"Just read" is a blog where I blog about something I just read. I'm trying to read more this year and I'd like to keep a record of that; blogging will theoretically help that cause.
We're not getting too far off the beaten path here, by any means -- I may have just read a few Star Wars books, but I'm super excited to continue on the Batman path I've laid out. The most recent trade paperback I picked up was a combined volume of Robin: Year One & Batgirl: Year One; the two stories together made for the longest trade I've read so far (though it's still not going to compare to the Knightfall trilogy when I get there!).
These two collections, which outline the beginnings of their respective characters, are both wonderfully put together and a blast to read through. The characters are tied together by nature, perhaps Batman's two closest allies finding their way into the service of the Dark Knight, and the combined book treats it just right. Robin's story is farther along than Batgirl's by the time these volumes start; we saw him meet Batman and join forces with him for the first time in Dark Victory, then saw him earn his stripes a bit more in The Gauntlet. So Dick Grayson's Year One story is really all about him settling into his role as Batman's crime-fighting partner and balancing that with a normal life -- we see him in school, talking to girls, etc. It's real easy to otherwise forget that he's a teenager.
We see Robin take on the Mad Hatter, Blockbuster and Killer Moth (at times, with minimal help from Batman), and he develops a pretty cocky attitude overall toward Gotham's criminals. He still knows the bigger names are scarier and tougher to face, which comes into play in his story's main arc, involving Two-Face and the mysterious League of Assassins. There's an all-important conflict with Two-Face where Robin is badly beaten, and Batman has to take him to get healed up by his close friend Dr. Thompkins; after this, Batman fires Robin for the sake of protecting him and not wanting him to get badly hurt again. This obviously doesn't sit well with Robin and the rest of the story is about him redeeming himself and showing Batman that he's worthy and ready for his position.
The conflict here does leave room for the eventual departure of Grayson to become Nightwing in Blüdhaven, and overall this is a rewarding coming-of-age / developmental story. Robin's fighting style differs from Batman's enough that their "dynamic duo" frames are always awesome. From what I've gathered, Chuck Dixon appears to be the most renowned writer of the Robin character probably ever, and it's easy to see why; his treatment of Grayson is well thought-out and gives especially considerable care to the relatively separate developments for Grayson as a teenager and Grayson as Robin.
Meanwhile, Batgirl's story is much more fresh than Robin's. In my reading list so far, we haven't seen Batgirl at all as a superhero. Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City Police Department captain Jim Gordon, and we have seen Barbara briefly before. She wants to become a police officer or FBI field agent, but Jim doesn't approve of this as a career choice and wants her to stay in a data or support role instead. Barbara decides to become Batgirl, with the common refrain of thinking that there are no rules for being a hero aside from a desire to want to do good.
Batman is hesitant about this but decides to test her a bit to see if she has what it takes; Robin winds up helping her along by giving her some equipment and developing a relationship with her under Batman's secret watch. Batgirl winds up proving herself enough to become a part of the team, albeit a seemingly minor one at the moment. Her story is full of great character writing: Batgirl has a real backbone and motive to her actions, and you never forget that as she goes along fighting Killer Moth or trying to keep up with Batman and Robin or anything like that. Her action scenes are suited toward her karate training and she's as nimble on her feet as Robin, which makes for some fun frames.
Barbara feels more moody and like more of an underdog in some ways than Robin, and that makes rooting for her really fun. This is a modern take on the Batgirl origin story, and a very enjoyable one to read. I would say this volume is worth picking up for anyone interested in Batman's sidekicks, and as a starting point for Batgirl in general. Robin's character has been taken up by multiple people, but Batgirl has an especially interesting arc as we move forward and this seems like a fantastically written baseline from which her character can move forward.