At the start of Robin #1 Oracle chides Batman saying, "It only took a few decades for you to become an overnight superhero?" The line works as readers are reminded of the mass collective experience shared by Batman and his family, and the relative inexperience from their young super-assassin-turned-Robin Damian. I also read it as a reminder of the work that goes into developing a debut issue this good. Writer Joshua Williamson has been working in comics since before I began writing about them, which means we are both counting in decades now. Robin #1 reads like an overnight success with a concept, characters, and tone that provide an enthralling introduction in which every aspect is well prepared. This debut reads like an overnight success, but the best solo take on Damian Wayne since his own debut is built on the experience of some very skillful storytellers.
The comic opens with a pair of splashes, something I would ordinarily find wasteful but is made to work in combination with Williamson's introductory narration. Artist Gleb Melnikov, a much more recent addition to DC Comics, promises readers a visual treat from the very start. Both pages are dynamic in nature and capture plenty of meaning beyond the standard "this giant image of Batman should sell for a tidy sum." He riffs on the color work of Lynn Varley and develops a concise collage capturing Damian's life so far. It's an impressive display setting a high bar for the issue ahead, a bar that Melnikov consistently surpasses.
While the first few pages establish the status quo for readers (i.e. Alfred is dead, Damian has disappeared), it quickly shifts to its central story once Damian is placed in continuity. This is a fighting tournament story in the mode of so much shonen manga. That influence is embraced wholeheartedly with Melnikov going so far as to adapt his style to portray a high school romance tankobon Damian is reading. Robin #1 includes tropes like winning an invitation to the tournament, meeting a diverse cast of fighters, and finally introducing a rival fighter. It's possible to imagine all of these moments being stretched across six issues to be prepared for a trade, but decisions like that murder the pacing of monthly comics and make for thin collections. Instead, this issue delivers its complete premise while balancing many introductions and a couple of excellent combat sequences.
Williamson and Melnikov establish a consistent rhythm on these pages. There's plenty to be said and some panels are packed with dialogue, but these sequences are consistently surrounded by open moments: the reveal of an island, a solitary act of kindness, or another fight. This regular alteration in style makes for a far more engrossing read, one where information is regularly paired with awe. Even the dialogue juxtaposed in each fight sequence avoids the standard pitfalls of superhero comics, allowing plenty of space for the action to unfold and even incorporating shifts in speech (i.e. Damian's silence) to enhance the action.
This balanced approach also allows for a quickfire introduction of characters. DC Comics' fans will likely recognize a half dozen C-list villains in the background, while a handful of notables including members of the Wilson family are formally introduced. Before the cliffhanger arrives, readers are already positioned to develop brackets for a tournament that did not exist 20 pages earlier. It's the introduction of Flatline, a rival fighter who appears in the final few pages, that will catch the most attention. Even without awareness of her origins or powers, her attitude and abilities are on full display and Melnikov's costume design suggests real potential staying power.
Robin #1 is a simply outstanding debut that features two DC creators at the top of their collective game. A quick reintroduction to Damian Wayne quickly leads to the establishment of a fighting tournament filled with familiar rogues and devilish mysteries. Throughout these establishing sequences, both Williamson and Melnikov differentiate moments and ensure this single issue packs a big enough punch to keep readers waiting a month for the next installment. Thoughtful characterization of the hero combined with a colorful cast, verdant settings, and two excellent fights promises that each future issue will be worth the wait. Bring on Robin #2.
Published by DC Comics
On April 27, 2021
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Gleb Melnikov
Colors by Gleb Melnikov
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Gleb Melnikov