Veteran Bat-writer Peter J. Tomasi teams up with kinetic cartoonist Riley Rossmo for Dark Nights: Death Metal - The Robin King #1 #1, a hefty one-shot that mashes together the worst of DC's modern-day tonal transgressions with a genuinely fresh take on that oldest of well-trodden paths: Batman's origin.
Backed up by an optimistic tale focused on the Signal, The Robin King #1 fleshes out a character that had up until now been little more than a vessel for shock value. One page you're shaking your head at another embarrassingly try-hard murder, the next you're losing yourself in the warped mindset of this sociopathic baby Bruce Wayne.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Tony Patrick
Art by Riley Rossmo, Daniel Sampere, Ivan Plascencia, and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Rob Leigh and AndWorld Design
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Tomasi and Rossmo juggle the aftermath of Death Metal #4 with the Robin King's origin story, building on their tale in the Legends of the Dark Knights one-shot. Tomasi paints a picture of a miniature Machiavelli, able to dispatch of the world's strongest heroes with little more than a pithy remark and a convenient gadget. He takes the Robin King's serial killer shtick and rounds it out by focusing on what makes this alternate Bruce Wayne unique: he's still a child. Tomasi posits a world in which the death of Wayne's parents freed him of obligation instead of burdening him with a lifetime of grief. He's a Robin, not through any tie to the sidekick we all know, but because he flies.
Rossmo's unique flair - all pointed chins, thumb-like heads, and impish feet, carries these themes of youth and freedom through chaos comfortably. Colorist Ivan Plascencia contrasts cold blues and greens against warm reds and yellows - pitting classic Batman and Joker colors against classic Robin colors. Rossmo's style curtails the more lurid elements of Tomasi's script, framing them as the punchlines they should be while placing the Robin King's grin always at the forefront.
As seen in Death Metal, The Robin King's uncanny gift for preparation is center stage, taking that old Batman trope and wearing it down to dust. The King dispatches his foes with what might as well be a magic wand, effortlessly neutralizing heroes and turning their powers against them with a flick of the wrist. It's fun for what it is, but there's no sense of conflict to it - and once the novelty's worn off there's no substance to the pages and pages of Robin King hopping around cackling as he adds to his huge body count.
Rossmo's pencils and inks are wild and impressionistic. His rubber-bodied figures bound across the page, given texture with an attractive combination of loose lines and ben-day dots. It's great to see such stylized art on a main DC book. DC house style often reigns supreme on event tie-ins like this, but here Rossmo's unique selling point both fits the character and adds a sense of variety to the week's reading pile.
Writer Tony Patrick and artist Daniel Sampere round things out with 'The Quiet Ones,' an eight-page battle between the youngsters of the Bat-Family and a unique Dark Multiverse Batman. Dubbed Quietus, he's what you get when Batman, the Signal and Ra's Al Ghul all take a bath in a Lazarus Pit at the same time. It's a great concept, solidly written by Patrick and brought to glowing green life by Sampere and colorist Adriano Lucas. It's a simple but solid tale that balances out the atrocities of the main story and ending the issue on a high note.
Much like the title character's combination of intelligence and evil, The Robin King #1 is a poisoned chalice of a comic book. Riley Rossmo's elastic illustration brings out the best in Peter J. Tomasi's script, which works best when he quits the killing and delves into the inner workings of The Batman Who Laughs' demented second-in-command. Afterward, Sampere and Patrick's back-up story makes your $5.99 go a little further and features one of the most imaginative Dark Multiverse Batmen yet. All in all, Riley Rossmo and Peter J. Tomasi work overtime to show you just why you should care about The Robin King. They just about achieve that goal.