Welcome DKN fans to our newest column, Batman Breakdown. In this brand new bi-monthly column, you will be privy to a different kind of information you’d usually receive from articles here on DKN. Batman Breakdown will be looking at all different facets of the Batman mythos and how they’ve originated, changed and have been used over the Dark Knight Detective’s 75 year career complete with insight from the DKN team. Batman Breakdown is here to give you all a better understanding of the Batman’s world, everything from Harleen Quinzel to Harvey Bullock. From Kathy Kane to Jonathan Crane. From Bat-Shark Repellent to Bat-mite. In short, I’m here to help all of you become more knowledgeable bat-fans, whether you’re an old hat or a young upstart.
So who or what should be the focus of Batman Breakdown #1? Why I think it’s only appropriate to begin with someone who may seem simple and easy to understand, but in reality has a history as rich as the Caped Crusader’s own. A character who in many ways, defines many of the ideals of Batman, better than he does!
I’m talking about Robin, the Boy Wonder.
The first and probably most important thing to know about the character of Robin is that it’s a mantle that has been assumed by a few different people over the years. Depending on what comic continuity you count or don’t count there have been as many as 6 different people who have all donned the red, yellow and green suit of the Dark Knight Detective’s young ward. That’s just the comics. The movies add yet another “Robin” and have told their own versions of the character. Various Robins have seen screen time in various animated series and features as well as video games which is why, to a new comer the identity of Robin can become confusing to say the least.
We’ll get into a couple of the more obscure of Robin’s secret identities later in the article, but we’ve got to start with the original:
Time as Robin: 1940-1984 (comics) 1966-1999 (Movies and TV)
The first of the Dark Knight’s sidekicks, the original Robin first debuted in April of 1940 in Detective Comics #38 as the creation of legendarily under credited Batman co-creator, Bill Finger, and golden age forge-master Jerry Robinson. Dick Grayson was a young acrobat who became an orphan when his parents were murdered during a trapeze performance. Seeing the same pain and suffering that had affected him as a child, Bruce Wayne took Dick under his wing as his ward. Dick Grayson was an instant hit as his introduction onto the comic book scene was met with massive fan interest and skyrocketing sales. His light-hearted attitude, quick-witted comments and heart endeared him to the young comic fans of the day.
Dick Grayson’s appearance in the comic book world ignited something of a sidekick craze in the early days of comics. Because of the success of Robin, virtually every other superhero was given a kid sidekick. Sidekicks who stuck around like Roy “Speedy” Harper, Connor “Superboy” Kent, and Wally “Kid Flash” West, and many, many others who… didn’t, and instead got ret-conned, killed off or grown up in the transition to the Silver Age of comics. But Dick Grayson’s Robin was never in danger of being swept under the proverbial rug of the comic book industry. How could he? He was one of DC Comic’s most recognizable and profitable characters, surviving not only the transition to the silver age but also the creation of the Comics Code Authority! The events that caused dozens of characters to be erased from the pages of comics forever!
Dick’s presence as Robin was not only felt in the early comics his image was plastered across. No, Robin also appeared in all 15 Batman and Robin serials of the late forties where he was played by an actor named Johnny Duncan. Who you can still catch at comic-con sometimes. The serials where immensely popular as was Duncan’s performance as Robin. This of course furthered the character’s popularity, but nothing as much as the 1966 Bill Dozer/ Adam West Batman TV show.
For many people, myself included, the 1966 Batman TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward was one the first time we saw a Batman and Robin on-screen. It’s a show that’s still run today and has been parodied and spoofed a million times over, almost nothing quite as much as Burt Ward’s Robin’s “Holy…. Batman!” line. In the show Dick Grayson was portrayed as a plucky and enthusiastic young man whose major talents included quips and being captured. But in a show where Batman is almost never seen at night in possibly the cleanest version of Gotham on record, there wasn’t quite as much need to show a robin who dispensed swift, violent justice. The show ran for three years and then subsequently in syndication to this day.
After the original run of the ’66 show. The Dick Grayson of the comics started to echo Burt Ward’s portrayal of the character, as Batman comics as a whole became very campy for a few years. They changed to a darker more edgy tone in the early 70’s when comics made the shift to the “Silver Age.” As mentioned before many characters were dropped during this transition, others like The Flash or Green Lantern, were completely re-imagined. As for Dick Grayson, the dawn of the Silver age meant a change in costume and more dynamic storytelling from writers like Dennis O’neil and Neil Adams.
