Batman's Robin: From Dick Grayson to Stephanie Brown, a look at actors who have played the Boy Wonder
Robin and Batman became nearly inseparable in the war on crime. But while Bruce Wayne has nearly always worn Batman’s cowl, there have been many different characters behind Robin’s mask.
Robin made his debut in Detective Comics No 38 on 6 March, 1940, and he and Batman became nearly inseparable in the war on crime.
While Bruce Wayne has nearly always worn Batman’s cowl, there have been many different characters behind Robin’s mask.
Here is a look at some of the men and women who have called themselves Robin.
Robin, aka the Boy Wonder, celebrated his birthday this week: He made his debut in Detective Comics No 38 on 6 March, 1940, and he and Batman became nearly inseparable in the war on crime. But while Bruce Wayne has nearly always worn Batman’s cowl, there have been many different characters behind Robin’s mask. Here is a look at some of the men and women who have called themselves Robin.
First and foremost is Dick Grayson. Like Batman, Dick lost his family to crime. His parents, circus acrobats, were casualties in a mob-protection racket. Batman (Bruce Wayne) trained Dick to help bring the culprit to justice. The two orphans were a positive influence on each other.
Over the next 40 years, Dick evolved from boy wonder to young adult. In his youth, he helped found the Teen Titans, a group of heroes who were sidekicks to the Justice League. During his time with the Titans, he realized he had outgrown his junior partner status. He became Nightwing in 1984 — and is still Nightwing today — though he has spent time in other tights.
Dick’s moonlighting gigs in other outfits include filling in for Batman and working as a spy. His espionage years leaned into his status as one of the sexiest DC Comics heroes. While he wore a device that obscured his handsome face, two admirers — Batgirl, a longtime love interest, and Midnighter, a gay superhero — were able to recognize him from his derrière.
Bruce Wayne once wore a Robin costume in his youth. He used the Robin identity to hide his own when he sought to apprentice with a famed detective named Harvey Harris. Many years later, Bruce learns he did not fool the detective, when a package and a letter arrive from Harris’ estate. “I realized that if you were aware I had learned your identity, you’d always feel insecure, so I never told you,” the letter states. “I was right, for you have become the greatest detective of all.”
Earth-Two Dick Grayson
The concept of Earth-Two allowed for parallel versions of DC’s heroes to have been active from their first appearances in the 1930s and 1940s — and for them to age accordingly. In 1971, the contemporary Robin (then in college) met his older Earth-Two counterpart, who began his career in 1940, and who first met the Justice League in 1967. The older Robin wore a Batman-Robin hybrid costume that was a bit of an eyesore, and the two sidekicks bonded over feeling underestimated by the more seasoned heroes. By the end of this story, the younger Robin had a snazzy new costume lent to him by the elder one. (Unfortunately, it was not a permanent change.) But the elder Dick died wearing the better costume in 1985 during a storyline meant to eliminate the parallel worlds.
Dick thought he found a natural successor as Robin in Jason Todd, who was introduced in 1982. Like Dick, Jason was an acrobat who lost his parents to crime and helped Batman bring in the villain responsible for their deaths. Jason first wore the costume in 1983, though he dyed his hair black to try to pass himself off as the original Robin.
In 1987, the back story of Batman and Robin and Jason was reset: After many years of fighting crime, Bruce and Dick (who at that point was nearly an adult) argued over the dangers of their line of work and dissolved their partnership. A few weeks later, Batman met Jason, reimagined as a young runaway, as he tried to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Somehow the Dark Knight decided Jason should be the next Robin. Holy Hypocrite, Batman!
This version of Jason was headstrong and abrasive and was hated by fans. In 1988, DC Comics set up a telephone poll to decide Jason’s fate. The New York Times covered these events in an article with the headline, “Holy Bomb Blast! The Real Robin Fights On!” In the poll, 5,343 people voted in favor of Jason dying in an explosion set by the Joker — 5,271 voted to keep him. Because this is comics and no one — except for Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben — stays dead forever, Jason came back in 2005. He is now the antihero known as the Red Hood, a name originally used by the Joker.
A love interest of Bruce Wayne’s wore the Robin costume in 1941 to help the heroes on a case, but Carrie Kelley made a real splash as a female Robin in 1986. She was introduced in The Dark Knight Returns, which imagines a bleak future in which an older Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to protect Gotham City. This story also planted the idea for Jason’s death in 1988. A Robin costume hangs in a memorial in the Batcave. Bruce looks at the display and thinks: “For Jason. Never. Never again.”
There was a better reception for Tim Drake, who became Robin in 1989. A young Tim was at the circus the night Dick Grayson’s parents died. Several months later, Tim saw Robin on television performing the same quadruple somersault that Dick performed at the circus along with his parents. Tim realized that Dick was Robin and began to obsessively follow the exploits of the Dynamic Duo. Following Jason’s death, Tim deduced that Batman was too reckless alone. He tried to convince Dick to return, but his critical assistance in a case made him the perfect successor. Tim now goes by the alter ego Drake.
The next Robin was Stephanie Brown. She was the daughter of a villain known as the Cluemaster and helped foil his crimes as the Spoiler (her first code name). Stephanie temporarily replaced Tim in 2004 after Tim’s father discovered his extracurricular activities and forbade him from being Robin. Her tenure was short-lived, though, after she disobeyed Batman’s orders: In an attempt to prove her worth, she initiated a gang war in Gotham City with disastrous results, including suffering seemingly fatal wounds. (Don’t worry, she got better.)
The Son of the Demon, an original graphic novel published in 1987, was supposed to be a stand-alone story that had no effect on Batman’s continuity. It concluded with Batman unaware that Talia al Ghul, the daughter of one of his enemies, is pregnant with his child. But in 2006, that child, Damian Wayne, then a preteen, made his debut and demanded the role of Robin as his birthright. Batman had his gloved hands full: Damian was trained to be an assassin and did not care for the hero’s nonlethal methods. Dick Grayson helped wear down some of his edges when he served as Batman to Damian’s Robin, during a temporary absence of Bruce Wayne.
Lastly, there is Duke Thomas, who was introduced in 2013 and, two years later, became one of the teenagers in Gotham City’s We Are Robin movement. The group members wore the colours of the traditional Robin costume and tried to help protect the city. Duke outshone the others and later assisted Batman against a new villain — Mister Bloom. Batman offered to provide Duke with further training, which he accepted, but not as yet another Robin. In 2018, he decided instead to call himself the Signal, perhaps beginning a legacy that will last for decades.
George Gene Gustines c.2020 The New York Times Company
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