Overview: After the traumatic (though also romantic) events of the last book, Damian Wayne and his newfound friends Max, Raven, and Gar must train for their confrontation with Slade and HIVE in Teen Titans: Robin – but he’s not expecting a confrontation with his estranged brother, Dick Grayson, as well!
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Picking up right after Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven left off, Teen Titans: Robin starts with Slade and Adeline evaluating their failure at HIVE, with Slade heading off to track the runaway superpowered teens on his own.
Those superpowered teens – Raven (demonic powers), Gar (Beast Boy), Max (ghost powers) – along with Damian Wayne, make contact with Max’s mom (and Raven’s foster mom), Natalia, who has ghost powers of her own. After helping them start to process the trauma inflicted upon Raven and Gar by HIVE’s experiments, Natalia starts each teen training to understand, control, and master their powers – including Damian, trained by his mother and grandfather in elite athletics and combat.
In Gotham City, Dick Grayson warns Bruce Wayne, the Batman, that something’s wrong with Damian. Though Bruce dismisses him, the heroic Dick desperately wants to connect with his adoptive brother and tracks down Gar’s parents, following them to where the teens are hiding and training.
After Gar’s meeting with his scientist parents goes well (he introduces them to Raven, now that they’re dating), Dick shows up as they leave, leading to an outraged outburst from Damian. Dick tries to prove himself to his brother over and over again, finally leading to a challenge from Damian to beat him in fighting, marksmanship, parkour, hacking, and other contests for the privilege of staying with the group. Dick manages to win the contest but offers to leave anyway – but Gar and Max convince Damian to give his brother a chance. They work together to find out what HIVE wants the kids for, and now that Natalia believes that their powers are in much better shape, decide to follow some clues they’ve found to more powered teens.
On the way, they run into Slade, leading to a car chase and confrontation, in which Raven, Gar, Damian, and Dicks’ powers and skills all help them escape the villain. Together as a family, they head off to more adventure!
Analysis: The adventures of Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo’s Teen Titans continue in Teen Titans: Robin, this time with a large injection of Batman Universe energy! In addition to the last book’s brilliantly portrayed Damian Wayne, Dick Grayson joins the main cast with a HUGE breath of fresh air and warmth. Though Garcia has said in interviews that Damian is her favorite Robin, his complex mixture of insecurity, arrogance, confidence, skills, and desire for connection show clearly, Gabriel Picolo’s love of Dick Grayson convinced her to have the dynamic between the oldest and youngest Robin shape this fourth volume in the bestselling and beloved series. Picolo’s love of Dick Grayson, as well as a conversation with legendary Titans writer Marv Wolfman, shaped Garcia’s writing of the young man as fundamentally decent, kind, and funny – that his character is just so incredibly loveable you can’t help but root for the prickly Damian to embrace his kind, warm older brother and fight evil together as Robins!
In addition to making the reader completely fall in love with Dick Grayson, Garcia’s writing for the established characters of Raven, Gar, Max, and Natalia continues to be top-notch. Each gets great focus and development in this book, including a very sweet romance developing between Max and Damian, as hinted in the last book. Gar and Raven’s romance is even sweeter than before, and Raven getting to meet Gar’s parents was really great – as was the revelation that they weren’t evil, just misguided – a nice subversion of superhero parents often being evil. There’s also the clever tease of the next book in the series (five of a projected six), showing Starfire, called Kori Anders in this universe (similar to the rather dreadful Titans show, but in a drastically different context, thankfully), as well as a gorgeous cover reveal for Teen Titans: Starfire (similar to how Robin’s cover was released two years ago in the back of Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven).
That gorgeous cover highlights the amazing art team of Teen Titans: Robin – Gabriel Picolo on pencils and inks, of course, but also layout artist Roy Haynes and colorist David Calderon. The colors continue to grow in complexity as the color red is strongly highlighted with the introduction of Dick Grayson, who loves wearing red shirts, jackets, hats, and shorts – in contrast to Damian’s blacks and greys, Raven’s purples, and Gar’s greens. All of the colors are muted to keep with the DC YA “house color style” of having a very sepia tone or two-toned look – but there’s a lot more visual interest created by adding a new color for every character – and I can’t wait to see what they do with the addition of Starfire, probably using a beautiful orange to enhance her powers.
One of the things that really struck me when reading this volume of the series is that while the aesthetic of the books in Picolo’s beautiful style is what I’ve dubbed “normalcore” – street clothes, normal settings, no huge James Bond bases or ridiculous power armor or sleek costumes – the book doesn’t act ashamed of the silly and amazing and wonderful powers and situations the teens find themselves with and in. Beast Boy is the result of an experiment, but there’s no insistence on “conservation of mass.” Raven’s soul raven isn’t some psychometric connection to an extradimensional physical reality – it’s just her soul raven that helps her see things from above. I love blending the mundane with the wonderful without trying to explain it away or apologize for it. These are just like the readers, but they happen to be able to turn into animals, have a demonic father, or raise ghosts.
And that’s not to mention the absolutely adorable appeal that Picolo continues to add to each character, from Raven’s thick black lines and pale skin, to Gar’s tan and mischievous looks, to Max’s enthusiasm and confidence, to Damian’s aggression and insecurity, to Dick’s stalwart decency and huge heart.
There’s a reason this series is a massive bestseller for DC and has gotten a six-volume run, as opposed to the many, many one-shot graphic novels that DC’s commissioned over the past several years, most of which sell very few units. I believe the combination of Garcia’s sincere, clear writing with Picolo’s instantly appealing art (and the invaluable contributions of the rest of the art team, particularly Calderon’s colors) is the reason. Perhaps the clear connection to the manga style, with Picolo frequently portraying stress and worry through visible sweat on faces, a classic manga technique – helps the book to compete with the powerful manga market that usually dominates DC’s efforts in the graphic novel market. Whatever the reason, I’m incredibly eager to read the next two volumes in the work – even as a Dick and Babs shipper, the way Garcia and Picolo have handled the romances between Damian and Max and Beast Boy and Raven has proved they can sell readers on the love between Dick and Kori!
Once again, DC has provided multiple covers for Teen Titans: Robin, all by series artist Picolo and colorist Calderon. The main cover shows Dick and Damian back to back, really conveying the tension between the two, though Dick looks much more aloof than he does in the book. For the Barnes and Noble Exclusive cover, Picolo draws Damian and Dick leaping towards the cover, Dick feeling a bit awkward, Damian confident, both holding different Batarangs – a really good portrayal of their competition within the book, as well as perhaps a stronger portrayal of the characters than the main cover. Though there’s no Wal-Mart exclusive cover as there was last time, DC is releasing a box set of all four books so far in the series with connecting covers. Piccolo draws Dick and Damian leaping towards the side instead of out towards the reader, highlighting their eventual cooperation – an interesting variant, in addition to the bending bands of color connecting each volume to the other. Sadly for collectors, the connecting cover box set won’t be available until August – and no word on whether there will be connecting variants of Starfire and the sixth and final volume – but given the series’ massive success, it seems quite likely! Like the last volume, the Barnes and Noble exclusive also contains character designs and sketches from Picolo as bonus material only for that edition – a very nice bonus feature, given how much of an incentive Picolo’s art is for buying the series in the first place!
Editor’s Note: You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.
Teen Titans: Robin
Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo’s brilliant “normalcore” retelling of the Teen Titans series continues with a huge dose of Batman Universe characters in the form of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. Highest recommendations for young (and young at heart) Batman Universe fans and fans of well-crafted romantic adventure teen books in general!