Damian Wayne thinks he knows it all. Wouldn’t you, if your dad was Batman? But when he leaps before looking one too many times, Batman indefinitely grounds his Robin from any more crimefighting. Starting over at a new school with a mandate to focus on his grades, Damian learns more than he ever expected when he meets Howard in Jeffrey Brown’s new all ages graphic novel, Batman and Robin and Howard.
Star Wars fans are already likely familiar with Brown through books like the bestselling Darth Vader and Son and Jedi Academy, but it’s great to see him take on a different, equally rich universe here and give it his own distinct spin. Brown’s Bruce Wayne is a lighter incarnation of the Dark Knight, but still one who takes raising his son very seriously. “You don’t know what you don’t know!” he advises the headstrong Damian before the first day at his new school.
While Bruce is working a case that might be more than it seems, Damian is getting used to life at Gotham Metro Academy. Unlike his old school, the elite Gotham Prep, the academy is far from fancy. Friendly model student Howard walks Damian through the building on his first day, showing him which computers in the lab aren’t glitchy and which bathrooms are the good ones to use. It’s a smart way for Brown to highlight what Damian doesn’t know already—that there are schools where kids have to share lockers and their soccer teams can’t afford coaches or uniforms.
As the days go by, Howard and Damian start to clash. They’re both athletic, smart and hardworking, so they’re natural rivals. Neither knows what to make of the other. It’s not until the two spend some time working together that they begin to realize they’re more alike than different. A new friendship is forged.
When Bruce doesn’t come home from a mission gone wrong, Howard asks what’s bothering Damian without prying. (Brown masterfully shows how to be a good friend in just a few panels.) Damian ultimately decides to reveal their secret identities to his new best friend and asks for his help with finding his dad. Howard and Damian put their heads together as detectives, determined to come to Batman’s rescue.
The two boys come to stylish life in Jeffrey Brown’s expressive art style. Every character’s face is emotive, from Damian’s smirks to Alfred’s kind eyes. (Quietly keeping a watchful eye on Damian, Alfred Pennyworth is, as always, the MVP in this story.) Even Batman’s face is easy to read, scowling mask and all.
From start to finish, Batman and Robin and Howard is bursting with heart and humor that Bat-fans of all ages will enjoy. It’s delightful to realize that even Bruce Wayne tries his hardest to be the best dad he can be. There might be a Bat-signal illuminating the night sky, but Batman still takes a moment to stop by Damian’s room to check in. Awkwardly.
“Batman may be cool,” Damian says with an epic eyeroll, “but my dad is a doofus.”
“Ha! That’s all dads,” Howard agrees.
Batman and Robin and Howard should be on every kid’s bookshelf, whether they’re fans of the Dark Knight, Jeffrey Brown’s incredible body of work or just upbeat stories about true friendship. Like Damian, they’ll learn about what it means to be a good friend even when they think they know it all already.
No matter your age, you can’t help but find yourself drawn to Howard and Damian (no pun intended) thanks to their strong personalities that shine on every page. Damian and Howard show that being smart and friendly is cool. That it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. And yes, that even kids can save Batman when they work together.
Batman and Robin and Howard by Jeffrey Brown is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.
Kelly Knox writes about all-ages comics and animation for DCComics.com and her writing can also be seen on IGN, Nerdist and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk superheroes, comics and pop culture.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Kelly Knox and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.