Sunday, 30 January 2011

Respect for Robin

If you are under 10, then you are already aware of what only a relative handful of your elders know: Robin can be really cool.
Kids love Robin for two reasons:
1- He is more relatable to them than Batman. They can find it easier to imagine themselves going on adventures with Batman than actually being him.
2- They aren't embarrassed about liking Robin. By the time teenagerism kicks in most people become so self-conscious that they would claim to dislike oxygen if the other kids at school thought it was lame. So how are they going to react when Robin is treated as a joke by sitcoms, magazines and the general public? Unfortunately this attitude sticks with them, probably until they have kids themselves.

Robin & me: a brief history
My first experience of Robin was Burt Ward in the 1960s Batman TV series. At three or four years old I was hooked on Batman and Robin. Every day at play group (nursery/pre school) my friend and I would play as Batman and Robin. This is one of my earliest memories - watching the show, playing the game, getting in a scuffle because some kid took the 'batmobile' from us.
I saw the Burton movies probably far too young (got turned away at the cinema for Returns, but saw it on VHS as soon as it was out).
I can still get upset when I think of how my little sister sat on and broke the leg off a Batman figure.
The Animated Series had me glued to the TV for half an hour each week. Here Robin is shown as a young college student who is smart and capable. The episode that highlights his origins was excellent (Robin's Reckoning).
I collected the Batman Returns action figures (including Tim Drake Robin!) and dipped into the Animated Series figures for the villians. My sister and I would spend hours making up stories with these figures, often with Robin as the hero, as an essential part of Batman's arsenal.
By this time I was living in the states (for a year) and would stand in the supermarkets and pharmacies reading comics (something that we never had in the UK stores) and Robin had his own comic! My prized possession book was the junior novelisation of Knightfall and the issue of TV Guide that had a Batman run down (must have been 55 year anniversary), including a whole page devoted to the three Robins (4 with Carrie Kelly).
We moved back to the UK and Batman Forever came out, again showing Robin. Even at 11 though, I knew that this version of Robin wasn't quite what I wanted, needed or expected.
Then, in 1997, came Batman & Robin. Following this farse I had a couple of years in which I didn't look for new Batman. I still watched the Burton movies, but that was it. Until 1999ish when I picked up Batman vs Predator III. Wow. This is what I'd been missing. Not a fully grown Chris O'Donnell, not a Holy-tights Burt Ward, not a child, but a competent, a strong, smart, independant teenager who was an apprentice to the Batman. This triggered my love of comics and I soon grew my collection. As I went to university and had my own income, this collection grew exponentially as I started buying the single issues each month as well as catching up on collected editions. Robin has also been featured on Teen Titans, The Batman and Young Justice TV shows and the awful video game Batman: Dark Tomorrow.

Where does the hate come from?
The problem is that for most people, my first experience of Robin is their only experience of Robin. As I grew and matured, I found other sources to feed my love of the characters, but most people have only ever seen the Adam West show and the (currently) 6 movies released since 1989 (of which Robin only featured in the worst two). Thus their view of Robin is somewhat skewed toward the camp and the buffoonish. The whole 'Robin is gay' joke that has been strung along in sitcoms like Friends, is one that has become cliche, but still damages public perception of the character. This of course stems from the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent by American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. Here he, essentially, suggests that all modern media is being created to warp children's mind and that violent and sexual themes have been hidden within the pages of comics and storybooks. He has created an idea that Batman & Robin are in a gay relationship and that Wonder Woman is a lesbian. His own pre-occupation with homosexuality in a time of repression aside, this is exactly the type of thinking that leads to claims of Marilyn Manson causing the Columbine shootings or Grand Theft Auto being responisble for car crime. Ill-informed, extremist scape-goating, yes, but damaging nonetheless.

More recently, I have been on message boards where people say that the love Batman, but hate Robin. How can you possibly hate a character that has been part of the mythos for nearly the entire publication history? Batman was first published in 1939. Robin was introduced in 1940. This is like saying you love Reggie Jeeves, but hate Bertie Wooster. You love Sherlock Holmes, but hate John Watson. To say that you find him uninteresting or irrating, fine, but hate? I think you might have only watched Burt Ward and Chris O'Donnell, little troll. Try reading some actual source material.
To use a very British comparison; to say that you hate Robin after only watching the '60s TV show or The Schumacher Batman movies is like saying you hate Miss Marple after only watching the new ITV series. You need to watch Joan Hickson or actually read some Christie to appreciate it.