Dick continued his career as Robin for just over another decade, however, he was beginning to show signs of independence. DC began referring to Robin as the “Teen” Wonder, as his stories became more centred around the Teen Titans. A new superhero team made up mostly of other characters sidekicks that Dick Grayson was the leader of for many years as robin.
But that all changed in 1984 when writers George Perez and Marv Wolfman had Dick Grayson assert his independence fully and hang up his robin costume for good to become a fully adult hero in his own right. Dick took up the identity of Nightwing, a homage to both his mentor Batman, and a nod to Superman’s kyptonian heritage (Nightwing is the name of a hero from Superman’s home world of Krypton) as he had always admired both of them. Dick ended his career as robin on good terms with Bruce and continues to be a close ally to this day.
Apart from the Comics and ’66 TV show, Dick Grayson appeared in the stellar 90’s Batman The Animated Series as first Robin, and then Nightwing. He was also played by Chris O’Donnell in 1995’s Batman Forever and it’s sequel, the fan abhorred Batman and Robin. His tenure as Robin is the longest of all of the Robins and he is the only one to have actually take up the full mantle of the Batman during Bruce Wayne’s supposed death after the events of Final Crisis in 2009.
Time as Robin: 1983- 1988
Sneaky, Snarky and Street Smart, Jason Todd was, and remains, everything that Dick Grayson isn’t. Introduced to fans in 1983, Jason Todd was a street orphan who was caught by The Caped Crusader while trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile. Recognizing the innate skills in lock picking, thievery and stealth as well as the kind of toughness only the mean streets of Gotham can provide Bruce was compelled to take in the young Jason Todd. Batman did ths partially because of Jason’s skills but more importantly, to put those skills and Jason’s internal fire to good use, fighting crime, rather than perpetuating it.
As stated before Jason was a huge departure, character wise, from Dick, he was brash, angry, impulsive and at times went too far when facing down his enemies. Jason’s life was always a fight, wether it was Penguin, Scarecrow, or Batman himself. It might have been this anger and defiance that caused many fans to dislike Jason Todd as Robin many of whom sent letters to DC comics pleading for Jason to be removed, and, in an unprecedented move, DC gave the fans the opportunity to decide Jason’s fate for themselves.
In 1988 DC launched a story arc titled A Death in the Family dreamt of by Dennis O’neil. In the four issue arc Batman and Robin encounter The Joker who succeeds in capturing and kidnapping Jason Todd. On the second Issue of the series The Joker has hidden Jason in a warehouse where he proceeds to beat him mercilessly with a crowbar and then leaves him to die in an explosion, all while the Dark Knight rushes to save him, the issue ended with a choice, for the fans. A democratic system to determine Jason’s fate, call one 1-800 number to vote that Jason survive his beating, the other to vote that he didn’t. The move was widely publicized and met with huge comic sales for the issue in question (Batman #247) and was even covered on many national news outlets. But after all the votes had been tabulated DC released Batman #248 which revealed that Jason Todd had in fact died in the explosion.
The death of Jason, while wanted by the fans, shook Bruce to his core. Batman saw it as his responsibility that Jason had died, and to this day refers to Jason’s death as his biggest failure, not only as Batman, but as a man. He also continued to be haunted by all the ways he failed Jason in the Jim Lee/Geoff Leob 2003 series Batman: Hush in which Jason appears to surface again as an enemy. Ultimately it proved not to be Jason, rather the shapeshifting villain, Clayface.
Hush was not the last that fans would see of Jason, however, as he was resurrected via Lazurus Pit by Ra’s Al Ghul in the 2005 series Under The Red Hood. In this series Jason resurfaces as the violent, gun toting, murderous, anti-hero, The Red Hood, who during his re-introduction is pitted against the Dark Knight and Black Mask in a battle for Gotham’s drug trade.
Jason Todd as Robin can be seen as Dick Grayson’s replacement in Batman: The Animated Series, and still operates in the current DC universe as Red Hood, where he has a very tense and at times negative relationship with the rest of the Bat-family.
Time as Robin: 1989-2009 (Comics) 1999-2012 (Animation and Video Games)
Tim Drake was the Robin for a new generation. A Robin who above all else used his brain first. A Robin who may just be a better detective than Bruce himself.
Introduced in the wake of Jason Todd’s death, Tim was the son of two loving parents, Jack and Janet Drake, who at the age of nine deduced Batman’s true identity for himself. This prompted him to attempt to intervene in Batman’s life, who at the time was distraught and unstable because of Jason’s death. Tim attempted to convince Bruce to take him on as a sidekick, but it was only after he had first convinced both Dick (Nightwing) Grayson and Bruce’s butler Alfred Pennyworth that he was the right choice that they were all able to convince a reluctant Bruce to oblige Tim’s request.
