9:33am PT by Graeme McMillan
We Are All Robin: The Many Boy (and Girl) Wonders Who Have Helped Out Batman
This Wednesday sees the release of We Are Robin, a new comic book series from DC Entertainment that makes explicit what has been suspected by comic book fans for some time: that the role of Robin, The Boy Wonder is one that almost anyone can assume.
The original Robin debuted in 1940's Detective Comics No. 40, created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. An innovation intended to appeal to younger readers — Robin was the first child sidekick of an adult superhero, heralding a group of underage heroes that would eventually include Kid Flash, Speedy, Aqualad and the wonderfully-named "Sandy the Golden Boy," who fought crime beside the original Sandman starting in 1941 — Robin was named for Robin Hood, with a costume of primary colors that was rumored to be inspired by the bird of the same name and had an origin story that echoed Batman's; Robin was originally Dick Grayson, another orphan whose parents were killed by criminals, but his story allowed for closure in a way that Batman's never would.
Dick Grayson's career as Robin was, by far, the most long-lived; he served continuously from 1940 through 1969, and made sporadic appearances in that guise — renamed Robin the Teen Wonder, thanks to the slow, but present, comic book aging process — until 1983, when he abandoned it to become the superhero known as Nightwing. (He would later go on to serve two stints as Batman, temporarily replacing Bruce Wayne, and now works as a super-spy under his own name in the monthly Grayson comic book.)
He was replaced by Jason Todd, arguably the most unfortunate of all of Batman's sidekicks. Originally given an origin almost identical to Grayson's ( Todd was initially another orphaned acrobat, stretching credibility impressively thin) this backstory was later revised to recast him as a troublemaker that Batman was attempting to redeem, a development that would ultimately lead to his demise at the hands of the Joker and malicious readers who voted, via a 1-800 number, to kill the character just six years after his introduction, in 1989's Batman No. 428. (Like many comic book heroes, he would later recover from death; Todd currently fights crime as a wise-cracking anti-hero in the monthly series Red Hood/Arsenal.)
After Todd's death, Batman swore off sidekicks — a decision that lasted less than a year, thanks to the introduction of Tim Drake, a character who would become the third Robin in 1989's Batman No. 442. Drake, given a far more amiable and humble personality than Todd, would prove to be a hit with readers, something that DC capitalized on by rewarding him with the first solo Robin comic book in 1990. With the exception of a short-lived period in 2004 during which he retired and was replaced by his girlfriend Stephanie Brown, Drake would remain as Robin for 20 years. (He was at one point fired by Batman and later killed, although — for reasons that are too complicated to explain here — that death would later be revealed a faked demise.) In 2009, Drake followed Dick Grayson's example and became his own man ... as the somewhat less-than-impressively-named Red Robin.
The reason for Drake's departure was the 2006 debut of Damian Wayne, an artificially-aged son of Bruce Wayne that Batman himself had not been aware of. Initially loosed upon the Dark Knight as a potential assassin trained by his terrorist mother, Damian would end up taking up the identity of Robin in 2009's Batman and Robin No. 1 following the disappearance of Bruce Wayne, with Dick Grayson stepping in temporarily as Batman. When the original Batman returned, Damian stuck around as Robin much to the disapproval of his father. With Bruce Wayne now assumed to be dead, Damian has appears in the new Robin: Son of Batman series, attempting to undo the damage he did when he was a bad guy.
In addition to all of the above, there's another famous Robin who doesn't technically fit into DC continuity in any way; Carrie Kelley, the Robin from Frank Miller's 1986 The Dark Knight Returns. Unlike earlier Robins in both gender and origin — Kelley wasn't an orphan, but merely the child of disinterested parents — Kelley was a Robin by choice, having been inspired by Batman's example to take up the role. Filled with sarcasm and enthusiasm in equal measures, she would later adopt the guise of Catgirl for the 2001 sequel mini-series The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
All of which leads to We Are Robin. Re-examining the idea of child crime fighters, the new series by Lee Bermejo, Jorge Corona, Rob Haynes and Khary Randolph sees hundreds of teens turn Robin into a group identity — if not a movement of sorts. Writer Bermejo has talked about this being an extension of the fact that Robin has been an identity claimed by so many characters before this point, as well as a new take on what it means to have kids striking back against injustice. What if Anonymous was on the streets of Gotham, trying to take make the world a better place? Well, it would help if everyone could agree on what making the world a better place meant in the first place, if nothing else…
We Are Robin is available in comic book stores and digitally.