Reminiscing About Robin: A Look Back in Wonder

Reminiscing About Robin

Robin #183

Launched in 1993, the Robin ongoing series totaled one hundred ninety-two issues including seven annuals and was preceded by three miniseries totaling fifteen issues. During that time, Tim Drake grew from novice sidekick to a confident and capable hero while undergoing a series of tragedies that would have psychologically and emotionally crippled virtually anyone else.

The majority of the issues of Robin were written by Chuck Dixon, but substantial contributions were also made by Jon Lewis, Bill Willingham, Adam Beechen, and Fabian Nicieza. Dixon authored the original mini-series and the first one hundred issues of the ongoing series. To many fans, Dixon is the definitive writer for Tim Drake. During this period of his life, Tim overcame the challenges of facing new the typical Batman villains for the first time as well as developing a rogues gallery of his own.

Just prior to donning the Robin costume, Tim's parents were poisoned, and while his dad survived in a coma, his mom passed on. Bruce Wayne took up the role of legal guardian while Tim waited for his dad, Jack, to wake. During this time, Tim took on the mantle of Robin and began training; primarily with his physical and combat skills as his detective and computer skills were already well beyond his age.

Within months of the launch of Robin, Tim was dealing with the fallout of Bane breaking Bruce Wayne’s back and Jean Paul Valley, Azrael, taking over has Batman. The partnership between Batman and Robin dissolved as Valley escalates the level of violence perpetrated as Batman. Distrust from Gotham police for the dynamic duo grows until Dick Grayson, Nightwing and a former Robin, took over the Batman costume while Bruce, healed from his broken back, regained his physical capabilities.

Eventually, Jack Drake came out of his coma and began rehabilitation. Returning to live with his father provided new obstacles for Tim in order to continue to fulfill the role of Robin. As the father and son relationship was strained as Tim struggled to balance his home life with the responsibility he felt as Robin, Dana Winters began working with Jack as a physical therapist. The two fell in love and were married.

Following in Dixon’s deep shadow, Jon Lewis came on the series and expanded the relationship between Tim and his occasional girlfriend and fellow crime fighter known as the Spoiler, Stephanie Brown and put Tim through a test of character and perseverance. Tim’s next major hurdle was a test derived by Bruce wherein an Alfred from the future sends a message to Tim that someone close to Batman will become corrupt. As a result, Tim began to question all of his friends and colleagues within the Bat-family, trying to discover who might turn evil. Eventually Tim uncovered the ruse and rails against Bruce for his deception, but even with this manipulation by Bruce, Tim is unable to give up the role of Robin.

This pretty much ends the smooth part of Tim’s life.

The book was then passed to writer Bill Willingham, who explored Tim’s relationship with his father, Jack, Stephanie, and Bruce. During this period, Jack discovered that Tim was Robin and forbid him from continuing. This allowed Stephanie to assume the role of a new, female Robin. Stephanie and Robin had been dating, but Stephanie was unaware of Robin’s identity. Tim stepping down as Robin seemingly created a rift between him and Bruce, and the rift is only expanded when Bruce revealed Tim’s true identity to Stephanie without ever revealing his own alter-ego. For Tim, who had managed to keep his identity even more of a secret than Bruce and Dick, this was a major blow to his trust for Bruce.

Stephanie, however, could not live up to Bruce’s expectations for Robin and Batman decides to end Stephanie’s tenure as Robin. In an effort to prove herself, Stephanie triggered one of Batman’s plans to deal with an out-of-control mob war and inadvertently launches an all-out turf war among all of Gotham City’s gangs. With Gotham in turmoil, Tim’s father relents and blesses his son's return to the role of Robin. Jack Drake, however, is murdered by Captain Boomerang shortly thereafter. By the end of the street war, the Black Mask has tortured Stephanie Brown with a power drill and apparently left her for dead.

