by the likes of Marv Wolfman and George George Pérez being notably influential, and the team has seen success in a number of animated ventures. Development of a live-action adaption was first announced in 2014; the series, which would have aired on TNT, never came to fruition but the concept was resurrected to produce content for DC Universe, DC’s now-defunct video-on-demand streaming service. Separate from the ongoing “Arrowverse” continuity, Titans got off to a bit of a bad start due to the violent and adult nature of the show and was criticised for its abrupt cliffhanger ending after the true season finale was pulled to become the first episode of the second series. Regardless (and despite the vitriol I often see towards the show on my Twitter feed), Titans impressed enough to earn subsequent seasons, inspired a spin-off show, and was even acknowledged as being adjacent to the Arrowverse during the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event (Various, 2019 to 2020).

The Plot:
Dick Grayson/Robin (Thwaites), who is attempting to make a name for himself outside of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Alain Moussi/Maxime Savaria) shadow, works as a police detective by day and violent vigilante by night. When the mysterious Rachel Roth/Raven (Croft) comes to him for protection against the dangerous forces pursuing her, Dick finds himself joining forces with not only similarly confused and superpowered misfits but also his former Titans teammates to combat a threat to the entire world.

The Review:
Unsurprisingly, much of Titans’ plot revolves around Dick Grayson, who now works as a police detective in Detroit; trying to make a name for himself as a solo act, he is very much against being partnered up with anyone, even within his own department, which makes him somewhat cold and rude towards his new partner, Amy Rohrbach (Lindsey Gort). Dick uses the information and resources of the Detroit police department to track down criminals and bring them to justice as Robin; while the scum he targets immediately dismiss him and are more concerned about Batman, they quickly regret it when faced with Robin’s ferocity and his presence concerns his superior (and the mayor).

Dick uses his position as a cop to track down and bring criminals to justice as Robin.

Dick reveals to Amy that he and his former partner disagreed on the way to go about their work; initially, Dick admired him and saw him as a hero, just like everyone else, but chose to walk away when he saw that he (Dick) was becoming too much like him. Clearly, he’s talking about Batman and this is a recurring theme throughout the show; a much darker and more violent figure, his vicious nature is augmented by his great physical skill and Batman’s training, making him a formidable and well-training combatant who is easily able to take on groups of armed men. Dick isn’t adverse to using knives, guns, and whatever means necessary (even appearing to fatally wound some thugs) to put a beating on lowlifes and seems to both revel in, and be disgusted by, his violent impulses.

Rachel’s nightmares and experiences lead her to seek out Dick for help.

However, as meticulous and skilled as he is, he’s still vulnerable and carries the results of his actions on his body in the forms of bruises, cuts, and scars; his primary motivation, as Robin and as a police detective, is to help out troubled kids and youngsters targeted by criminals. This naturally leads to him to Rachel, who is clearly framed as the audience surrogate right from the start (her nightmares of Haley’s Circus show her (and us) Dick’s origins as a trapeze artist and the tragic death of his parents) and is our unknown, confused, window into this world of costumes and masks. Such nightmares are a regular occurrence for her that, despite her mother Melissa’s (Sherilyn Fenn) best efforts, continue to torment and frighten Rachel; Rachel, clearly influenced by some dark power, is an empath and can sense a great fear emanating from her deeply religious mother. An outcast at school, Rachel’s fears and confusion lead her to sporadic outbursts of aggression, often accompanied by a dark reflection of herself and a shadowy, ethereal aura. When a mysterious man forces Melissa to reveal that she’s not Rachel’s actual mother and then brutally murders her right in front of Rachel’s eyes, she goes on the run and, driven by her nightmares, heads to Detroit to track down Dick Grayson for help. Though she fears her dark half, which encourages both violence and the need to kill, it acts primarily to protect her from lies and deceit, which allows her to escape from some suspicious types and end up right where she needs to be: police custody. Dick’s relationship with Rachel is a pivotal aspect of Titans; at first, though driven to help her, he plans to leave her in the care of others (with a payoff to sweeten the deal) since he feels that he’s damaged after what Bruce trained him to become.

Kory uncovers evidence that links Rachel and her dark powers to a prophecy.

While his mindset soon changes and he becomes fiercely protective of her, she forms a bond out of necessity with Kory Anders (Diop) when her trust in Dick is shaken. A mysterious and enigmatic young woman suffering from amnesia, Kory’s relationship with Rachel is based as much on necessity as Rachel’s inability to feel anything from Kory, who is inexplicably able to read and speak foreign languages and wields an equally destructive power. Desperate to unlock her memories and find out who she really is, and believing that Rachel is the key to her true identity, Kory uncovers evidence linking Rachel to an apocalyptic prophecy concerning ravens and a vast underworld conspiracy involving the convent where Rachel was raised. However, while Sister Catherine (Meagen Fay) immediately recognises them both and reveals some scant information on Rachel’s childhood and Kory’s mission to track her down, she quickly drugs Rachel and locks her in the convent’s basement in order to hide her from “him”. Rachel’s dark half manifests and, after tormenting her with taunts, empowers her to escape from her confinement and out into the nearby forest.

While Gar’s CGI is questionable, the Doom Patrol are brought to life with impressive fidelity.

Scared and alone, she crosses paths with Gar Logan/Beast Boy (Potter), a green-haired boy who can transform into a disappointingly rendered CGI tiger. Obsessed with pop culture, movies, videogames, and geek culture, Gar is an awkward, quirky outcast who sees a kindred spirit in Rachel and who desires to explore the outside world and, in an effort to connect with her, brings Rachel to the manor house he shares with his fellow misfits, the Doom Patrol: Cliff Steel/Robotman (Jake Michaels and Brendan Fraser), Larry Trainor/Negative Man (Dwain Murphy and Matt Bomer), and Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby). Each of them, like Gar, was involved in some kind of hideous accident that left them near death only to be saved (and horrifically changed) through the innovation and genius of the mysterious Niles Caulder/The Chief (Bruno Bichir). Rachel finally feels a sense of belonging amongst these freaks and outcasts, each of whom reflect the complex nature of her own self and dark powers: hidden behind his bandages, Larry is unable to reveal himself because of the destructive nature of his condition, Cliff is robbed of the trivial pleasures we all take for granted, and Rita is barely able to hold herself together to appear normal.

The Chief’s clandestine nature causes Rachel to lash out and drives Gar from the Doom Patrol.

The Chief, however, is angered that Gar threatened their sanctity by leaving the house and bringing an outsider amongst them; despite a glimmer of a threatening, dubious nature, the Doom Patrol are all incredibly thankful and loyal to him for saving their lives and willingly allow the Chief to run his experiments in order to advance the betterment of human lives. The Chief promises that he can also help Rachel and her condition as well but, while she initially allows him to run some tests, she almost immediately changes her mind and grows scared. Although Gar tries to help her, the Chief tranquilises him and, angered by this, Rachel’s dark half manifests as a swirling dark liquid that attacks and paralyses him and frees her. Dick and Kory arrive just in time and Dick is able to talk Rachel down and promises to help her, reuniting them once more. Encouraged by Cliff, Gar goes with them to live a life outside of the mansion, setting the team up for their own strangely unrelated spin-off.

Brought together by tragedy, Hawk and Dove continue to fight crime as costumed vigilantes.

Not that Dick is without his allies as well; initially, he plans to leave Rachel with Hank Hall/Hawk (Ritchson) and Dawn Granger/Dove (Kelly) in Washington, two of his former Titans allies who continue to operate as costumed vigilantes. As damaged as Dick is, Hank is equally traumatised by his past when, as a young boy (Tait Blum), he was sexually abused by his football coach to spare his younger half-brother Don (Jayden Marine). As teenagers, Hank and Don (Elliot Knight) became the first Hawk and Dove to specifically target sex offenders and to give Hank an outlet for his anger but Hank’s world was shattered when Don was killed in a random car accident. This same accident also took the life of Dawn’s mother, Marie (Marina Sirtis), and, in time, the two form a bond over their shared grief and need for an outlet for their unresolved issues. After she discovers Hank’s makeshift Hawk gear, Hank finally opens up about the abuse he suffered as a child and, together, they bring justice to his abuser and become the new Hawk and Dove. By the time of Titans, however, Hank is heavily reliant upon painkillers and pills, carries multiple scars, and is in near constant pain from a lifetime of crimefighting in addition to the multiple concussions he suffered during his college football days. The two plan on retiring from their violent double life once they finish breaking up a gang of gunrunners and, though he’s stubborn and pig-headed, Dawn is clearly devoted to Hank and supportive of him despite his injuries and impotence.

Dick is disturbed to find Bruce has replaced him with the arrogant and violent Jason Todd.

