'We Are Robin' Writer Talks About Re-Creating Batman's Sidekick by Crowdsourcing His Identity
The role of Robin, Batman's sidekick, has been filled by a number of different characters throughout the 75-plus-year history of DC Entertainment's Dynamic Duo, from the original Dick Grayson to the current literal son of Batman, Damian Wayne, with all manner of other underage crime fighters — Carrie Kelley, Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown, to name just some — in between.
With We Are Robin — the first collection of which, The Vigilante Business, is released in bookstores this week — the costumed identity becomes crowdsourced, with multiple teens throughout Gotham City taking up the mantle without permission of the Dark Knight in an attempt to keep the city safe on their own terms.
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"The idea really came about because I couldn't stand the idea of the 'teenage sidekick' and wanted to try and find a way to make it work for me," writer Lee Bermejo told The Hollywood Reporter about the origins of the title. "I hesitate to use the term 'make sense' considering these are fictional characters we're talking about, but I wanted to see if I could at least update the concept a bit so that it would work in a modern context."
The creator described We Are Robin as being "about what happens when a group of teenagers from different backgrounds take inspiration from Robin to try and make their city a better place without having the training or wealth that the classic characters have had."
He continued, "These are real teens who may not necessarily be great at what they do but the ideals become more important than what is at their fingertips. With that idealism also comes the negative, as we're seeing in the next collection. It's a coming-of-age story set in the Batman Universe."
The Vigilante Business collects the first half of the 12-issue series, and reintroduces Duke Thomas — a character who plays a role in the best-selling Batman series by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, and acts as one of the primary heroes (and leading Robins) in We Are Robin — as he discovers this new gang of teenage crime fighters and the man responsible for bringing them into the ongoing war on crime. (Spoilers: It's not Bruce Wayne.)
The series brings Lee Bermejo back to the Batman mythos. "At this point, I feel like I've actually lived in Gotham," he joked. "After doing The Joker [a graphic novel with writer Brian Azzarello] and Noel [which Bermejo both wrote and illustrated], it's a world I've come to know intimately and that also means I've zeroed in on my personal take for the characters and their environment."
Despite that familiarity, he admitted that "there is still very much that 'pinch me' moment" when he writes the famous heroes and surroundings. "It's a huge responsibility to try and leave your mark on this legacy and even more daunting to try and push somewhat against tradition," he said.
With some iconic characters, Bermejo said that he has "a vision of who they are that is more or less in line with what's being done with those characters right now, so they fit fairly seamlessly into the story" — "For example, I looked at what is being done with Batgirl right now and how easy it would be for a young female to be really inspired by her and want to be her Robin," he said — but for others, he'll admit that he's got somewhat more individual ideas.
"Some people may not agree with how I've handled Alfred but I believe the character is the biggest enabler in the DCU," he said, referring to Bruce Wayne's butler-turned-psychotherapist-and-medic. (Let's be honest: Alfred really is a pretty big enabler; he plays a role in We Are Robin that will underscore that notion even more.) "At some point I have to just push forward with the ideas I have full-bore," Bermejo said.
Not that he's pushing forward alone; We Are Robin is written by Bermejo, but illustrated by a group of artists including Khary Randolph and Jorge Corona. Bermejo said that he's "been extremely lucky" with his collaborators on the project.
"Rob Haynes is an insanely talented artist and storyteller, and having him on board for layouts has been invaluable. He has contributed quite a bit to the storytelling and I trust him implicitly," he enthused, adding, "Jorge has brought the right combination of dynamism and mood to the book. He makes it feel young and fresh without seeming 'light' and that's also absolutely necessary. These are all artists with very specific visions that are radically different from my own as an artist. That's pushed me to hopefully become a better storyteller."
With We Are Robin wrapping up its serialized run with its 12th issue next month — the second collection will be released this fall — Bermejo is returning to a dystopian future Los Angeles with a new series of his creator-owned property Suiciders from DC's Vertigo imprint, which launched last week. While the ultimate fate of Robin remains a mystery, when it comes to the future of the concept, Bermejo has some ideas.
"I don't think there is an answer to what 'Robin' is," he said. "It's mercurial, just like Batman. The idea will change and evolve with time and 10 years from now Robin will be something different. I liked the idea of trying to place some characters who didn't have the same 'rules' as the classic Robins and see how I could bend what tends to stay the same about the character through the years: Robin is a ray of light and color in an otherwise dark world."
We Are Robin Vol. 1: The Vigilante Business is available now in bookstores.
by Alex Weprin