With so much grief caused by Gotham, Tim moved to Blüdhaven to oversee the psychiatric treatment of his stepmother who is suffering from debilitating grief. Bruce offers to adopt Tim, but Tim isn’t interested and creates a fictitious uncle Eddie, a hired actor, to gain custody. Tragedy follows Robin as Blüdhaven is destroyed by Chemo, and while Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl survive, Robin’s stepmother is not heard from again.

During Infinite Crisis, Robin lost his best friend, Superboy. After Alexander Luthor’s plans were foiled, Tim, Bruce, and Dick journeyed the world to allow Bruce to do some soul searching as chronicled in 52. Following their return, Tim allows Bruce to adopt him and he moves into the Wayne mansion.

Picking up the story in DC’s One Year Later event, Adam Beechen took on the reins of writing Robin, kicking things off with his controversial depiction of Cassandra Cain, though his depiction of Robin was typically in character. In Gotham, Tim learns that Cassandra Cain, Batgirl, had taken up as a leader of the League of Assassins and is attempting to recruit him to join her cause. He declines and stops her plan to wreck destruction on Gotham, but Batgirl escapes. Beechen did provide a new cast of friends for Robin and depicted the adoption of Tim by Bruce.

As Final Crisis approached, Tim loses another good friend as Bart Allen is killed by the Rogues.

In a brief return to the title, Chuck Dixon returned Ives to the supporting cast as Tim learned his friend had cancer and brought Stephanie Brown back from the grave and back into Tim’s life.

Fabian Nicieza penned the final nine issues pof Robin and received favorable comparisons to Dixon for his understanding of Tim. During Nicieza’s run, Robin has further tried to control his environment and step up into even more responsibility as Batman is lost during the “Batman R.I.P.” storyline. With Batman gone, Tim ramps up his effort to protect Gotham and begins to push the line on his ethics as he realizes that his attempts to limit the crime in Gotham will have to be different from Bruce’s approach. As Tim becomes more cutthroat in his planning and more manipulative of both allies and criminals, he maintains belief that Bruce is alive somewhere.

While far more artists touched this series than writers, artists with extended stays working on the character of Tim Drake include Tom Lyle, Tom Grummett, Mike Wieringo, Staz Johnson, Pete Woods, Damion Scott, Scott McDaniel, and Freddie E. Williams II. Tom Lyle helped launch the character with his work on the three miniseries while Tom Grummett left a signature style in his work on the first fifteen issues. Though only providing pencils for a few issues, Mike Wieringo stuck around longer as the cover artist. Staz Johnson and Pete Woods both had very long runs on the title that provided a strong artistic presence. Damion Scott’s run provided a style that provided a more anime feel that provided a visual contrast that corresponded to Stephanie’s tenure as Robin. Scott McDaniel stepped in and brought his unique style that had launched the Nightwing series years earlier. Coming on board with One Year Later, Freddie E. Williams II has made Robin one of the best comics on the market in terms of artwork. He has quickly become the definitive artist for Robin, providing a new red, black, and yellow costume.

Throughout all of these runs, the character of Robin has been captured consistently, showing him to step up to greater and greater challenges. Robin is a character who shows initiative and is driven to do what he views as right. He knows he is living up to a legacy left by Dick Grayson and strives to not disappoint Bruce Wayne, Batman. Tim is a more natural detective than previous Robins and is talented with computers, which allows him to stand in his own unique spotlight. Unlike his predecessors, Tim is not the most proficient combatant and has had to really work on his fighting technique, taking up the bo staff to give him an edge that Batman doesn’t need. Tim almost always seeks to analyze a problem and to outthink his opponent but has shown the ability to win a fight when necessary.

Overall, Robin has been one of the most consistently enjoyable series on the market for the past nineteen years. Many of Tim Drake’s later adventures have been collected in trade paperback.

Fabian Nicieza (Trinity, Gotham Gazette, Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight) was kind enough to answer a few questions about Tim Drake and Robin as the series comes to a close with issue #183.