Flashbacks cast some light on their time together as Titans, where Dawn had a thing for Dick and Hank, being the arrogant meathead that he is, was rightly jealous and condescending towards Robin. Hank is unimpressed that Dick has come back into their lives and, resentful of Dick’s former relationship with Dawn, also has no faith or trust in Dick at all because of their past in the Titans. However, even Hank is horrified to see how brutal Robin has become as he throws his shurikens into a man’s eye, crushes another man’s balls, and viciously takes out the gun dealers before their shocked eyes, while Dawn sees a correlation between Dick’s relationship with Rachel and how Bruce helped him as a kid. Dick is disturbed, angry, and resentful to discover that Bruce has replaced him with Jason Todd (Walters), who acts as the new Robin, a vicious and arrogant youth who revels in being Batman’s partner, basks in the upgrades in his suit compared to Dick’s, and takes a perverse pleasure in being Robin and part of Batman’s legacy (even while acknowledging that his role is mainly to draw fire away from Batman). A largely annoying and grating character without even really needing to be, Dick is annoyed when Jason reveals that Bruce implanted tracking devices into the both of them and revoked his access to his newer technology. Dick tries to send Jason back to Gotham City and discourages him from continuing his life as Robin; despite trying to convince him that Bruce’s methods and motivations are less than benign, Jason reveals that he was sent there with evidence that his old circus family has been brutally murdered to send a message to him and that someone knows his true identity.

Jason revels in his role as Robin and takes his anger out on anyone he wishes.

Together, they track down the last surviving member of the circus, Clayton Williams (Lester Speight), who was like Dick’s surrogate father back in the day, who is almost immediately abducted by the perpetrator of the murders, the Phantom-like Nick Zucco (Kyle Mac), the “Melting Man” and son of gangster Tony Zucco (Richard Zeppieri), the man who killed Dick’s parents. Nick is out for revenge because Dick, as Robin, intercepted Zucco during his transfer, mercilessly beat him and left him to die (watched him, no less) at the hands of the Maroni’s and their acid-firing weapons and then murdered the rest of Nick’s family. Goaded into a trap by Nick, Robin goes to save Clayton and, thanks to Jason, is able to subdue him. When the local cops show up, though, Jason brutalises them and, seeing the darkness he fears in himself mirrored in Jason, Dick is disgusted at Jason’s attitude. Initially, Jason regards Dick with awe and respect and they form a tenuous brotherly bond but, as their relationship sours due to their conflicting methods and attitudes, this is replaced a mixture of contempt and loathing for having walked away from such a sweet gig. Dick struggles with the idea of being replaced so quickly; he doesn’t want to be Robin and is trying to step away from Bruce’s shadow and influence but doesn’t want to see another kid be turned into a weapon like he was and resents the fact that Bruce has been keeping tabs on him while simultaneously keeping him out of the loop.

Donna advises Dick and helps uncover the truth about Kory and Rachel.

When Dick finally decides to walk away from his Robin persona and burns his uniform, he seeks out another of his former Titans allies, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl (Conor Leslie). Having first met as teenage sidekicks, Dick and Donna formed the Titans back in the day and she’s one of the few people left who Dick feels will properly understand what he’s going through. Donna, now an investigative journalist, has long since walked away from her life as a costumed adventurer, Amazon, and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman’s sidekick, and is able to offer Dick some insight into what it means to redefine oneself outside of the shadow of one’s mentor and to help improve his social skills. Dick, however, finds it difficult to socialise and to keep his mind from wandering back to the “job”; despite being so composed, confident, and controlled when in the field or concentrating on superhero work, he’s a bit of a fish out of water in normal, everyday situations. His paranoia leads to him following Donna as she meets with a game hunter in pursuit of a story and disrupting her attempts to bring down a much bigger operation through his reckless attempt to take one more scumbag off the streets. Although Donna chastises him for his efforts, she encourages him to find a new path, one that isn’t Robin or Batman and is more productive than violent. Donna is also able to offer some insight into the strange text from Kory’s lockup that suggests that Kory’s true mission is actually to kill Rachel.

Adamson sends the disturbing Nuclear Family to track down Rachel.

The intrigue regarding the true nature of Rachel’s power and destiny is a central aspect of Titans; an empath, she’s able to feel and sense the pain of those around her, is frequently tormented by her dark half (which manifests in reflective surfaces and possess her during times of great stress), but also demonstrates the ability to heal the wounds of others. Rachel is targeted by the mysterious Organisation, which is headed by the dubious Dr. Adamson (Reed Birney); Adamson activates the “Nuclear Family” (a group of brainwashed psychopaths comprised of  Nuclear Dad (Jeff Clarke), Nuclear Mom (Melody Johnson), Nuclear Sis (Jeni Ross), and Nuclear Biff (Logan Thompson) and, later, Nuclear Stepdad (Zach Smadu)) to track Rachel down so that she can fulfil her destiny to “purify the world”. Disturbingly polite and unnervingly relentless, the Nuclear Family gain formidable abilities from a mysterious vitamin shot, dog the protagonists at every turn, and even put Dawn into a coma during a particularly ferocious attack. Thanks to Dick’s intervention, the team are able to subdue the family but they are killed when Adamson remote detonates the explosives in their heads though, in the process, the team are led to the asylum where Rachel’s real mother, Angela Azarath (Rachel Nichols), is being held captive.

The team is left traumatised by their experiences, leading to Dick renouncing his Robin persona.

This leads to probably the weakest episode of the season, “Asylum” (Kalymnios, 2018), which sees the team captured when they attempt to breach the facility and rescue Angela. The main reason this makes for the weakest episode is the unnecessary drama that sees Rachel and Gar head off on their own foolhardy rescue mission simply because Rachel couldn’t wait ten minutes for Dick to scope out the asylum’s defences and layout. As a result, all of them are captured and subjected to Adamson’s torturous experiments): Dick struggles to counteract Adamson’s serum, which forces him to confront his worst fears about himself and his past; Kory is locked in a dark cell that renders her powers useless and forced to endure an invasive procedure; and Gar is routinely poked with a cattle prod to provoke his transformation. Rachel is left in the disturbing company of Adamson himself, who tries to coerce her into assisting him by forcing her to watch her newfound friends suffer their individual tortures and winds up choking to death on his own blood as a result of Rachel’s unleashed wrath. Rachel then rescues her mother and teammates with a ridiculous amount of ease but Gar is left traumatised after he mauls one of his tormentors to death and this continues to haunt him throughout the remainder of the season.

Dick struggles against his violent impulses and often loses control of himself.

A primary plot point of Titans revolves around Dick’s struggle against his violent nature; believing that Batman’s training turned him into little more than a living weapon, he reveals to Rachel that he began to fear the violence he was forced to inflict to help others and to Kory that he had to walk away from his past because he was growing dangerously close to the edge. While he hasn’t operated as Robin for at least a year by the start of the season, he vehemently opposes any machinations to turn innocent kids into weapons and, even when not in his Robin costume, Dick often struggles with his violent nature; desperate to find Rachel after she goes missing, he briefly loses control and viciously beats a hunter who spotted her in the forest in front of his child, much to Kory’s shock, and absolutely brutalises the asylum’s guards during their escape from the facility and even instructs Kory burn the entire building to the ground (presumably killing everyone left inside). His rage stems from his traumatic childhood after first witnessing the murder of his parents and then having his rage and grief turned towards costumed crimefighting by Batman. However, as violent as Dick can be, Bruce’s training also made him a competent and capable leader; when Dick, Kory, Gar, and Rachel make their new alliance official, Dick begins a training regime to teach them how to master their individual abilities and work together as a cohesive team. All of these plot threads culminate in the season’s final episode, “Dick Grayson” (Winter, 2018); by this time, Kory’s true identity as Koriand’r of the alien world Tamaran is revealed and, with it, the knowledge that Rachel is doomed to bring her demonic father, Trigon (Seamus Dever), into being so that he can devour both of their worlds.

Dick is drawn into a confrontation with Batman after his mentor goes on a killing spree.

Betrayed by Angela, who was in league with Trigon all along, Rachel is manipulated into summoning her father to save Gar’s life and, after restoring Gar, Trigon sets in motion a plot to break Rachel’s heart in order to facilitate his master plan. He does this by thrusting Dick into a dreamworld where he is happily retired and settled down with Dawn; however, his idyllic life is shattered when Jason, now confined to a wheelchair after a botched mission against Edward Nygma/The Riddler, arrives to tell him that Batman has become obsessed with killing Joker in retaliation for his torture and killing of Commissioner James Gordon. Thanks to Trigon’s influence, Dick is compelled to return to Gotham (a dreary and rainswept hellhole where crime, debauchery, and violence are rife, turning the very streets into a desolate warzone) to try and talk Bruce away from the edge. However, despite Dick’s best efforts, Batman murders the Joker in cold blood and then goes on a killing spree throughout Arkham Asylum, killing the Riddler, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist and many of the other guards and patients. After revealing Bruce’s identity to the authorities, Dick directs a SWAT team on an all-out assault on Wayne Manor that leaves them all slaughtered at Batman’s hands (including Kory, thanks to Batman busting out Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze’s cold gun). Enraged, Dick orders the entire mansion to be destroyed by C4 explosives and, amongst the rubble and the wreckage, he finds Batman pinned helplessly beneath the debris; driven to the edge, Dick succumbs to the darkness and, with one swift boot, murders his mentor and father figure and, in the process, falls under Trigon’s spell to end the season on a massive cliff-hanger made all the more intriguing by the brief tease of Kon-El/Superboy (Brooker Muir) in a post credits scene.

