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Robin 101: One Name, Many Heroes

Robin 101: One Name, Many Heroes

By Tim Beedle Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Throughout his storied history, the Boy (and sometimes Girl) Wonder has built up quite a legacy. With various heroes spending time in the red, green and gold and more than a few deaths and resurrections, Robin has never ceased to entertain and surprise. Now, in honor of his 75th Anniversary, we thought we'd take a look back at Robins past and present in a new reader friendly 101.

In the just released WE ARE ROBIN #1, Gotham City teenagers band together to fight crime on the streets in the name of Batman’s iconic sidekick, Robin. Intuitive, smart and resourceful, but largely untrained and completely unsanctioned by Batman, these would-be heroes succeed due to street smarts and simple strength in numbers. Rather than one Robin, there are now hundreds of them, each with his or her own unique set of skills and traits, as well as their own particular chip on their shoulder.

While a handful of these new Robins will undoubtedly come to the forefront as the series unfolds, We Are Robin envisions the Boy Wonder as a movement rather than an individual hero. It’s a wholly new take on a now 75-year-old character, but perhaps not such a surprising one when you consider how many Robins have preceded it.

If you’re new to the world of comics and largely know Batman and Robin from TV and film, this may actually be a surprise to you. Yes, there have been multiple Robins. There have been four in current DC Universe continuity alone. Can you name them?

Well, if you’re unfamiliar with our family of Robins, you’re in the right place. With We Are Robin hitting the racks today and Robin’s 75th Anniversary now in full swing, we thought the timing was perfect to look back on one of the more enduring, popular and beloved characters in all of comics and revisit some of the boys and girls who have worn the red and green. If you’re a regular reader, enjoy this journey through Robin’s legacy. If you’re brand new and don’t know your Graysons from your Todds, consider this your Robin 101.

Dick Grayson

The original and arguably most famous Robin, Dick Grayson was first introduced by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson in 1940’s DETECTIVE COMICS #38 as a way to make Batman a more accessible character to kids and grow young readership. It worked, nearly doubling the sales of Batman comics at the time.

Dick Grayson was an acrobat who along with his mother and father performed as part of Haly’s Circus under the name, “The Flying Graysons.” Sadly, both of his parents were killed during a performance when their rig was sabotaged by a gangster, “Boss” Zucco, after the circus owner refused to pay his extortion money. Bruce Wayne was in the audience to witness it, and feeling a kinship with the now orphaned Dick Grayson, took him under his wing, building on Grayson’s acrobatic skills to train him as his sidekick. Robin, the Boy Wonder was born.

Over time, Batman and Robin became almost synonymous with each other, collectively earning the moniker of the “Dynamic Duo.” Dick served as Robin for over forty years, by far the longest stint behind the mask. Throughout that time, his role within the comic world expanded. Solo adventures were produced, and eventually Dick moved from a simple sidekick to the leader of his own team—the Teen Titans.

Still, nothing last forever. As comics got darker and more sophisticated in the 1970s, Robin was used less frequently. Dick Grayson was allowed to age, attend university and eventually spread his wings. In 1984, he became Nightwing, which left the now abandoned Robin persona open for someone new.

Jason Todd

Jason Todd was the second Robin, and historically one of the most interesting ones considering everything that’s happened to him since his initial introduction in 1983.

Dick Grayson was created during the Golden Age of Comics, and his demeanor, at least at the time, was very light and innocent. Jason Todd is almost a complete contrast to this. Or rather, he is now. But what you might not know is that this wasn’t always the case.

When Jason was first introduced in BATMAN #357 (which also marked the first appearance of Killer Croc), he was shockingly similar to Dick Grayson. Like Dick, Jason was the son of circus acrobats who were tragically killed by a criminal. He was good-natured and largely obedient. In fact, the biggest change may have been his red hair, which Jason dyed dark after he became Robin.

However, all of this changed after 1985-86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, which rebooted much of DC’s continuity. In BATMAN #408, writer Max Allen Collins (The Road to Perdition) wrote a new introduction to Jason Todd. In this take, Jason was a street kid who first met Batman when he literally tried stealing the tires off of the Batmobile. Troubled, rebellious and difficult, this was a very different take on Robin and was pretty divisive among fans, something that became apparent when in 1988 they famously voted in favor of Jason’s death during the A DEATH IN THE FAMILY storyline. As a result, Jason Todd was the first and for many years only Robin to die on the job, at least until he was resurrected in 2005 as the gun-toting antihero Red Hood.

While many were critical of the death of Jason Todd at the time, it’s proven to be a seminal event in Batman’s history. The grief and guilt Bruce Wayne felt over Jason’s death drove or played into Batman storylines for many years to come. However, it wasn’t too long until another Robin emerged. We’ll get to him in a moment, but first we need to pay tribute to one of the most iconic Robins ever created, as well as the first female hero to strap on the green boots full time.

Carrie Kelley

While Carrie Kelley has never been Robin in official DC Universe continuity, she was Robin in arguably the single most popular Batman comic ever created, so of course she deserves to be mentioned here! Created by legendary writer and artist Frank Miller, Carrie Kelley made her very first appearance in BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. After being rescued by Batman, Carrie comes to greatly admire the now-aged (and Robin-less) hero. She creates her own Robin costume and ultimately returns Batman’s favor, saving him from a beatdown by the brutal Mutant Leader.

Despite no real training, Carrie proves pretty adept in the role of Robin. Fighting with little more than a slingshot, she nevertheless manages to hold her own. She’s the only Robin to not wear a mask, instead relying on a set of distinct, futuristic sunglasses to obscure her identity. Also, much like most of the other Robins, Carrie eventually graduates into a more adult role, becoming Catgirl in Miller’s follow up series, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN.

