‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Robin, by Stan Lee and John Byrne 6.0
When Robin’s name comes up, I think of Batman’s sidekick, dressed up in the most vicious colours imaginable, transforming him into the perfect target. I suppose that he draws attention away from Batman, so that he can do his work undaunted (the bastard, using a child like that! ;). I know he went solo as Nightwing and worked with other superheroes, but I keep forgetting that. Frankly, I don’t think much of Robin, and Batman’s fine without him.
Stan Lee’s version of Robin didn’t do much for me: he’s an orphan with a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t ever adopted. After leaving the orphanage, as an adult, he starts training merely to forget a girl that he fell for, inexplicably. Then he tumbles into Reverend Darrk’s clutches, is souped up by him and sent out to demolish Batman. Failing in his mission, he’s sent out on various robberies, until Batman finally gets his clawed hands on him.
It’s an okay story, but the passage of time is pretty wonky and the characters’ motivations are a bit soft. And I just didn’t buy the notion that Darrk felt that Robin was his first “ultimate warrior” in an army that would help him gain power. Robin? Really? Even souped up, he has no powers! As far as I could tell, he was just a young adult dressed like a hood swinging around and throwing punches at Batman. No more, no less. Pffft… ultimate indeed.
I also found the dialogues trite, if not cheesy. A perfect example is when Reverend Darrk makes a sermon to his followers, telling them his so-called “sacred oath”, which is really just a bad poem about the value of power at all cost, and which had his drones pledge their loyalty with “Power is great! Power is all!”. So lame. The dialogues were also inconsistent: one moment characters thought out loud, another they used thought bubbles.
The one strength of this book is that it takes its sweet time with its character development, exploring Robin’s past in a series of flashbacks. This was crucial for our understanding of Robin’s personality and motivations and I wish more of the books had done this. Having said this, some of it was simple-minded, like his bitterness and moodiness; it seems very unlikely that Robin wouldn’t be adopted since he’s one of the brightest and best-looking.
As for the artwork, well, frankly, John Byrne used to impress me a great deal (in fact, during the ’80s he was probably my favourite artist) but he no longer does. Did he get sloppy with time (I get the impression he’s too busy to give strips his all anymore), or have my standards simply increased? I’m not sure, but I just didn’t think that what he did here was anything special. It’s a shame, because this is truly a wasted opportunity.
In the end, I was left with a certain indifference to the character: Robin isn’t a hero in any way, plus which he’s possibly even more self-absorbed than Stan Lee’s Superman (hard to believe, I know, but just imagine…). He deserves to be slapped around a bit – not to hurt him, just to shake him out of his lifelong grumpiness. Until he wakes up, he’s a character I could do without: he’s neither a half-decent role model nor any fun at all.
On the street: After a brief hiatus, Michael Uslan and Stan Lee return with another installment of ‘On the street’, this time exploring the administration of the orphanage that Robin’s been interred in his whole life. It turns out that it’s being secretly run by some of Reverend Darrk’s allies. Of course it is. And it is revealed that two of the children who live there happen to be his offspring, and that they are competing to inherit his growing kingdom. It’s okay, if a bit incoherent.
Next week: Shazam!