Arkham City Part 11: Robin

By Shamus
on Apr 6, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Batman follows the assassin and finally catches up with her on a rooftop. They get in a little scuffle where Batman surreptitiously plants a tracking device on her. Batman knows the assassin won’t kill him, and he can’t follow her home if he knocks her out, so he allows himself to be pinned.

It turns out Robin has slipped into the city. He sees this situation, reads it wrong, and swoops in to “save” Batman. This results in a little misunderstanding and character conflict that works really well for setting up tension between the two characters. Which is odd, because this is Robin’s first and last appearance in the game.

Darth Robin.

Darth Robin.

Batman hands off the “Gotham’s hospitals have maybe been poisoned by Joker’s toxin blood” plot to him. Which is a shame, since the writers forget all about this plot before the end. Robin will phone Batman up in a few hours for exposition, but this story didn’t need him for that. We already have Alfred and Oracle to deliver different types of exposition.

Basically, Robin serves no purpose in this story and this scene sets up a character dynamic it never uses. In this scene, Robin is here to bring Batman another Bat-gadget, when the story has already established that Batman has automated delivery systems for exactly this sort of job. None of the other supervillains refer to Robin. Hugo Strange never mentions him. Batman doesn’t request his help, even when he’s screwed and desperately in need of help. It’s like Robin doesn’t exist outside of this scene.

The most likely explanation I can come up with is that the writers were essentially using this scene to test and see if the audience was open to having Robin around or if they wanted to stick with stoic loner Batman. Perhaps they were wary of building the next game around an idea the audience hated and decided to field-test it first. (If that’s really the case, then I wish they’d done the same sort of testing with the stupid Bat-Tank.)

I don`t need you here Robin. I can continue to ignore Protocol Ten without your help.

I don`t need you here Robin. I can continue to ignore Protocol Ten without your help.

The other explanation is that they were doing a little worldbuilding in preparation for the sequel, which does indeed feature Robin. Although, this is an odd and perfunctory introduction to him. In Arkham Asylum, Batman dealt with a full-blown escape and never once entertained the possibility of calling for Robin. This led the audience to make the (quite reasonable) assumption that this particular Batman didn’t have a Robin yet. (Or perhaps anymore.) But now this scene makes it clear that there is a Robin, and Batman just didn’t see fit to call him. And here in Arkham City, Batman sends Robin away rather than enlisting his help.

So what we have is a version of Batman that has teamed up with Robin but never wants Robin to do anything. The subplot involving the toxin in Gotham’s blood supply could easily have been handed off to Commissioner Gordon. Indeed, that would make more sense than giving the job to Robin. What’s Robin going to do? Punch the toxins? Quip the toxins away? This is not a problem that can be solved with acrobatics and banter.

No matter how you look at it, the Robin in this universe is kind of strange. How long has he been Robin? Through cultural osmosis I’m aware that there have been many Robins. Some have died, others turned evil, and others moved on to solo careers. Which one is thisObviously it’s Tim Drake, but that’s not going to convey much to anyone that doesn’t follow the comics.? Where are we in the mythology of Batman? Is this a new Robin that Batman doesn’t yet trust, or an old Robin after they’ve had a falling out?

“But Shamus, this is actually based on the Batman & Robin from The Animated Series / The Comics / The Brave and the Bold.”

I’m sure there is some version of Batman out there that fits with this and gives us some kind of context. That’s fine. That’s great for fans. But I’m not going to watch hundreds of hours of cartoons or read hundreds of comic to understand how this particular duo works. I’m just saying that if this Robin scene is here for the worldbuilding then it’s not doing it’s job. Telling the audience to go consume other, larger works is not worldbuilding.

I’m not saying this part is bad. I’m saying I could use way more of it. Considering how massively important the Robin legacy is in Arkham Knight, it’s really frustrating that he gets so little screen time in this game. Heck, I think he gets fewer lines of dialog than sidequest punching bag Mad Hatter.

UFC Robin

Some concept art of Arkham City`s Robin. In the game, his hood is up so you can`t tell that his head is shaved.

Some concept art of Arkham City`s Robin. In the game, his hood is up so you can`t tell that his head is shaved.

I am not a huge fan of this take on Robin’s look. This Games Radar article talks about the developer’s rationale for the design. It pretty much confirms what I said above: They’re basically assuming we’re all Batman nerds who are up-to-date on the ever-changing ocean of Bat-lore.

At launch there was a forum post from the artist explaining this UFC style Robin. The forum seems to have vanishedIs it just me, or does it seem like the larger the company, the more often they move or reboot their forums? but this article has the quote:

We wanted to create a Robin that players would identify as a contemporary character and move away from the traditional ‘Boy Wonder’ image that most people know. Our vision of Robin is the one of a troubled young individual that is calm and introverted at times, but very dangerous and aggressive if provoked. The shaved head is inspired by cage fighters, because we thought that Robin might be doing that in his spare time to keep him on his toes. Still, we kept all the classic trademarks of Robin’s appearance, such as the red and yellow colors of his outfit, the cape and the mask.

– Kan Muftic

For one thing, it breaks the alleged connection with whatever existing work this game is building on. They’re clearly making their own version of Robin, but they’re not telling us about this particular version. So this game is based on existing Batman stories (but we won’t tell you which ones) except for the parts we’ve changed (we won’t tell you what we’ve changed) and is possibly set in the future of some familiar Batman (but we won’t tell you how far in the future or what happened) but… maybe not?

