Batman and Robin… it just kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? As much as the Boy Wonder’s presence has been debated and derided over the years — for all the “NAMBLA” jokes and references to stupid costuming (“Robin, the Boy Target”) and arguments that Batman, the ultimate lone wolf, would never become part of some “Dynamic Duo” — Robin is a staple of the Batman mythos, even more of an institution than such essential villains as The Joker, Two-Face or Catwoman.
Like all comic book characters, Robin has been transformed and adapted to suit the times he finds himself in; unlike many comic book characters, however, Robin has had more than a change of attitude. Superman has always been Clark Kent; Batman has always been Bruce Wayne (except for brief fill-ins); but Robin has been many different people at many different times, over the course of many different media.
Right now, it might be argued that Robin’s in higher demand than ever. The most recent Robin, Bruce Wayne’s son Damian, just bit the dust in Grant Morrison’s ongoing (soon to wrap up) Batman Inc. title; the monthly Batman and Robin title has therefore been left without a Robin, leading to a lot of speculation about who (Carrie Kelly? New character Harper Row?) will take up the mantle next.
Whoever it is, they inherit a proud legacy. All the different Robins have added something different; some have stood the test of time as interesting characters in their own right, while others are notable only for their historical place in Batman lore. Here, ranked according to completely scientific criteria (i.e. my worthless opinion), are the one and only Robin(s), the Boy (and Girls) Wonder:
8. Bruce Wayne
And boy did it suck.
In his original golden age/pre-crisis/Earth One origin story, Bruce Wayne, as part of his training to become a master crime fighter, wished to learn principles of deduction from master detective Harvey Harris. Rather logically, Wayne felt it would be smart for him to disguise his face and identity from Harris; rather less logically, Bruce ended up disguising himself — apropos of nothing — in the costume you see above, an outfit that was an exact match for the one Dick Grayson would later wear (!!!).
Bruce’s “stint” as Robin would be a brief one — only lasting as long as his training with Harris did — but still, it happened, and is lame on so many levels it’s almost physically painful. Having Bruce don any kind of specific costume before discovering the Batsuit arguably robs some of the potency of the inevitability of Bruce taking up the symbol of the bat; here it almost feels as though Bruce’s decision to dress as Batman has less to do with fate or even an attempt to scare criminals, and more to do with a simple fashion choice.
More importantly, Bruce’s stint as Robin steals a lot of the individuality of Dick Grayson when he finally appears on the scene. Dick’s Robin costume — the bright red, green and yellow a stark contrast to Batman’s moody gray and dark blue — was a perfect expression of that character’s ebullience and individuality, as well as paying tribute to his background as a circus performer. Now the Robin costume is (apparently) just something Bruce Wayne had sitting in the back of his closet somewhere, and conveniently pulled out and shoved at Dick Grayson when he joined Batman’s war on crime.
Even calling Bruce Wayne Robin feels like an insult, and something of a degradation, mostly because it clearly has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with gimmicky storytelling. Robin’s name originally referred to Robin Hood, the merry freedom fighter who battled injustice; later iterations of the character added a backstory for the name as Dick Grayson’s moniker at the circus, because of his skill on the trapeze (he “flew like a Robin”). But in this version, Harris simply (awkwardly) tells Bruce that he’s “as brilliant as a Robin redbreast in that outfit”, and that’s it — that’s all the significance there is. A name that used to symbolically mean something is now just a dopey nickname for a kid in a silly costume.
Bruce Wayne is probably the greatest character in the history of comics, but his stint as “Robin” was, to say the least, a boneheaded piece of writing, thankfully retconned by the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries. (Harvey Harris, for his part, would later appear in an infinitely better “early years of Batman” storyline, Mark Waid’s excellent Detective Comics annual Blood Ties, where an elder Harris teaches an early ’20s Bruce Wayne skills of deduction in the deep South.)
This article was first posted on August 1, 2013