Holy teenage octogenarian, it’s Robin’s 80th birthday! The Boy Wonder is celebrating 80 years of puns, capes, and adventures, and this week DC Universe will be honoring Robin’s grand legacy. Each day we’ll be spotlighting one of the iconic boys (or girls) to wear the tunic and tights. Today we’re kicking off the week by looking at Dick Grayson’s heroic career as the Boy Wonder…
Robin first burst onto the scene in 1940’s Detective Comics #38, less than a year after Batman’s debut. Many modern retellings of Batman’s history show the Dark Knight having a long solo career (sometimes years) before meeting Robin, so it’s interesting to see just how quickly the Boy Wonder showed up. The cover proudly boasts that Robin is the “sensational character find of 1940” and he certainly lived up to the hype.
What’s interesting about reading Detective Comics #38 is seeing how much Dick Grayson’s origin story has held up. Although the story was first written in 1940, most of the details have remained unchanged in modern day retellings. Dick Grayson was a young circus acrobat whose parents were killed when a protection racket sabotaged their trapeze ropes. The vigilante known as Batman sensed a kindred spirit in young Dick, and decided to take him on as his partner.
After a one page training montage (the Golden Age didn’t waste much time) Robin the Boy Wonder was born! Batman’s new kid sidekick helped the Dark Knight take on the protection racket and their leader Tony Zucco, and Robin was able to avenge the death of his parents. The original version of the story has Batman drive off with Dick without telling anybody, but later stories clarified that Bruce Wayne legally made Dick Grayson his ward. The story also had Dick throwing criminals off of steel girders, since early comics were a bit more relaxed on the Dynamic Duo’s no-kill code. While Dick’s origin may have some “early installment weirdness,” the story is a fun Golden Age swashbuckling adventure, and it’s longevity is a testament to it’s quality.
The addition of Robin changed the direction of the Batbooks. The Boy Wonder’s colorful costume and youthful nature brought a sense of fun to the Caped Crusader’s dark world. Batman’s earliest adventures portrayed the vigilante as a silent figure in the night, but Robin gave the Dark Knight someone to talk to. This made exposition easier for the writers, and gave younger readers a character they could identify with.
Although Robin was Batman’s junior partner, he wasn’t afraid to hold his mentor accountable. Dick wasn’t afraid to question Bruce’s objectivity and challenge his decisions, like he did in 1940’s Batman #1 when the Caped Crusader let Catwoman escape.
We won’t sugarcoat this: Robin got kidnaped a lot during the Golden Age. If you looked at the covers for Detective Comics during the 1940’s, you might be surprised how often Robin is drawn tied up. The Joker had the honors of kidnapping Robin for the first time in 1940’s Batman #1, and most of Gotham’s villains got in on the craze. Robin served an important storytelling role, and he did it well. But while Robin was getting tied up, he was also making comic book history in other ways.
Decades before he became Nightwing, Robin went solo for the first time in Star Spangled Comics #65. The anthology series gave the Boy Wonder his only solo feature, where he helped other teenagers and faced his own villains, like the Clock. Batman had sporadic cameos in these adventures, but this was Robin’s time to shine. The backup feature lasted until Star Spangled Comics #130, and comic historian Brian Cronin estimates that this series led to Robin appearing in more Golden Age comics than Batman!
We take it for granted now, but the concept of superheroes having kid sidekicks didn’t become a comic book staple until Robin exploded in popularity. In that way, we can credit Robin with changing the comic book industry. Characters like Green Arrow and Aquaman were soon given their own junior partners, and those young heroes evolved into iconic characters in their own right. On that note…
THE TEEN TITANS
In 1964 the Boy Wonder’s life would be changed forever when a group of teenagers from Hatton Corners invited Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Robin to their town in The Brave and the Bold #54. The three teenage heroes helped heal the town’s generational divide, and fought off the evil Mister Twister. Readers loved seeing the teenage sidekicks teaming up, so DC decided to make it a regular event. In The Brave and the Bold #60 the boys were joined by Wonder Girl and began calling themselves the Teen Titans. The group was eventually given their own series, where they grew beyond their “Justice League Junior” reputation.