In the artist’s defense, I do understand the desire to redesign the character. Robin is an odd leftover from Gold and Silver Age Batman stories. The Boy Wonder was the perfect sidekick for Practical Father Figure Batman. If you’re a kid reading comics (because that was the target audience in those days) then the character you connect with – the one you aspire to be – is not Batman, but Robin.

But then over the years the audience shifted. Comic fans got older and began to connect with Batman more than Robin. Batman changed out of the blue unitard and slipped into grey and yellow spandex, which gave way to black spandex, which became black tactical armor, which eventually morphed into black power armor. The friendly do-gooder was gradually replaced by brutal, grimdark, traumatized, fanatical Batman. As Batman got darker, so did his foes. The colorful crazy antics of the old rogues gallery gave way to gritty 90’s add-ons like Batman back-breaker Bane and the serial killer Zsasz. It’s not that these new guys have a higher body count (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually lower, given that the Silver Age villains had a several decades head start) but the context and tone of their evil deeds is so much darker.

I`m not sure where this image is from, but it`s the best one to show the contrast between Boy Wonder and Dark Knight.

I`m not sure where this image is from, but it`s the best one to show the contrast between Boy Wonder and Dark Knight.

This transformation changed Batman, his foes, and the city he protected. And the longer it went on, the more this teenage boy in a red vest and green underpants with a yellow cape started to look hilariously out of place. This tonal clash is probably why writers have such a hard time with the character. Just as the writers will use any excuse they can find to build a story around Joker, they seem equally eager to write Robin out of the storyAgain, this applies less to comics and more to the movies and games..

The entire Arkham series seems to have skipped Robin. Arkham Origins took place before Robin, Arkham Asylum doesn’t mention Robin, Arkham City briefly shows a redesigned Robin, and Arkham Knight reveals that we went through multiple Robins and that several character arcs took place in the spaces between the gamesArkham Knight reveals there have been at least three Robins:
1) Jason Todd. (Killed by Joker.)
2) Tim Drake (Current.)
3) Dick Grayson. (Graduated to solo work as Nightwing.)
.

While I understand the desire to re-work Robin so he fits with the modern Gotham, I think this UFC style guy isn’t really the solution. I’m wary that he will eventually morph into Batman Jr. If the character has any value at all, it should be as a contrast and counterpoint to Captain Scowlyface. My problem is less with the shaved head and more with the idea that he’s “calm and introverted at times, but very dangerous and aggressive if provoked”. I know Batman is a popular character, but I don’t think teaming him up with another, slightly smaller Batman will make for a good story.

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Footnotes:

[1] Obviously it’s Tim Drake, but that’s not going to convey much to anyone that doesn’t follow the comics.

[2] Is it just me, or does it seem like the larger the company, the more often they move or reboot their forums?

[3] Again, this applies less to comics and more to the movies and games.

[4] Arkham Knight reveals there have been at least three Robins:
1) Jason Todd. (Killed by Joker.)
2) Tim Drake (Current.)
3) Dick Grayson. (Graduated to solo work as Nightwing.)


202020203There are now 83 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

  1. Redrock says:

    While I mostly agree with Shamus regarding the oddness of the Batman-Robin relationship portrayed in the Arkham series, I still think it’s a little bit unfair to view the storytelling in the series from an uninitiated player’s perspective. The Arkham series seems to be built primarily by die-hard Bat-fans for die-hard Bat-fans. The painstaking level of detail in the environments, where seemingly EVERYTHING, from a mug to a piece of scrap paper, has some connection to Bat-lore (which is frankly quite overwhelming) seems to indicate that this was the intention. So I think the game basically assumes that the player is at least a bit familliar with, oh, I don’t know, probably Grant Morrison era comics.

    But yeah, Rocksteady’s mix-and-match approach to Bat-lore is confusing no matter how you slice it. For example, having Nightwing, Tim Drake, Jason Todd and Talia Al’Ghul on hand one might expect Damian Wayne, who is, perplexingly, a no-show.

    Still, my point is that Rocksteady, evidently, doesn’t expect you to know which characters are present and which are absent in theire version of the Bat-universe, but they do expect you to be able to go “A-ha!” the moment a character is introduced. For example: for a comics fan the handing over of the “Joker toxin in the blood supply” storyline to Robin makes a bit more sense, since Tim Drake is known as the most intellectual Robin, who is hoping to inherit the mantle of “The world’s greatest detective” (banter and acrobatics is more Dick Grayson’s style). Unlike, say, Nightwing, Tim is more than up to the task of tracking down the toxin, working with the authorities, etc.

    So, yeah, Rocksteady is banking on the player’s pre-existing knowledge and ability to decipher Bat-lore, which is a big think to ask. But I think that recognizing their intent and target audience is kinda important here and is, perhaps, a mitigating factor.

    • Redrock says:

      I just figured out that the baseline for the state of the Batman universe in the Arkham games is most probably based on the 2002 “Hush” storyline by Jeph Loeb. This is the one where both Hush and the resurrected evil Jason Todd were introduced. Nightwing and Tim Drake are present, as well, but no Damian yet. The general tone of Batman’s relationships with Nightwing, Robin, Catwoman, etc., matches that of the Arkham games as well.

      • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

        It would over complicate things to introduce Batman’s son here. Really, until Arkham Knight there’s no reason to have anything other than a current Robin and a former Robin. Any more than that is complexity with no gain. Its the kind of complexity you’d only find in serial drama, I’m guessing.

