By: Chris Yost (writer), Marcus To (penciller), Ray McCarthy (inker)
The Story: Council of Spiders, Part Four of Four: Ra’s al Ghul is dead on the floor. The League of Assassins has been outmaneuvered. The Council of Spiders outnumber Red Robin seven to one. Welcome to page one. Now scores get settled.
What’s Good: I’ve compared the feel of Yost’s Red Robin arcs to a summer blockbuster and this last act is no exception. The excitement is tense and for most of the issue, even after the outcome is called, I saw no way out for poor Tim Drake. He is seriously, seriously outclassed and he’s stuck protecting a civilian. The sparse writing complements the action by giving us just what we need to understand the story, but nothing more; Yost keeps us guessing to the very end. The development of Tim’s coming of age arc finishes in this issue too. He is wearing some awfully big boots, facing people who would have given even Bruce Wayne himself pause. Tim brings together all the teachings and advice he has received from so many different mentors, and integrates it into who he is going to be as an adult. Action and character development come together and solve what is wrong in the world. Very satisfying.
Marcus To literally had to draw a book full of action. There’s barely a panel that isn’t about the fight or watching the fight or reacting to the fight. There are a lot of combatants, yet the action is clear and clean. I really enjoyed where To blurred some of the lines and colors to show the speed of the battle.
What’s Not So Good: While summer blockbusters have their pulse-pounding strengths, they come with some plotting weaknesses. The civilian to be protected (Tam) gets a lot of lucky breaks not to get killed in this whole thing. At one point, she avoids a master assassin by ducking (apparently he only trained against mannequins…) and at another, all six guns of the six-armed handgun-wielding assassin run out of bullets simultaneously just when he’s about to finish her off. That’s all fine if this is a popcorn moment, but it really diminishes the reader’s assessment of the competence of the villains. This reduces them from figures of lethal menace to caricatures, and caricatures do not sustain tension. As a bigger writing point, I’m now realizing that I love Red Robin best when he’s on the trail of Bruce Wayne. In the last few issues, that puzzle piece has been on the back burner. Although Council of Spiders is a good arc, it doesn’t have the scope or punch of a prodigal son seeking out the father no one believes is alive, like the first four issues did. I hope Yost brings us back there soon.
On art, Marcus To delivers some great action sequences, but I can’t say that the faces had a wide range of expressions of that anything more than basic emotions came through from the art. That being said, nothing in the story called for deep emoting by the characters, but I’d be interested in seeing To draw a story that has a more challenging range of non-verbal communication.
Conclusion: If Red Robin isn’t on your pull list yet, you may want to try it out next issue. Those who have been following the Council of Spiders arc will be satisfied with this issue.