Critiquing the Robins of the New 52

It’s Saturday, Halloween weekend in New York City, and I’ve elected to stay inside all day and write about super-heroes. Which is totally fine.

As far as Halloween goes, the one costume I’ve always wanted to pull off is Spider-Man. I’m tall and kinda skinny, so I guess if I wanted to I could try and pick up one of those over-the-counter Spidey Halloween costumes, but I know I would look ridiculous. I’m not muscular at all, and who wants to walk through crowds in New York on Halloween dressed as the wimpy Spider-Man? If you’re gonna do Halloween as a super-hero, you gotta be athletic, otherwise you’re going to look pathetic. At least that’s how I’d imagine it. So yes, that’s what I’m getting at. I wish I were cooler and had muscles so I could impress girls. Maybe I could go as pre-irradiated Peter Parker.

The other costume I’ve always wanted to try, although this one seems even trickier, is Robin. First of all, to really sell the Robin costume outside of a con or cosplay setting, you need someone around to dress as Batman. Anybody. Your grandpa, your baby brother, your sister, whoever. This is just a guess, but I’m pretty sure it’d be tough to do a solo Robin with the general population, who tend to still think of Robin as being a sidekick. But if I could find someone to go as Batman, I would totally volunteer to go as Robin.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but Robin, as a standalone character has always been one of my favorites, regardless of who’s in the suit. Between this and my earlier remarks about Spidey, I suppose it would be easy to deduce I’ve always been drawn to teen super-heroes, which is absolutely correct. But I’ll be honest with you, I love the Robin costume. Every version of it. From Dick Grayson’s pixie boots to Damian Wayne’s green Chucks with red laces, Robin is hands down one of the best costumes in comics. Luckily for we fans of the Boy Wonder, the recent New 52 zero issues have introduced a whole slew of variations on the classic green-and-red duds, and with them some interesting revelations of how the Robin mantle has been adopted and transmitted throughout the New 52’s continuity.

When the New 52 started, we were given three former Robins and one current Robin (sorry, Stephanie Brown). Dick Grayson, the original Robin, had re-appropriated his Nightwing title after spending more than a year in the previous DC continuity as Batman, his costume largely unchanged save for the more bird-like logo and a red-and-black color scheme replacing his former blue-on-charcoal pallette. Over in Red Hood and the Outlaws, we got the second Robin, Jason Todd, back in his familiar role as the red-helmeted Red Hood, only this time with a curious red bat symbol on chest. In Teen Titans, our third Robin, Tim Drake, kept his mantle as Red Robin, but modified his costume to make it startlingly hideous. Lastly, we had Damian Wayne in Batman and Robin maintaining his mantle as the current Robin and his usual duds.

We were told that, since the New 52’s continuity had just begun 5 years prior to the first issue of the line’s flagship title, Justice League, the position of Robin, which in real life has existed for over 70 years and was introduced almost immediately after Batman’s debut, was more of a brief internship for troubled young boys aspiring to one day be their own Dark Detective. This is why, although Bruce Wayne has only been using his Batman alter ego for five years (or is it more like nine?), he’s taken in and trained four separate Robins, and was also still exiled through time for a year and also might have had his back broken for a short time (did that still happen?). It’s all condensed!

Anyway, so in addition to getting a new timeline and a quicker turnaround for the Robin nom de guerre, we were also given some updated origins and some heavily tweaked Robin costumes once DC released it’s New 52 zero issues. First off was Dick Grayson, who was still a high-flying trapeze artist for Haley’s Circus whose parents were rubbed out by Tony Zucco (now just an enforcer, not a boss) during a show while Bruce Wayne was in the audience. Bruce takes the young Grayson under his wing and watches as his youthful ward spends his nights sneaking around and kicking the crap out of people in order to find his parents’ killer. Eventually Bats lets him in on who he really is, something Dick already knew because he’s good at reading faces (like you couldn’t tell if the person who adopted you is also that guy in the bat costume following you around at night), and Dick becomes Robin, using a pet name his mother called him.

Aside from the atrocious, Batman Forever-inspired changing of Robin from being short for Robin Hood to being a reference to a stupid ugly bird that Dick Grayson stupidly identifies with, this origin isn’t so bad. It’s just an updated version of what we’re used to. The only sad part is that the original Dick Grayson Robin costume, the one with the pixie boots and tiny green chain mail briefs, has been retconned out of existence. I mean, I like the new costume. It reminds me a bit of the Neal Adams-designed Tim Drake costume, as well as the cool winter Robin costume that Scott McDaniel created for Nightwing: Year One. The arrowheads (a nod to the Robin Hood reference inherit in the name, which doesn’t exist anymore, so WTH?) also remind me of the Robin costume from that bizarre new Batman Live stage show, wherein the Robin costume is covered in bow and arrow symbolism, but this costume is more elegant. I like the lines, I like the black bicep areas and the lack of red underwear (the one time I’ll excuse that) and I like how the gold laces were worked into the design without being on the chest. All in all it’s kinda all over the place and a bit fussy, but it’s cool. Dick also got a new intermediate Nightwing costume, which attempts to take his old blue-and-gold disco version of the suit and create something more modern, but comes off looking pretty awful.

The next new costume we get is for Jason Todd. His origin got tweaked a bit more than Dick’s, becoming a lot more condensed (especially in regards to his mother and his quest to find her leading to his death at the hands of the Joker), and losing the coolest part of his post-Crisis origin, which was that he was discovered in Crime Alley trying to steal the wheels off the Batmobile. Anyway, Jason got a way cooler Robin costume this time around, and for my money it’s probably the best of the New 52 Robin costumes so far. Rather than just picking up Dick’s old suit, Jason got an entirely new costume, this one looking like the missing link between Dick’s classic costume and Tim Drake’s original costume from the ‘90s. Jason’s costume now had a more militant look, with darker colors and armor so heavy looking, you’d think it was a gift from Tony Stark. I love that the boots and the pants are all part of the same layer while the tunic is it’s own article altogether, I love the all-yellow cape and how it kinda clashes with the darker green, I love the red laces hinting at Damian’s future costume, and I totally LOVE the red domino mask, something we haven’t seen before on Robin, which points ahead to Jason’s future (the red mask is also used by the New 52’s Earth-2 Robin, whose costume I’ve previously written about). It does get a little crazy with all the arrowheads and stuff, but the rest of the costume is totally sick.

Finally, we get Tim Drake. This guy got the shaft. I loved this kid growing up, and they totally gutted his character for the New 52. Instead of starting as a plucky young kid trying to urge Batman, who was down on himself after Jason Todd’s death, to take Dick back as his partner before getting picked for the job of Batman’s sidekick himself, we get an Olympic medalist and super genius with a dull personality who jumps right ahead to calling himself Red Robin and wearing that ugly, red-on-yellow One Year Later costume. So no, I’m not gonna talk about this one. His Robin costume, or rather his first Red Robin costume in this case, is just a costume we’ve already seen before, and it’s the Robin costume that I probably like the least. In my opinion, the Neal Adams-designed Tim Drake costume from the ‘90s is the high-water mark for all Robin costumes that have come since, and to skip over that one in favor of the ugliest one to ever exist, is in my mind a travesty.

Ok, so there you have it. My analysis of the New 52 Robin costumes, and also my excuse for not doing anything amazing this weekend. Just going to sit in bed all day, watch 30 Rock and eat Indian food. Enjoy my solitude.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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