        Also the reason why only one of the three Batgirls has shown up. Though I’d love to play as the second Batgirl.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Sure, but most of that stuff is either fanservice Easter eggs, or fleshes out the motivations and setting, like collectables in most games do. I can’t really remember anything in Asylum being overly reliant on knowledge of Bat-lore that isn’t explained or implied by the game.

      • Redrock says:

        True, Asylum was pretty much self-sufficient. I’d still argue that bios are more of a crutch and that, for example, the riddles are almost completely shout-outs to comic fans. But you are probably right in that the over-reliance on pre-existing comic book knowledge starts with Arkham City and gets worse from there.

        The situation reminds me of The Witcher games in many ways. The first two games are pretty much standalone titles. But the third one is almost a direct sequel to the book series and relies much more on the player being familiar with Ciri, Yen, and others. Sure, the game still works for those who haven’t read the books, but not nearly as well as it does for those who have. I daresay that the third game’s reliance on the work done by Andzei Sapkovski in the novels is one of the reasons why its writing is so much better than the videogame norm.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The inclusion of very detailed bios and tapes of villains that all explain the various origins of the characters in the batverse do show that the games try to appeal to the non-fans as well.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I would argue that the extra stuff, not in the main scenes of the plot, should be for the die-hard fans, not the casual / new players. Existing / loyal fans are much more likely to go through extra effort to read those types of thing. So, if the main plot conveyance doesn’t explain anything that’s necessary for the new players, then the plot is failing to convey its world, characters, or motivations.

        • Tizzy says:

          Loyal fans are more likely to do so, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wasted on anyone else. Arkham Asylum helped me learn about the Batman’s modern rogue gallery, and I enjoyed reading those bios. Without them, I only knew of the classics like Joker, Riddler, and Mr Freeze.

  2. Orillion says:

    I think part of having that scene was also setting up that Robin does exist and so his appearance in the DLC with Harley Quinn didn’t come completely out of left field.

    I also think it may have been a subtle way of showing, yo, we have more playable characters in challenge mode now.

    • John says:

      That sounds very plausible to me. I mean, if the developers already the have character models and skins ready to go for challenge mode, why wouldn’t they use them in the main game?

    • Thomas says:

      I assumed it was an advert for DLC but never bothered to look it up. Final Fantasy XV did the same thing with cul de sac story element recently and I think City kind of did the same thing with Catwoman?

    • Cubic says:

      Makes a lot of sense. I thought it was because some part of the game got cut, but DLC is far more likely.

  3. Bropocalypse says:

    Is it just me, or does it seem like the larger the company, the more often they move or reboot their forums?

    Those full-time web developers they hire gotta keep themselves looking busy SOMEHOW. Same reason Youtube gets revamped every year, I reckon.

  4. Christopher says:

    Whoever designed Arkham’s characters have a fondness for grittying shit up, in almost a Netherrealm kind of way. I think that philosophy works fine for some characters(especially monsters like Clayface, Croc or Grundy), but I’d be lying if I said Harley, Penguin, Ivy and especially Robin here are my favorite designs those characters have had.

  5. MrGuy says:

    I think this is symptomatic of my main issue with Arkham City’s story, and why I like it so much less than Asylum’s. It’s very clearly written by committee, with different people writing different parts, and no one seeming to have an overarching responsibility to fit together into a cohesive whole.

    To some degree, this is a consequence of an open world game – when the player can encounter different parts of the game in different orders, it’s more of a challenge to be cohesive. But there are a lot of seams and unforced errors. Shamus has already teased the Protocol 10 being the driving plot that gets abandoned less than an hour into the game. But there are plenty of other threads that go nowhere, and ugly seams between “we think this would be a cool thing to do here” and “this makes sense in the context of the overall story. Different people with different ideas and priorities got mashed together, and apparently nobody had the power to say “no” to things that didn’t fit (or, at least, no one did).

    Robin here is one issue – someone came up with a cool new design for Robin they wanted to use, and they wrote this scene to introduce him. But they didn’t have anywhere to go with it in this story. So they made the odd choice to keep this scene (to appease the guy who worked so hard on his Robin character) but still leave Robin out of the overall story.

    • ThePreciseClimber says:

      >

      To some degree, this is a consequence of an open world game – when the player can encounter different parts of the game in different orders, it’s more of a challenge to be cohesive.

      Not in a game like City. The main mission order is still linear. You go from mission to mission, from chapter to chapter in a linear fashion. All the open world aspect adds in those kinds of games is additional travel time, side missions and more spread-out collectibles. Side missions can be programmed to unlock after a certain point in the main story.

      Open world games can have varying levels of linearity. You can have a game like Mafia where the open world is just a backdrop for the linear campaign and you can have a pure sandbox like Minecraft.

  6. Darren says:

    As far as the lore goes, I think it’s pretty clear from the backstory that’s unlocked through the Riddler challenges that this is a unique Bat-canon that, while certainly inspired by existing material, has been tweaked to provide maximal thematic weight. Every villain seems to mirror Batman and/or Bruce Wayne in some way, the Wayne family crops up in seemingly every nod to the history of Gotham, and everyone has history with everyone else. I hope you’ll take a little time to discuss that element of the game, because it’s an interesting narrative decision to dump so much backstory onto the Riddler.

