Must there be a Robin?

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.

Robin costume re-design by Alex Ross

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?


6 thoughts on “Must there be a Robin?

  1. Jason Todd is leading the Titans? I thought he was that Red Hood Character with Speedy and slutty Starfire.

    I think there must always be a Robin, wasn’t that the whole premise of Tim Drake becoming Robin back in the day? If Batman doesn’t have a Robin he (Bruce) falls into oblivion or whatever. The new Robin, Damien, is still growing on me and I’m not sure I’ll ever be used to him. I like the dynamic of Batman’s actual son being out there and how it can make the danger seem more real – even though he obviously cared for Dick, Jason and Tim the same way.

    Anyway, thanks for the information about the other article on Kotaku, I’ll try to read it later.


    • Oh right, that’s Tim. Todd is in that other book. I kinda look the other way on both so excuse my ignorance. I’m not a huge fan of Damien as written by Morrison, but the Peter Tomasi Batman and Robin series has sold me on him.


  2. Some Robins work, others don’t…

    Dick Grayson worked… because he was the first, and had a shared childhood trauma… so Batman gets to see the trauma from the other side (as an adult looking after a kid who is going through what he went through alone) and Robin gets some help that Batman never had… so Dick Grayson grows up more well-adjusted and Bruce Wayne gets to grow a little and shed some of his own pain.

    Nightwing also works… organic and natural that Dick Grayson would want to step out on his own AND at the same time did kind of become a kinder/gentler version of Batman because he took all the good of what Batman was without the angst.

    Jason Todd might have been ok, but the schizophrenic DC universe means we kind of got two Todds… Tim Drake was written well, but the idea of the character never worked for me. Grayson had shared trauma with Wayne… Drake was a “fan” essentially. The dynamic just didn’t make sense to endanger a kid because he was a fan and who didn’t need what Grayson needed AND meanwhile Bruce had grown and didn’t need a Robin in the same way he did originally.

    But… Batman & Son (Robin) works again… because this Robin was estranged from his father and trained and given some pessimistic views… Batman finds he has a son AND actually needs to rescue that son somewhat and redeem him… meanwhile this Robin is good for Batman because they are actually related and it fills another aspect of Bruce’s life… family.

    So… in an ideal world I think we would have been better to have solo Batman… then Batman & Grayson Robin… then Nightwing and Batman solo again… then Batman has a son he didn’t know about and takes him in as the new Robin.

    I like Tim Drake, but he didn’t make sense. Jason Todd was two different characters and, honestly, didn’t work for me either way. Too bad we couldn’t have skipped the middle Robins.


  3. Not many people realize this but I was there from the START of it so………..Jason Todd was actually a Dick Grayson knockoff where Killer Croc killed his parents. NOT that he was an orphan etc. That was rewritten later. In my ideal world it would have been Jason as Hush. He would be a villain today.


    • I’m playing lots of Arkham City right now on my PS3 and really digging the DLC of Robin and Nightwing. Both are incredible, I just wish you could play as Robin or Nightwing in the campaign.


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