The Summary:
As much as I enjoy Titans (and, honestly, I really do, being a big fan of Robin and happy to see him actually get some acknowledgement and spotlight in live-action for a change), there are a couple of things that I find more than a little disappointing about it. Like many, I was a bit perturbed by Robin’s “Fuck Batman!” line and, while the violence and swearing was entertaining and brutal throughout the show, I do question if it’s really necessary in superhero adaptations that aren’t traditionally violent characters, like Frank Castle/The Punisher or Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Next is the fact that it exists in its own continuity separate from both the DC movies and television shows and this is a shame as it could easily have bridged to the Arrowverse by including Wally West/Kid Flash (Keiynan Lonsdale) or even been adjacent to the DC Extended Universe by including a cameo by Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Titans’ position as a separate, unrelated continuity was solidified in the second season, which upgraded Bruce Wayne from a mere cameo and into a fully realised (and surprisingly old) character played by Iain Glen.

Both Robin suits are impressive and Batman cuts a monstrous figure.

However, Titans excels in both casting and costume design; Brenton Thwaites is great as Dick Grayson and made for a pretty fantastic Robin and his costume, especially, is absolutely top notch in Titans. Both Robin suits look amazing and have probably the best and most practical look of any superhero show; clearly inspired by the awesome and sadly doomed suit that appeared all-too-briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016) and Tim Drake’s Robin costume, their dark, gritty, armoured look enables both Robins to not only appear imposing but also move unimpeded and look like they would hold up perfectly well in a big budget film. Similarly, although he only appears very briefly in the final episode, Batman also looks particularly impressive, especially compared to his depictions in Gotham (2014 to 2019) and Batwoman (2019 to present). Referenced continuously throughout the season, Batman is built up as this elusive, near mythological figure and his brief appearance leans heavily into that; frantic editing makes him appear as a monstrous, inhuman figure and the nightmarish appearance of his suit only serves to emphasis this further.

Sadly, the special effects don’t always do justice to the characters or the practical suits.

Hawk and Dove also benefit from Titans’ high-quality costume design; though very different from my limited experience with their comic book counterparts, their heavily armoured suits look both practical and ridiculous at the same time, appearing well-worn and dangerous thanks to their sharp appendages. However, it goes a bit downhill once we get to Kory; for the most part, she’s serviceable enough despite being a far more promiscuous and forthright character than in most interpretations, but her outfits are limited to tight fitting dresses that only somewhat recall her traditional costume. Similarly, Rachel’s not quite the sour, serious and withdrawn goth she’s usually characterised as and is, generally, portrayed as more of a confused and troubled teenager garbed in a vaguely raven-like hoody. Sadly, it’s Gar that suffers the most in Titans; of all the characters, he’s the one that sticks out the most to me as he doesn’t seem to really fit with the rest of the team and ends up being more of an afterthought most of the time. While the special effects used to bring Kory’s powers work, largely due to how infrequent and grounded they are depicted, Gar’s are pretty dreadful, making his animal forms resemble little more than cartoony creatures, which is a bit disappointing considering the quality of the special effects in the likes of Swamp Thing (2019), how impressive the CGI is in shows like The Flash (2014 to present), and the effort Titans went to the faithfully recreate the other members of the Doom Patrol.

Trigon manipulates Dick into succumbing to his influence in order to devour the world.

References to the larger DC universe are prominent throughout Titans thanks to Gar, who fawns over the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman, and the fact that many characters wear Superman t-shirts. For the most part, though, Titans is concerned only with its own gritty, grounded narrative that becomes increasingly more supernatural and elaborate as the plot progresses. The show builds towards these moments over time, with both Rachel and Kory discovering the full extent of their otherworldly abilities as the season progresses, but never shying away from the more flamboyant aspects of the source material with characters like the Doom Patrol and interdimensional beings such as Trigon. Largely based on Marv Wolfman’s initial run on The New Teen Titans, Titans primarily deals with Trigon’s impending arrival through Rachel and the formation of a new version of the Titans but, for the most part, is just as much a journey of self-discovery for Dick as he struggles to define himself outside of his role as Robin. Personally, I found this the most appealing part of Titans and would have happily ditched all the other side plots and storylines to focus entirely on this one plot point but, thanks to each episode focusing on different characters and their sub-plots and building intrigue around this world and the former iteration of the Titans, I found Titans to be incredibly enjoyable and was chomping at the bit for the second season to release to see how things turned out.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to season one of Titans? Were you a fan of the season, and the show, or did its gritty, violent take on the traditionally plucky and colourful characters turn you off? Which character was your favourite and what did you think to the plots involving Dick’s struggle against his violent impulses and the mystery about Kory and Rachel? Did you enjoy the cameo appearance from the Doom Patrol and other references to DC heroes and properties? Did the climax of the season leave you wanting more or were you turned off by the concept? What did you think to the show’s portrayal of Robin, the inclusion of Jason Todd, and their costumes? Whatever your thoughts on Titans season one, feel free to leave a comment down below.

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Batman & Robin


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?


Released: 12 June 1997
Director: Joel Schumacher
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $160 million
Stars: George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Jeep Swenson, and Michael Gough

The Plot:
Gotham City is under siege from Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze (Schwarzenegger), who is intent on freezing the city in order to save his critically-ill wife, Nora (Vendela Kirsebom). At the same time, Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy (Thurman) finds herself endowed with a poison kiss and irresistible pheromones, which she uses to turn Bruce Wayne/Batman (Clooney) and Dick Grayson/Robin (O’Donnell) against each other and distract them from her plot to turn nature against humanity.

The Background:
With the release of Batman (Burton, 1989), “Batmania” swept across the world as part of Batman’s much-needed reinvention into a far darker and grittier interpretation. When the sequel, Batman Returns (ibid, 1992), upset parents and sponsors with its macabre content, Warner Bros. turned to Joel Schumacher to lighten up their live-action Bat-franchise with the often under-rated Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995), the success of which spurred them to immediately greenlight a sequel. When Warner Bros. again shot down Schumacher’s plans for a darker, more cerebral follow-up, the director begrudgingly acquiesced to their desire for a lighter, more kid-friendly movie by leaning into the campy styling of the classic 1960s television show and comic books.

Despite influences from more reputable sources, Batman & Robin was a love letter to the ’60s show.

With the troublesome Val Kilmer absent from the title role due to “scheduling conflicts”, the up-and-coming and popular George Clooney was picked as his replacement specifically to portray a lighter version of the character and Arnold Schwarzenegger was convinced by a hefty $25 million salary to portray the film’s primary antagonist. Thanks to the sequel’s rushed production and deadline, shooting was a chaotic time for the cast and crew, with Schumacher repeatedly urging the actors to treat the film as little more than a live-action cartoon and toy companies being heavily involved in the look and content of the film. All of this came to be reflected in the film’s dismal box office and scathing critical reception, which derailed plans for a potential follow-up. In the years since, Clooney has never been shy about voicing his disdain for the film and the late Joel Schumacher would (perhaps unfairly, due to him being under immense pressure at the time from Warner Bros. to deliver a specific interpretation of Batman) shoulder much of the blame for the film’s failings.

The Review:
Although it’s easy to pretend that Schumacher’s films are in their own bubble, that they’re not related to Tim Burton’s early, far darker efforts, Batman & Robin is clearly a sequel to Batman Forever and still in the same (loose) continuity as the Burton films. Think of these older Batman films like the James Bond franchise; some actors change, some stay the same, but there are enough references and allusions to the previous films to keep them in the same wonky timeline. For example, because Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Jim Carrey) destroyed the Batcave and the Batmobile in Batman Forever, it makes sense for there to be new toys suits and vehicles and such. The Riddler and Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s (Tommy Lee Jones) costumes can even be seen in Arkham Asylum, further tying the films together, though there’s strangely no mention of Doctor Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman); Bruce is, instead, dating Julie Madison (Elle Macpherson) and has been for a long time. It’s a minor inclusion in the film that really serves no narrative purpose and it would have been much simpler to not have a woman on Bruce’s arm at all, to be honest.

The only distinction between Clooney’s Batman and Bruce is the anatomically correct rubber suit.

Val Kilmer might not be everyone’s cup of tea in Hollywood but he was a far more fitting choice for the dual role of Batman and Bruce Wayne than Doctor Doug Ross. Clooney’s Batman can be seen as an evolution of Kilmer’s since, in Batman Forever, Bruce came to terms with his pain and grief but he’s at the extreme other end of the spectrum, basically having transformed into the Adam West Batman; he’s chatty, polite, makes numerous public appearances, and is a revered superhero through and through. Despite being the only Batman to truly have a “no kill” policy in place (and even that is debatable when you factor in the big chase sequence between Batman, Robin, and Mr. Freeze), Clooney is pretty much the worst Batman ever in a lot of ways; he lacks the physical stature of Kilmer and the raw intensity of Keaton. He’s also pretty short and uninspiring in the role, despite the work of his stunt man, and there’s no real distinction between his Bruce Wayne voice and his Batman one except that, as Batman, he’s a little more…I don’t know, professional, maybe? Either way, the lines between the two are marginal, at best, and the only thing he brings to the role is an impressive emulation of Adam West’s iconic portrayal of the character. You can really see this in all the little nuances and inflections he utilises as Batman but, what makes his portrayal stand out is the unique narrative he gets in his building tension with Dick and his emotional arc with his father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Gough).