    Regarding the UFC thing, to me it actually kind of works. I recently watched the HBO documentary Tickled, and at one point in the film it describes UFC tournaments as being an important part of the young male community in despairing communities, so much so that a sinister fetish cabal is able to prey upon it across the globe. That Gotham would have something like this actually might be a very relatable idea for Batman’s target audience. And, off-topic, if you want an example of Batman villain-style evil in the real world, I highly recommend Tickled. It certainly redefined my standards for plausibility in fictional conspiracies.

    • Thomas says:

      I think the UFC bit could work, its the dangerous aggressive introvert that doesn’t.

      He could have been a young impetuous punk (CM and adjective), a McGregor snarker. That would translate Robin’s wisecracking to Arkham levels of grittiness but still leave a good foil for Batman

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        Does the storytelling matter if Robin’s belt looks stupid?

      • Sunshine says:

        “I think the UFC bit could work, its the dangerous aggressive introvert that doesn’t.”

        The UFC comment by Darren just adds to my wondering if this Robin is meant to appeal to the presumed target audience of young males, with the studio thinking that “I am calm and thoughtful but will wreck you if you cross me” is how they’d like to see themselves. Which would bring Robin back round to being an audience-projection character.

  7. Vermander says:

    It’s funny, but as a kid I never wanted to be Robin, only Batman. The same was true of all my friends. If we were playing Batman one of us would be Batman, and the other would be the villain. No one wanted to be stuck as the “kid sidekick.” Pretty much all of my childhood heroes were adults (Batman, Indiana Jones, Optimus Prime). For a kid it was more fun to imagine yourself as the tough, brave, hero who always beat the villains and saved the day without answering to any grownups, not the “kid” who had a lot to learn and needed help or permission to kick butt.

    I don’t think kid sidekicks appeal to actual kids, I think they’re there to either humanize the hero, or in most cases to signify that the show/movie/game is “safe” for kids to watch.

    • Shamus says:

      MovieBob once suggested (it sounded like an idea he picked up elsewhere) that Robin was specifically created to appeal to young boys in the 1940s. Their fathers were off fighting a war and weren’t around, so the Batman & Robin dynamic was there to allow kids the escapism of running off to fight evil with “Dad”.

      I have no idea if that was actually the thinking behind the character, but according to Wikipedia his addition managed to double sales:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_(comics)

      It’s not surprising that us kids growing up in a different time period didn’t really resonate with the character in the same way.

      • Vermander says:

        Good point, I was lucky enough to have a dad who was present and involved in my life, so I never fantasized about having a surrogate father figure or “protector” of some sort. My life as a kid was “boring” enough that stability and security weren’t things I dreamed about, instead I wanted excitement, adventure, and escape from boredom.

        I can totally understand how a kid with a less stable home life might crave different things in their fiction.

        The funny thing is, Batman always seems like kind of a crappy dad. He obviously doesn’t have the time or the desire to raise a kid, and I’m not just talking about the Lego version here. Alfred’s usually the one who ends up doing all the real parenting, just like he did for Bruce.

        Batman’s willing to take on all these youthful protégés, who he exposes to terrible danger. Yet so many stories seem to depict him as being, harsh, overly-critical, and unwilling to trust his sidekicks to the point that he either drives them away or gets them killed.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        The thing is, Robin was definitely created to appeal to young boys, but that wasn’t the reason the book doubled sales. The overall tone of the book changed with Robin’s introduction. Call it the comic book version of achieving a PG-13 rating, which brings the largest audiences.

        Granted, that thing about the war might have played a role, but things would have surely been completely different had Batman retained his dark demeanor, extremely violent ways and still carried a gun while Robin was around.

        • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

          Pretty much everything in the Golden Age following the very earliest characters is designed to be kid targeted. Not just the kid sidekicks.

          Like Captain Marvel. Rather than another Superman, we have a kid who can basically turn into Superman (and for that reason, outsold Superman at both their heights).

          Even Siegel rushed to get out stories about Superboy even though it clashed with the initially presented origin (which suggested his career started in adulthood). In fact, its for this reason that Superboy has become a complicated subject, because they shot down Siegel at the time but started using the idea later after Siegel had left DC. Last I heard, they can use Superboy, the teenage clone of Superman but Siegel owns the idea of Superman as a boy.

        • Alexander The 1st says:

          I guess one thing regarding saying that Robin being invented to market to kids, you could hypothetically say that The Last of Us had Ellie to market Naughty Dog’s games to.

          That wouldn’t really help, considering the game is rated M.

          Whereas you’re more likely to hear anecdotes on kids wanting to play CoD and GTA – games that don’t make a big deal to have younger leads.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            That wouldn’t really help, considering the game is rated M.

            Maybe,maybe not.Remember how in the 80s and 90s they made terminator and predator toys because those movies were popular kids?The Cinema Snob constantly keeps talking about the M rated movies that he watched when he was a kid.So its not that far fetched.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I forgot who said this,but it pretty much describes my feelings about all of the kid characters:
        “When I was a kid,I never identified with robin.I wasnt particularly athletic,and I sure was not able to do all the acrobatics that he could.But I did want to become batman when I grow up.Thats why I always preferred to read about batman,not robin.”

      • Boobah says:

        The thing is, if Robin’s introduction led to a doubling in sales, it doesn’t mesh with dads who are off to war. Robin was introduced in April 1940 and the US didn’t enter the war for another twenty months, although admittedly the (at the time rather limited) draft began only five months later in September.

