The Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin are an iconic superhero team known around the world—the stoic, justice-seeking Caped Crusader and his trusted ward. These two heroes practically invented the notion of kid sidekicks in superhero comics. Once Robin hit the scene, every other super-person had a tiny version of them tagging along on missions. Shazam went so far as to have a whole family of people with him. (Such a show off.)
When Bruce Wayne found Dick Grayson, he found a kindred spirit. He was the orphaned acrobatic wonder of the “Flying Graysons” who were murdered by crime lord Boss Zucco. Dick was a young man wrought with tragedy and plagued by the need for revenge. Bruce took the young boy in, seeing a lot of himself in the newly orphaned Grayson. He trained the young man in combat and stealth and made Grayson his protégé, and with that, the mantle of Robin was born.
A History of Vigilantism
Over eighty years of Batman fighting all the crime ever, many young men and women have taken on the red and green tights of Robin. They battled side-by-side with Batman, learning and growing under the tutelage of the World's Greatest Detective. However, at some point, every bird needs to leave the nest.
Think of it as a child living in his parent’s shadow. The child wants to prove they are ready to be on their own, so they venture off into the world to become their own person. It’s that, but with capes and batarangs.
If Batman is good at one thing (and he is good at a lot of things), it’s breeding vigilantes. It is a rite of passage when a Robin becomes more than just a sidekick. It marks their independence and helps define the hero or villain they will ultimately become. Between Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, each Boy Wonder has had drastically different post-Robin lives. The one constant thread is the influence left on them from their mentor, Batman (and each other).
From Grayson to Nightwing
Dick Grayson retires as Robin to become his own man. No longer content with a sidekick role, Grayson adopts the identity of Nightwing. Utilizing Batman’s training and philosophies, Grayson becomes a successful superhero and an ally to the Dark Knight. In fact, his post-career is so red hot, he dabbles in the world of secret agents and international espionage and even dons the cape and cowl of Batman for a spell.
Dick Grayson is the eldest son who sticks around to run the family business. Sure, he could go become anything he wants, but Dick knows he is needed at home. However, Grayson’s departure opened the door for a new bird sidekick. Enter Jason Todd.
Under the Blood Red Hood
Jason Todd had a much rockier go at being Robin. It ended in his death at the hands of the Joker...which is not great, but death seemingly can’t stop a Robin from growing up. Todd is resurrected by Ra’s al Ghul and the Lazarus Pit and emerges a changed, violent man. He becomes the Red Hood—a vigilante often willing to shoot and kill criminals in the name of justice. Of course, this puts him at odds with Batman, the guy who’s all about no murder and no guns.
Jason returned a twisted version of his former self, the lessons he learned as Robin wrung into a violent parody. His return turned him into an effective killer and a morally bankrupt antihero. Very anti-Robin qualities by anyone's standards.
Tim Drake, Dispensing Young Justice
Tim Drake is a special breed. To keep Batman effective following Jason Todd’s death, Tim applied for the Robin job. He deduced Batman’s true identity and offered his services to Bruce.
While Dick Grayson retires, and Jason Todd dies (and comes back), Tim Drake is pushed out of the Robin mantle. When Bruce disappears, Drake is forced to grow into his own man, but he follows the path of Grayson before him, becoming a more well-rounded combatant, leader and investigator. As Nightwing ascends to Batman, Tim sets out on his own and travels the world in search of the lost Bruce Wayne. He adopts the Red Robin persona in doing this, and in the process, embarks on a real journey of self-discovery. His travels allow him to hone his intellect and detective skills. His superior knowledge even spurs Ra’s al Ghul to refer to him as “Detective,” which is Ra’s nickname for Batman.
As the son of Bruce Wayne, Damian Wayne is a young man born to inherit the Batman cowl. Of course, before he can claim he is the night, he must prove himself as Robin. An assassin turned crimefighter, Damian is the one Robin with no qualms about killing out of the gate. Raised by his mother Talia, his grandfather Ra’s al Ghul, and the League of Assassins, all Damian knew from birth was the life of an assassin. When taken under the wing of his father and trained as a Robin, Damian learned the value of non-lethal combat. He can still be an arrogant little jerk at times, though.
If Damian is to one day inherit his father's cape and cave, his Robin days should help prepare him for the heavy burden of the cowl. He has no better teachers than the cabal of Robins before him—a fraternity of brothers bound by green tights, an overbearing pseudo-dad and their love of grappling hooks.
Learning at the Foot of the Master
Each of these sidekicks used their status as Robin as a stepping stone to their unique greatness. The Batcave is a place where tragedy is turned into resolve, confidence is built and legacies forged. It’s a masterclass in superheroics.
At the same time, Robin is a vital part of Batman. The sidekicks ground him and give him a legacy. Every sidekick needs to grow up, and it’s each Robin’s self-discovery that makes the Bat-Family so effective—they all know that iron sharpens iron. Batman forges Robins, and Robins become heroes.
Carl Waldron writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, and is a contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Follow him on Twitter at @mrcarlwaldron.