The film explores Bruce’s partnership with Dick and relationship with Alfred.

Dialogue between Bruce and Alfred reveals that Bruce doesn’t trust Dick to not get hurt and the crux of Bruce’s arc in this film; he’s afraid to trust, afraid to love, and afraid of the concept of them being a true family and partnership. He initially balks at this since he trusts Alfred but Alfred gently advise that he “shan’t be [there] forever”. He desperately tries to talk sense into Dick, whose resentment is fuelled by Poison Ivy’s influence, and his arc is about recognising the family dynamic they all have and trusting Dick to be responsible in his own way. Similar to Kilmer’s arc in Forever, though, the resolution to this is somewhat anti-climatic as Bruce is eventually able to get Dick back on side by repeating his own words about trust and family back to him in an exchange that includes a standout line (“She wants to kill you, Dick”) that never fails to get a snort of laughter out of me. Ultimately, though, there are a lot of Clooney apologists out there who will swear blind that he is capable of putting in a good performance as the character with a better script or direction; well, I would counter argue that these beliefs are based on Clooney’s abilities today; back in 1997, he was a goofy, bland choice (even he admitted that he was miscast in the role) clearly motivated by the actor’s popularity on ER (1994 to 2009) and, while his inclusion isn’t the worst part of the film, it’s certainly a significantly disruptive cog that left the franchise dead in the water and no amount of accolades or improvements in his ability can ever shake my dislike for Clooney as an actor.

Poison Ivy’s influence exacerbates Robin’s feelings of resentment towards Batman.

Luckily, though, Stephen Amell Chris O’Donnell returned as Dick Grayson, now portraying Nightwing in everything but name and sporting a fantastic red-themed replica of his suit and all his own gadgets and such. Far from the angst-filled biker boy of the previous film, Dick has matured into a respectable young man and hero in his own right and much of his conflict with Bruce stems from the fact that he is on the cusp of breaking away from Batman’s shadow and becoming his own man. While they work well together as partners, Batman is shown to be overly critical and condescending towards Robin, admonishing him for nearly breaking a priceless vase, leaving him to tackle Mr. Freeze’s thugs, and even reprimanding him when he comes to save him from Freeze’s ridiculous rocket ship. Ultimately, the first real signs of tension between the two come after Robin is frozen by Mr. Freeze after acting on his reckless impulses. Bruce punishes him by ordering him to spend “ten hours in the simulation training” (though it’s unclear if this is a virtual reality simulation or a real-life simulator of sorts), which frustrates Dick since he believes that he’s being unfairly punished for making a simple mistake and that Bruce doesn’t trust him. In Bruce’s defence, Bruce would mostly likely take a small mistake just as seriously and train himself to do better both to improve and as a form of punishment. Still, Poison Ivy’s subsequent influence over both of them (but especially Robin) exacerbates Robin’s feelings of resentment towards Bruce into aggression; in these heated exchanges, we see that Dick feels that Bruce is holding him back and keeping him from being all he can be and being overly protective. All he wants is Bruce trust and respect and for them to work together on equal ground but his hot-headedness, intensified by Ivy’s manipulations, brings all these deep-rooted feelings to the surface and results in a series of arguments and even the two coming to blows.

Mr. Freeze is, thematically, all over the place, switching from mania to pathos on a dime.

All of this serves as additional drama amidst the unrelenting crime spree of Mr. Freeze, a character largely more concerned with making every ice-pun in the book and revelling in destruction rather than exuding the intelligence and pathos audiences came to expect from the character after the excellent “Heart of Ice” (Timm, 1992) episode of Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1999). Instead, Freeze is a bombastic cartoon villain for kids and Arnold is clearly having a good time in the role but it’s difficult to believe that this man was ever a Noble Prize-winner scientist or a doting, loving husband. It’s similar to Two-Face, who was so maniacal and over the top and introduced already as a crazed supervillain so we never got a chance to see or truly appreciate the true tragedy of the character. Instead, we’re left with a Saturday morning cartoon villain garbed in fantastical intricate and well-crafted suit of armour. Still, Mr. Freeze is such a weird dichotomy of extremes; he’s this cringey supervillain, forces his minions to sing in his frozen lair, is a relatively eloquent and sophisticated man at times (especially when puffing on a big fat cigar and relating his plans to steal diamonds and hold the city to ransom with his giant freezing cannon), and also a tragic figure haunted by his past and his wife’s condition. One minute he’ll be yelling and acting like a petulant child but the next he’s weeping icy tears and pining for his cryogenically frozen wife. It’s a chaotic mess of conflicting emotions and makes any sympathy we might feel completely redundant because he’s so over the top! The film even tries to pull at the same heartstrings as “Heart of Ice” but it fails miserably even as an imitation of that ground-breaking episode, which really should have been the template for Freeze’s characterisation and motivation. Again, like in Batman Forever, the film would have worked much better if everything had been played completely straight (but especially Freeze), with only Ivy as the zany, madcap villain to allow the comedic elements to come naturally out of the straight-faced camp.

Rather than being killed by toxins, Isley becomes a sultry femme fatale with a deadly kiss.

Getting on to Poison Ivy, like the Riddler in the last film she is actually afforded an origin story and first introduced as Pamela Isley, a kooky and awkward scientist obsessed with genetically crossbreeding plants with animals so that they can fight back against the “thoughtless ravages of man”. She seals her fate when she happens upon her boss, Doctor Jason Woodrue (John Glover), using a bastardised version of her research to transform the deranged serial killer Antonio Diego (Michael Reid MacKay) into a mindless super-soldier Woodrue christens as “Bane” (Swenson). The idea that Woodrue had this whole evil lair right beneath Isley’s laboratory is ridiculous and it’s insane that she never stumbled across it until Woodrue was in the middle of showcasing his formula and auctioning Bane off to a group of terrorists and other unscrupulous individuals. Still, Woodrue’s subsequent attempt to kill Isley results in the poisons and toxins genetically altering her into Poison Ivy, a pheromone-induced supervillainess with a deadly kiss who begins a crusade against Bruce Wayne since he once funded their work. Whereas Nygma was already a bit of a nutjob before being spurned by Bruce Wayne and exposed to his “Box”, this transformation instantly alters Isley into an alluring, confident, half-crazed femme fatale who is obsessed with using her newfound abilities to manipulate men into aiding her cause to allow plants to overtake the world. Ivy’s “pheromone dust” is an effective way of stoking the tension between Batman and Robin and she’s not quite as maniacal as Freeze, Two-Face, or the Riddler but she’s still a massively over-dramatic, cartoony villain who monologues at every opportunity, cackles with glee, and even throws in an elaborate cry of “Curses!” when she’s defeated. Ivy is willing to kill millions of people to allow the planet, and plants, to thrive once more; like with Nygma, Bruce is patient and sympathetic to her cause but cannot sanction any action that causes such a death toll and, although Pamela’s presence appears to have an alluring effect on him, it’s at the auction where she, as Poison Ivy, truly begins to influence both him (as Batman) and Robin with her pheromones.

Bane, a neutered shadow of his usual self, was little more than a glorified henchman.

So smitten by her allure are they that they begin a very public, very childish bidding war for her services, resulting in one of the most cringe-worthy moments in not just a Batman movie but all of cinema…yet, in a bubble that sees this as an extension of the bright, campy sixties Batman, you can see this as a fun (as in “daft”) scene. When Mr. Freeze crashes the party, Ivy is immediately in awe of his strength, conviction, and direct approach; when her pheromones have no influence on him, she becomes even more interested in him as a potential partner and, just as Robin is infatuated by her, she comes to be enamoured with Freeze. To that end, she and Bane break Freeze out of the ridiculously elaborate Arkham Asylum (literally a gothic castle on a storm-swept island!) and, when he continually shoots down her advances, she kills off his wife out of jealousy and to sway him into an alliance to freeze first Gotham, and then the world, and have her animal/plant hybrids rule what’s left alongside them. Far from the intellectual mastermind of the comics, Bane is a hulking, mindless brute who follows Ivy’s commands simply…because (she’s never shown using her pheromones on him so it’s unclear exactly why he submits to her). As in many interpretations, Venom is both his strength and weakness, making him simultaneously superhuman but also reducing him to a quivering, helpless wreck when his tubes are severed. He exists simply because Bane was popular at the time thanks to the influential Knightfall storyline (Dixon, et al, 1993 to 1994) but could easily have been any other Bat-brute; I’m thinking Waylon Jones/Killer Croc would have been a far better fit.

She’s not much more than eye candy but Alicia was servicable enough as Batgirl.