Tim was smart, witty and calculating often coming to conclusions before Batman had figured out the answer, but his brains were not the only thing that set him apart from the robins of the past. Tim had an updated outfit (that changes much more often than the other robin’s outfits ever did) and often carried a bow staff with him into battle. Tim was also different from the previous robin because he was accepted by the fans with open arms.
Tim has battled every villain in Batman’s roster and even faced a few unique to him, as he was given his own ongoing solo Robin book, the first time the character had ever got one. Tim has enjoyed the longest run of all the Robins, aside from Dick Grayson and lead the Teen Titans as both Robin and his current super hero identity, Red Robin. Tim became Red Robin in 2011, because he felt he was old enough to pass the mantle of Robin onto someone younger, but didn’t want to cut ties to Batman as drastically as his two previous successors did. Even donning a costume not entirely different from the one he wore as Robin.
It should be noted that in the New 52 comic book continuity Tim never was Robin, instead Red Robin from the outset.
Tim Drake is also the only Robin ever to have dated another Robin, but we’ll get to that later.
Time as Robin: 2004
The only female robin in current continuity, it seems a pity that Stephanie Brown’s career as The Girl Wonder only lasted for a few months. Stephanie was bold, confident, and Tim Drake’s girlfriend. She took up the mantle of Robin during Tim’s brief absence as Robin. Tim was forbidden by his father to continue to be Robin when he discovered Tim’s secret identity, Stephanie in turn discovered Tim alone with another girl one day after school and assuming the worst angrily broke into the bat cave and demanded Bruce train her as Tim’s replacement.
Bruce reluctantly agreed to train her and for a time she patrolled the streets of Gotham with the Dark Knight, and looked to be a perfectly suitable replacement for her ex-boyfriend. However, Bruce stripped her of the Robin identity after she recklessly and carelessly disobeyed his direct orders on two critical missions. This prompted Tim Drake’s return to Batman’s side as Robin once more. But Stephanie’s relationship with Batman and Tim was not lost completely as she went on to have a brief tenure as Batgirl and The Spoiler. In current comic continuity Stephanie Brown has not surfaced yet.
Time as Robin: 2009-2013
Petulent, murderous, spiteful, socially awkward and deadly at 10 years of age. That’s Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and the fifth and latest Robin.
Introduced by legendary DC writer Grant Morrison in 2006’s Batman & Son storyline. Damian was the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul who was raised in secret by Talia and the League of Shadows to be a trained killer until Bruce was made aware of his existence by Talia handing him off to The Dark Knight to be raised by Bruce from then on. In his first appearance Damian wants so bad to aide his father’s war on crime as Robin that he fights the then Robin Tim Drake on top of the Batcave’s robotic Tyrannosaurus only to be saved from it by Tim Drake. After this encounter Damian steals Jason Todd’s old costume, wears it over his own clothing and attempts to just begin fighting crime, armed to the teeth like a little miniature Punisher. Only, of course to be stopped and reprimanded by Batman, who confines him to Wayne Manor, where he presumably lives a normal life.
However it wouldn’t be until three years later that Damian would become Robin, and strangely enough, not at the side of Bruce Wayne. As stated earlier Dick Grayson has had a brief tenure as Batman following the events of Final Crisis, and it is in the aftermath of which that Dick, the original Robin, takes up the Bat cowl and names Bruce’s son his own Robin. Their partnership while initially was a lot to swallow for fans used to a certain dynamic between the dynamic duo, Dick and Damian soon found a place in the hearts of fans with Damian’s willingness to kill and constant back talk and strange opinions playing beautifully off of Dick’s light-hearted insistence upon not doing those things.
Damian may have always suggested murder as an option, but it was clear that when he was Robin, he followed Batman’s orders not to kill, and eventually took them to heart, and embraced them as his own rules, refusing to deal out capital punishment even while carrying a sword into battle, as became his trademark. Damian’s relationship to Dick was extremely close, as the two remained close even after Dick returned to his role of Nightwing.
Damian then, is the only Robin to serve under two different Batmen, Dick and Bruce, who returned to Gotham after it was revealed that he was not dead, only displaced in time by Darksied. Damian and Bruce continued on the Batman and Robin tradition, facing down villains like the Court of Owls and the Joker. Damian and Bruce shared a unique bond in that they were biological father and son, instead of adopted like Dick and Jason, who Batman was always more mentor to than father, this is what made the events of Batman Incorporated #8 devastating for Bruce, as well as Dick, Tim, and the rest of the bat-family.