        Either way, the facts don’t seem to fit the hypothesis.

    • John says:

      I think kid sidekicks can appeal to kid readers or viewers. I wasn’t particularly into superheroes as a kid, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I can easily imagine that a depiction of, say, a 10-year-old boy outwitting and incapacitating thugs twice his age and size might well resonate with an audience of a similar age. Whether it does (or did) or not, I don’t know. That’s an empirical question and I lack the data with which to answer it.

      That said, I think that sidekicks (kid or otherwise) also serve a valuable purpose in that they give the hero someone to talk to. Holmes has Watson and Poirot has Captain Hastings. Why shouldn’t Batman have Robin?

      • Christopher says:

        Just to weigh in on this, I thought Robin was so uncool when I was a kid. I was into Sonic, Mario, Turtles, Pokémon, Spider-Man, Street Fighter, Animorphs, that whole deal. Robin was like the least attractive option in the world. Why would you wanna be the sidekick of the hero instead of the hero, or the villain?

        But I was always a big Mr. Freeze fan just because I got a toy of him.

      • Bropocalypse says:

        The problem is that ‘nobody'(quoted because there’s always that person who takes generalizations too literally) wants to be the Number 2. It doesn’t matter what the main character looks like, everyone wants to be in charge of their own story, to be the prime motivator. In fact kids probably WANT to fantasize being a grown-up because grown-ups run their lives. They have first-hand experience at what being a kid is like, and it’s all about when you’re allowed to do what thing. This isn’t necessarily untrue when you actually DO grow up, but kids don’t perceive that restriction as something that applies to adults.
        Did Star Wars not appeal to kids because there were no kids? No. Kids love(d) Star Wars. I had a toy X-Wing when I was like 8 years old. Back in the mid 20th century kids were all about things like the Lone Ranger and Flash Gordon. In the 80s kids didn’t want toys of the token minors in Transformers and GI Joe.
        At best having a kid as a character is a minor factor, at least that’s how I read it.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          That just means modern works have to recontextualize the role of teen sidekicks so they’re not just second banana. The Young Justice show is all about the teen sidekicks and how they try to be heroes even while the adult superheroes attempt to coddle them and keep them out of danger, and that’s coming from a long line of teen superhero team comic books that hit big every 5 years or so (Runaways, Gen13, Teen Titans, etc.).

          Obviously there must be a lot of kids and teens who do want stories about kids and teens, because some of the most popular franchises of the 21st century have been about kids and teens: Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Power Rangers, Pokemon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. And the teen dramas of Spider-Man and X-Men are older still. But they’re the protagonists of their stories, not side players in adult stories. You can even work in the adults the way Young Justice, Harry Potter, and Avatar do: the adults have fought or been fighting the same enemies, and now it’s time for the next generation to step up.

          • Vermander says:

            Regarding the “Next Generation” thing, that was always been part of the problem with Robin for me. He never seemed like he was destined to eventually replace or surpass Batman. He’s always going to be living in the shadow of his mentor. That fact that there’s been more than one Robin makes it even worse, since he’s apparently replaceable.

            Even Batman Beyond didn’t have any of the established sidekicks inherit the mantle.

          • Bropocalypse says:

            That’s the point I was getting at, but yes. If there are proactive adults present, kids will attach to the adult rather than the second-banana minor.

    • Henson says:

      I must be one of those weirdos who actually liked Robin. He was a snarkier, more cheerful crimefighter, but still very capable and more of a part-time partner than a traditional ‘sidekick’ (I’m working almost exclusively from Animated Series Robin here). He struck me as less of a ‘kid’ and more of a ‘not quite adult’.

    • Neil D says:

      I don’t know, I was always more partial to the sidekicks. And not, as suggested above, for lack of a father figure, though I’m sure if you dig deep enough you’ll find some psychological reason for it. I never really saw them as ‘lesser’ than the mentors, but I was more focused on the idea that they could stand side-by-side with them. And really, I still find Batman less interesting than Dick Grayson who is (when written properly) just as capable while still being a more well-rounded and human character.

      Sure, I think when playing in the schoolyard I probably would rather have been Batman than Robin, but only because I didn’t want to be bossed around by my friends. If Batman himself had shown up, I’d have signed on as Robin in a heartbeat, green shorts and all.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      However, in wanting to be like Batman the reader was actually like Robin.

  8. John says:

    A Brief, Non-Expert History of Robin (by John)

    In the beginning, there was Dick Grayson and he was Robin. Even though he usually goes by Nightwing these days[1], he is still Robin in the sense that when most people–particularly those who don’t follow comics–think of Robin they are thinking of him. The reason that Dick Grayson is no longer (officially) Robin is that DC eventually realized that the pants-less version of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood costume that looked okay on a kid in the 1950s looked kind of disturbing on a grown man in the 1980s.[2]

    Next came Jason Todd. Jason Todd was originally Dick Grayson, Part II.[3] But that was stupid, so they changed him to a street kid who tried to steal the tires from the Batmobile. For a long time, Jason Todd was known almost exclusively for being murdered by the Joker. Then he got resurrected. He calls himself the Red Hood these days.[4] He was a villain for a while but now he’s just kind of obnoxious.

    After Jason Todd came Tim Drake. Tim Drake was a lonely but intelligent Robin fanboy who deduced the secret identities of Batman and Nightwing, at which point they figured that he might as well be Robin.[5] Tim was perky and earnest and his parents were alive. A few decades later, Tim’s parents are dead, his stepmother is dead, and Tim is no longer perky or earnest. Tim goes by Red Robin these days.

