There has been some rumblings in the ‘net about the role of the teenage sidekick and the specific need (or lack thereof) for Robin in the DC Universe. At the time of his creation, the child sidekick was a fashionable thing (Green Arrow had Speedy, Aquaman had Aqualad, the Flash had Kid Flash, Sandman and Sandy… even Star Spangled Kid had Stripsey!). They served as a sounding board for the hero and a reflection of the reader. This was of course long before the target audience of comic books became a much different demographic, but of all these characters, Robin remains.
So… why Robin?
There’s a very interesting article over at Kotaku that develops a sound theory behind Robin’s appeal as well as proving why he is needed.
Superhero comics get called out a lot for being adolescent male power fantasies. Its pantheon is filled with characters who deal with trauma in ways that would be unhealthy in the real world and who use might to make right. Batman’s a classic example of that argument, some would argue. Bruce Wayne could’ve moved on from the death of his parents without creating a macabre psychological construct that essentially preserves his grief for his entire life. Is Batman emotionally stunted, then? You could make a case for that.
Robin, however, punches out that logic. When Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane had Bruce Wayne take a suddenly bereaved Dick Grayson under his wing, it introduced an element of empathy and family to Batman’s evolution. After all, Batman could’ve been a hard-ass and left the tearful, traumatized boy acrobat at the circus. But the oath that Dick Grayson swears in the Batcave doesn’t get the kid on the vengeance trail. It also pulls Bruce Wayne back from a darkness that would eat him alive.
Part of what we see in the Batman/Robin relationship is the ability to create family out of incredibly dire circumstances. It also gives him something to lose. If Batman dies in the course of battling evil, he’s fulfilling the idea of a hero’s ultimate sacrifice. In a way, it’s what he supposed to do.
But if Robin dies while fighting crime, it’s more tragic. He’s younger and—by virtue of that and Batman’s caretaking—hopefully less bound to the dark obsession that drives his mentor. He’s also a brighter counterpoint to Batman’s dour demeanor. So, if evil snuffs out the Boy Wonder, there goes Batman down into that abyss of grief again.
Read the whole article here at Kotaku
As a kid growing up on cartoons and repeats of the 1966 Batman TV program, I always thought that Robin was cool. In the comics, I saw him grow into the leader of the New Teen Titans, gain a hot alien girlfriend and go against assassins, aliens and demons. He was a crafty crime fighter, an expert martial artist and had a level of courage that was evident on the fact that he was dressed in bright yellow and wore no pants.
After Dick flew the coop (as it were), he was replaced by Jason Todd, a kind of Dick Grayson copy until he was reinvented after the Crisis of 1985 into a rough around the edges punk kid. His devlish streak led him down a bad path resulting in a grisly death at the hands of the Joker (and the readers too).
Watching from the wings was Tim Drake who saw Batman’s physical and psychological decline after Jason’s death. He applied for the post of Robin and after months of training got the gig (complete with pants!). He has since earned his place as one of the more popular versions of Robin.
Yet there are still Robin haters out there, Dan DiDio included. During Infinite Crisis, he wanted to have Dick Grayson (the first Robin) killed off, citing that he served no purpose – being neither Robin nor Batman. The last issue even features Dick getting struck dead center by an energy blast yet he miraculously survives!
Soon after Infinite Crisis, the Robin monthly book starring Tim Drake was canned and now Drake runs around as Red Robin, Dick Grayson is back in his Nightwing uniform and Jason Todd is leading the Outlaws (?)… it makes no sense, especially when you take into account the fact that the DCU is currently meant to be only 5 years old. Did Bruce really burn through that many sidekicks in 5 years???
I also have to admit that the current Robin Damian Wayne is superb. Raised by the League of Assassins, he and his father are at odds with each other and must struggle to find common ground. The Batman and Robin monthly book is one of my favorite reads right now because of the complexity of their relationship.
The kid sidekick is a holdover from the Golden Age of comics, yet Robin remains an iconic hero. The Kotaku article raises some very intelligent points, but there’s no changing the mind of a fan after it has made a decision.
The question remains, must there be a Robin?