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Teen Titans #38
We are known in life by the deeds that we perform and by the interactions that we have with others. Many who write about the character known as Robin focus on how he deals with the adversity of being a superhero, how he has dealt with the death of his parents, and how he was able to mature without serious neuroses considering the fact that he was raised by the Dark Knight of Gotham. I on the other hand choose to focus on Dick's relationships with others.
Being a character who has been written by a myriad of different authors is a tough lot in life. Depending on the style and focus of the marketplace, you may be a happy go-lucky sidekick one year and a grim and gritty street crime avenger the next. The one thing that should not change is the basic nature of the character. As I began to think on the character of Dick Grayson, I kept drifting back in my memory to, for my money, the very best issue of the New Teen Titans ever written. The issue is number 38 and the title of it is "Who is Donna Troy?"
Marv Wolfman, George Perez, and Romeo Tanghal (that's right, I included the inker!) weave for us a beautifully plotted, paced, and illustrated work of art in this issue. Everything that I find intriguing about the character of Robin can be found in this issue. While its focus is on the now forgotten past of Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, the real star of the book is the stalwart detective Robin.
The book begins with a very cinematic first page. Its images draw our minds to the classic film noir look of the Bogart detective movies. Dick steps over, cuts on a small lamp, and begins to dictate into his pocket recorder that he is on 'The Case of Donna Troy'.
From there, we see Dick begin to think back to how he got involved in the case. The first scene we see in his mind's eye is him, as Robin, at the seaside. Wolfman gives us a wonderful bit of characterization in his opening thoughts: "I grew up surrounded by a sea of faces awash with the myriad emotions of all mankind. The rapturous joy of circus-goers, the panicky fright of fleeing felons, the warm tenderness of fast and good friends. So many faces. Good. Bad. Indifferent. All drawing me to them like some swirling tide about to suck me under. Sometimes I have to come here, simply to be alone before my mind fairly explodes with confusion."
From there, we find that Dick will help to uncover Donna's past. While most of the next few pages are just a review of the origin of Wonder Girl, Perez and Wolfman still manage to give us some great characterization with close-ups of Dick as he listens and thinks about how to approach the case.
Dick and Donna then take off in costume to look at the remains of the building Donna was found in. Donna doubts anything can be found, but she forgets that Robin is not just a kid in short pants. He is a highly trained detective and he finds several leads that at first appear to be dead ends, but then turn into real leads.
Eventually, Dick continues the case on his own, traveling across the country chasing down any lead he can find. We find out again how much Dick values his friend by his dogged pursuit of strings of evidence to the murky past of Wonder Girl. Finally, Dick has a lead that he feels will really help Donna. He calls her to meet him at a retirement home where a possible link to the past resides. In another tremendous sequence, we see the strong bond of friendship between Dick and Donna as they head on into the emotional unknown.
At first, things again seem bleak. The old woman does not remember Donna. In fact, she does not respond to anything at all. Then, in a moment that made me cry while reading a comic book for the first time, the old woman remembers Donna and her time in her orphanage.
Dick takes a back seat during this sequence. He is on the periphery, but this scene belongs to Donna. Again we see the selflessness of Dick Grayson. He has solved a mystery for Donna that has plagued her for her entire live and he is content to sit back and be her support and not demand appreciation.
Donna is content in the knowledge she now possesses, and even after a chance meeting with her adoptive mother, she feels complete and ready to marry Terry Long. Dick however is not finished.
I could never properly summarize the wonderful plot by Wolfman and Perez, but suffice it to say that there was some criminal monkey business going on with Donna's early life. When her first adoptive parent had to give her up to a crooked orphanage, she became involved in a child slavery ring. However, before she could be sold, the building she was in burned to the ground. Even after finding all of this out, Dick was still wondering, "who were the people in the fire?"
To find the answer to that question, Dick has to head to a prison where one of the members of the ring was being held. It is here that we get to see yet another facet of Dick's personality. It is the tough superhero who is comfortable with himself and who he is, even if he did grow up in the shadow of the Dark Knight. This panel in particular perfectly illustrates this confidence and power as well as the public's fear of what Batman and Robin represent.
The book closes with Donna visiting the grave of her birth mother where she unburdens herself as she prepares to take the step into marriage with Terry Long. Dick completes things for her by giving her a doll that was instrumental to the discovery of her past. The next page provides the perfect "bookend" to this story. Dick is once more in his office. He then looks at a picture of Kory, and as the sun sets, he calls her and asks her for a date. Dick, the caring boyfriend, finishes out this exemplary comic book.
I said at the beginning of this that this was the best issue of The New Teen Titans that I had ever read. To tell you the truth, I think it is one of the best ever written, period. Before this comic, Dick Grayson was just Robin, the Boy Wonder. He was the sidekick of the Batman and the leader of the Titans. After this issue, I felt that I knew Dick Grayson, the young man whose life was rocked by the death of parents; the young man who cares deeply for his friends and right and wrong; and the young man who I would be happy to call friend. This is the real Dick Grayson.
My vote: 10 out of 10
Jack Morman is an Assistant Principal with a wife and three beautiful children living together in West Georgia. He stresses the importance of superheroics to his students through comics strategically placed through the school and a large Superman stand-up in his office. His own incredible powers continue to be a burden he is willing to bear.
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