To help even the odds a bit, Batman & Robin brings a version of Batgirl into the fold; traditionally, it is Commissioner Jim Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon, under the cape and cowl of Batgirl but, here, it’s Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), Alfred’s hitherto-unknown niece. A minor change, to be sure, but one that I’m actually onboard with since Gordon (Pat Hingle) is so inconsequential in this film and it helps to both make her slightly more relevant to the story and reveal hidden layers to Alfred’s character and backstory since he’s never mentioned her or his extended family before because of his stringent commitment to decorum. While the experience was quite harrowing, to say the least, for Silverstone, it can’t be denied that she doesn’t exactly impress with her acting chops and is easily the weakest link in the film, but she’s fantastic as eye-candy and plays the part of both flighty, innocent schoolgirl and bad girl racer well enough, Barbara’s intentions are also quite interesting in that she arrives at Wayne Manor to liberate Alfred from what she sees as a life of servitude; she initially doesn’t understand or appreciate the family dynamic Alfred has with Bruce and Dick and takes part in dangerous, illegal street races to win the money she needs to take him away from his life. Naturally, Dick is immediately attracted to her; she mostly deflects his advances and obvious flirting, preferring to focus first on racing for money and her love for Alfred and then her commitment to helping Batman and Robin as Batgirl. Essentially, Batgirl exists to sell more toys and to allow for a fight scene with Poison Ivy; Batman and Robin are never seen even throwing a punch Ivy’s way so this allows for a more “even” fight to occur between the two females.

Alfred’s emotional side-plot really belongs in a better Batman movie…

Finally, there is the whole sub-plot regarding Alfred’s advancing age, illness, and mortality; although we see Alfred flinching in obvious pain and discomfort during the film’s bombastic opening, it’s only after Barbara arrives that the true extent of his illness is brought to light. This sub-plot is the true heart of the film as Bruce, Dick, and Alfred himself must come to terms with Alfred’s mortality; seriously ill, he makes preparations to have his brother takeover his duties but is unable to reach him and (similar to his actions with Dick in Batman Forever) surreptitiously puts Barbara on the path to becoming Batgirl. The film’s standout moments come in the heart-warming (and heart-breaking) exchanges between Alfred and Bruce about the merits of family and trust, with the two sharing a truly emotional scene where they profess their love and admiration for each other. It’s a fantastic side plot that really belongs in a better movie and there’s a twist, and nuance, to this side story as Bruce is haunted by flashbacks of his childhood with Alfred rather than the traumatic deaths of his parents, which is a refreshing change.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Essentially, Batman & Robin is almost beat-for-beat the same movie as Batman Forever: the score is largely unchanged; there’s a suit-up scene at the start with a cringey one-liner; a big, explosive fight with the new supervillain; a cliché villain team-up, a falling out between Bruce and Dick; and a new Bat-character is introduced, learns of their identities, before joining them for a big, climatic showdown featuring new suits and vehicles. Honestly, I actually dig the film’s costume design; the Batsuit isn’t that great but I actually like that it’s lacking any yellow colouring, Robin’s Nightwing suit is picture perfect, and Batgirl’s tight outfit is great for showing off her curves. Yes, the suits have nipples and clearly resemble rubber more than armour but I kind of get what Schumacher was going for with the design and it’s honestly not as distracting as some people make out. Frankly, if you’re spending your time fixated solely on Batman and Robin’s nipples then I think you might have a bit of a problem since there’s a lot of worse stuff in the film (the zany, madcap presentation, for example, is far worse since it’s just a hyperactive kids’ movie and little more than an expensive advertisement for a new line of Batman toys).

The film’s action sequences are completely cartoony and over the top!

Each of the film’s action sequences is like some kind of chaotic acid trip! Take the opening sequence, for example: Batman and Robin intercept Mr. Freeze at the Gotham Museum, contending with “the hockey team from hell”, performing all manner of physics-defying stunts and tricks, and conveniently sporting ice skates in their boots! Mr. Freeze freezes a dinosaur statue to cover his escape in a rocket that fires from his absolutely ridiculous Freezemobile! Batman follows and is left to freeze to death in space before Robin rescues him and they surf through the night sky on doors of the rockets to pursue Freeze, who sprouts wings from his armour! Having said that, though, the Batmobile/Redbird chase against the Freezemobile and Mr. Freeze’s goons is pretty good but would be even better if they weren’t racing across the building, iron biceps of a gigantic statue!

Mr. Freeze puts Gotham on ice but Batman eventually defeats him and appeals to his better nature.

However, as bombastic and over the top as Batman Forever’s finale was, Batman & Robin’s really takes the cake with Mr. Freeze using his diamond-powered gizmo to transform Bruce’s massive new telescope into a giant freezing cannon and cover the city in ice. Batman, Robin, and Batgirl race across the frozen city streets in their fancy new toys vehicles, scale the mountainous telescope, and then battle both Bane and Mr. Freeze over control of the telescope, maddeningly using satellites to…somehow…reflect sunlight from across the globe (why was satellite control even programmed into the telescope’s controls? Mr. Freeze wouldn’t have needed it for his plan and I don’t see how moving satellites would help with observing stars and planets…) to thaw out the city and put an end to Mr. Freeze’s mad designs. In the end, though, Batman takes pity on Mr. Freeze and appeals to his better nature, securing both a cure for Alfred and arranging for Freeze to continue his research at Arkham Asylum. I find it very interesting that the filmmakers utilised Mr. Freeze, of all of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, and can’t help but think that the Scarecrow would have made for a far better villain (why is he even called “Mr. Freeze” anyway? The guy’s got a PhD! He’s underselling himself! He should be “Dr. Freeze!”). They could have consolidated Freeze and Ivy’s storylines into one villain, since both of their goals are easily adapted to suit Scarecrow, and told a far more grounded, intricate story about fear and overcoming it but that probably wouldn’t sell anywhere near as many toys now would it? While Batman doesn’t partake in any direct instances of murder in this film, Mr. Freeze is quite dark at times, declaring at one point his intention to “pull Batman’s heart from his body and watch it freeze in [his] hands” and there’s a lot of double entendre sand innuendo involving Poison Ivy that I find amusing was deemed acceptable by all those soccer moms who complained about how dark and inappropriate Burton’s films were.

Fight scenes are often spoiled by their cartoony nature and zany sound effects.

Gotham City is more neon-drenched and outrageous than ever, filled with even more giant statues, cramped streets, ornate skyscrapers, and other impractical architecture (even Bruce Wayne’s observatory is a garish, steampunk-like construction built into a mountain!) Fight scenes, though comical, are fast and frenetic and full of unfeasible physical stunts and actions but, again, at least we’re seeing a physically capable Batman and Robin. Sadly, fights are often spoiled by their cartoony nature, which includes accompanying zany sound effects wherever possible. Gotham is populated by a garish variety of street thugs; the neon-clad gang for Batman Forever return and a variety of undesirables are present at the underground race, from Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) lookalikes to punks and biker gangs. While the public, and police, are massively dependant upon Batman and Robin, more so than ever before, and revere the two as protectors and heroes (they are called in at the first sign of trouble and even make highly publicised appearances at things like auctions and police crime scenes), these types of gangs and criminals don’t get much focus in this film. Like in Batman Forever, street criminals are no longer Batman’s focus since he’s too busy fighting supervillains as a “superhero” rather than being the scourge of criminals across the city. The implication is that criminals are afraid of Batman enough that they no longer cause violent crimes but the gang was clearly planning to rape that girl in Batman Forever and the bike race is extremely dangerous in this film so you’d think Batman would put some effort into curtailing these criminal elements but…apparently not. This is kind of why I dislike the idea of Batman as a “superhero”; his focus should always be street level and against corruption and organised crime first. Sure, supervillains exist in Gotham but I feel like they’ve overshadowed Bruce’s original mission, which was to protect others from random acts of violence like the one he witnessed as a kid; Batman & Robin is a glaring example of the extreme other end of the spectrum and I wish I could say modern Batman stories aren’t routinely obsessed with large-scale, supervillain threats to Gotham but the sad truth is that they often are. Give me a dark, gritty tale focusing on corruption, street crime, and maybe the machinations of a colourful/maniacal rogue over city/world-dominated plots any day.

It’s clearly a product of a different time but its themes of family and trust are surprisingly poignant.

Annoyingly, the Bat-Cave still opens up and activates when there’s an intruder only now it’s even worse since a Max Headroom (Matt Frewer) version of Alfred politely greets any intruders. Though only a brief inclusion, the very idea that Alfred was somehow able to “program his brain algorithms into the Batcomputer” is both ludicrous and startling in its implications. I also love that Robin renders Ivy’s poison kiss mute with rubber lips when, arguably, it’s the saliva from her kiss that is venomous rather than just skin-on-skin contact but, to be fair, the film does present it as this latter way rather than the former so I guess it’s okay…? Finally, Batman is far more accepting of Barbara as Batgirl than he was of Dick as Robin, potentially because they are heading into the cartoony finale of the film so there’s no real time to focus on his reaction to her dynamite debut, instead accepting it right away and with a couple of one-liners. If I’m Robin, I’d be a bit annoyed at this since Barbara has far less training and experience and is something of a liability for all her enthusiasm (she clearly flounders in her fight with Ivy before winning with ridiculous ease because the script says she must). Still, she takes to her new role amazingly well and is easily able to use all of her suit’s gadgets, and to hold her own in fights against Poison Ivy and Bane. She then shows the unique talent she brings to the role in her computer skills, though I find it hard to believe that Batman, of all people, wouldn’t be able to handle such a task. The scene, however, is framed in a way to show Batman accepting of the help of others and the two of them as his partners and family.

