The Prodigal Son
After the events of Knightfall, the Batman Universe has been truly shaken to it’s core. In that epic run we saw Bruce give the mantle to someone who ultimately ended up corrupted by the role. After reclaiming the cape and cowl in a climactic showdown, Bruce has sworn to never make the same mistake again. We left Knightsend with him promising to choose a rightful heir to take his place should he ever be forced into retirement once again.
We now pick up on this story line in Batman Prodigal. A book that I have never read before but I’m anticipating greatly due to Chuck Dixon‘s stellar work in the previous three chapters.
So with that out the way let’s get started on my Batman Prodigal Review!
Dick Grayson Becomes Batman
The book opens with Bruce handing over the role once more. Whilst we know that this will only be temporary it’s good to see some fresh blood injected into The Dark Knight’s veins. Bruce trusts Dick implicitly but it’s clear he wants to see how the former Robin will operate with more responsibilities before giving him absolute control.
I really liked this shift in dynamics and from the off it’s great to see the man who is often regarded as the best Robin, succeeding within the role. Whilst he has doubts about his own abilities he still commits to the task fully and as a reader it’s very easy to feel fulfilled in watching the character grow.
Juxtaposing this trust from the reader is the lack there of from Commissioner Gordon. He knows that there is someone different under the mask yet again and after the previous escapades of Jean Paul, is unable to really back the substitution. It’s easy for naysayers to side with him and perhaps Dixon has cleverly used Gordon as the voice of naysayers who wish to see Bruce remain in the role. Once again Dixon has presented an argument for who should be The Batman and balanced both sides of it with relatable perspectives and characters.
Whilst the human elements and relationship between Dick and Tim are some of the book’s strongest aspects, the villains that they face are some of the weakest.
Often used merely as dressing, the dynamic duo face off against Rat Catcher, The Ventriloquist and Two Face. Normally I have a strong affection for the way Two Face is used, however, here he escapes from Prison because a guard calls out ‘Harvey Kent‘ to be released. Dent uses this name similarity to stroll out, even though he is infamous within the city, instantly recognisable and there should have been some administration done at the very least. His eventual plot does serve the book well but It’s minor characteristics of the writing that let it down early on and throughout.
That’s not to say it’s terrible, I love the way that Scarface and The Ventriloquist are used ambiguously. It’s great when it’s up to the reader to decide whether the puppet is sentient or not. However, the overall threat given by them never truly feels at the level that it should and the main drama is from the way that Batman and Robin tackle the problems rather than the problems themselves.
Doubts about Dick
Due to Dick failing Batman in Robin Year One, letting a man be murdered by Two Face, he has doubts about taking on the villain again. This lack of confidence is apparent to Dent who begins to slowly alter his crimes so that they share similarities with the Robin Year One arc. This is a psychological comment on the post traumatic stress disorder that a lot of super heroes would share should they exist in the real world and it speaks volumes to the books overall aesthetic of bleakness.
Dixon is not inclined to tell a bombastic unrealistic story. The majority of the crime fighting is done on a small scale, against street thugs. There are no city wide bomb threats, nuclear weapons or super villains running rampage turning Gotham into their playground. Readers who prefer a more grounded setting will prefer this work. Readers that don’t probably won’t. To me Dixon has once again done a brilliant job of telling a story that you believe is not too far from our own reality. It’s relatable and easy to gravitate towards because of this.
A Day In The Life Of Tim Drake
Since his entrance into the Batman Universe in ‘A Lonely Place Of Dying‘ I have slowly grown fond of Tim Drake and Prodigal cemented him as the best Robin in my eyes. We really see him step up to the role through this chapter and I realised that Tim is as much a Prodigal as Dick is. Tim is training to one day also step into the shoes of The Dark Knight even if he does not know it.
We see that the life of a vigilante is of the utmost importance to him when he receives a beating from high school bullies. We know that he could take them out as Robin but if he was to do it then suspicion would surround him in his regular life. It really highlights the strength of character that he has and showcases his dedication to the cause. He will sacrifice his own well being to ensure that his alter ego is never discovered and this allows Tim to be even more admirable.
Drake is the most well rounded Robin. He possesses the charm of Dick, The Detective skills of Bruce and lacks the brutality and arrogance of Jason Todd. He really feels like one of he only characters who could have a life outside of the role and his minor girlfriend subplot highlights this. Tim Drake is truly one of the most in depth Batman characters in the DC universe at this point and it’s great to see Dixon doing justice to what could be a cliched sidekick.
The Tally Man
Upon being captured by the Tally Man, Dick is forced to play one man Russian roulette. During this gripping issue Dick’s life flashes before his eyes and we get a true sensation Dick’s inner turmoil. Throughout the majority of his life he has been forced to live Bruce Wayne’s dream and taking up the mantle of the Bat is no different. This leads perfectly into the conclusion and the inevitable return of the ‘true’ Batman.
Battle For The Cowl
Upon returning to the cave Dick is confronted by Bruce. The two argue about responsibility and procedure. Dick believes that Bruce should have automatically chosen him to be his successor, a point in which Bruce rebuttals that due to the wedge that had formed in their relationship, became difficult to do.
The final chapter is a perfect summation of the conflict that often happens between father in son. A lack of communication can often separate family and cause divisions where there should not be any. Dixon wraps up the book with the realisation that Dick is a son living in his father’s shadow.
To me this summarises their relationship’s decline perfectly. Bruce always wanted what was best for Dick, his son, whether they agree on what that is or not. It’s a touching end that ties the themes of the books together nicely and when Bruce finally dons the cape and cowl (again) we know that there will be a more relatable, open minded Batman going forward.
Batman Prodigal, whilst an enjoyable book, suffers from inconsistencies in it’s villains and sub plots. Whilst these are not the main thrust of the arc, I feel the story would have been better served focused on one major villain, with Dick realising that he needs to be his own man once ore and Bruce accepting that the cowl is a cross that only he should bear for now.
There are several enjoyable moments here and it’s great to see Dick donning the costume for the first time. He truly succeeds in ways that Jean Paul Valley could not. It’s just a shame that his time as The Dark Knight doesn’t have moments that quite live up to the epic Knightfall arc that proceeded it.
That’s why Prodigal gets a…
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