(Authors’s note: I have been trying to get this thing done for the last two weeks. It is not my magnum opus, but it is starting to feel like it.)
If you were here last time, you might have noticed that I mentioned I was intending to review Will Eisner‘s The Spirit. Well, that guy, the me from the past, was just wrong. He was an idiot. This is largely due to the fact that he mislaid the Spirit comic.
I swear it is around here, someplace.
Anywhere, I have chosen to discuss Robin: Nature’s Bride. This 80 page giant by Chuck Dixon and Diego Barreto runs directly into the midst of Dixon’s monthly Robin epic. But more than that, it stands to itself as a delightful jewel. But before I get ahead of myself, I should spend some time talking about two the protagonists, and why they are the best.
Unless you have been living under a rock, or at least a different rock than me, you probably know Tim Drake, the third Robin. Tim was introduced in 1989’s “Batman Year 3”, the Batman opus by DC stalwart Marv Wolfman. That story was mostly intended to shed new, post-Crisis light onto Dick Grayson’s past and future; and Tim was instantly and blatantly positioned to be the next Robin, and Dick’s spiritual successor, after Jason Todd’s untimely death.
Tim came into his own a few months later in the pages of thematic sequel “A Lonely Place of Dying.” For my money, “A Lonely Place of Dying” maybe one of the best comic book stories ever written. It has action and mystery and intense human relationships are all going on together. And it was the perfect re-introduction for a now teenaged Tim Drake. From the onset, and for the next year and a half (real world time) as Tim was rigorously trained for the role of Robin, Tim stood out as distinct from every other youth to wear the red and green. Tim was the kid who figured out Batman’s secret Identity. Tim was the kid who risked his life to save Batman. Tim was remarkable. He was serious, brilliant, and sober minded. He was of course, a hero; but also a giant nerd. Tim was the kid I wanted to be.
Stephanie Brown, created by Chuck Dixon, was something different altogether. Coming from the broken home of a third-rate-supervillain father (the Cluemaster) and a drugged-out mother, Stephanie Brown came into Tim’s life as The Spoiler, a vigilante identity purposed to ruin her father’s nefarious schemes. Steph was brash, headstrong, impulsive and sincere, all things that lead Batman to insist she not pursue a crime-fighters life. Nevertheless, Tim saw something in her, something that compelled him to invest in her, to train her. They were a dynamite couple, one somber, one brash—one devoted to a cause, one seeking meaning. These two stood as discordant, but still complementary souls.
And that is about where our story starts, well sorta. It actually begins 50 years ago as the Justice Society faces off with the witchy Raveena in far Eastern Rheelasia. Raveena boasts that her magic amulet guarantees her victory as Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Wildcat and the original Black Canary battle Raveena’s Animal-Kingdom Army. However her gloating is premature, as Raveena falls victim to volcanic activity by falling into a suddenly open crevasse. The Canary jumps to save Raveena, but the latter swears vengeance. After muttering an arcane incantation, she plunges herself bodily into the crevasse taking her amulet with her into the depths. And all of this is witnessed by a strangely attentive turtle.
Flash- forward 50 years, and Jack Drake, the father of a certain Tim, is playing archaeologist in the very same Rheelasia. And what should he dig up there, but a certain amulet–the perfect gift for his soon-to-be wife. That’s right kids, in case you hadn’t noticed, Tim used to possess a rare trait unique amongst Robins–Tim had parents. Originally, Tim was the boarding-school son of a globe-trotting power couple, until Tim’s Mom was murdered and his father immobilized in coma during 1991s “Rite of Passage” story. Well, in the pages of Robin, Jack made a recovery and began dating socialite Dana Winters, a relationship that was about to present Tim with another challenge as the Boy Wonder must again contend with two concerned parents and a secret identity.
Meanwhile, back in Gotham City, Robin is out crime-fighting with the Spoiler. But they get quickly into a row when Stephanie displays her in-born impulsivness (that has kept Stephanie out of Batman’s good graces); and almost puts an undercover Black Canary (the second one!) to in danger. Canary dispatches the threat with her typical martial aplomb, and as the three heroes part company, Tim pleads with Steph to be more cautious while Steph makes no bones that she thinks Robin is holding her back.
Through out the story so far we have seen several interludes–a turtle spied Jack at excavation, and took to the sea. There, he locked eyes with a gull who flew from sea to shore. Now, finding a stray dog, the bird passes the “baton” again as the dog is on a search.
Later and elsewhere, Tim catches up with his family as wedding plans are discussed, and Jack presents his intended the recovered medallion he pulled out of a hole in Asia. Dana wears it proudly, and a dog looks in from the street before heading to the Zoo.
Meanwhile, Spoiler returns to The Canary’s apartment to beg her for training. She drops by in the midst of a sparring match between the Canary and Wildcat, mistaking Wildcat for an attacker! Black Canary is less than down with Steph’s request, but the conversation is ended abruptly when Wildcat spots a press photo of Jack and Dana with the amulet about her neck. The old boxer recognizes the medallion immediately, and calls for action!
Across town, the Drakes and Winters are at the zoo setting up for the wedding rehearsal, but the whole works is interrupted when animals attack! Tim drags his soon to be step-mother to the safety of his car, but they are pinned down by a panther. The panther stares at the amulet before locking eyes with Dana. Like a snap, Dana is overcome by the spirit of Raveena, who, attacking Tim, sends the car veering into the woods. After crashing, Tim sneaks away to change into his Robin get up. The Black Canary, Wildcat, and the Spoiler arrive as Robin emerges from the brush fully costumed; and the four heroes make a plan to engage the processed bride.
It’s crazy man-versus-beast action as the seasoned heroes face Raveena’s zoo-army of elephants, big cats, snakes, et al.; but they make no headway until the day is saved by the ingenuity and physical prowess of Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. How? Well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil it, would you? Suffice it to say, Tim gets to attend his parents wedding the next day knowing he owes it all to Steph.
I had never heard of this story with first came out, but I’m very glad to have found it now. It was very enjoyable to read Dixon‘s take on golden age characters, and he had already proven is skill with Black Canary in the pages of Birds of Prey. It was especially neat to see Stephanie as the final linchpin in their victory. Nature’s Bride is also one of the better examples of Tim’s worlds colliding. Tim is both a dutiful son and Batman’s sidekick, and a part of both worlds and yet beyond them both he is Stephanie’s boyfriend. We see Dixon set the foundations of something really great in both this book and in the greater Robin mythos. All in all, it was just a great story–a ton of classic comic book fun.