The Summary:
As a kid, I remember seeing this film at the cinema and absolutely loving it; I was firmly of the belief that the Batman movies just got better and better with each new film, adding more and more characters, villains, and recognisable elements from the comics I so enjoyed. I watched all the live-action films, the sixties movie, and was reading Batman stories from the sixties to nineties at the time and never had any trouble distinguishing between them. It was just Batman in different forms, and I was excited to see more of him, especially with Robin by his side. As an adult, it’s much harder to excuse the film since it’s a far cry from the dark, brooding Batman that is generally favoured but, when you view it as a love letter to the sixties Batman television series and bright, campy comics of that same era, you can kind of excuse a lot of its more glaring faults. It’s supposed to be a fun, mindless kids’ film; a live-action cartoon intended to sell toys and reap the rewards of its many and varied merchandise opportunities. It’s far from the guilty pleasure that Batman Forever is and it’s not the Batman I would prefer to see and I don’t like to hate on it because, for all its faults, at least it had the balls to use Robin and to tell an interesting story with both him trying to become his own man and hero and the side plot involving Bruce and Alfred.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Whew, well, that’s Batman & Robin, a divisive film, to say the least. What is your opinion on the film, its cast, and Schumacher’s unique direction for the character and franchise? Do you think George Clooney was a poor choice for Batman or do you also believe he could do the role justice with a different script? What did you think of the film’s portrayal of Mr. Freeze, interpretation of Batgirl, and Robin’s character arc? Would you have liked to see another Batman film under Schumacher’s direction? Whatever your thoughts, good, bad, or indifferent, please feel free to leave a comment below and come back next Tuesday for the last entry in Robin Month.

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Batman Forever


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?


Released: 9 June 1995
Director: Joel Schumacher
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $100 million
Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle

The Plot:
Gotham City is being terrorised by former distract attorney turned acid-scarred supervillain Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Lee Jones), whose madness is only exacerbated when he teams up with Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Carrey), who has concocted a mad plan to absorb the intelligence and memories of Gothamites. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Kilmer) finds himself struggling with both the futility and loneliness of his life’s mission and his desperate need to discourage Dick Grayson (O’Donnell) from following the same dark path.

The Background:
Batman (Burton, 1989) was a massively successful adaptation of the DC Comics character, whose popularity had been somewhat waning and was in the midst of a dark, gritty reinvention. Although director Tim Burton was initially not interested (to say the least) in returning for a sequel, he was persuaded when Warner Bros. afforded him substantial creative control over the film’s production. However, while Batman Returns (ibid, 1992) brought in over $280 million in worldwide revenue against a $65 to 80 million budget, the film was criticised for its far darker presentation. While the film enjoyed mostly positive reviews, Warner Bros. were dissatisfied with its box office compared to the first film, parents were outraged by the film’s dark, macabre content, and McDonald’s were equally upset at being associated with such a gruesome movie. In response to this, Warner Bros. made the decision to replace Burton with a new director, eventually settling on the late Joel Schumacher, while keeping Burton on in a token producer role.

Returns‘ more ghastly aspects frightened investors, leading to a more light-hearted Bat-romp.

Although Schumacher initially wanted to produce an adaptation of Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987), Warner Bros’ weren’t too keen on this idea and pushed, instead, for a more light-hearted affair that would sell toys and be more akin to the popular Batman television show of the sixties. This approach held little appeal for Michael Keaton, the star of the previous two Batman movies, and the role was recast with the notoriously-difficult, but far more physically-imposing, Val Kilmer assuming the mantle. Despite the wildly different tone of the film, Batman Forever contained a number of allusions, call-backs, and references to the previous films to set it in roughly the same continuity (save for recasting Harvey Dent from smooth-talking Billy Dee Williams to the maniacal Tommy Lee Jones). Warner Bros’ new approach appeared to be successful, with the film making over $330 million at the box office and pleasing parents and corporate sponsors, though the film garnered a somewhat divided critical reception. Much has been made of Schumacher’s aesthetic choices and direction, though the film but has earned a cult following compared to its grandiose sequel, with many calling for the release of an extended version to restore many of the excised scenes that added a darker subtext and scenes to the film.

The Review:
Right from the moment Batman Forever begins, you can tell it’s a very different film to its predecessors; gone is Danny Elfman’s iconic theme, the Gothic, enclosed sets, and the vast majority of the cast, replaced by an admittedly heroic and boisterous (if a bit over-played) score, a vast, near-incomprehensible Gotham City filled with neon, towering skyscrapers, and impractical architecture, a host of new faces, and, of course, a whole load of new toys. First, there’s the new Batsuit; though no longer as armour-plated as the Burton-era suits, this suit seems much more form-fitting and famously included nipples to give it a more anatomically-correct look. Unlike in the previous films, where Keaton was forced to be very stiff and was heavily restricted by this suit, Kilmer (and his stunt and fight double) move much more freely. He’s still not able to move his head, sure, but he’s far more agile and capable in his fight scenes, delivering easily the best live-action Batman fights at that point in time. With a new suit comes new gadgets, a new Batcave, and a new Batmobile, all of which are far more stylised and elaborate than in Burton’s movies and are introduced in a pretty cool “suiting up” scene during the opening credits. However, as much as I defend this movie, I do feel this scene is tarnished a bit by that cringey “I’ll get drive thru” line which, while amusing and I’m sure made McDonald’s happy, is a bit out of place. A simple “Don’t wait up” would have sufficed.

Kilmer was a pretty decent, physically imposing Batman and haunted Bruce Wayne.

I haven’t had much exposure to Val Kilmer in my life but, as much as I love Keaton’s intensity and the dark edge he brought to the role, Kilmer is actually pretty good as Batman. In Batman Returns, we saw that Gotham City was starting to become acclimatised to Batman but, in Forever, he’s very much in the public spotlight as a widely celebrated “superhero”. To clarify, I feel there’s a difference between a superpowered superhero like Clark Kent/Superman and a street level vigilante like Batman or Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. They are, technically, superheroes but I feel they shouldn’t be publically celebrated or acknowledged in-world like a Superman; in these Batman movies, though, Batman is pretty much the only masked crimefighter out there and, here, we see that he openly works with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hingle) and appears in public, when necessary. Like Keaton, Kilmer assumes a deeper, gravelly “Bat Voice” for the role that is somewhere between a growl and a whisper. He tries to emulate Keaton’s intense glare but, where he fails in that regard, he succeeds in his imposing physical stature, appearing far more physically fit for the role than the slighter, shorter Keaton. Kilmer’s Batman is also much chattier than his predecessor, sporting a dry wit and a pragmatic drollness that would be amusing if not for the film’s excessive, over-the-top and cartoonish humour elsewhere. Kilmer is also pretty decent as Bruce Wayne; he doesn’t betray much emotion but he’s both awkward and charming when interacting with Doctor Chase Meridian (Kidman), arranges for full benefits for Fred Stickley (Ed Begley Jr) and his family after his apparent suicide, and is very patient with the fanatical Nygma when they first meet.

Carrey channels Gorshin’s spirit for his zany turn as the Riddler.

Speaking of Nygma, if you’re not a fan of Jim Carrey than a) What’s wrong with you? and b) This really isn’t the film for you. This was peak Carrey, with the actor riding a wave of well-received comedies, and he really gives it his all here, stealing every scene he’s in with a madcap, zany performance that is part Frank Gorshin and part classic Carrey. As Nygma, Carrey is a hyperactive and overly-enthusiastic employee who is completely obsessed with Bruce Wayne. Carrey brings a natural manic energy to the role, hogging the spotlight and stealing every scene he’s in with his rubber-faced antics and you really get that this guy is a fanatical individual who is infatuated with Bruce Wayne and desperate to showcase his mind-manipulating invention. This proves to be his downfall, however, as Bruce cannot in good conscience approve Nygma’s brain-altering invention, which crushes Nygma’s spirit and turns his heroic worship of Bruce into a sadistic mania. Nygma takes to sending Bruce threatening riddles (though Bruce is able to solve each one almost immediately, he spends the majority of the film completely stumped as to who sent them and what they really mean) but doesn’t descend into full-blown supervillain territory until seeing Two-Face in action. As the Riddler, Nygma is a completely unhinged maniac, teaming up with Two-Face to put his 3D “Box” in every house in the city to increase his intelligence and wealth. Amusingly, as Nygma transforms into a successful businessman and bachelor, he begins to borrow Bruce’s look and mannerisms but becomes increasingly unhinged as the Riddler, eventually setting himself up on a ridiculously elaborate island and freely partaking of the knowledge of all those connect to his Box.

For a guy who “couldn’t sanction” Carrey’s buffoonery, Jones sure does ham it up!

While the Riddler gets much of the film’s focus, Two-Face’s tragic origins and complex relationship with Bruce and Batman is almost completely glossed over; we’re introduced to Two-Face (annoyingly and constantly referred to as “Harvey Two-Face” for no discernable reason) after he’s already suffered his horrific scarring (here rendered in a far less disturbing manner, with a ridiculous straight line literally splitting Harvey’s face in two) and there’s only ever the briefest hint towards the character’s nuance and fall from grace. Instead, we’re left with a frenzied clown, a character far removed from the dark, tragic supervillain of the source material and more akin to the Joker, for lack of a better comparison. Ruled by his obsession with duality, his double-headed coin (which he is perfectly happy to flip over and over again until he gets the result he wants), and killing Batman (since he blames Batman for his condition), Two-Face is a ludicrous, flamboyant carton of a villain who would make Cesar Romero blush. I can only assume that it was Schumacher’s decision to make Two-Face this overexcited buffoon since Tommy Lee Jones, apparently, detested Carrey’s ostentatious antics and yet seems to be going out of his way to try and match Carrey’s far more amusing and far less grating physical humour.

