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Thursday, 15 August 2013

Batgirl and Robin: Year One

Writers: Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon
Pencillers: Marcos Martin and Javier Pulido
Inkers: Robert Campanella and Alvaro Lopez
Colorists: Lee Loughridge and Javier Rodriguez
Letterers: Sean Konot and Willie Schubert
Publisher: DC Comics

What’s it about? 
This book collects the first year of adventures of the first Batgirl and Robin.

Robin is Dick Grayson, 13 year old (ish) ward of Bruce Wayne.  As Robin he is the Batman’s partner, bringing fear and justice to criminals across Gotham.  Robin views Batman as a father and is determined to win his love and approval.  When an encounter with Two-Face goes wrong, Batman reconsiders whether Robin has a place in his mission.
Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, aged about 18, the daughter of Gotham’s Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.  This story is set a few years after Robin’s.  Barbara works as a librarian, excels at her studies, and wants to be a copper - but everyone tells her she can’t.  Not one to accept other people’s opinions, she attends a costume party in a homemade batsuit, mostly to irritate her Dad, and finds herself stopping a heist.  Thus begins her crimefighting career.
Each story was originally published separately, but the Batgirl one was unavailable for a number of years.
What’s good about it?
Although originally published separately, these books work very well as a package.  Written and drawn by the same people, they are complementary in style and feel.
The books are not really about Batman.  He is a key figure in both, but the action and themes are not focused on him.  He has a different influence on each character.  For Robin he is an ideal to strive towards, a figure to be emulated.  For Batgirl he is a figure to be respected, but not to defer to.  Barbara doesn’t ask for his approval and seeks training from an entirely different person – Black Canary.
This book gave me an appreciation for Dick Grayson as Robin.  He has never been a favourite of mine as I’ve always thought him faintly ridiculous.  It must be those short pants he wears.  After reading this, I feel that I know the character better and I understand what motivates him.  He has a brightness and optimism to him, and a store of courage, that I had not previously appreciated.
I adore the Batgirl book.  Since I first read it many moons ago, I have been hoping for it to get reprinted.  Barbara is wonderful.  She is courageous and full of the joys of life.  She won’t be lectured to by anyone.  There is no tragedy in her background – no miserable experience that inspired her to put on the cape and cowl (unlike both Batman and Robin).  She started crimefighting for the thrill of it.  She’s obstinate and she’s clever.  This book left me in awe of her and I cannot think of a better introduction to the character.
The main feeling I get from these books is that both Batgirl and Robin are having fun.  The writing is so smooth, the plotting so perfectly paced, that you get sucked in to their adventures and you cheer for them every step of the way.  Not many books have me mentally willing the characters to overcome their obstacles and save the day, but these ones do.  This collection is a delight and a great way into the Batfamily mythos. 

What’s bad about it?
One issue of Robin is really quite violent, savage even.  Robin and Batman are fighting Two-Face and Robin ends up getting very badly beaten with a baseball bat.  It’s not particularly graphic, but the panels are very dramatic and have a real sense of horror hanging over them.

Another issue of Robin involves the Mad Hatter, who has been kidnapping and hypnotizing teenage girls for the President of Rheelasia and dressing them up to look like Alice in Wonderland.  Like the beating scene it’s not graphic, and there’s no abuse on or off panel, but it feels horrible.
In fairness to the creators, these are most likely re-tellings of 1950/60s stories.  Perhaps back then they didn’t feel quite so awful.  Nevertheless these scenes prevent me from recommending this book to kids and younger teens.
What’s the art like?
The pencils are simple and delicate.  Very little detail is given to faces, walls or furniture.  Physical actions and movement are shown sequentially as the panels progress through the story.  The pencils support the words and colours give the story depth and life.


The colours are wonderful.  They provide the mood and atmosphere of the story.  The inks are unobtrusive.  They give definition to the pencils, provide dramatic shading, and work perfectly in tandem with the colours.  The colours complement the characters and draw out the action in each panel.  They either enhance the costumes and events, or provide a reflection of the main theme in each page.  For example: blues and yellows that match Batgirl's costume, reds that match her hair, and the purples and blues of Gotham's night are used to highlight Barbara's scenes, actions and thoughts.  Robin's colours are yellow, red and green - from his tunic and cape - so the palette to his story reflects this.

Then there are the beautiful covers which are thankfully included within this collection.  Here are two of the best:

I can think of few finer examples of sequential art than that contained within this book.

More information
The cover price is £18.99.  This may seem expensive but if you consider that it combines two out of print books that would cost around £12 each, if available, it's not a bad deal.  If you can locate a second hand copy of Batgirl Year One you'll find that the price ranges from £25 to £60 plus.

Further reading
Showcase presents Batgirl: This collects Barbara's early adventures from the late 60s to the 70s.  It's 500 pages of black and white goodness and is a hell of a lot of fun. 
Batman: The Bat and the Cat: This explores the first meeting of Batgirl and Catwoman.  Really enjoyable stuff.
Showcase presents Robin: This is the same sort of thing as Showcase presents Batgirl. 
New Teen Titans: The Teen Titans are a group of teenage sidekicks including Robin (but not Batgirl) and this particular series is very highly acclaimed.
Teen Titans Year One:  This is a modern retelling of the first year of the Teen Titans adventures.  It's gorgeous.  The Judas Contract would be a good place to start.
Batman Chronicles - Oracle Year One: In the 1980s Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine by the Joker and became permanently disabled.  This single issue tells the story of how she started coping as a wheelchair user, and how she adopted the Oracle persona to become the best intelligence officer the superero community could ever wish for.  You should be able to find it on ebay or Amazon for under £5.
Birds of Prey: As Oracle, Barbara ended up putting together the Birds of Prey, an all female superhero team.  Her first recruit was Black Canary; later they were joined by Lady Blackhawk, Huntress, Big Barda, Katana, Catwoman and more.  This series was really good fun.
No Man's Land: Gotham undergoes a massive earthquake and is annexed from the United States. It's up to the Gotham heroes and Police Force to keep order until the American government comes to their senses.  It formed the basis of the Batman: The Dark Knight Rises film.
JLA Year One: If you like Black Canary check this out.  She is a founder member of the JLA.
Black Canary/Green Arrow: For Better or Worse: This collects key stories covering Black Canary's and her husband's relationship.

When DC rebooted their universe into the New 52 in 2011, Batgirl, Nightwing and Birds of Prey all got their own series.  Costumes were changed and histories were altered.  Barbara can now walk and the Birds got new members.  Lots of people love these series, so it's worth trying them out.


  1. Oh, that is nice! DC re-released those together? That's great!

    (well, I won't be trading in my previous original TPBs.. but this new one makes a great idea for a gift)