We are in an awkward place.
Tim Drake’s solo book is kind of a mess. While it isn’t bad, far from it, the book is often a side story to the main events. For progress, don’t look to this book. Look to the Batman books or look to Identity Crisis and Young Justice/Teen Titans. Tim’s book was mostly high school drama and the occasional tie-in.
This means that in theory I wouldn’t have much to talk about between Tim’s debut and Red Robin. Thankfully Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle did three miniseries that tell complete stories well worth delving into that underline a good point. Tim Drake wasn’t Dick Grayson or Jason Todd. He was his own hero. And he rules.
I’m reviewing the three as a unit and I think that works. It’s one coherent story though the second part is more thematic. This forms a whole of how Tim has to face the challenge of being Robin. It’s not as simple as just volunteering.
The first mini is about Tim going to Paris to train where he faces the threat of King Snake who is involved in trying to stop the handoff of Hong Kong, a story so dated many of you were born after it happened. In the second Tim fights the Joker who gets into cybercrime while Batman is gone. The third story puts Tim teamed with the Huntress while fighting KGBeast and again King Snake’s gang.
I’ve given just the thinnest plots but these are not remotely thin comics. These are richly told comics that evoke the 70s pulp feel that helped Batman get taken seriously. They aren’t exactly wild leaps for the line which was arguably at its peak this decade but they’re solid and solid is a very good thing to be. The stories are effective because each one underlines that Tim is a new Robin. The first stresses his training and inexperience while the next two play up that Tim is a different character in skill and in his life.
It’s his personal life that I really like in these. Tim has a living father, albeit one recovering from a disabling injury. He has friends he likes. He goes to school, a very new thing for a Robin. He falls for a girl in the third story. Tim Drake is someone who isn’t just bound to the role of Robin.
But of course these stories are about that role and I love that they’re really about the question of what do you do when you catch your dream? Tim has to face it and no it’s not easy. Tim wanted there to be a new Robin and was thrust into the role himself. This is about him facing the consequences particularly as they cause conflict. It is hard to be both Robin and a person, something Dick Grayson and Jason Todd didn’t really tackle.
Chuck Dixon who wrote these and went on to the solo series fascinates me. He is a conservative, there’s no dispute there. He has ties to the alt-right and has eagerly worked with them. I should hate this guy. I don’t. I think I don’t because it’s never really on the page at DC. In fact I’d be hard pressed to tell between him and any other writer.
I bring this up because I find Dixon’s villains here interesting. Putting the Joker aside since he’s just the Joker, Dixon uses a Russian baddie and a white man determined to control Hong Kong and since he can’t he’ll ruin it. The side characters in the story trend towards POC such as Lady Shiva and a black DEA agent. The counterfeiting operation in the third clearly exploits POC. There’s probably nothing to read into here but it was nice to see after trudging through the racism of the Obeah Man from Alan Grant.
Dixon’s writing is great but I really want to shine a light on the late Tom Lyle’s art. Lyle wasn’t a big name artist but he worked throughout the 90s and exemplified my favorite kind of pencils. He was clean and anonymous. There wasn’t much style. The material came first. Guys like him don’t get attention because they don’t need it. Nevertheless this is a great looking set of tales.
Like I said, these are modest books. They won’t be hailed as rare iconic stories. But they established Tim Drake. And they nailed that.
Now we should be jumping ahead next to the book I was commissioned to read finally. Red Robin is about Tim hunting for Batman in the wake of his disappearance and Tim’s father’s death. His father’s death? We’re going to have to take a side trip. Next review is Identity Crisis.