Picking up immediately after the cliffhanger from Dark Nights: Death Metal #4, the Darkest Knight stands on the precipice of absolute victory! But before he can unleash the horrifying Last 52 - he turns the Robin King loose upon our weakened heroes!
But who is this twisted imp? Is he just another minion of the Batman Who Laughs, or is he playing his own game...?
Although his origin was already revealed in the Death Metal: Legends of the Dark Knights one-shot, not much has been known about the so-called Robin King up until now, other than he has a McGuffin for killing any hero he comes up against. Granted, that’s a fun McGuffin, but a McGuffin nonetheless. Robin King has a pretty cool design and a certain on-page presence that lends itself to not knowing exactly what kind of hell he’s going to let loose next, but thus far he hasn’t been a character built for in-depth analysis. Don’t begrudge him that – sometimes that’s all a character requires to have an impact on the story. A good example of this would be Superboy Prime – a one-note character if ever there was one, and perhaps overused, but when used correctly, is &%#@ing lethal. The same holds true to a lesser degree for the Robin King.
But what if he just hasn’t been given the space needed to (ahem) spread his wings and fly just yet? Behold: Robin King #1, the latest Death Metal one-shot to prove that being an event comic tie-in doesn’t automatically translate to being a cheap cash grab. Once again, the creative minds behind Death Metal prove that they’re not making any false moves here.
Despite his impish evil and ability to dispatch seasoned heroes without breaking a sweat, not much has been known about the Robin King outside of his basic origin. As it turns out, though, writer Peter Tomasi has some ideas about this young-Bruce-Wayne-gone-bad. They go a bit deeper than you’d expect for a character seemingly motivated by sheer sadism, and reveal that he may have a different role to play in the greater Death Metal narrative than expected. He’s not just the penultimate boss – the revelations here show that he (at least potentially) is much, much more. And honestly, it’s been awhile since I’ve read a Tomasi story that gripped me this thoroughly. (That’s not to knock his recent work on Detective Comics; it’s fine, just not quite to my tastes.) It isn’t just the twisted deaths of various heroes that’s cheaply thrilling to revel in – Tomasi gets inside this character’s head in away that’s genuinely unsettling, bringing him to life in ways that thus far just haven’t been imagined. Far more than a throwaway biproduct of an event comic, Robin King morphs into a legitimately fascinating character now that we know more about him. Kudos to Tomasi for that – I’m not sure how many other writers would or could have found ways to mine depths of such a seemingly-one-note character. Truly, this is great, character-driven writing.
Of course, the story wouldn’t be nearly as effective without Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia on art. The Martian Manhunter (yay!) alums lean into the former’s wiggly-squiggly pencils here, which adds a level of shock to the gruesome displays of violence within. It’s one thing to see horrible things done to beloved characters (Animal Man, you didn’t deserve that), but the impact just feels different when the characters are rendered in a cartoony, almost unearthly way. There’s an almost Dali-meets-Ren & Stimpy approach to Rossmo’s art that is utterly unique, amplified to the Nth degree by Plascencia’s inhuman coloring palette.
The brief backup story by Tony Patrick and Daniel Sampere is a little by-the-numbers, but not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It centers chiefly around Duke Thomas, A.K.A. the Signal, and his efforts to free his neighborhood from yet another Dark Batman. Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, and Spoiler are on hand to help out, but this is chiefly a Signal yarn. It has some decent character beats, but not necessarily enough to make the story stand out in any particular way other than to highlight the younger generation of heroes, and the notion that someday, they’ll inherit Gotham’s protection from Batman. Sampere’s art is pretty awesome, though – I’d love to see him get more regular work, and Tony Patrick does a decent amount with a limited number of pages. I’d say he’s a talent to keep your eye on.
Dark Nights: Death Metal - Robin King #1 takes its title character and fleshes him out in surprising and even nuanced ways. Amid the unhinged terror this tween wonder unleashes without even trying, there's a character worth caring about! Come for the carnage, stay for the new favorite villain.
Dark Nights: Death Metal – Robin King #1: None So Vile
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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