Earlier this summer, Christian Bale, hands down the greatest actor to ever dress up in pointy ears and mutter “I’m Batman,” professed to a reporter that he would quit the series if Batman’s pixie-ish sidekick Robin were to ever be written into the current line of Bat-films. While there were many fans that understandably followed Bale’s sentiment with a resounding “Hell Yeah,” or at least a relieved “Thank God,” I was just a teensy bit disappointed. I mean I know that Robin and the other Bat-step-children are synonymous with the downfall of the previous Batman film franchise, but there are some instances that Bale and the other naysayers seemed to have forgotten in which Robin not only worked, but worked well. It now leaves a presumably outnumbered minority of fans out there that would have loved to see Christopher Nolan’s real-life crime drama adaptation of a young circus boy who Batman drafts into his war on crime.
Now before we get into our LivFic supposition of whatever “Robin Begins” might play like, I should address Robin’s currently-running origin series, All Star Batman and Robin: The Boy Wonder (specifically a scene in which a brutish Batman hoists the newly-orphaned Dick Grayson into the air like a newborn puppy and grunts “you’ve just been drafted”). Although Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s initial concept for the origin of Robin and why he’s needed was (in my opinion) intriguing and valid, the book has really strayed into the land of self-parody. Actually, it was practically born and raised there. I agree with the argument that the creative team attempted to make in favor of Robin, but let’s hope that no one actually tries using that as source material. Batman is not an unlikable dick head and Robin shouldn’t be trained by being locked into the Bat-cave and made to survive on rat meat.
On the contrary, Batman (Bruce Wayne) is a very honorable man who has vowed to do everything in his power to make sure no one else will ever have to suffer the way that he did as a child. Robin (Dick Grayson) is the first person he meets who does. The son of two celebrity acrobats, young Richard Grayson watched his parents die in front of him after their trapeze wires are tampered with by Boss Zucco’s enforcers. Bruce Wayne sees a kindred spirit in the boy and offers to provide Dick with the same training and guidance that he sought after his parents were murdered. The young acrobat agrees to join Bruce in apprehending Boss Zucco, and after donning a costume much like Peter Pan’s and that of his namesake, Robin Hood, the team takes to the streets of Gotham as the Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin.
So why doesn’t Robin fit into the gritty realism of the Nolan Bat-verse? Well, for starters, some people believe that it weakens Batman’s persona to have a brightly colored kid tagging along with him while he’s trying to scare criminals shitless in the middle of the night. Also, an overwhelming majority of people simply think that it’s perverted and laughable for a grown man to have an intimate friendship with a young boy. This last one always pissed me off. Do you know who started this gutless prejudice against super-hero sidekicks? Fucking Fredric Wertham, the psychiatrist who wrote the book Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, a book that asserted that super-heroes equated to pedophiles. This man tried to end comics, and there are still ignorant fanboys out there, pretending to be macho, who side with his pedophiliac assertions over Batman’s choice of crime-fighting assistants? You’ve got to be joking. Sidekicks serve as a young reader’s touchstone in the surreal super-hero realm. This might make them less valid now that the majority of readers are closer to the super-hero’s age, but it doesn’t make Batman a diddler for having a Robin.
Notice how I said “a Robin,” rather than simply saying “Robin” and referring to Dick Grayson. That’s the key as to why Robin does work; why Batman does need him. Once Dick Grayson had spent sufficient time under the tutelage of Batman he “graduated,” so to speak, and rechristened himself as Nightwing. Nightwing wears a more ninja-esque costume (or Daredevil-esque if you want to be a dick) and works alone out of the neighboring city of Bludhaven. The choice to become Nightwing was Dick Grayson’s alone, just as it was his choice to become Robin in the first place. But Batman saw Dick’s progression and soon found a replacement pupil in Jason Todd, and another later in Tim Drake. Batman needs a Robin just as every master needs an apprentice. Bruce Wayne surely sees himself as a prototype, the first of his kind and, therefore, the mold from which others must be spawned. No matter what writer’s interpretation of the character you go by, one of the major constants is that Batman is fighting a war. To fight a war, you need other warriors; you need an army. Batman is building an army.
In this regard, Robin certainly can make sense thematically in Christopher Nolan’s series of films. However, whether or not he would blend in aesthetically, bounding across rooftops in pixie boots alongside a darkly-clad Christian Bale, is another story. I prefer the approach that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale took to Robin’s costume in their maxi-series, Dark Victory. The story told a more decompressed origin of the Boy Wonder and explained that Robin’s costume was simply the uniform of the Flying Graysons. With this being the case the whole costume makes a lot more sense, even allowing for the “R” emblem to have initially stood for Richard. (Why people close to Commissioner Gordon or in the media never connect these dots to deduce his secret identity is something you’ll have to excuse.)
In the drawing I included at the top of this column, I made the decision to make Robin’s pixie shoes into boots, cover his arms and legs with a black bodysuit, and replace the yellow in his cape with the lime green it has on the cover of Batman #1 (no doubt an early printing technique to differentiate it from the all-yellow background). At first, this was purely a matter of artistic preference. I really don’t like Robin’s current costume in the comics; green is a complementary color to red and helps his shirt and emblem “pop out.” The red and black costume might be more edgy and more similar to the American Robin species of birds, but it’s not very visually appealing to me. At any rate, I realized after I had finished the picture that the color choices I had made indicated a very plausible backstory for the movie Robin’s costume. I can see Bruce initially sending Dick out in black body armor the same as his own, perhaps with a simple ski mask to cover his face. This was movie Bruce’s solution to the problem when he first made contact with Commissioner Gordon as Batman. Perhaps Dick decides after his inaugural mission to honor his dead parents by wearing the tunic, cape, boots, and gloves of the Flying Graysons over his body armor.
My final suggestion for a gritty and realistic treatment of Robin is that he should be young. 12 years old at the oldest. The younger the victim, the more plausible it would be that Bruce Wayne would take him under his wing and adopt him as his ward. It also makes more sense for his training to be started early in life, rather than when he’s a college-aged young adult. Of course this may not make him very effective in combat, but I see Robin as mostly hanging back during the times when Batman needs to be the Dark Knight and observing how it’s done, then resuming his role as Batman’s partner when the hero goes back to being the Caped Crusader.
I’m a very big fan of Robin in the role of the Boy Wonder, the young sidekick who makes up the second half of the Dynamic Duo. In my eyes, a picture or story with just one of them acting solo has an underlying feeling of being unbalanced and incomplete. There are a lot of yin / yang elements in Batman, and his relationship with Robin is a big example. Where there’s darkness, Robin brings light. Where there’s cynicism, Robin brings naïveté. The two define each other and give each other purpose. You can’t fully appreciate just how huge, dark, and menacing the Dark Knight is without seeing the Technicolor boy-acrobat that follows him around and keeps him in check. These elements were an essential part of what drew me to comics as a kid, and they are essential to Batman’s mythos as well.
Perhaps before the next Batman film goes into development Mr. Bale will have a change of heart about Robin, and we can get a Christopher Nolan adaptation of Dark Victory to complete the trilogy (the first film being an adaptation of Batman: Year One and the second being based on The Long Halloween). Or maybe he’s still just a little bit sore about losing the part of Robin to Chris O’Donnell back in 1995.