The Teen Titans gave Robin a chance to learn and grow as a hero outside of his partnership with Batman. Although he was the only member without powers (at first), Robin was chosen to be the group’s leader, with the other Titans respecting him for his intelligence and resourcefulness. 1968’s Teen Titans #14 makes a good case for why Robin might be the greatest Titan of them all, as he’s the only one of his teammates to survive an attack from the Gargoyle, who he is able to defeat on his own. If Batman taught Robin how to be a hero, then the Teen Titans taught him how to be a leader.
In 1969 the Batman titles went through a fundamental change, perhaps their biggest since 1940, when Robin left Gotham City for New Carthage. In Batman #217 Dick Grayson, who had recently graduated high school off-panel, had an emotional goodbye with Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth as he left Wayne Manor and took a taxicab to Hudson University. Although Batman had the Justice League, and Robin had the Teen Titans, the regular Batbooks had been featuring the Dynamic Duo as inseparable partners for almost three decades. While modern readers are accustomed to stories where Batman operates without a Robin, in 1969 such occurrences were rare.
While Batman’s Gotham adventures were being retooled, Dick’s college life was explored in a series of backups. Detective Comics #394 followed Robin on his first day of college, as the Boy Wonder helped defuse some campus riots, and uncovered a college conspiracy. Later backup stories continued building Robin’s life away from Gotham, and introduced supporting characters like Dick’s college girlfriend Lori Elton, and campus security chief Frank McDonald. Batman and Robin still had their team-ups, but it became a “weekends and summer vacations” deal.
In 1975 Robin was given a co-lead role in a series called Batman Family, where he became the other half of a new Dynamic Duo. This time his partner was Batgirl, who was secretly Congressional Representative Barbara Gordon. The end of Batman Family #1 featured a humorous scene where Batgirl silenced Robin’s 1970’s era chauvinism by kissing him. The moment was meant to be a gag, but it awoke some romantic stirrings in the Boy Wonder. By Batman Family #13, Robin confessed he had fallen for Batgirl, but the Domino Daredoll pretended to be asleep to avoid the awkward conversation. Although their romance would take a few more decades to get off the ground, these comics served as the genesis for one of the greatest love stories in the DC Universe.
Throughout this period, Dick was still working with the Teen Titans, but inner turmoil began tearing the group apart. In 1978’s Teen Titans #53 the group disbanded while it’s members decided to go their separate ways, and figure out who they were as young adults. In a way this foreshadowed what would eventually happen to Bruce and Dick’s relationship.
A typical college course load is hard enough, but when you add an active superhero nightlife to the equation, something’s got to give. In Detective Comics #495 Dick discovered he was in danger of flunking out of college. The Boy Wonder abandoned an all-night study session in order to stop a local crimewave, and came to the realization that his days at Hudson University were over. Although Robin had to leave campus life behind, there were bigger things waiting for him around the corner.
LEAVING THE NEST
The end of the Batman and Robin partnership wasn’t the result of one fight, it was the inevitable conclusion to years of naturally growing apart. Dick was no longer the young boy Bruce had met at the circus, and as Robin grew it was unavoidable that his relationship with Batman would also change. In Batman #330, the cracks began to develop as Robin’s decision to drop out of Hudson University caused a rift in his relationship with Batman. The Dark Knight disapproved of Dick’s choice to turn his back on his education, and Robin angrily protested Batman’s relationship with Talia Al Ghul.
With Robin home from college, the Dynamic Duo did their best to resume their old partnership, but it wasn’t the 1940’s anymore. Robin felt he needed to get out of Batman’s shadow and find his own identity, and in 1980 an interdimensional empath named Raven helped Dick find that direction. After being visited by Raven in his dreams, Robin reformed the Teen Titans in 1980’s New Teen Titans #1. Leading the new version of the Titans helped Dick find a new sense of purpose, and the Boy Wonder grew as a leader and as a man. While he was finding himself, Robin also found love, as he and his teammate Starfire began a whirlwind romance.