Dick grows from an angry bad boy with an attitude to a selfless costumed hero.

Two-Face’s inclusion, though, allows Batman Forever to do something I will forever hold it in high regard for and that is introducing Dick Grayson/Robin. As a kid, I grew up watching the sixties Batman TV show and reading a number of different Batman comics, many of which included Robin in various forms and I remember being super excited about Robin’s inclusion here. In a fantastic example of adaptation, Robin is a combination of Dick (name/origin), Jason Todd (bad boy attitude), and Tim Drake (costume); garbed in motorcycle gear, with a piercing in his ear, he’s clearly an angst-ridden rogue who has no time for the luxury of Bruce’s lifestyle and wishes only to avenge the death of his family. Even better, the film does a great job of retelling Batman’s origin through the parallel of the deaths of Grayson’s family, which triggers Bruce’s flashbacks of his own parents’ deaths and delivers a haunting scene where, in relating the parallels between the two events to Alfred Pennyworth (Gough), Bruce slips on his wording and mutters “I killed them”, providing a glimpse into the survivor’s guilt and responsibility he feels. Bruce sympathises with Dick and takes him in; though he is angry and hungry for revenge, Dick is convinced to stay through a combination of Bruce appealing to Dick’s love for motorcycles and Alfred guilt-tripping the troubled acrobat with hospitality. Alfred plays quite the sly role this time around, offering Dick understanding and comfort but also subtly influencing his discovery of the Batcave and transformation into his own masked persona. Dick’s first instinct, though, is obviously to steal the Batmobile and take it on a joy ride; after taking his anger and pain out on some colourful street thugs, Dick directs these same emotions towards Batman when he arrives to confront him, blaming him for his family’s murder but, having vented his emotions, becomes insistent on Bruce training him to be his partner to give him the means to bring Two-Face to justice. Bruce is angered at the very idea and discourages him at every turn, not wishing Dick to go down the same path as he, much less commit murder.

Chase is the horniest psychologist you’ll ever meet. It’s fantastic!

Finally, there’s Chase Meridian; Kidman is absolutely gorgeous, of course, but man is her character one horny bitch! Chase is immediately fascinated, sexually and psychological, by Batman; she, like pretty much all of the public, isn’t deterred by Batman’s appearance and is, instead, in awe of his presence and attracted to his mystery and physique and even goes so far as to use the Bat-Signal as a “beeper” to tell him things about Two-Face that he already knows and are painfully obvious and to explicitly voice her interest in Batman in her attempt to seduce him right there on the rooftop! She is overwhelmed by the sexual magnetism and allure of Batman as the “wrong kind of man” and the mystery about what drives him to do what he does but is just a enamoured by Bruce, seeing him as something of an enigma who is haunted and hiding more than he lets on. It’s not the same as her attraction to Batman, which is very primal and sexual, but it eventually grows into the more “grown up” choice on her part and she is clearly elated to find that the two are one and the same.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Batman Forever is a loud, bombastic action film; essentially, it’s a live-action cartoon, with every set and action sequence having a garish, over-the-top presentation. The film starts off, as Two-Face says, with a bang; the sequence of Batman hanging from Two-Face’s helicopter looks pretty shit but I can appreciate the blending of practical stunts, early-CGI, miniature sets, and the age of the film, to let it go and the entire set piece of Batman’s chase after him is explosive and frantic and really helps open the film with a huge amount of energy, albeit energy that screams “live-action cartoon featuring a lauded superhero” rather than a dark, broody piece about an urban vigilante. Also, people think that Schumacher’s Batman films were all light-hearted and campy and, yes, they are but while Batman isn’t as vicious or brutal as before and is much more of a “superhero” than a brooding vigilante, he still directly and indirectly causes a lot of death and destruction, including the death of Two-Face (something he specifically ordered Dick not to pursue).

Nygma’s obsession with Bruce and Batman turns him into a twisted, monstrous nutjob.

Easily the star of the show, for me, is Jim Carrey as the Riddler. While I think Batman Forever would have benefitted all the more if Nygma had been the only elaborate comedic element in a film full of straight men, I am a massive fan of Carrey and his work in the nineties and the way he hogs every scene is just fabulous to me. I just love his many garish costumes, his elaborate movements, the way he emulates Bruce Wayne, and how he switches between manic energy and a sinister glee on a dime. Ultimately, neither Riddler or Two-Face are much of a physical threat to Batman and, far from the master of puzzles and conundrums of his comic counterpart, Riddler opts to force batman into making the now-cliché “choice” between the love of Bruce’s life and his crimefighting partner. Having faced his demons throughout the film and been reminded of why he became Batman, Bruce chooses to save both, reducing Nygma to a gibbering, crazed wreck in the process and finally putting to rest the demons that have haunted him all his life.

There’s maybe a little too much bombastic slapstick and cartoony elements, to be sure.

Of course, it’s naïve to pretend like Batman Forever is perfect; it’s mindless entertainment for kids, to be sure, but is maybe a little too loud, bombastic, and slapstick for parents or hardcore Batman fans. There are a few narrative inconsistencies as well, such as Bruce inexplicably deciding to retire Batman and settle down with Chase. I never quite got the logic here; Bruce seems to think Batman is no longer needed but it also seems like he’s willing to give up his crusade to be with Chase since he can’t justify being Batman anymore (despite the fact that, as Dick says, “there’s monsters out there” like Two-Face and the Riddler). Then there’s the ridiculously cartoony security guard from the start of the film, the garish new Batmobile, the way in which the Batcave opens up and comes alive every time there’s an intruder, the ludicrous moment where the Batmobile drives up a wall to safety (how the hell did it get down from there?), the sheer ineffectiveness of Gotham’s police department (seriously, the cops are completely useless and call for Batman at the first sign of any trouble), and the overly cartoony sound effects that punctuate a lot of Carrey’s scenes and the fight sequences.

Two-Face is easily the weakest and most annoying part of the film.

For me, though, the weakest part of Batman Forever is clearly Two-Face; he’s just a grating, annoying villain who goes way, way over the top at every moment. He’s also an absolute idiot; he holds the circus hostage under the belief that Batman is present or that someone there knows who Batman is, which is a bit of a reach, constantly goes against his modus operandi, and ends up being tricked to his death in the simplest way possible. The only positive to his inclusion is that it fuels Dick’s need for vengeance; Bruce lectures Dick about how killing Two-Face won’t take away his pain, how he’ll end up becoming an obsessed vigilante taking his anger and pain out on countless others if he kills Two-Face, but Dick’s only wish is to kill Two-Face for what he did and it’s only in sparing Two-Face’s life that he (Dick) comes to evolve into the same selfless hero we saw him to be when he risked his life to save the circus from Two-Face’s bomb.

It’s fantastic to see Robin done in live-action and used as a thematic parallel to Batman.

Make no mistake about it, this is a great film if you’re a fan of Robin and Stephen Amell O’Donnell perfectly encapsulates the “mad, broody youth” vibe they were going for. After Dick forces himself into Batman’s business, Bruce is livid at Dick’s recklessness and continually attempts to talk him out of pursing the same life as him. In the end, though, with Chase in need of rescue and his motivations resolved (Bruce remembered that he promised his parents that no one would ever have to suffer like he would, that he would take his revenge upon all criminals to safeguard others no matter the cost), Batman throws on his “sonar” suit and is in the middle of choosing between his Batwing and Batboat (all new toys for kids to buy/pine for) when Dick, now Robin, arrives and the two reconcile. Personally, I love this moment; the two basically acknowledge that each other were right, that each of them has their own path, and that they have converged into one destiny. Robin even admits that he can’t promise he won’t kill Harvey but Batman accepts this, and that Dick must walk his own path, and they solidify their partnership with a firm handshake…only to immediately be separated upon reaching Nygma’s island. Regardless, I’m continually entertaining by film’s smart use of Robin as a thematic parallel to Bruce. I’d love to see this concept revisited in a new Batman movie one day; skip retelling Batman’s origin again and, instead, have a darker, more jaded Batman begin to stray from his path but be brought back from the brink by adopting Dick, whose origin can be used as a direct analogy for Batman’s. Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing that in a film any time soon but Titans (2018 to present) has done a really good job, in my opinion, of exploring similar ground with an even better version of Dick/Robin and taking that to its logical conclusion (the debut of Nightwing).

