Pros: Typically underused themes like mental health, violence among youth, and general teenage anxieties are handled well here. The villain is a great reflection on inherent problems in society.
Cons: The book tries to sound “young” but misses the mark. The overall storyline is lackluster.
Overall: This is a book where the story is just alright but the message is great. It hits on some fantastic themes that need to be addressed by more comics today and does so though the eyes of today’s youth. However, the actual plot of the book is underwhelming. If you are looking for a book about teens taking on the problems of society then this book is for you.
The first issue in this collection, We are Robin #7, is Part 4 of the “Robin War” storyline. This means that this issue is generally unrelated to the rest of the We are Robin series. For this reason we will not be discussing it in this review. Rather, it will be included in our review of the Robin War collection (found here). See our Robin War timeline here for more information.
This review will cover issues #8-12 of We are Robin.
We are Robin Vol. 2: Jokers by Lee Bermejo is a huge success in about half of the book’s features. The themes and social issues are well done and are presented in a relatable way. It also does a great job in bringing to light aspects of society which do not often see the spotlight.
However, on the flip side, the book also has its fair share of failures. The story becomes confusing when refracted through the light of so many main characters, and even more so when side plots are thrown in. Plus, the series’ focus on being “youthful” leads to some awkward and out of place dialogue. Ultimately it is up to readers to decide if these negatives are enough to outweigh the positives.
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This comic follows the story of Smiley, a teenager just released from a juvenile detention center. Once out, he goes on a killing spree and begins to gather up other followers, all to emulate the Joker. Alongside this, the former Robins are still reeling from their separation in Robin War (Review). Eventually though, they are able to reform and stop Smiley’s armed assault on a high school.
The highs in this comic almost entirely revolve around the themes that Bermejo decides to explore, the most potent of which is teenage anxiety. The characters in this book are real teenagers, not super-powered celebrities. This means that instead of dealing with world ending catastrophes and flirting with supervillains, they are dealing with homework, fleeting friendships, and parents who just don’t understand. It feels more real and relatable than your average superhero comic and touches on issues that don’t receive nearly enough attention. In particular, I thought Izzy’s story of balancing work, school, and home life hit the target perfectly.
The book’s other big issue appears to be the issue of mental health, particularly in young people. Smiley is a vile and despicable villain who might just be a product of his environment. Bermejo shows how Smiley’s borderline abusive family situation created an environment that turned him into a villain. However, he does this without justifying Smiley’s actions. This allows the book to have two villains, Smiley and the society who created him, thus doubling down on the book’s already impressive social commentary.
The book isn’t all positives though, as the story leaves a lot to be desired. By fracturing the narrative between a multitude of characters, no one character ever feels as if they are developed fully. Toss Alfred’s unexplained appearances and a half baked love triangle into the mix and the Robins receive even less spotlight. This leads to an overall lackluster main plotline, especially in aspects outside of the “Smiley” storyline.
In addition, in a manner typical of books about or aimed at teenagers, the dialogue in this book suffers from trying to depict a target audience that it does not fully understand. The young people here say “lol” instead of laughing and tweet jokes while a school shooting is going on. Its odd and jarring to see this aspect of youth culture so misinterpreted, especially when the rest of the series accurately captures teenaged anxieties. This is a very small aspect of the book but is still something which somewhat dampens immersion.
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Just like in Vol. 1, Jorge Corona provides the artwork in this collection. Overall, it is not the best looking or the most detailed, however it fits the theme well. It is cartoonish and light in most respects, which fits the youthful nature of the book. However, when dealing with murder, and other serious subject matter, this art style seems a little odd. It is a clash that feels weird and takes away some of the impact of the book’s more tense moments.
This volume also references the stories from other comic books, all of which are detailed below:
- The fate of Duke’s parents is a result of the Endgame storyline, which is collected in either Batman Vol. 7: Endgame or The Joker: Endgame.
The events of this story do not continue directly in any specific DC series. However, Duke Thomas’s story continues in both All-Star Batman Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy (Review) and Batman Vol. 1: I am Gotham (Review).