Newsarama: In a single sentence – if you can - summarize Tim Drake’s journey from amateur detective discovering Batman’s identity to his role as a potential successor to Batman in Battle for the Cowl.

Fabian Nicieza: Tim Drake's journey from adolescence to young adulthood has shown the evolution of an individual who has gone from wanting to do the right with his life to an individual who is living his life in order to do the right thing.

Now, I could say a million things that build on that sentence, but you do have your rules and I must respect them.

NRAMA: Most members of the Bat-family have some area where they excel beyond the abilities of their allies (Barbara Gordon’s technical savvy, Dick Grayson’s natural leadership, etc.). Is there any characteristic for which Tim Drake is more talented than Batman or his close allies?

FN: Well, I'm sure some readers and previous writers might disagree, but taking into account everything that has happened to Tim since he became Robin, and the fact I had the opportunity to write a Tim Drake who had to take all those things into account, I would say what sets him quite apart from the others now is his increased understanding of the need to manipulate events to achieve the desired results, combined with the savvy of knowing how to manipulate them.

Tim knows he can't out-punch the majority of his opponents just as he knows he can't out-punch crime in Gotham (much less the world). So... I see him now as someone who begrudgingly accepts the need to be a little Machiavellian in his approach.

NRAMA: Bruce and Dick lost their families at the hand of common criminals and turned to crime-fighting to seek justice. In contrast, Tim’s father died at the hands of a super-villain after Tim had donned the costume of Robin. How does this difference affect Tim’s drive to be a superhero in comparison to Bruce and Dick?

FN: Tim's initial desire to become involved in the Bat-verse was never motivated by a need to balance the scales of his own life, it was to help balance the scales in someone else's life, namely Batman.

Though his mother died soon after his journey began, even then, his motivation was never really about balancing those scales and certainly not about revenge.

Tim was simply interested in doing the right thing, making a difference and righting wrongs. I also feel there was a little bit of cocky ego involved too, just a teeny bit, considering here's a kid who figured out Batman and Robin's identities. He never really overtly displayed that ego, which shows what an incredibly cool cat he is, but I do think it's there. The fun part as a reader, and now as a writer, is balancing that intelligence and ego with the normal social stupidities committed by adolescents throughout the world.

NRAMA: Tim Drake’s character was introduced with the premise that Batman needs Robin. After more than a decade of Tim filling that role, does Batman still need Robin?

FN: In my opinion, yes. Others will argue against the point, but I think the role of Batman, as depicted since the post-TV show era of the late 60's, requires a temperance for the character's obsession, or he would drive himself nuts. That doesn't mean that Robin needs to be in every Batman story, just that the character, the concept, needs to be a presence in Bruce Wayne's life. Robin provides a light to Batman's dark, along with a need to teach and parent. This helps humanize Bruce, which to me, makes for a far more interesting Batman than the obsessive gravelly voiced guy who hides in his cave until it's time to beat someone up.

NRAMA: How is Robin important to the DC Universe, or rather, ow is Tim Drake important to the DC Universe?

FN: I think we talk about the "trinity" all the time with DC, heck, working with Kurt Busiek on Trinity for the last year we've talked about Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman plenty, but we also know that the Robin concept is just as vital to the foundation of the DC Universe and has been a bedrock of the mythology since its inception.

The concept of Robin defines the nature of the legacy in the DCU and with that, implies hope for the future, stability coming from the next generation of hero, and on a societal level, it harkens to the need for proper parenting, education and stimulation to help guide the next generation to fruition.

I think Tim Drake is important to the DC Universe, depending of course on how his future is handled, because to his generation of characters (just like Dick Grayson was for his generation), Tim stands as a symbol of the ability -- even the responsibility -- to triumph over adversity, of embracing intelligence and careful thought over rash, impulsive behavior and, perhaps most importantly, of being smart enough to know the short green panties and the pixie boots had to go.

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