Over a decade ago, while Chuck Dixon was writing the adventures of Dick Grayson as Nightwing, he went back to the beginning for the character, and penned a four-issue mini-series called Robin Year One with Scott Beatty, with each issue being 48 pages long.
Not long afterwards, Dixon and Beatty returned to roughly the same era, and told a slightly different origin story, with Batgirl Year One, telling the tale of Barbara’s first tentative adventures as Batgirl. Ever since DC Comics rebooted their continuity with the New 52, we’ve gotten some curious new trade paperbacks collecting pre-New 52 material, with this particular collection the latest addition to the back catalogue. On pure value alone, this volume is a fantastic deal, as you get the four-issue Robin Year One, which is like getting eight comics, as the issues are double-sized, plus you get the seven regular-sized issues of Batgirl Year One, for essentially 17 comics for just $28.99 CDN. It does make sense to combine these two mini-series into one volume, as they share the same writers, as well as the primary artist behind the books, as Marcos Martin handles the artwork with Javier Pulido on Robin, and then takes on the sole artistic chores for Batgirl. Both books have a similar sensibility, in large part because of Martin’s artwork, and take place in a time period that is very similar, so it’s a natural step on DC’s behalf to package these books together.
Although both mini-series had their respective strengths, it’s Batgirl which is far the more charming of the pair. Beatty/Dixon craft a timeless retelling of the origins of both Robin and Batgirl, although it should be said that in Robin’s case, we sidestep the actual origin of Robin, and instead are shown his partnership with Batman progressing, despite some rocky moments in the early goings on. My few issues with Robin’s mini-series include modifying his portrayal somewhat, so that at times it almost feels like we’re seeing elements of Jason Todd’s personality grafted onto Dick Grayson. That being said, I do like seeing Robin and Batman disagreeing and not quite gelling as a finely tuned team yet, and it does expose the natural difficulties the two individuals would encounter as they begin their partnership. In fact, at times when reading this mini-series I realized that there are some parallels with how Peter J. Tomasi wrote Damien Wayne in Batman & Robin, with both getting in over their heads with some particularly bad customers, during a temporary break in their partnership. The two mini-series also complement each other well, as through Robin, we see Batman first realizing the danger he’s put Robin into, before eventually making his peace with it when he realizes that Dick Grayson is a tough young man, and a fitting partner in the war on crime. This sentiment carries over to Batgirl, as Bruce is at first very reluctant to let Barbara operate as Batgirl, partially because of how he dealt with letting Robin in on the crime fighting game in the first place. Commissioner Gordon also plays important roles in both stories, as he questions the safety of a young boy joining Batman in his dangerous mission, and then does the same when a young woman similar to his daughter starts using the bat-symbol and takes the moniker Batgirl.
In case the stories weren’t as entertaining as they are, the artwork would be more than enough of a reason to pick up this collection. This is a young Marcos Martin at work, still developing and tweaking his style, and at times bearing similarities to Darwyn Cooke in all the right ways. Nowadays his artwork feels like it has descended from John Romita Sr. and Steve Ditko, but over a decade ago his style felt more like Darwyn Cooke, as he captures a certain timeless nature in his storytelling style. There’s a delightful innocence in the artwork, and it helps that he’s illustrating these young heroes in their formative adventures, back before the world of DC Comics became dark and cynical, long before Dick Grayson allowed Blockbuster to be murdered, without raising a finger to stop it from happening, and long before Barbara Gordon was shot, paralyzed and molested by the Joker. Before all of that stuff happened, to darken and make these characters more “realistic”, they were written with a sense of humour and fun, and it’s that era that these two mini-series makes you think of and remember fondly.
Both Batgirl and Robin Year One are heartfelt tales of innocence, of kinder, simpler days, when Robin and Batgirl tentatively took their first steps towards their long, colourful and adventurous careers in crime-fighting. Dixon, Beatty and Martin are at the top of their game in these stories, and by the end of Batgirl Year One, you’ll be ready to go back to the beginning and read these stories all over again, as they’re just that good. Highly Recommended!