Robin 19, “War Gods in the Hood,” Cover Date August 1995Written by Chuck Dixon, Pencils by Mike Wieringo, Inks by Stan Woch
Tim Drake, aka Robin #3, is the Robin I grew up with as a kid in the 90’s. After the disaster that was the Jason Todd death, Tim Drake was created to be a smart, dedicated hero in his own right that wouldn’t be resented by fans for “stealing” Dick Grayson’s job the way Todd was. Early writers of the character, primarily Chuck Dixon, really focused on the “detective” aspect of the character. It’s easy to blame Batman’s sidekick getting his own series as some sort of early 90’s cash-grab, but the early Robin books tend to be consistently very good. All written by Chuck Dixon, who handled the mini-series and first 100 issues of the solo series, the books also benefitted from solid art from veterans like Tom Lyle and Tom Grummett. In the book’s second year, Mike Wieringo took over as the book’s regular penciler, and here we are!
The issue begins with Ulysses, aka “The General,” as he returns home to his family (no mention is made of his only other appearance, Detective Comics #655-56). We get a quick snapshot of his home life, where his mother seems to think his homicidal schemes are cute, while the rest of the family correctly sees him as dangerous. On a field trip, while complaining about the lack of military history at what appears to be an art museum, Ulysses sees museum security kicking out Julie Caesar, a homeless man who believes he’s the reincarnation of the Roman leader. Ulysses steps in and helps Julie, then convinces his parents to let Julie live in their basement. Immediately he recruits a gang, with Julie as the front-man, with a lion stolen from a German carnie as their muscle.
Meanwhile, Robin breaks up a truck heist by beating up a handful of goons and is asked by Batman to check out the lion theft. As Tim Drake, his girlfriend Ari’s uncle Vari considers leaving Gotham after his shop was attacked in a previous issue. Tim and Ari make up after a previous fight, but Ari doesn’t want to talk about her uncle.
Robin checks in with Shotgun Jack, a sheriff who’s worked with Robin, and gets police reports about the recent Roman-related crimes. Robin finds out Ulysses was recently released from juvenile hall, and heads to his house. Trying to sneak into the basement, Robin activates a trap door. Robin says “game’s over,” but Julie gives a big “Let the Games Begin!” as Nero the Lion closes in on Robin. TO BE CONTINUED!
This is formatted as a pretty simple two-parter, with a lot of the page-count going towards introducing Ulysses into the series. Dixon wrote Ulysses’ first and to this point only other story in Detective Comics 655-56 in 1993, just before “Knightfall.” Dixon and Wieringo re-work the character, downplaying the “murderous child” aspect by making him seem a few years younger and less menacing than his initial appearance as a gang leader who knocked out an injured Batman as part of a gang fight. He’s turned into a sort of “classic” Batman villain where he can be a bit inherently goofy, but his schemes are still taken as a serious threat. Obviously given his size and age, he’s more of a foil for Robin, and the plan is clearly to make him one of Robin’s regular rogues.
|I remember it too, Batman! I just talked about it!|
Mike “Ringo” Wieringo was one of my favorite artists of the 90’s, and his work looks great here. A gifted cartoonist who developed his own distinctive non-Manga style, Ringo made a big splash by teaming with Mark Waid in a run of The Flash (that I shamefully have not read), before jumping off that book to work with Chuck Dixon on Robin, along with his first Marvel work in a limited series with Howard Mackie and Terry Austin (stay tuned for that, I'm always up for terrible Howard Mackie scripts). That Marvel never gave Ringo an extended run on their flagship Spider-Man title in the 90’s is a pretty clear indicator of Marvel at that time’s crippling fear of wealth and success (instead, Ringo penciled Sensational Spider-Man, probably the third most important monthly Spider-Man title at the time). After some more great runs, including a classic run with Mark Waid on the Fantastic Four, Ringo died of an aortic dissection in 2007. He was only 44.
Here, Ringo does a great job of drawing kids that look like kids. Ulysses, his siblings, Tim and Ari aren’t drawn as short adults, and there’s no real danger of confusing anybody, even though Ulysses and Tim sort of look alike. Maybe my favorite scene in the book is where Ulysses’ sister goes looking for her dog and finds the below image, just a great mix of comedy and weirdness:
The cover image features Robin dueling with a Roman gladiator in a scene we don’t get in the book. As much as I like Ringo’s covers during this time, this is a bit weak, with the gladiator-guy getting central focus, while Julie looks on, not even giving us a “thumbs down” gesture. I do like Ulysses’ passive indifference at Robin’s life-or-death fight, though.
All in all, this is a really solid title during this period (although Ringo does take multiple issues off, then starts doing covers only). Tim’s an interesting character that’s separate from what we’ve seen from other Robins, and his friends aren’t all Teen Titan-analogues for another few years. He seems inexperienced enough that there’s real danger, even from a goofy villain like Ulysses. I like what we get from the supporting cast: I liked Ari, and always found the Tim/Stephanie pairing to be kind of same-y, since it hit a lot of the same beats as Batman/Catwoman (anti-hero version), or Spider-Man/Black Cat, but with teens.