For years, we’ve always associated one other character with Batman, regardless of medium or storyline. We always argued as kids, who would be Batman and who would be Robin? But Robin has become more than just a character, or even a joke. Robin is now a legacy, just as major as Batman himself. Let’s talk about them, shall we?
For the sake of ease, we’re only talking about the official Robins in continuity, so no alternate Earth versions and such.
Oh Dick, the one all the rest will compare themselves to. When his acrobat parents were murdered by Tony Zucco, a mob racketeer, Dick suddenly found himself taken in by the enigmatic Bruce Wayne. In time, Bruce revealed his secret to Dick, allowing the child to become the Boy Wonder we all know and love. As Robin, Dick was a laughing daredevil, often playing the good cop to Batman’s bad cop when confronting foes, and the two had a chemistry and manner all their own. Robin kept Batman from going too far, while Batman provided Robin with such a good outlet for his feelings after his parents’ deaths that Dick wound up not growing up as dark as Bruce did. In time, Dick did leave the nest for college, and as leader of the Teen Titans, grew even more as a hero. He finally ended up giving up the role of Robin to become Nightwing, one of the premier heroes of the DC Universe. And while he may no longer be Batman’s junior partner, he will always stand by his mentor in times of need.
Poor Jason. Regardless of when you started reading him, it’s hard to actually like him. Pre-Crisis (the event that led to major reboots in backstory in DC during the 80’s), Jason was a red-headed acrobat whose parents were acrobats as well, and they were murdered by Killer Croc. After helping catch Croc during the awesome “All My Enemies Against Me” story, Dick decided to retire as Robin, and allow Jason to take up the role. Batman even went as far as to give him a black wig to look more like Dick…. yeah, that’s creepy. No one really liked Jason, mostly because he was a freaking copy of Dick with little to distinguish him as a character in his own right.
Post-Crisis, they retconned his origin so that he was a street kid who Batman caught trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Thankfully, they gave him black hair instead of doing the creepy wig thing. The decision in regard to his character was to make him more…. rough around the edges. He talked back a lot, was angry and hotheaded, and often did things that was against Batman’s instructions. I always remember the story “The Diplomat’s Son,” where Jason confronted the aforementioned character, a drug-addict who beat and raped his girlfriend and kept getting away with it because of his father’s immunity. Batman ran a long-game to prove the dad was smuggling cocaine into the country to get them deported, but the girlfriend ended up killing herself rather than go through her trauma again. Jason ran off to confront the son, and when Batman arrived, the guy was falling to his death. When questioned about what happened, Jason said, “He slipped.”
Jason was not working out, and during the storyline “Death in the Family,” after being beaten with a crowbar and then blown up by the Joker, fans were given the option to vote on his fate. And as a result, Jason Todd died, and his legacy of the risk of being a Robin became part of the Batman mythos. In time, he was resurrected by ridiculous means (I’m looking at you, Superboy-Prime), and has since become the villain/anti-hero Red Hood. And so far, I’m still pretty sure that most people hate him anyway.
Dick may be the original, and Jason may be…. Jason. But Tim possibly is the most popular person to have ever worn the Robin suit (I refuse to accept the New 52’s retcon that Tim was never a Robin). It began when Tim pieced together that Robin was Dick Grayson, and thus Batman was Bruce Wayne. Tim, whose dad was still alive and was a neighbor of Bruce’s, noticed that Batman was becoming more withdrawn and unhinged since Jason’s death, and so decided to volunteer to be the new Robin. Bruce was against it, but Tim proved himself time and again. Tim ended up getting the first real revision to the Robin suit in decades, and even added new weapons like his now-trademark bo staff to the Boy Wonder’s arsenal. He also was a comfortable middle-ground, still respectful and more funny than the Dark Knight, but also capable to standing up to him. It probably helped that Tim was as good a detective as his new mentor. During his tenure as Robin, Tim ended up forming (alongside Superboy and Impulse) the new teen super team Young Justice, eventually joined the Teen Titans, and was a staple of the Batman team in the 90’s. At one point, Tim’s dad discovered his secret, and forbade him from being Robin, but Tim returned to the role soon enough. During the event Identity Crisis, when it seemed that someone was striking at the heroes through their families, Tim’s dad was killed by Captain Boomerang. After the mega-event Infinite Crisis, and the year afterwards that Bruce took to travel with him and Dick, Tim was adopted by his mentor as his new son. In the aftermath of Bruce’s supposed death at the hands of Darkseid during Final Crisis, Tim left the role of Robin to become the new Red Robin (long story there), working as a new solo hero. His history has since been retconned, proving again why the New 52 was a bad idea for the most part.
I debated about putting her on the list. I mean, she was really not a good Robin. Stephanie was once the Spoiler, a crime-fighter who was the daughter of the wannabe Riddler known as Cluemaster. Stephanie initially started out just to ruin her dad’s schemes, but ended up falling for Tim Drake. She had a weird run as Spoiler, at one point retiring when she got pregnant, and then giving up her child to adoption since she was still a teen. When Tim was forced to quit by his dad, Stephanie (pissed because she thought Tim was cheating on her when she caught another girl trying to seduce him) made her own Robin suit and convinced Batman to begrudgingly train her as the new Robin. Sadly, she didn’t have the discipline needed, as she disobeyed his orders twice, resulting in her getting fired. She ended up trying to prove herself to Batman by starting one of his contingency plans to take control of all the organized crime in Gotham, but ended up causing a gang war that raged through Gotham. She then seemingly died at the hands of Black Mask. She did return, and became the latest person to be Batgirl, prior to the retcon of the New 52 putting Barbara Gordon back in the role.
Gee, what could go wrong with a character with THAT name? Damian is the son Bruce never knew existed, a product of one of his nights with Talia, daughter of Ra’s al-Ghul. Damian was raised in the League of Assassins, taught how fight efficiently and brutal, how to take what he wants without care. After meeting his dad, and attempting to become his new Robin, Damian didn’t quite work out, but began to see his father’s mission as more noble than naive. He didn’t really officially become a Robin until his father’s supposed death, where he filled the role to Dick’s Batman.
Here was a twist, Batman was the good cop while Robin was the bad cop. And it amazingly worked. Damian was just as capable as his father both intellectually and combat-wise, but needed the influence of someone nicer to become a better hero. When Bruce returned, he allowed Dick and Damian to remain the Batman and Robin of Gotham while he pursued his establishment of Batman Inc. to protect the world from criminals. However, after the events of Flashpoint (where the Flash ended up in an alternate reality where Bruce died as a kid and his father became Batman, and sent a message to Bruce through the Flash as reality was being set right), Bruce Wayne has since taken Damian under his wing as the new Dynamic Duo, one that has truly become a family act. Time will tell if Damian and Bruce can work as well together without the buffer of Dick Grayson.
It’s often asked why he takes on these kids as his partners, exposing them to harm and potentially fatal encounters with the worst of the world. It could be just that Batman needs someone to keep him in check from going too far, but I think it’s deeper. Bruce Wayne sees the potential in these people, potential that could go either way, good or bad, and he hopes to guide them. Ironically, the man who lost his family as a child has gained a new family, and few people have such loyalty and respect in the DC universe as Batman has from the ones he’s taken as his Robin.