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The Wednesday Waffle #39: Robin's Nest

I have always had a relationship with Robin, but the interaction between all five characters to have used that title**** in Robin #5 recently reminded me just how much.

As a little kid in the seventies I watched repeats of the Adam West and Burt Ward Dynamic Duo on TV unironically and Burt Ward's Robin was my absolute hero. I never wanted be be Batman, which was a good job because my first best friend* always had to be the Caped Crusader.

All five Robins in action on the Cover of Robin #5
All five Robins in action on the Cover of Robin #5

Then I got older and I got into comics. It was the late eighties. Everything had to be dark and grim and gritty. Seventeen-year-old me found the sixties Batman show embarrassing. I'd also just started reading Batman comics in the run up to the release of the first Tim Burton Batman movie and at that time Batman was flying solo. Dick Grayson, the first Robin had moved on some years before to become Nightwing, leader of the Teen Titans and his replacement, Jason Todd had recently been murdered by The Joker.

And I was fine with that. Robin, I thought, was a faintly pointless character - as Frank Miller put it in The Dark Knight Returns he represented "reckless child endangerment". I liked the solo Batman - on his own for the first time since nineteen forty. And so I was a little bit miffed when Tim Drake pitched up in the 1989 story A Lonely Place of Dying.

The idea was that Tim Drake had, as a small child been obsessed with the circus, and with the trapeze at "The Flying Graysons" in particular. Young Tim had seen the Flying Graysons many times - he knew young Dick Grayson's signature moves, and he was there on the fateful night that Grayson's parents were murdered on the orders of mob boss Tony Zucco.

Young Tim went on to become obsessed by Batman and Robin. One night he saw some footage of the Dynamic Duo in action on the news and he recognised one of Robin's acrobatic moves as Dick Grayson's. And let's be honest - if you know that Dick Grayson is Robin, it's not a big leap to figure out that Batman must be Dick Grayson's adopted father Bruce Wayne.

So Tim Drake knew who Batman and Robin really were. And he noticed when Dick was replaced, and noted that about the same time Bruce Wayne took on a new Ward, a young orphan from the wrong side of the tracks called Jason Todd. And when he saw on the news that Jason Todd had died in a tragic accident at the same time that Batman was suddenly working alone, the now teenaged Tim Drake knew what must have happened.

And he saw that Batman had changed. Become darker. As only a teenager can, Tim thought he knew what Batman needed. He knew that Batman needed a Robin. So he pitched up at Wayne Manor and volunteered to take the job. Inspired by Dick Grayson he'd trained in gymnastics. He was very very clever (he remains, by orders of magnitude, the smartest of the Robins). He'd studied martial arts. He had made himself the perfect candidate.

And so entered the third Robin.

By the end of that first story I was convinced and Tim will forever be my Robin.

In the course of his activities as Robin, Tim eventually met Stephanie "The Spoiler" Brown. Steph was the daughter of a D list Batman villain called the Clue Master (essentially a low-rent Riddler). She learned acrobatics and martial arts alongside other useful crime fighting skills and adopted to "Spoiler" persona in order to spoil her Dad's crimes. Eventually her relationship with Tim deepened and they were a couple for a pretty long time.

After Tim briefly quit as Robin she also spent a short amount of time in the role, before a slightly longer stint as Batgirl under the watchful eye of Barbara "The Real Batgirl" Gordon**.

Finally*** there was Damian. I really hated Damian when he first appeared. The result of a brief affair between Batman and Talia al-Ghul, Damian Wayne is Bruce Wayne's only biological child. (Dick Grayson and Jason Todd are legally sons by adoption and both Tim and Stephanie are his logical children, whatever the legal niceties...) Damian was kept a secret from Bruce, and raised in the League of Assassins (which was ruled by Talia and her father Ras al-Ghul and it's too complicated to get in to here...) before, aged about nine, being sent out to kill his father.

Stuff happened.

Damian didn't kill his dad, and ended up living with him. Bruce slowly undid a lot of the indoctrination and impressed on his son that killing was not permitted. Damian calmed down but remained an arrogant, insufferable prick. Forgive the language, but he really was awful in the early days.

Then Bruce Wayne died for a bit. (Long story, but he got better...) For a while Dick Grayson took on the mantle of Batman, as he had always been intended to do, and he took on Damian as his Robin. And you know what? It was magnificent. The interplay between the two was an absolute joy - and I think that this was about the time when the idea of "the Robins" started to take shape. Yes, here was Batman and Robin, but the guy in the Batman suit had been a "Robin" and that made a difference to the dynamic.

Fast forward to now. Stephanie Brown remains part of the Bat-Family although she's broken up with Tim and has returned to her Spoiler persona and Jason Todd has returned from the dead to become the Red Hood (don't ask - I could explain how but it would make absolutely no sense).

Damian Wayne is the star of his own comic series, and in issue #5, published a couple of weeks ago, all of the other Robins turn up to stage an intervention. You see, Damian has gone off on his own and seems to have gotten into pretty deep water. Concerned he might be in over his head his siblings (because they're logical, if not biological family) Dick, Jason, Tim and Steph turn up to rescue him. Damian is more than a little irritated. He challenges them to either beat him or get lost and then proceeds to trounce all of them except Dick who lets him go because he trusts him and because "You were my Robin first..."

I cannot tell you how much I loved this issue - seeing these characters I have known for so long - let's be honest I think of them as people - interact with each other in this way - especially after another fun interaction between Tim and Dick in a recent issue of Nightwing, made me realise how much I have grown to love "The Robins".

*Roger Isaacs - he and his family moved away when I was six and I never saw or heard from him again. This was normal back then but seems incomprehensible to me now in a world where I have semi-regular conversations on social media with people I met briefly on holiday twenty years ago...

**Y'know, it's only when I come to write all of this down that I realise how complicated the Bat-Family is. And this is just Robins. Did you know that in modern continuity there have been three Bargirls, a Batwoman, a guy called Batwing and a kid called Signal who are also part of the group. For a grim and gritty loner Batman sure does have a lot of folk hanging around...

***For now, at least...

****There is also, of course Carrie Kelly, the Robin from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns but technically, although she was created more than thirty years ago she is in the future and so does not fit here.


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