Tim Drake
To my mind, Tim Drake has revolutionalised Robin. Don't get me wrong, in the 1970s and 80s Dick Grayson was doing alot of good things as Robin, but he didn't really flurish until he became Nightwing. Since 1989, when, at 13, he first revealed that he had deduced the identity of the batman, Tim Drake has grown as a character. He was never reckless like Jason, nor a dare-devil like Dick. Tim has been something else, rather than contrast Batman, Tim's Robin compliments him. He is happier to hold back and use the shadows to pick his moment, he is first and foremost a detective and we have seen that he doesn't mind getting his hands a little dirty to acheive his goals. Over the last few years, he has undergone personal tragedies that have forced him to become more serious about his chosen vocation. His evolution has taken him from a self-concious Peter Parker to a chess grandmaster crossed with Batman. Tim started out as the kid who played Dungeons and Dragons in his friend's basement and couldn't talk to a girl without going a bit funny. Now he is the teenager who struggles to maintain friendships because 110% of his time is dedicated to 'the job'. This is a character who has starred in his own ongoing series and mini-series for over 200 issues. Who has supported, not just in Batman and Detective Comics, but in Young Justice and Teen Titans as well as the whole host of Bat-books.

The Future
Now we have real opportunites in significant media to promote this 'new' style of Robin (that has been developing since the 1970s).
Arkham City and The Dark Knight Rises are coming out in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Both have rumours of a Robin inclusion. I doubt that we will see Robin feature in the main story for either of these, but as a side-line? Easily.
Could we see a turn from Robin in a co-op mulitplayer for Arkham City?
Just a glance at some of the websites devoted to videogames and you can tell thatthere is a buzz question. Will we see Robin? If there is co-op multiplayer for the Challenge Rooms, it seems obvious that Robin would be included, doesn't it?
UPDATE (21.06.2011): It has just been announced that Tim Drake's Robin and Red Robin costumes will be playable in Batman: Arkham City's Challenge Mode. He will have his own gadgets and combat moves. The first image is on the right. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Now everyone who plays Arkham City (and that'll be a lot) will know how cool Robin can be.
Could we have a visit to Haley's Circus to see the Flying Graysons as the epilogue to The Dark Knight Rises?
After all, Nolan apparently put the Joker card at the end of Batman Begins, simply as a way to raise excitement at the end of the movie and to hint that it really was just the beginning of his career as Batman. This was before he knew that he was going to make the sequel. He could very well do the same with the end of his swan song. As Bruce and Alfred settle down in the Batcave at the end of the movie the latter could hand an invitation to a charity bash at Haley's Circus starring the Flying Graysons to the former. What would get people more excited, what would symbolise the next step in the Batman's career more, than a hint at Robin?

Can we start getting some respect for Robin from the general public, will he stop being seen as a joke? I hope so, because, Goddamn, is some respect due his way.

Recommended reading:
Dick Grayson
Batman: Dark Victory, Batman: The Gauntlet, Robin: Year One

Tim Drake
Robin: A Hero Reborn, Robin: Flying Solo, Robin #116-120, Robin: Search for a Hero


  1. it's been 23 years and you're still banging on about that broken leg. move on man

  2. Sadly, Christopher Nolan appears to be one of those who has fallen prey to the Robin hatred to which you refer in your post. It's a shame, because "Dark Knight Rises" _could_ have been to "Dark Victory" what "Batman Begins" was to "Batman: Year One" and "The Dark Knight" was to "The Long Halloween", if Nolan was more open-minded about Robin.

  3. the open minded comment is unnecessary...and insulting to the man

  4. Whats so insulting about saying he should be more open minded about a character? Data's not saying he's closed minded about everything just that about robin.

    About the article I agree and I want to see robin in more media because thats the only way public opinion will change.

  5. I'm sorry : I've read your article and it's very interesting, but Robin... I can't. Ok, his Arkham City look is really cool, something between Infamous hero and Vador's apprentice, but I'm not really sure I'll like him. Nor than I'll like the future Catwoman. I'd like to thing about batman as a lonely vigilan, with his doubts and no one - except maybe Alfred - to help him find a solution. Robin always appears to me as a happy guy made to bring more of a teenage public in the world of batman. He's not really dark (as Batman can be). I don't really hate Robin (I find Nightwing really cool), but... his costum is so horrible :/ maybe with another costum, more in the way Arkham City presents it, I would like him !

  6. @Dataweaver:

    Dark Victory was great... except for the Robin arc.

    I think it's a case of people not letting go of this childish character and being seduced by simple notions of "cool" or "badass" designs, that for me, more often than not, actually ruin the narrative and generally make little to no sense.

    Also that character design for Arkham City looks AWFUL.

    The only time I can really except Robin is in The Dark Knight Returns. But that is quite a different thing all together.