I love a good standalone “prequel” story. That’s really what War Drums boils down to: neatly contained stories that are clearly leading up to a larger event within the Batman universe. That being said, these issues are more than just placeholders.
War Drums collects a series of issues that no doubt provides a backdrop for the next set of trades on “the shelf” (aptly titled War Games so, you know…duh.) They can essentially be broken up into two parts. The first portion provides an introduction/reintroduction of lesser-known characters Orpheus and Onyx.
They’re labeled as allies of the Bat, and as they’re allowed to flex their muscles a bit in these pages, we see that they can hold their own within Batman’s team. No doubt a lead-up to whatever will occur in War Games, a situation that Batman won’t be able to handle alone and will have to call in reinforcements to help him (Azrael, anyone?).
I could sit here and criticize these issues as being mere filler, a slow build-up to the main storyline, but they were actually pretty good. They face a deadly disease outbreak while also hunting down the man responsible for shooting a pregnant woman. While all of this is happening, there’s an assassin in Gotham murdering a string of teenage boys, all of whos she believes may be Robin, her target (seems she doesn’t know about Tim Drake turning in his cowl at the end of Robin: Unmasked). There’s just enough of this mysterious assassin included to remind the reader that she’s there, while still allowing that portion of the story to be drawn out so that it’s not resolved too quickly.
The latter (and my preferred) portion of the trade focuses on Stephanie Brown. Feeling distanced from Tim and upset when she sees him kissing another girl (an angsty moment that’s effective merely because it’s not drawn out into a lovelorn soap-opera style storyline), Stephanie decides that a new Robin is needed. She sews her own suit, breaks into the Batcave, and basically doesn’t back down until Batman gives in…which he actually does.
I liked this storyline for a number of reasons: one, because I really didn’t expect Stephanie to adopt the Robin persona (had I heard at one time that she’d be Robin? If I had, I’d forgotten). Living in a spoiler-filled internet world, it’s been difficult to avoid such information, so I was excited just for the sheer novelty of not knowing what was going to happen next. Also, I just like Stephanie. She’s portrayed as a bit more realistic that many other teen characters in these comics, and while exclamations such as those above may cause people to question how serious she is about the job, I think she’s just enthusiastic. I mean come on, wouldn’t you be crazy excited to work with Batman??
Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Batman sees a spark of Jason Todd in Stephanie, and advises her that her term as Robin is probationary for the time being.
Stephanie seems to take her role as Robin seriously, and as she and Batman go out on patrol together she’s faced with having to obey Batman’s every command. Her stubborn side shows through, but she gives in…for a while.
Eventually though, she rebels. Believing Batman is in trouble, she openly defies his orders and swoops down to help him, a move that winds up sealing her fate.
In no uncertain terms, Batman kicks her out. Not only is she no longer Robin, but he advises her to give up her Spoiler identity as well.
My prediction, of course, is that she’ll be called back when something big goes down and Batman needs all the help he can get (that’s sort of his M.O., isn’t it?) Despite the fact that it seems fairly easy to guess where these storylines are heading, I don’t have any real negative comments about the comic. Sometimes a little exposition is necessary for a larger story, and War Drums pulls it off without making it feel drawn out or unnecessary. Are the readers aware it’s exposition? Absolutely. There’s no attempt at masking that. Perhaps that’s why it works so well. The comic is allowed to be what it is, without the writers trying to mask the true intent. The stories themselves are good, and could certainly be read on their own. Together though, it’s clear that something big is about to happen. War Games may not have introduced the cataclysmic event, but it did a fine job of making me want to find out what happens next.