By 1983’s New Teen Titans #37 Dick realized there was nothing left for him in the Batman and Robin partnership. He told Bruce that it was time to officially dissolve the Dynamic Duo and lead separate careers. His experiences with the Teen Titans, and the downfall of his relationship with Batman made one thing clear – he had outgrown the Robin identity. If Robin wasn’t Batman’s partner, what purpose did he serve? Dick realized he had come to a crossroads, and the only way for him to continue his journey would be to do it without the Robin identity.
In 1984’s New Teen Titans #39, Dick Grayson shocked his Titans teammates, and comic book readers, when he announced he was retiring as Robin. For 44 years Dick Grayson and the Robin identity had been inseparable, and now both would be continuing their journeys down their own paths. It’s hard to consider with modern day hindsight, but in 1984 Dick Grayson retiring as Robin seemed as unthinkable as Bruce Wayne stepping down as Batman. It was a brave new world, and they were about to get a daring new Robin.
How do you follow an act like Robin? In Tales of the Teen Titans #44 Dick Grayson continued making his own path by donning the identity of Nightwing. His career as Nightwing has proven to be just as iconic as his time as Robin, and his popularity has only grown. Last year Nightwing was the winner of last year's Meta Madhouse competition, and people are constantly talking about how he’s easy on the eyes. It’s safe to say that Dick’s time as Robin helped propel him to the popularity he now enjoys as Nightwing.
Although Dick Grayson is no longer Robin, the role is still a big part of the former Boy Wonder’s life. Dick has had an active role in training some of his successors, making sure that the Robin legacy remains strong for generations to come. Dick Grayson was Robin for 44 years, but his influence can be felt on the Boy Wonder’s entire 80 year history. Holy heroic legacy!
TOMORROW: Break out your crowbars, and guard your tires, because we’ll be exploring Jason Todd’s time as Robin!
BONUS: DICK GRAYSON TIMELINE
* 1939’s Detective Comics #38 – First appearance and origin of Dick Grayson.
* Star Spangled Comics #65 – Robin is given his first solo feature.
* The Brave and the Bold #54 – Robin teams up with Kid Flash and Aqualad, in a story that led to the formation of the Teen Titans.
* Batman #217 – Dick Grayson leaves Wayne Manor for college, causing the Batman and Robin partnership to become a “weekends and summer vacation” thing.
* Detective Comics #394 -Robin’s first day of college, and the beginning of a new solo backup feature spotlighting Dick’s Hudson University adventures.
* Batman Family #1 – Robin and Batgirl become a crimefighting duo, and Dick is kissed by Barbara Gordon for the first time.
* 1978’s Teen Titans #53 – The original Teen Titans break up
* Detective Comics #495 – Robin’s crimefighting life takes a toll on Dick Grayson’s grades at Hudson University, forcing the Boy Wonder to drop out.
* 1980’s New Teen Titans #1 – Robin forms a new group of Teen Titans, and meets the alien princess known as Starfire.
* Detective Comics #511 – Dick Grayson tries his hand at college life again by enrolling at Gotham University.
* Detective Comics #526 – The final Dynamic Duo story. Jason Todd’s parents are murdered by Killer Croc, and Dick offers to adopt the orphan, before Bruce decides to do it instead.
* 1983’s New Teen Titans #37 – Dick tells Bruce that he wishes to formally disband the Batman and Robin partnership.
* Batman #368 – Dick Grayson gives Jason Todd his old costume, and officially passes the Robin mantle on to him.
* 1984’s New Teen Titans #39 – Dick Grayson tells his Teen Titans teammates that he’s retiring as Robin.
Are you a hardcore Robin fan, or just looking to have fun while brushing up on your knowledge? Check out all the Robin-centric activities our clubs are running in our Community Events Calendar!