Damian was killed in action by Heretic, an adult clone of himself, unleashed upon the city by his mother Talia. Batman at the time was fighting Leviathan, an international crime syndication lead by Talia, and had called in all members of the bat-family to assist him, all except for Damian, who he’d ordered to stay in the bat cave because of how dangerous Heretic and the rest of Leviathan were. But Damian, felt differently, with the city on the brink of destruction, his father and friends in danger, Damian felt he had to come to their aide. Refusing the amnesties offered by his mother Damian continued to fight agains Heretic and his minions alongside Dick, who was with him in his final moments as he was brutally murdered by Heretic and his henchmen.
Damian left a profound affect on Batman, who went to great lengths to finally defeat leviathan, and spent the ensuing months in a rage, facing down any street thug or criminal he could get his hands on. Bruce’s grief is still unresolved as he has yet to choose a new robin, and is currently working alone. Dick Grayson, was also heavily affected by the death of Damian and spent months in despair.
Damian has not been in any TV shows or video games but is set to appear in the upcoming animated feature, Batman and Son.
Time as Robin: Four issues in 1986
1986 saw the release of one of the most influential comic books ever written, referred to by filmmaker Kevin Smith as “The Catcher and the Rye” of comic books, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was the story of an older Batman, called out of retirement by the escalating crime around him and his own personal demons. In this book, written shortly after Jason Todd’s death Miller hints that Batman retired because of Jason’s death, and has fallen out of contact with Dick Grayson completely. This leaves room, upon his return to crime fighting, for a new Robin, the first instance of a female Robin in fact to step up. Carrie Kelly is a 13 year old girl with street smarts, moxy and absentee parents, who barely notice her existence. Carrie becomes obsessed with Batman after he saves the life of her and a friend, she then dedicates her next few weeks to becoming his Robin. Training in secret Carrie makes her own Robin Costume and jumps around from roof top to roof top before following Batman to a fight with a Gang leader and then subsequently saving his life. Carrie has alway been a fan favourite as has The Dark Knight Returns but as the story is not cannon, merely an elesworlds story, she’s not really considered one of the “official” Robins, even by her biggest fans.
Detective Robin Blake
Time as Robin: 2012’s Dark Knight Rises
Here it is, the controversial one. Seen only in Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises film Joseph Gordon-Levit plays a Gotham city police detective referred to as “Officer or Detective” blake most of the time. He forms an immediate relationship to Bruce Wayne, because he, like Tim Drake, figured out is secret as a child, and confronts Bruce about it to get him to become the Batman again. His character, to me, seems to be a bit of a mix between Tim Drake, Jason Todd and Dick Grayson, borrowing elements from each. Fans are pretty divided on the decision by the filmmakers to reveal [SPOILERS] that at the end of the film, Detective Blake’s real name is simply “Robin.” Some annoyed by the fact that the name was seemingly thrown in for no reason, others, happy that Robin kind of made an appearance in the nolan-verse. I of course will leave you to draw your own conclusions, but I found that I genuinely liked the character, but would not consider him a real Robin, and I was kind of annoyed that his name was “Robin” instead of a name of an actual Robin, or even just Jon Blake, like he’s referred to once as. That’s preferable to me, because you didn’t need to make that character’s name Robin to make his character better…. but there I am ranting agian. Let me just leave your opinion of this guy up to you.
So there it is, The Robins, from beginning to end, hopefully you feel more informed and now know somethings you didn’t before. I should point out that the comics do, in fact, have even more interpretations of Robin that appear in various else-worlds and alternate timeline/dimension stories, like the Earth-2 Robin, who is Dick Grayson, only he never stops being Robin, continuing to adulthood and succeeding Batman as Robin. There’s also Earth-3 Robin, who’s called Talon and calls Owlman, (Earth-3’s Batman) father. There’s a pirate robin, a young Bruce Wayne Robin, an Alfred Pennyworth Robin, a Helena Wayne Robin and so many more, that I couldn’t possibly list. Most only seen in one story and then forgotten about.
But Robin to me is so much more than who’s wearing the mask, He’s the Boy (sometimes girl) Wonder. And he’s everything Batman would want us to be.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time on Batman Breakdown!
If you like what you read you can check out my blog here:http://mattbrisbylookingup.blogspot.ca/
Or follow me on twitter @brisbianajones