    Stephanie Brown was also Robin for a while during the Tim Drake era. Stephanie was the daughter of a minor-league super-villain[6] and sometimes Tim’s girlfriend. Batman made her Robin while Tim was temporarily unavailable. Then she got tortured to death by a gangster. Batman later learned that her supposed death was in fact a horrible practical joke perpetrated by his doctor, who wanted him to feel bad for putting kids in danger. Stephanie was later Batgirl for a while. After the recent semi-reboot, I’m not sure if she still exists.

    Finally, there is Damian Wayne, Bruce’s son with Talia (and thus the grandson of Ra’s). Damian was raised by the League of Assassins until he ran off to Gotham to assume what he viewed as his rightful place at Bruce’s side. Damian is obnoxious, arrogant, and violent. He was appointed Robin by Dick Grayson[7], who was Batman at the time. Damian has been Robin ever since, except for the time when he was dead.

    Oh, I almost forgot, there was also an entire series about a bunch of kids with no formal affiliation with Batman who decided to call themselves Robin and fight crime. I think one or two of them are still around.

    —–

    [1] Sometimes he is Batman or Agent 37 instead.
    [2] So they replaced that outfit with one that had a huge disco collar and plunging neckline.
    [3] Boy acrobat, murdered parents.
    [4] Even though he wears a helmet rather than a hood.
    [5] Jason Todd being dead at the time. Or, post-retcon, being believed to be dead.
    [6] Cluemaster. Like the Riddler, except that no one’s ever heard of him.
    [7] Tim Drake is still bitter.

    • Vermander says:

      Carrie Kelley, the Robin from The Dark Knight returns is probably worth mentioning too. She was technically the first female Robin. She’s obviously an “Elseworlds” character, who isn’t a Robin in the main canon, but she was influential enough that she’s occasionally popped up in other continuities and some of her traits were shifted to other Batman sidekicks.

      • Viktor says:

        Don’t bring in elseworlds. Then we’d have to deal with Huntress-Robin from the nu52 and all of that bull and it’s just not worth it.

        I haven’t been following what’s going on, but isn’t the current Robin some kid named Duke?

        Also, Stephanie’s recap of the pre-52 bathistory is great, and will be linked in my next comment once the spam filter releases it.

        • John says:

          I believe that Duke is one of the “bunch of kids” I mentioned. He does Robin-like stuff–I think–but isn’t actually called Robin–maybe. I don’t know for sure because the last Bat-book I read was Grayson and I have no idea what’s going on these days.

        • Jeff says:

          I don’t really follow the comics, but my understanding that Duke was/is one of the Robins, a vigilante kid group that sprung up. This is while Gordon is being Mecha-Batman because Batman was… dead? I dunno, he comes back later though.

          Eventually the real Robins help train the group, but then one of the real Robins decides the kids shouldn’t be doing that sorta thing, and so sets them all up to be captured by the police. The exception is Duke, because he actually had potential or something.

      • Matt Downie says:

        An interesting thing about Carrie Kelly is that she’s a new character, she’s in a story that’s the epitome of Grimdark Batman, and she still chooses to dress in opposite-of-stealthy bright red and yellow, like 1940’s Robin. Somehow it isn’t a problem.

    • Viktor says:

      Stephanie Brown’s in-universe bathistory, good from 1940-2011, in 4 images.
      Part 1
      Part 2
      Part 3
      Part 4

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Stephanie Brown is indeed back in recent Batgirl comics, operating as her Spoiler persona.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      There are only two canonical Batmen and two canonical Robins:

      1) Lego Batman and Lego Robin from the Lego Batman Games. (a.k.a. Responsible Batman and Competent Cool-headed Robin.)

      2) Lego Batman and Lego Robin from the Lego Movies. (a.k.a. Irresponsible Batman and Enthusiastic Fanboy Robin)

      Canonically, LB1 and LR1 are almost the same characters as the Arkham Asylum characters, because AA Batman and LB1 are heavily based on Animated Series Batman. (Canonically they are different characters but all share the same voice actors and have only minor differences in universe lore. See also Mark Hamill voicing LB1’s Joker.) Simultaneously they also exist in the same physical universe as LB2 and LR2 according to Lego Dimensions. And they are also both named Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.

      Best of all, according to Mr. Myxzptlk in the recent comic story-line Superman Reborn, this really is all as officially canon as the original comics, because there is only one Mr. Myxzptlk and he’s been to the Lego Multiverse and the Animated Universe. So, among other things, Sauron (or at least Lego Sauron) being trapped in Will Farrel’s attic is official DC Comics Universe canon.

      I hope this is a helpful addition to the discussion of official DC Universe Lore.

  9. Charnel Mouse says:

    Is Red Hood the guy Joker’s pretending to be during the flashbacks in Killing Joke, or is that someone else?

    • Charnel Mouse says:

      Er, this should have been in reply to John.

      • John says:

        Yes, I think so. As I indicated, however, I am not an expert. At any rate, Jason Todd–or maybe the writers–picked the name Red Hood because of its association with the Joker. Jason came back from the dead kind of bonkers and murderous.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      So the original version of Red Hood was that it was a gang that went around robbing different places being led by a man with the Red Hood, a cape, gloves, and lots of other fanciful touches. In actuality, the Red Hood was the least valuable member of the team of crooks, the design of the costume having been chosen to give their group some flair and a rep. However, the Red Hood guy was completely expendable, and would be the first to be left behind if they ran into trouble. One potential Joker backstory is that he played this patsy role in a robbery of the Ace Chemical Factory and then fell into the vat of chemicals when Batman attacked.

