ROBIN: Who Was Meant to Wear the Red, Green & Yellow? (Part 1)
In this excerpt from the first of a two-part article, writer Vic Frederick provides an in depth exploration of Batman's sidekick Robin as presented in the forms of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, and the role each of them have played in making the Dark Knight whole.
Contrary to the common belief inherent in Batman's filmography, Robin: the Boy Wonder is nothing short of essential to the character of Batman. Since the 1940s, Robin has been latched onto his side as not only a balance of character or an appeal to a younger audience, but as a concept that completes the character of Batman and makes him what he must be when all is said and done: a human being. Without the younger, more cheerful, and more vulnerable ward at his side, Batman would become engulfed in a darkness that would consume him in a matter of time.
What many laypeople do not know is that the black and yellow cape has been worn by five separate characters (within comic continuity), making the Bat-Family much more like a real one, with older and younger siblings, awkward reunions, and even family tragedies (Stephanie Brown filled in as Robin for a very brief time, which will not be addressed in this piece). Following the model of a modern family, the Robins are all very unique, yet dependant on each other’s existence and prior experiences. Some did better than others, and some chose different paths than others. The mantle of Robin is important not only because of its role in the life of Batman, but because of the lives they live when their Boy Wonder days are over.
The Golden Big Brother
The very first Robin was Richard “Dick” Grayson. He was a young boy that came from a family of acrobats performing in Haly’s Circus. The Flying Graysons were a crowd pleaser that did spectacular stunts until the terrible day that a gangster named Tony Zucco sabotaged their act and caused the death of Dick’s Parents. Bruce Wayne happened to be in the audience that day, and being so sympathetic for the young boy’s predicament, he decided to take Dick into his home. Dick Grayson became an adopted son to Bruce and the two were very good company for each other. One day, however, Batman caught a young boy seeking vengeance for his parent’s murder and saw a situation all too familiar to him. He knew that Dick needed the same release to save him from a life of darkness and despair, so he revealed his identity to him and decided to train him as a protégé. Thus the role of Robin was invented.
This was the first time Bruce ever considered concepts such as being a father or training a partner. Dick gave Bruce a reason to keep fighting to stay alive; he needed to go home at night to take care of his son. It gave him a responsibility that taught him values such as positivity and human compassion. Dick always looked at the bright side of life, which was new for the angst-ridden Dark Knight. Also, Bruce knew he couldn’t always be so negative and ominous around this child that just lost his parents, so he learned how to be more uplifting and endearing. In many ways the creation of Robin saved Batman from a dismal future and became essential to his existence. He would someday learn, however, that all things change in time.
Dick Grayson grew older, as all young men do. He reached college age and became more of a free thinker. He cared about Bruce, but started questioning his methods from time to time. As he became his own man, he developed his own opinions of how to fight crime. He even came into his own role as leader of the teenaged superhero team-up known as The Teen Titans. Tension built between the two, which led to the inevitable split. Dick decided that he wanted to be his own man, with a new name, costume, and city to defend. So he donned an outfit that resembled the one he wore with his family in the circus and left for Blüdhaven, calling himself Nightwing. Bruce was hurt by this decision, but respected it. In time, the two became close once again, but Nightwing had outgrown the shadow under which he had been raised.
The Angry Middle Child
The once again solo Batman one day left the Batmobile parked in an alley as he did his usual work. When he returned, however, he found quite a surprise. It takes a great deal of courage, or perhaps stupidity, to attempt something as brazen as stealing the wheels from the Batmobile while Batman wasn't looking. The surprise wasn’t the deed, though. It was the fact that it was done by a child. Young Jason Todd was caught in the act and surrendered to the legendary Caped Crusader. Amused, Batman took an interest. As it turned out, Jason came from a very rough upbringing, his parents having been caught up in the world of drugs, gambling, and mobsters. Alone, Jason was a troubled youth in need of guidance. Bruce saw this as an opportunity to fill the recent void in his life. Thus the second Robin was born.
This is not the original origin of the character, but has come to be the general, accepted story elbowed into comic continuity years later. He became the second adopted son of Bruce Wayne and lived in his mansion just as Dick used to. Jason was meant to be a fresh new approach to the role of Robin, being a different person with a different personality. As he grew older, he became harsh and inconsiderate to criminals. He had a great deal of pent up anger and became somewhat of a loose cannon on the streets. Jason was unlike Dick in various ways, making his presence as Robin different and sometimes displeasing. The Batman comic book fan base disapproved of him and begged for the writers to find an excuse to get rid of him. As the old saying goes, they should’ve been “careful what they wished for.”
Jason was too brutal in his crime fighting methods, so Bruce took the time to consider what he should do about him. He felt that perhaps he was asking too much of the boy to put his anger over the loss of his parents aside, so he benched him as Robin. Bruce told Jason to take some time to grieve and get his head straight so that he could make an ultimate decision as to whether or not he thought he was suited to be the Boy Wonder any longer. In his time alone, Jason decided to do his own investigation into his mother, learning that she may in fact still be alive. Finding a potential lead on her location, he took matters into his own hands. Through a series of events, Jason traveled overseas with a woman that he believed may be his mother, but the Joker is also there. Joker apprehends Jason and does something the fans all wanted him to do: he killed Robin.
Jason was given a savage beating with a crowbar and left in a building rigged with explosives. Batman raced as fast as he could to rescue his partner, but arrived too late. He found the battered body of Jason Todd among the wreckage and mourned for his death. This was a defining moment in Batman’s life. To this day, the death of Jason Todd resonates in the Bat Family as one of Bruce Wayne’s darkest moments; one of his greatest regrets. He felt responsible for allowing this troubled child to get tangled up in a dangerous and deadly world. He felt like he failed Jason and himself, so he decided he would no longer put the lives of innocent young people on the line for the sake of his mission. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing someone that way again.
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