Tim Drake

Tim Drake was the third Robin within official DC Universe continuity, adopting the mantle after the death of Jason Todd. However, the transition wasn’t immediate. Tim made his debut appearance in a flashback within 1989’s BATMAN #436 where readers learned that as a very young child, he had been in the audience during the Flying Graysons’ fateful performance that ended with the death of Dick’s parents. Afterwards, he witnessed Bruce Wayne comforting the shocked and grieving Dick, something that helped him eventually piece together the identity of both Batman and Robin. When he noticed that Batman was becoming more and more unhinged after the death of Jason Todd, Tim himself approached Batman about becoming his newest Robin, a request that the Dark Knight eventually fulfilled after Tim’s mother was murdered and his father was crippled by a villain’s poison.

Boasting an updated costume and a personality that seemed to balance a bit of Jason’s edge with Dick’s devotion and dedication, Tim proved to be a popular Robin and in 1993 became the first (and until very recently only) Robin to anchor his own ongoing comic book series. While Tim became a skilled martial artist under Bruce Wayne’s tutelage, he was in many ways more of a thinking man’s Robin, using his computer skills and natural detective skills to outsmart his opponents almost as often as he defeated them at combat.

Tim retired from his duties as Robin for a stretch, and eventually graduated to the role of Red Robin. This allowed our final two Robins to step up into the role.

Stephanie Brown

The daughter of the villainous Cluemaster, Stephanie Brown is probably better known for her two other heroic identities, the Spoiler and Batgirl, than for her brief stint as Robin. In fact, of the “in universe” Robins, only Stephanie Brown was dropped as a former Robin when DC rebooted their universe in 2011 with The New 52.

Debuting in DETECTIVE COMICS #647, Stephanie Brown, unlike her predecessors, wasn’t created to be a Robin. In fact, originally her purpose was simply to foil her father’s criminal plots, leaving telltale clues for Batman and the GCPD so that they’d eventually capture him. Stephanie proved to be popular, however, leading writer Chuck Dixon to use her in his ongoing Robin series. Eventually, she began dating Tim Drake and for a short while replaced him as Robin before Batman fired her due to her lack of experience.

While this may have seemed harsh, it was probably necessary. Dick and Jason had acrobatic and combat skills and Tim was put through rigorous training, but Stephanie had none of those and often made mistakes. While this lack of finesse was part of her appeal, it proved costly when she was tortured and seemingly killed by the villain Black Mask. However, her death was later revealed to have been faked by Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

In current DC Universe continuity, Stephanie Brown recently debuted in the weekly series BATMAN ETERNAL, which ended with her once again adopting the Spoiler identity as a way of taking revenge on her criminal father.

Damian Wayne

Perhaps the most unique Robin, Damian Wayne inherited the mantle after Tim Drake graduated to Red Robin. Drawing inspiration from earlier Ra’s al Ghul storylines, writer Grant Morrison introduced Damian Wayne in BATMAN #655 as a part of the acclaimed “Batman and Son” storyline. While Dick, Jason and Tim can all be seen as figurative, and at times adopted, sons of Bruce Wayne, Damian is the only one who’s actually Bruce’s biological child.

Mothered by Talia al Ghul, genetically perfected and trained since birth to be an assassin under his grandfather, Bruce had no knowledge of Damian’s existence until Talia showed up with him and left him in Bruce’s custody.

Calling Damian something of a problem child is a lot like saying Batman prefers dressing in blacks. Spoiled, angry and shockingly violent, Damian wanted to become Batman’s newest Robin from the start, it didn’t matter there happened to be someone else in the role (Tim). However, it wasn’t until Bruce Wayne seemingly died and Dick Grayson became Batman for a brief, memorable run that Damian finally was given the costume and officially became the fifth and still technically current Robin.

With his occasionally brutal tendencies and constant internal struggle to take the heroic, non-lethal path of his father rather than the violent one demonstrated to him by Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, Damian has proven to be a volatile and exciting Boy Wonder. Continuing as Robin after the launch of The New 52, Damian made headlines when Morrison chose to kill him off at the end of his BATMAN, INCORPORATED series. However, much like with Jason, the death didn’t last and Damian returned to life in 2014’s ROBIN RISES.

Far More Than a Sidekick

Looking back at the past Robins, what’s perhaps most remarkable is how relevant all of them remain. While it’s not unusual for super heroes to go through various iterations (just look at The Flash, for one well known example), rarely do all versions continue to thrive even after they’ve moved on from their more famous identities. Yet, all of the above mentioned characters are still extremely active in DC comic books, both making regular appearances in the Batman series of books and boasting their own solo or team-up comics.

After anchoring the Nightwing ongoing for years, Dick Grayson has now entered the world of international espionage in the excellent GRAYSON. Jason Todd can be seen teaming up with Roy Harper’s Arsenal in new series RED HOOD/ARSENAL.  Tim Drake leads the monthly TEEN TITANS series and (through some clever timeline rejiggering) is also the current identity of BATMAN BEYOND. Stephanie Brown, along with her role in Batman Eternal, also was revisited in last spring’s CONVERGENCE: BATGIRL. Meanwhile, Damian Wayne just became the second Robin to land his own ongoing Robin series, the brand new ROBIN: SON OF BATMAN, which finds him atoning for his past sins by way of a rip-roaring travel adventure. And of course, there’s WE ARE ROBIN, which will likely add enough new names to the Robin legacy that we may have to write a follow-up post to this one in the not-so-far future.

What does it mean? Simply that at 75 years, the eternally youthful Boy Wonder has a lot more life left in him. Happy anniversary, Robin!