      When Jason Todd decided to be noticed on the streets again (post resurrection and recovery), he wanted to do so in disguise and decided to make the disguise an homage to the Joker because his whole motivation was to get a rep, get Batman’s attention, then kill Joker in front of Batman, to prove that Batman’s whole way of doing things was wrong. It didn’t turn out that way but he kept the name/costume because he had the rep already, so why not?

      Final note, an updated possible Joker backstory variant (from Zero Year) had it that the Red Hood gang was actually a POWERFUL force in Gotham that had the whole city in thrall. Basically, they got blackmail on people, then sent them red hoods and ordered them to help with a crime to avoid the blackmail coming out. If the offer was refused, other red hoods killed the person who didn’t give in to the blackmail. In this version, Batman’s first case was facing down this gang, especially their leader. Their leader is basically Heath Ledger’s Joker + Tom Hardy’s Bane in one package. He’s a ruthless schemer and trickster who liked attention grabbing schemes, but was also too ruthlessly intelligent to be outplayed. It is HEAVILY implied that this is the Joker and he is already insane. He leaps into the chemicals on purpose and then is implied to have shifted his personality to the classic Joker style (Grant Morrison suggested that Joker sheds personality traits like a snake sheds skin, to keep adapting to be the perfect version of whatever he is).

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To me,that describes roy harper more than any of the robins.And hey,thats exactly how they portrayed roy in arrow tv show,with a rather similar look.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I`m not sure where this image is from, but it`s the best one to show the contrast between Boy Wonder and Dark Knight.

    Arent those crazy steve and dick grayson,age 12 from asbar?

    • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

      Good eye. I was going to correct you at first because this is obviously the work of Frank Quitely and ASBAR was drawn by Jim Lee (there’s no mistaking the two).

      But it turns out Quitely drew one of the covers of issue ten which is what the above image is.

  12. ehlijen says:

    “Still, we kept all the classic trademarks of Robin’s appearance, such as the red and yellow colors of his outfit, the cape and the mask.”

    No, they didn’t?

    I don’t see any red in his design. What they used is called brown. The yellow is closer to the mark, but still more accurately described as sand colour.

    • Viktor says:

      “We gave him Jason Todd’s personality, Damian’s costume, then we turned him white and called him Tim Drake while the narrative treats him like Stephanie Brown. This guarantees we will piss off fans of all the Robins equally while also being an impenetrable mess to any non-comic fans who try to find out more about him.”

      • Volvagia says:

        See also: Nolan’s own, even worse, Franken-Robin abomination the following year.

        • Viktor says:

          What? Neither of Nolan’s two movies mentioned Robin at all.

          In all seriousness, It’s an ongoing problem. They either make Tim and call him Dick Grayson or they make some grimdark bs and call him Tim so they can have Red Hood show up later. It’s lazy. If you want a new Robin just make one, don’t just slap an existing name on your OC and call it canon.

      • ehlijen says:

        I don’t really care if they make him grimdark or not. But if they call that ‘red’, then they are really putting into question their skills as artists. Either that or the marketing department thinks I’m colourblind.

        You want to make a grimdark Robin? Do it. But don’t lie about it. Don’t call brown ‘red’. I can clearly see it’s brown.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        “Turned him white”? The first non-white Robin was Damian and he can probably play himself off as white, the way he’s normally drawn.

        The main thing that bugged me about Arkham Robin is that HE’S dating Barbara instead of Dick having the relationship with her for basically no reason.

        • Viktor says:

          When Jason Todd was trying to figure out who his mother was, one of the options was Lady Shiva, who is Asian*. That says he at least looks mixed to some degree.

          And Damian is Arab/Asian/White mixed and was raised in a desert, the fact that many of the artists who draw him are incompetent and make him pale as hell doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t white.

          *Her specific ethnicity is a whole different mess, Chinese is the best bet, but I really don’t know enough to get into that.

  13. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    You know, I read my dad’s Detective Comics from the 1950s. He was more of a Marvel guy (most of his collection was Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos), but he has some Batman and Superman. And you know, those stories are pretty self-contained, easy to follow. There is an arc to them, and it helps to consult the numbers on the covers to figure out what order to read them, but if you skipped a book, or read them out of order you’d be fine.

    This level of dedication just to get into the modern comics strikes me as obscene, and a major reason not to bother.

    • John says:

      Well, there’s more to modern comics than Marvel and DC. There are a lot of other comics without decades of constantly shifting continuity and bi-annual publisher-mandated cross-over events that screw everything up. There are even a lot of comics that aren’t about superheroes. Heck, there’s something for every taste, I’m sure. The trick–and it’s quite a trick–is to find something that really appeals to you. The few comics I read I learned about from reviews or comments over at the AV Club. I’m not sure where serious comics persons get their information, since most of the dedicated comics sites I’ve found have been sort of off-putting for one reason or another.

