Hello hello again! It’s been quite a bit since my last post but moving countries and tearing back into my university degree will do that. Regarding my last post about the quasi-fascist Bat-event that was The Dark Knight Rises I think that though many of my predictions were right my analysis wasn’t entirely so! It turns out that it wasn’t the gritty dire-fest I was expecting but a lively, enjoyable romp with a satisfying conclusion. The class politics was so muddled and confused itself that it lost its ability to offend (mostly).
Dick Grayson is inseparable in the public mind from the character of Robin, even though he hasn’t gone by that name in nearly 30 years! Grayson first appeared Detective Comics #38 in 1940 and served as Batman’s side-kick and best chum right up until 1984 so it’s no coincidence that he’s earned the title as the people’s Robin, appearing in pretty much every adaptation of the character within popular media. Grayson eventually grew too old for the green pixie-boots (I think comic characters age in reverse dog-years or something), and became Nightwing. I consider Nightwing to be his teenage rebellion phase as every version of the character kinda looks like he’s trying too hard, whether it’s hang-glider collars or gaudy pony-tails.
As Robin he was shortly replaced by the much disliked Jason Todd, who readers paid money with their phone-in votes to have murdered by the Joker. This left the role to Tim Drake, cunning and able, if a little boring, as Robin.
However relatively recently Batman, that is to say, Bruce Wayne died. In the vacuum of power left in his considerable absence there was a battle for the cowl, aptly titled Battle for the Cowl, to determine who would take over the Dark Knight’s mantle but it was never in doubt that it would land to his first and finest disciple. Dick Grayson’s spell as the Batman was an absolute joy to read and in the rejuvenated Batman and Robin series writer Grant Morrison gave a whole new spin to the dynamic of the duo, with Batman as the wise-cracking adventurer and the grim and morose Damien Wayne as his side-kick. Morrison challenges the notion that Batman, the character and the entire cultural phenomenon, is about Bruce Wayne and his dead parents.
Grayson’s Batman has a lightness about him, a sense of fun but the comics also have a palpable sense of danger too. With Bruce Wayne in the suit, no matter how bad things get you always know there’s a way out, he’s like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. Whenever he swings into the action you’re 100% safer than you were and he’ll have at least five different plans (and five more back-up plans) to save the day. Like the time where his enemies drove him insane so Bruce unleashed a back-up personality, the psychotic Batman of Zur-En-Arrh from the 5th Dimension (the 5th Dimension is the imagination!) as a psychological defense mechanism in case anyone ever attacked his fragile psyche. He has a plan for everything, you guise.
Grayson doesn’t. His adventures in Gotham have real peril as he’s not as infallible and all-knowing as his master, or as fast and strong. When Grayson and Damian unravel a mystery there’s a sense of accomplishment and it’s more rewarding for the reader since the stakes are so much higher. Robin also starts to become more useful as Bruce, arguably never really needs assistance but Dick’s Batman is relieved to have Damian around when shit hits proverbial fan. As the book progresses Damian’s hard-edge softens like leather in a boot and the circus orphan and his ward, the heir of the Wayne legacy form an unlikely and certainly more dynamic duo than has been seen in years.
Then Papa Wayne came back, as was inevitable in comic-land, and the universe got another reboot because the Flash ran too hard and all-those precious issues of character development were erased. Kinda. After giving Dick the cowl and showing his progression as a superhero, allowing him to earn the title of Batman within the confines of the book and to the reader, building his relationship with Damian, earning his respect, friendship and even adoration they couldn’t just throw it all away and have him regress into-
So he’s back to being a moody teenager, basically, and has virtually nothing to do with Damian. It’s funny the book took such a moody image too, since Dick’s Batman was always commented on as smiling and wise-cracking all the time. Batman (Bruce) and Robin are now a father-and-son duo and I just don’t think the two have any chemistry and it’s a bit weird this obsessive, moody vigilante taking his 11 year old kid out on missions for some reason. Dick worked like a cool older brother or uncle and was able to steer the grim and malicious youth to the side of good and their friction was the source of good dialogue and drama. A grim Batman and grim Robin is a bit less fun.
But where else for Dick? There can’t really be two Batmen (they tried it, didn’t really take off) so what to do with this matured vigilante? In a book called Kingdom Come (1996) Mark Waid and Alex Ross gave readers a glimpse of a possible future for DC’s heroes and our Dickie ended up, in one brief panel, as the Red Robin:
Sporting a cape and cowl reminiscent of his mentor but also fellow pulp heroes like the Phantom or Dr.Midnite and a chest-piece that pays homage to his original Robin attire, Red Robin is the natural end-point of Dick’s progression. Gone is the teenage rejection and daddy-issues, embracing his heritage as Batman’s partner but also his original title and pseudonym that hasn’t fit anyone else so well. Even the name has a pulpy air to it like The Gray Ghost or the Green Hornet and would establish him as a vigilante in the mould of those 30s/40s costumed crime-fighters.
There is a problem however. DC decided to introduce Red Robin into the main continuity but already two different people have held the title including ex-Robins Jason Todd and Tim Drake, the two characters DC has no idea what to do with. Drake is currently soiling the identity by wearing wings, goggles and more unnecessary pouches and straps than a Rob Liefeld X-Man. Both these versions have tarnished the possibilities Red Robin opened up for Grayson. But there’s always hope. If DC keeps reinventing its continuity every five minutes then maybe we’ll see Grayson take back his title one day.
I propose a Robin comic series focussing on Dick and Damian as Red Robin and Robin, Dick can be called just Red in the field (or Simply Red). Using the Gotham Tower and its underground bunker as their HQ and their flying Batmobile as their getaway they would be a completely unique Gotham book (for there are too many) and they should focus on the more “out-there” colourful story arcs, following the tone set by Morrison’s original run Batman and Robin. This would free up Batman for more introverted solo missions which is where he shines. If Bruce is surrounded by a gaggle of Bat-suited nit-wits he becomes less special and slightly redundant. As a young Dick Grayson laments in an issue of Batman Inc. :“Even the dog’s wearing a mask! It makes it all dumb instead of special!”
And what to do with Tim Drake, O loose end of mine. Well, I think it’s taken as red that Tim is the superior detective of all the Robins thus far, and the most likely inheritor of the Batman title so they should start the process. After his apparent death Bruce realises that Gotham will need a Batman to replace him and knows that Dick’s interests lie elsewhere, and so begins the Batman Beyond Project. Tim should be trained to become another Batman, one with ability-enhancing armour to make up the difference between he and Bruce and he should be sent on away missions with the Teen Titans or Justice League to deal with threats that an ordinary dude in a cape could not. This, again, would free up Bruce for solo Gotham adventures and keep him from appearing in every bloody JLA title going (such as the embarrassing soap-opera Justice League International). It’s also the only way we’ll ever see the awesome Batman Beyond in-continuity and Drake and McGinnis are arguably, very similar characters.
So there we are, folks, my two cents on our much misused Dick Grayson and his natural sidekick Damian. What do you think? Am I wrong? Should I be studying?