WARNING! POTENTIAL SPOILERS!
It’s the last story in WE ARE ROBIN VOLUME 2: JOKERS, “The Hero Business,” that I enjoyed the most. The inclusion of “Jokers” made the volume’s title provocative but the story itself was a let down — No new addition or twist to the “Joker lore” – No “Next Gen Joker” through Smiley – Just bait to get you to break the book’s spine.
“Smiley” is Johnny Bender’s nickname after plastic surgery gone wrong. The premise of the operation was interesting but not explored. It would have been interesting to learn why Johnny’s parents felt it was so important that he smile. He and Duke are peers so contrasting his relationship with his parents with Duke’s might have provided some poignant insights into both their characters and possibly provided some insightful commentary on modern parenting in general – just as the last story, “Hero Business,” does on the notion of heroism.
VOLUME 1 introduced us to Duke’s search for his parents. They are among the many Gotham citizens missing after “Joker Toxin” turned them into babbling, laughing idiots. VOLUME 2 concludes Duke’s search and initiates the next chapter of his story as his parents’ caregiver. Each depiction of Duke caring for his parents is an opportunity to explore the dynamic when life flips the script and the child is made responsible for their parents’ welfare. I don’t think you need dialogue (or a monologue) here. The images are poignant enough. The one that got me is the one where Duke is spoon-feeding his mother. She’s gotten the gruel all over her face. It’s a familiar scene of a parent spoon-feeding his baby. It’s warm and pleasant but inversed, where an adult child feeds his ailing parents, it becomes sad — a powerful statement on family and caring for parents.
In my favorite story, “Hero Business,” a group of Robins come together to prevent a fellow Robin from sinking into villainy. This friend’s father has lost several construction contracts to the larger, better-funded Wayne Corporation and he is desperate to help his family make ends meet. Though he cherishes his experiences as a Robin, he feels he has no other option. He succumbs to his sense of filial piety and agrees to help a group of thieves rob Bruce Wayne.
One Robin speaks to another and so on and so on until a small group of the story-core Robins come together to stop the robbers and reclaim one of their own. In addition to the observations made about the nature of heroism, anti-heros (all the Robins are vigilantes), and villains, “Hero Business” is about the nature of friendship. One of the best scenes is a short one where one Robin asks another who the Robin in trouble is? And the other Robin responds with a brief description akin to “you’d know him if you saw him.”
The situation along with Smiley’s invasion of his high school were the catalysts the Robins needed to reinvigorate the spirit of the Robins. They had had been downcast at the order to disband from the original Robins, by their vilification by formal law enforcement, and their capture by the Owls. Though I fault the WE ARE ROBIN series for not spending enough time on certain issues or ideas, overall the series so far has been well paced, making both VOLUME 1 and 2 great to read.