  14. Falterfire says:

    I know there’s an ongoing argument further up about whether anybody relates with Robin with a bunch of people arguing that they prefer reading about Batman to reading about Robin, but I’m gonna go ahead and write a dissenting opinion:

    The Bat-family is, in my estimation, the absolute most important part of Batman’s ongoing success. People have complained loud and long about how boring superheroes are because they always win or how Batman seems to be able to do anything through the power of plot armor and popularity, and the Bat-family goes a long way towards fixing a lot of those complaints.

    Bruce Wayne is The Absolute Best At Crimefighting. That’s his shtick. That’s what he does. That’s his life. Robin-as-surrogate-son gives him a character to interact with that humanizes him. With Robin, we can have an imperfect Bruce Wayne. He can be a crappy father or screw up his relationships and then patch them up later. Robin, as a rotating position filled by a maturing character, can grow from the interactions.

    For my money, the only great Batman books that focus primarily on Batman himself are the self-contained one-offs. Every ongoing Bat story is only interesting so long as the focus is kept on Robin, Batgirl, Oracle, Huntress, Nightwing, and all the various other characters who are defined in part by their relationship to Batman.

    The Bat-family is an ongoing drama with players that are ever-changing, which makes them utterly indispensable if you’re hoping to do anything over a long term with Batman, who is in a sort of character stasis. If your only interactions for Batman are Alfred and the rogue’s gallery, you’re just going to watch him go around in circles forever.

    So I guess my point here is that I disagree with the idea that the idea of Robin is in any way outdated or superfluous to the mythos, even if the Arkham series basically fumbled the ball.

    • Neil D says:

      I do agree, though my version of the Bat-family pretty much topped out with Tim Drake… maybe Stephanie Brown to give another female perspective besides Barbara. Since then, it has continued to grow to ridiculous numbers. Getting Jason back was not a plus in my opinion. And when I finally gave up the comics for good there was someone called Harper Row, a contemporary Carrie Kelley was showing up, Lucius Fox’ son was coming into the picture, and, of course, Damian.

      And through it all we have them still trying to portray Bruce as some sort of ‘loner’, constantly treating them like dirt and not trusting them to do the job he has trained them to do, and just generally being a jackass. And yet they all still love him and can’t do enough for him. Meh.

    • Volvagia says:

      I absolutely agree that a constantly serialized Batman (say, a Network Series that produces the length of Nolan’s Batman trilogy every season, and can’t be focused on raw spectacle) definitely needs the kid sidekicks around. But I get why the (not) constantly serialized Batman (that same amount of content, but over seven years and able to go for the spectacle stuff) is at its best when it doesn’t bother.

      • Volvagia says:

        I’d love to be proven wrong, of course, that a film can do Robin. Especially the origin, performed with an age appropriate kid. But, as long as the checks are basically bottomless and the unadapted, or not well adapted, villains are still cool, filmmakers and game creators aren’t going to resist the spectacle option, which, subsequently, demands the Chris O’Donnell/JGL angle.

        • Neil D says:

          How a pre-teen Robin would come across in a live-action movie can pretty much be seen on display in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The scenes near the end where Short Round is kicking and punching 250+ pound bruisers and they go flying back just look ridiculous. But perhaps that just means you don’t put him in direct combat – maybe Batman just has him flitting around in the shadows tossing in smoke-bombs, shurikens, etc. and just generally being a disruptive force.

          Could work, but I don’t expect to ever see it. There are just some things that are easier to get away with in a comic book/cartoon, and I think this is one of them.

  15. Nate Winchester says:

    I’m wary that he will eventually morph into Batman Jr.

    Um… few years ago the comics gave us Damien Wayne as Robin – who is literally Batman Jr.

    • Volvagia says:

      But that was at least clever on paper when initially presented. Dick Grayson officially as Batman with scowly, bratty Damian at his side. It’s a clever inversion that has the opportunity for some fun stories. Damian at Bruce Wayne’s side IS boring.

  16. Duoae says:

    Totally with Shamus on the Robin thing. If you’re doing a piece in a different medium you have to have it be able to stand on its own without tonnes of prior knowledge. Sure, have the nods and winks for the more knowledgeable consumer but don’t leave bringing new consumers to the franchise.

    I never read the comics but watched most of the 90s animated series so I got a lot of the characters (including raysh ;) ) but to be honest they were all changed enough that it really is its own work – same goes for the aesthetic of Gotham itself.

    It’s a much more militarised and technological version of TAS. That’s fine but I don’t think it allows the argument that ‘it’s for the fans so it doesn’t need to explain stuff’ because even the fans can’t explain the world except by referring to multiple sources that are different.

  17. Zeeloft says:

    Robin does appear again. He’s a playable character in the DLC.

    In fact that’s why he has that cameo appearance in the first place. The whole point of that is to suggest he’s doing interesting things offscreen, in the hope that we’ll buy the extra content to learn the details.

    Unfortunately they didn’t follow up on this properly. The implication was that they had planned a Robin side-plot that interweaved with Batman’s main plot, like Catwoman’s DLC did. But instead they made “Harley Quinn’s Revenge,” a completely self-contained thing set after the main plot’s end. It wasn’t bad per se, but it failed to meet the expectations that Robin’s cameo had set up.

  18. Dork Angel says:

    “Slightly smaller Batman” Lol!

  19. AzzyGaiden says:

    So they wanted to move away from the original character and write a “contemporary” persona that their audience would respond to. So they turned Robin from a fun and quippy sidekick into an emotionally stunted young man who resents his father figure and is prone to violence. You could write a doctoral thesis on the various ways in which that’s unsettling.

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