Being The Boy Wonder Kinda Sucks
Before I begin thoroughly delving into just what life-changing situations are necessary in order to become the seemingly innocuous partner and side-kick of one Batman, let me just start off by saying that my youngest son is sort of uncomfortably infatuated with Robin. Not in a bizarrely queer kind of way, or a side-long questioning glance kind of way either… after all he is only seven. But he does want to be Robin when he grows up knowing full well that he is a fictional character. Kids: what the fuck, am I right?
Batman without Robin is a bit like salad without dressing: it happens, it’s a reality, it can be done, but it’s somehow just that much more bland without it. Sure, the Chris Nolan flicks and the original two Burton films portrayed Batman sans pal, as have several incarnations of the source material comics, but that being said, you can almost feel the missing piece. As side-kicks and partners go, Robin may oddly fit the mold of that less-than-platonic friend who, behind closed doors, gives Batman more than a hand… if you know what I mean. And if you’ve only really seen the Burt Ward portrayal or the Kasey Kasem-voiced Super Friends cartoon, well, I can kind of see what you mean. But, in reality (comic reality, that is), Robin has been a steadfast key figure in Batman’s time line… well, and basically bait. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Richard John Grayson was the remaining member of a family of acrobatic performers. However, much like the man he’d soon come to emulate, Dick sees his family gunned down over money allowing him to be taken under the proverbial wing of Bruce Wayne. Eventually, after adventuring with Batman, Dick inevitably grew up and sought to have a life of fighting crime out from under the cape of The Dark Knight, and so, with the assistance of Aqualad, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Speedy, successfully formed The Teen Titans, a JLA spin-off. In 1985, Dick tires of being Robin and dons quite possibly one of the gayest costumes in comic history allowing him to become Nightwing. Luckily, the outfit goes through a few changes and now looks slightly less like a Disco pedophile. Recently, since comic books are an endless series of completely arbitrary and ridiculous plot lines and unfurled plot knots, Dick (still as Nightwing, but kind of not) has taken on the mantle of Batman while Bruce Wayne is trapped somewhere in time. The newly formed Robin is Damian, Bruce’s actual son with Talia al Ghul, actually making him the fifth version. Yeah, I can’t keep up either.
What do you do when faced with the loss of a side-kick who has moved on and taken on the roll of a sexy roller skater? Well, if you’re Batman, you go trolling for little boys, of course. So, welcome aboard Jason Todd. Though at first he is seen as a fine replacement for the recently departed Nightwing, but, alas, eventually things go sour and the ever-loving comic readers of the world turn on you and begin to slowly hate your guts. Well, this wasn’t going to stand. Somehow the folks at DC needed to bring the once good graces of Robin back to their pages… hmm. Oh yeah, they voted to KILL HIM! And guess what? It was a thumbs up all the way. So in 1988, ‘A Death in the Family’ was written and inked, and in the last part of the fourth comic, Robin was beaten to death by the Joker and left in an exploding building. Wow. Oh, but don’t fret too soon, as it turns out, dead comic characters don’t always stay dead. No shit. You see, Ra’s al Ghul is actually kind of a sick prick, and with the very ‘life bath’ he uses to maintain his vitality, he took Todd’s corpse and reanimated him. Well, as apparent zombies are wont to do, Todd goes nuts and begins immediately seeking out Batman as the new and improved Red Hood (check out the new ‘Under the Red Hood’ flick for all the fun). Yay convoluted story-lines!
Jason Todd is, to some, thankfully dead. Readers were mixed as to whether or not Batman should become a lone vigilante or pick up a new boy at the local park. Fortunately, the decision was made when Tim Drake introduced himself to and subsequently impressed Dick Grayson. So with Dick (that came out wrong) and Alfred supporting Todd, they talked a still forlorn Bruce into taking on a new Robin… and the rest is history. Well, maybe it wasn’t that simple. You see, to make sure that the new Robin could handle all that was thrown at him, Batman basically hazed him frat style and had Jason run through a shit load of ridiculous hoops eventually proving himself. Ah, but then comes the whole ‘Batman is lost somewhere in time’ story arc and Tim really needed something to do since is mentor is, well, missing. So Tim takes on the new identity of Red Robin (he also makes delicious hamburgers) and separates himself from the rest of the Batman family in his search for the Caped Crusader.
Let’s say you’re the daughter of one of Batman’s third-rate villains called The Cluemaster and you obviously have no other redeeming qualities, so what do ya do? Obviously you become a costumed heroic vigilante and go around foiling your dad’s plans as The Spoiler. Yeah, that’s a stupid name. So, while tooling around the city mopping up your dad’s half-assed exploits, you often run into Batman and Robin… well, more specifically, Robin. Soon you develop a crush on him and, well, you even ask him to help you out after you discover you’ve gotten knocked up by an old boyfriend. After several on-agains and off-agains with Tim, Stephanie finally has enough. During Tim’s hiatus, Stephanie creates her own Robin costume, barges into the Batcave and demands Batman train her as the ‘New’ Robin. Bruce accepts and puts her through many of the same hoops as Jason Todd. Well, all isn’t well that ends… kinda well, and Stephanie is soon caught and tortured by Black Mask to get to Batman. She escapes, while still drugged, and is severely injured on her way to the hospital eventually dying while Batman looks on. But don’t worry. Assuming you were a Lady Robin fan, it turns out later that she didn’t die and is back as Spoiler. Too bad this meant no memorial statue for you in the Batcave since you compromised your identity. Boo!
So what have we learned from all of this? Well, aside from the fact that Batman either really feels he needs to be a father figure to troubled youths thanks in part to his own shattered childhood after his parents’ murders, or else he’s a costumed sex offender who needs to be on some kind of list and watch out for Chris Hanson. Or maybe we’ve learned that partnering with a grizzled old crime fighter with a glass-thin psyche who could, at any moment, snap is likely a bad idea. Especially since his rogues gallery has enough bat-shit crazy villains to eventually get you killed. Robin: death in a mask.