Once upon a time, there was Batman: a lonely man waging a one-man war on crime. Which meant he had no one to talk to. Which made writing comic book exposition a real pain in the butt. Enter Robin! Kids loved him, sales were great, and the world came to know them as the Dynamic Duo: Batman and Robin. And Robin. And Robin. And Robin. And that other Robin. And all those other Robins over there.
Put down those binoculars and pick up a comic. We’re heading back to the very start of the dynamic duo to when they first met and find out where they roost now. And to find out more about the Robin and Batman mythology, you can head over to Omnibus where experts in the field of Robin-watching and comic books will tell you everything you need to know about the red shirt sidekick.
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After watching Dick lose his parents, Bruce Wayne saw in the young athlete a needy kid who was also a kindred spirit. He gave the boy a new home, a mission, and a kicky set of shorts, and the rest was history. At over four decades in the tights, young Mr. Grayson set the standard for all Robins to come (and probably also set some kind of record for delayed onset of puberty). Eventually he did grow up, though, at least enough to lead the Teen Titans, take on his own identity as Nightwing, invest in a much better costume, put on the cowl for a while, take it back off, and, as of this writing, have a “super spy” phase.
Spotting tips: If your back issue bin goes back past the eighties, this is your guy. Try to resist the impulse to make the obvious name joke. It’s a total dick move.
Jason Todd has the most uneven history as a Robin, starting life as a Dick Grayson knockoff and getting an almost immediate revamp as a rebellious 80s brat (his new origin involved meeting Batman for the first time while… trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile). Jason also has the unfortunate distinction of dying, famously, at the hands of a force so evil it puts even the Joker to shame: comic book fans. Seriously. There was a vote held via 900-number to determine young Robin’s fate, and Jason got the big thumbs down.
Jason stayed dead for 20-odd years, and when he came back was mostly a homicidal jerk. But he’s mellowed out a bit these days, and hey, you’d probably be a jerk too, if your own fans paid money to kill you.
Spotting tips: easily mistakable for his predecessor, unless, of course, you’re looking at Batman holding his broken body. Best bet is to just check the date; Jason wore the mask for most of the 1980s.
3. TIM DRAKE [The ‘Elementary, My Dear Batman’ Robin]
aka “Red Robin,” “No, Not the Hamburger Place, the Superhero,” “Man, Burgers Sound Delicious Right Now,” “Also, He’s the New ‘Batman Beyond’—It’s a Whole Thing”
Not wanting a repeat of poor Jason’s unpopularity, DC made sure Tim Drake was rigorously vetted and trained (and had in-character blessings from Alfred and Dick Grayson) before he took up the iconic name, and it worked. After several miniseries of his own, Tim headlined the first ongoing “Robin” comic, which lasted for an impressive 183 issues. He was a pretty impressive kid to begin with: Tim Drake began his hero career by deducing Batman’s secret identity. World’s Greatest Detective, meet your new protege.
Spotting tips: Do you know any 90s kids? This is their Robin. Not the most famous (and still waiting for his Burt Ward or Chris O’Donnell), Tim is nonetheless beloved by a generation of readers who have followed him on to his most recent adventures as Red Robin. Shoot, now I’m thinking about hamburgers again.
A longtime supporting character in Tim Drake’s solo book, Stephanie Brown (aka Spoiler) made comic book history by very briefly taking up the tights, but let’s just say… it didn’t end well. In fact, when DC rebooted its universe in 2011, Stephanie’s stint as Robin was dropped from the timeline. But before that could happen, she’d come back to life, spent a couple years as the newest Batgirl, and cemented her place in the hearts of a small but ferocious fanbase. Currently she’s back in her original alias as Spoiler, and some would argue doesn’t belong in this field guide. But retcon or no retcon, I’d like to remind you that on her (apparent) deathbed, she asked Batman, “Was I ever really Robin?” He answered, “Of course you were.” Good enough for me.
Spotting tips: The blonde one. Also, the blink-and-you-missed-it one.
Ah, deadly enemies with beautiful daughters. They’re an occupational hazard for heroes throughout history, and in Batman’s case, they come with some consequences: a feisty little 10-year-old consequences raised by their evil relatives. Surprise! The current canonical Robin is young Damian Wayne, son of Talia Al-Ghul and grandson of legendary villain Ra’s Al Ghul, who’s living up to the legacies of both sides of his family by not really understanding why he shouldn’t kill people (thanks, grandpa) and also by… not so much surviving very long. Yes, a few years into his tenure Li’l Wayne added his name to the Dead Robin roster, but don’t worry, he bounced back in record time and is back in bad-tempered but oddly lovable action as we speak.
Spotting tips: Is a little boy trying to kill you? It’s probably Damian. Frisky little scamp.
Honorable Mentions and Alternate Timelines:
Created by Frank Miller in his ground-breaking, hugely influential 1986 story “The Dark Knight Returns,” Carrie Kelley earns her way onto this list by being (a) the first female Robin and (b) really, really great. As sidekick and foil to an older, disillusioned Bruce Wayne in a world gone sour, Carrie is a bright, tenacious spot in a dark, chaotic near-future.
Spotting tips: How terrible is the world? Like, really bad, even by Gotham standards? It’s probably Carrie. Also, the red hair and dazzlingly cool 1980s sunglasses are dead giveaways.
Earth 2! Multiple versions of the DC universe are being created and destroyed on a near-constant basis, but as of the 2011 reboot, there’s a world we know as Earth 2 where Batman and Catwoman settled down and had a little girl. We know her as Huntress, but it’s eventually revealed that, like so many others in the Bat-family of the last 75 years, she put in some time in the red and green, so she makes the list.
Spotting tips: Flashback only for this one, but pretty easy to spot: the brunette. Man, it’s a lot easier with the women, isn’t it?
The very newest addition to the Robin Field Guide is a force to be reckoned with, and by that I mean an entire force. The teens of Gotham have turned the Caped Crusader’s faithful companion into their own symbol, banded together and declared, “We Are Robin.” The book is still new and much remains to be seen, but this title is introducing a novel take on an old legacy as well as adding some very welcome diversity to the ranks of Robins, so birdwatchers will want to be on the lookout for it.
Spotting tips: Are there, like, a million of them? It’s probably these guys.
That concludes today’s tutorial! Go out and see how many varieties of Robin you can spot! Or possibly don’t do that, since if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that a Robin’s natural habitat is “Somewhere Extremely Dangerous.” But as long as there’s a Gotham, it will need a Batman to watch over it, and he’ll need a Robin by his side. Here’s to the brave boys and girls who take up the mantle: may all their deaths be temporary.
Image credits: comixology.com
Feature Image Credit: www.dccomics.com