This week on Arc Reaction we’re starting the year off discussing Robin Rises. That’s where the problems begin. First, this story actually runs through a few books: Robin Rises Omega, Batman and Robin issues 33-37, and Robin Rises Alpha. Peter J. Tomasi writes the whole thing, while Andy Kubert pencils Omega and Alpha, and Patrick Gleason pencils the Batman and Robin issues. Why is it done this way? I couldn’t tell you. So we’re just going to dub the whole thing Robin Rises and move on. But Robin Rises isn’t really about Robin rising, or Robins (plural) rising, or about any of the Bat family really. It’s about Robin being raised. There’s a distinction. It’s about Batman taking a new bat-toy out for a joyride, going to metaphorical hell (Apokolips), beating up the metaphorical devil (Darkseid), and bringing back Damian Wayne from the dead. Jason, Tim, and Barbara, the “Robins” that join Bruce to save their Bat-brother, are just there for ornamentation. Robin Rises should be a celebration of the Robin mantle, but it’s not. Dick Grayson isn’t even present for this story, and that just feels wrong. Dick is not just the original Robin, but he’s the other Batman, the other mentor for Damian, and the other man who should be invested in Damian’s ultimate fate. Instead we get a silly cameo in his Grayson getup that is bound to just be an awkward footnote for future readers. Robin Rises misses these obvious story beats, and it’s a disappointment.
Robin Rises is spectacle. It has the appeal of a summer blockbuster. And really it can all be boiled down to the Hellbat suit. The Hellbat suit is cool. It’s a Batman gadget crafted by one set of gods (the Justice League) to help fight another set of gods (whoever they deem fit). Superman forges parts of it in the sun for crying out loud! Yet we only get a page dedicated to its construction, and what feels like a tacked on drawback so the writers can rest assured we’ll never see the Hellbat suit again. It’s a one-use plot device that kills Bruce the longer he uses it, and for some reason that fact didn’t stop Superman from helping in its construction. It’s a mechanism to raise the stakes, but it feels like a mechanism. It feels unnatural. Robin Rises is a toy commercial. I’m sure you’ll see a Hellbat figure soon. Sure, there’s some childish delight in seeing Batman pull out a new toy, but that doesn’t have to be to the detriment of actual character development. There are glimpses of real quality moments in this story; you can see it in the fleeting moments of desperation when Bruce bends the rules to get his son back with the League members, but the moments are short lived in an overly-long story arc, and they never go far enough. Batman’s motivation is thrown aside for the toy commercial. Then it’s time to fight Darkseid.
So why Darkseid? The realistic answer is that Darkseid is the easiest way to revive Damian without just chucking him into the Lazarus Pit. That would be too predictable. But Darkseid doesn’t work for so many reasons. Darkseid has no “beef” with the Batman, he has no ties to the Batman mythos, he has no relationship with Bruce or Damian. It’s explained that Damian’s body was taken because it was giving off the same energy signature as another McGuffin that Darkseid needed to power his Death Star laser. It is completely arbitrary. Darkseid has no horse in this race. Oh, Batman wants his son’s body back? Why should Darkseid even care? Batman just incidentally happens to stop the beam weapon while there. The Robins tag along to fight minions in the background, further reinforcing that Batman doesn’t even need sidekicks. This story does nothing to persuade the audience that Batman needs help, ever. He’s a one man army in Robin Rises. He single handedly fights off Darkseid (with the Hellbat suit), and the whole group comes back without a scratch. Some cuts and scrapes? Sure. No lasting consequences. No broken bones. It makes no goddamn sense, and all it does is make Darkseid look like a lesser villain. Darkseid! Oh, and for some reason Cyborg is there. Why? Why is he in this story? Nobody in Robin Rises seems to belong.
How far is Bruce Wayne willing to go to resurrect his son? That’s the question that Robin Rises sets to answer. And apparently that answer is “beating up a super villain.” But Batman beats up super villains all the time. That’s his thing. Beating up Darkseid to bn Damian’s body isn’t an extraordinary task for Bruce, it’s just ordinary. Now, you might be able to talk your way around it. To explain that Darkseid is a really big threat, and that what Batman did was incredibly brave, but when you have to start telling me that Darkseid is a huge threat rather than just showing me, that’s a failure in storytelling. The question that should have been asked is what is Bruce Wayne willing to sacrifice to resurrect his son? I couldn’t tell you.