The Summary:
Batman Forever is a hugely entertaining kids’ movie which has a lot of potential that is sadly squandered by its execution. A lot of time is spent exploring Bruce’s psyche and motivations; not as much as was originally intended but far more than we had seen in live-action up until that point. The film suggests that Bruce has become so lost, so blinded by his pain, anger, and guilt, that he’s forgotten why he became Batman in the first place (to protect the innocent) and is, instead, lashing out at criminals out of habit. Dick is expertly used as a parallel to Bruce’s life and background; his anger is raw and in need of guidance. Bruce was guided by the bat he encountered as a child but Dick simply wants to kill Two-Face and has no clear focus beyond that. Bruce knows first-hand that killing the man responsible won’t bring Dick the peace or closure he so desperately seeks and that he’ll end up exactly like him, “Running out into the night to find another face. And another. And another!” It’s not massively dwelled upon but the film suggests that Bruce can use his experience to guide Dick in such a way to focus his rage and pain in a more productive way, one that sees him walk the same path but not so tainted by darkness and heartache. This turns out to be the case as Dick refuses to kill Two-Face, turning away from becoming a mindless killer and towards being an agent of true justice, which is something Bruce also learns to do through his relationship with Dick and Chase, which finally sets him towards a more productive path.

The unique exploration of Bruce’s grief and pain is offset by the film’s madcap attempts at comedy.

Sadly, though, the film’s themes and explorations are hampered somewhat by the madcap nature of Schumacher’s world; thanks to several subtle references, this is clearly the same world as Burton’s Batman movies but much bigger, grander, and more…operatic. Gotham City is awash in garish neon and giant, impractical statues and skyscrapers and the film has a manic energy thanks not only to Carrey’s scene-stealing antics but the infantile characterisation of Two-Face and his goons. Cartoonish sound effects permeate many of the film’s action sequences and I can’t help but think the film would have been more appealing if everyone played it entirely straight except for Carrey. Clearly, Schumacher is leaning heavily towards the sixties television show, which is fine since that is a classic in every way and a guilty pleasure, but what made that show work was that everyone played it straight, which only served to make the ridiculousness more entertaining. Here, it’s ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous so when there are moments or genuine humour (mainly from Batman and Alfred and Carrey’s less zany moments) they get drowned out by the overabundance of cartoonyness and Tommy Lee Jones’ grating performance as Two-Face.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Batman Forever? Where does it rank against the other Batman movies of its era, or even now? What did you think of the cast, particularly Kilmer, Carrey, and Jones? Were you excited to see Robin brought into the franchise or do you prefer Batman to “work alone”? What did you think of Schumacher’s version of Batman, his world, and his rogues? Would you like to see an extended cut of the film or do you think it’s best left as it is? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and drop a comment below and be sure to come back next Tuesday for my review of the much-maligned sequel!

Back Issues [Robin Month]: Detective Comics #38


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?


Story Title: Technically untitled but presented as: “The Batman Presents The Sensational Character Find of 1940…. Robin – The Boy Wonder”
Published: April 1940
Writer: Bill Finger
Artists: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson

The Background:
Since his debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, Batman had become a popular staple of DC Comics; the masked crimefighter began as a mysterious individual and, over time, acquired many of the supporting characters and gadgets that would become synonymous with the character thanks, largely, to the understated influence of writer Bill Finger, who greatly expanded upon many of the ideas of artist Bob Kane.

Robin’s debut significantly altered Batman’s characterisation to make him more accessible.

However, to make Batman more accessible to younger readers and to give him someone to talk to rather than simply relying on monologues or thought balloons, Kane, Finger, and fellow creator Jerry Robinson came up with the concept of introducing a kid sidekick for Batman. With the character’s look inspired by illustrations of Robin Hood, the appropriately-named Robin not only significantly altered Batman’s dynamic and portrayal, casting him as a less darker and violent vigilante and more as a Sherlock Holmes-type father figure, but also dramatically increased sales and interest in the character upon his debut.

The Review:
The issue kicks off right away by introducing us to the Flying Graysons, John, Mary, and their young son Richard (or “Dick” as he prefers…feel free to make jokes in the comments), a family of trapeze artists for Haly’s Circus who regularly wow the crowd with their high-flying antics, particularly their “death-defying […] triple spin”. One night, whilst backstage, Dick overhears a couple of criminals threatening the owner of the circus, Mr. Haly, who balks at their attempts to force him to pay them protection money, though they promise him that “accidents will happen”.

In the space of just a few panels, Dick’s carefree life turns to heartbreaking tragedy!

The next night, right as John and Mary are performing their headline act, their trapeze ropes snap in mid-air and they plummet to their deaths off panel but right before Dick’s very eyes! After being briefly comforted by Bruce Wayne, who was in attendance that same night, Dick overhears the gangsters confess to causing the accident, which is enough to both scare Haly into paying them protection money and to convince Dick to go to the police.

The Batman finds a kindred spirit in Dick, who is only too eager to join his crimefighting cause.

However, he is stopped by the timely arrival of the Batman, Gotham’s legendary vigilante, who takes Robin with him in order to spare him from reprisals since the entire town is run by mob boss Tony Zucco and ratting out Zucco’s men would surely mean death for Dick. Batman shares with Dick a truncated version of his own childhood trauma and Dick immediately volunteers to join his cause. Though Batman warns him of the dangers of his vigilante life, Dick is unafraid and, with what now appears to be very little convincing, Batman swears Dick to an undying oath to dedicate himself to the fight against crime and corruption.

Dick excels at his training and is soon out on the streets gathering information on Zucco.

Having revealed his true identity to Dick (off panel, of course), Bruce begins training the boy for his new life; thanks to his circus background, Dick excels at rope swinging and takes to his training in the likes of boxing and “jiu jitsu” with an eagerness and talent over a period of many months. Finally, Dick is ready to play a part in Bruce’s crusade and, for his first assignment, Bruce has Dick impersonate a grubby-faced newsboy in order to attract the attention of Zucco’s thugs and track them back to their lair.

Batman begins a one-man crusade against Zucco, disrupting his operation at every turn.

With the information provided to him by Dick, Batman is able to intercept and disrupt Zucco’s operation, taking out his thugs across town and smashing up the mob boss’s gambling house. Each time, he tells his prey to give Zucco one simple message (“The Batman”) and dispatches Zucco’s cohorts with both ease and a snappy wit.

Robin gets the drop on Zucco’s men and uses his wiles and acrobatics to take them out.

Batman then delivers a threatening note to Zucco, who is so wound up by Batman’s antics that he falls completely for Batman’s bait and heads to the Canin Building (along with a number of his goons) to personally put an end to the Batman’s interference. However, instead of the Batman, Zucco and his minions are targeted by Dick in his new costumed guise of Robin. Striking fast and hard, Robin tackles one of Zucco’s men, causes another to (apparently) fall to his death by throwing a stone at his head, and handily takes out the rest using his speed, acrobatics, and the element of both surprise and misdirection.

Overexuberance puts Robin in danger but it’s nothing a little murder can’t solve…

However, perhaps because of his youthful exuberance (Dick is clearly relishing the chance to beat up some thugs), Robin slips on a girder and is left dangling hundreds of feet in the air at the mercy of one of Zucco’s men. Fortunately, Dick’s circus training pays off and he is able to twist himself around to send the gunman falling to his death and Batman arrives to take out Zucco before he can get a shot at the Boy Wonder.

Thanks to Batman, Zucco is brought to justice and more adventures await for him and Robin.

Batman than threatens Zucco’s remaining henchman, Blade, into signing a confession (…he just happened to have this on him, presumably in his utility belt) about their involvement the deaths of the Graysons and willingly allows Zucco to send Blade falling to his death in order to capture evidence of Zucco killing a man. Batman then assures Zucco that both the confession and the picture will be enough to see him tried and sentenced to summary execution and, having orchestrated events so that Dick could avenge the deaths of his parents, returns to Wayne Manor with Dick to await their next “corker” of an adventure.

The Summary:
Okay, so, maybe Batman didn’t immediately turn into a child-friendly character all at once. Indeed, if you judge this story by most modern metrics of the character and his much-lauded “no kill rule”, you might be surprised to see Batman being so complicit and stoic about things such as mobsters being tossed off a building by a young boy. Of course, you can make the argument that Batman technically doesn’t murder anyone in this story; instead, he orchestrates events so that others do the dirty work for him but it’s quite astounding to see Dick go from a fun-loving, carefree young circus acrobat to a masked killer in just a few months.

Robin revels in the opportunity to fight at Batman’s side.

Of course, the entire point of this story is to introduce and sell us on the idea of Batman adopting (in the literal sense rather than the legal one) a young sidekick; Robin’s origin is a thematic parallel to Batman’s, having witnessed his parents’ deaths at the hands of criminals, but he’s a much different character to Bruce. He’s younger, obviously, faster and far more agile and, thanks to his circus background, takes to his new vocation with vigour and enthusiasm. Though he takes a vow to commit himself to justice, for Dick, being a crimefighter is a thrill and a privilege and, clearly, the entire point of the character is to exist as a form of wish fulfilment for all youngsters out there who wish they could swing through the city and fight thugs alongside the Caped Crusader.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about Robin’s sensational debut? What do you think about the idea of Batman having a kid sidekick? Do you prefer Batman to work alone or do you like the dynamic he has with his colourful partners? What are your thoughts on comics characters brazenly killing or willingly allowing children to be involved in such a violent life? Which of the Robins is your favourite, or least favourite, and why? How are you celebrating the debut of Robin this year? Whatever you think, feel free to leave a comment about Robin below and pop back next week for the next instalment of Robin Month.