Call me crazy, but I have a real fondness for the character of Robin. It really irks me when people (especially movie directors) rag on Batman’s colourful sidekick; debuting in 1940, about a year after Batman’s momentous first appearance, Robin has been an essential staple of Batman’s world for over eighty years so to suggest that he’s somehow “unsuitable” is, in my opinion, laughable. Over the years, numerous individuals have taken up the red tunic and green tights, some with more success than others. Yet, the iconic imagery evoked by the term “Batman and Robin” cannot be denied and, when talking about Robin, one of the first questions anyone will ask is: Who was the best Robin? So, with that in mind, I figured I’d do my own ranking and shine a bit of spotlight on this under-rated and criminally under-represented (in movies, at least) character.
Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of Batman’s kid sidekick in DC’s Elseworlds titles and in out of continuity stories that have since been rendered non-canon. Perhaps two of the most famous are the Dick Grayson of Earth-Two, who never grew out of the role and instead continued to fight crime in a garish Robin outfit into adulthood, and the “Toy Wonder”, a little robotic Robin who assisted the mysterious Batman of the DC One Million (Morrison, et al, 1998) crossover. Yet, we’ve also seen Batman’s faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, take on the Robin codename in Batman: Dark Allegiances (Chaykin, et al, 1996), Bruce Wayne’s son assume the role in the Superman & Batman: Generations (Byrne, et al, 1989 to 2004) series, an ape equivalent in Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty (Barr, et al, 1997), and even a story in 1955 that had a young Bruce Wayne take on the mantle during his early days of trying to learn the skills that he would eventually hone as Batman. I’m obviously lumping all of these kinds of interpretations together as, while DC may revisit and bungle the Multiverse concept more often than they have hot dinners, none of these versions of Robin have ever managed to get a footing in true DC canon and are generally regarded as being outside of mainstream continuity.
While you could make an argument that Carrie doesn’t deserve her own entry considering her introduction and most famous appearances have been in Frank Miller’s (thankfully) out of continuity Dark Knight (1986 to 2017) stories, I’d say she deserves to get her own entry on any Robin ranking simply for being the first, full-time female iteration of the character. Yet, I can’t rank Carrie much higher than this because of a few reasons: one is my obvious dislike for Miller’s Dark Knight works but, that aside, Carrie’s tenure as Robin is extremely brief. After being saved by Batman, Carrie is inspired to buy a Robin costume and fight petty thugs with a slingshot and firecrackers. Yet, despite earning Batman’s seal of approval and joining him in the resurrection of his never-ending war on crime, Carrie progressed to Catgirl and, eventually, Batwoman. She might have been a trend-setter by being the first true female Robin but it didn’t take her long to switch to a different identity and was easily one of the least prepared to assume the long-standing mantle of Batman’s partner.
After Batman was believed to be dead at the conclusion of the “Endgame” (Snyder, et al, 2014 to 2015) storyline, a whole bunch of Gotham City’s youthful decided to take on the mantle of Robin to keep the streets safe in the Dark Knight’s absence. I actually really like the concept of teenagers of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities taking to the streets as a vigilante force and feel this concept could have real legs in a live-action interpretation of Robin. Yet, this group is most notable for introducing Duke Thomas to the DC Universe, a character who would go on to break away from the Robin moniker and become the Signal. Unfortunately, neither Duke nor his gang of Robins can rank much higher as DC seems to have forgotten about them all in recent years; Duke eventually developed metahuman abilities and seems to have fallen out of prominence as Batman’s partner and his fellow Robins have fallen by the wayside as DC prefers to focus on the Bat Family of characters rather than this sub-team.
Daughter of a Z-list villain and Riddler knock-off, the Cluemaster, Stephanie Brown originally fought crime as the Spoiler to foil her father’s plots. Eventually, she became associated with the Bat Family when she started dating Tim Drake, though Batman (famous for opposing vigilantes not approved by him) openly disproved of her vigilante career. Yet, Batman turned to Steph and offered her the mantle of Robin after Tim was forced to retire from the role by his father. Lacking the experience and ability of previous Robins, Steph struggled in the role and, eventually, unwittingly initiated a gang war in an attempt to earn Batman’s respect, an action that led to her being tortured by Black Mask and eventually dying from her wounds.
It later transpired that her death was faked and Steph returned to active duty as Batgirl, for a time, a role that reflected her growth and maturity as a character…until DC made the inexplicable decision to reset continuity, force Barbara Gordon back into the Bat tights, and relegate Steph back to being Spoiler. Steph’s time as Robin may have been brief but, man, did she look good in the suit and her exuberance and enthusiasm could have made for a return to the 1960’s depiction of Robin as this hyperactive, fast-talking bundle of energy. Unfortunately, Steph became Robin during one of the darkest, grittiest, and grimmest times in DC Comics and, for the longest time, her death tainted many a Bat character.
Initially portrayed as a near-identical copy of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd was eventually retconned as being a wise-talking kid from the streets who stole the tyres off the Batmobile and was a disobedient, arrogant, angry little kid who was constantly at odds with Batman during his tenure as Robin. This isn’t necessarily the case but it is the story DC likes to tell these days; flashbacks will generally always show Jason being disobedient, violent, and moody rather than being as accomplished a Robin as Dick was. Nevertheless, Jason can’t take a top three spot as he’s most famous for being beaten with a crowbar and then blown up by the Joker.
Indeed, Jason was far more popular in death, a memorial in the Batcave, and a reminder of Bruce’s greatest failure in his career as Batman, and after his return to life under the guise of the gun-toting vigilante, Red Hood. Red Hood has been everything from a sadistic antagonist to a begrudging anti-hero but is, generally, now regarded as the black sheep of the Bat Family but one who is nevertheless an essential ally of Batman’s; he even wears the Bat logo on his chest these days though, if you ask me, he should have been Hush all along.
For many, Dick is the quintessential Robin; he was the first to take on the mantle, after all, and whenever you talk about Robin or see him in other media (cartoon, television shows, movies, and the like), Robin is pretty much always shown as being the alias of Dick Grayson. Yet, while Dick pioneered the role and excelled in it in every way, unlike other characters who have taken on the Robin identity, Dick successfully managed to grow out of the role and assume the identity of Nightwing. As Nightwing, Dick led the Teen Titans and defended the nearby city of Blüdhaven and, while he’s dabbled with other roles since then (including Agent 37 of Spyral and becoming Batman for an all-too-brief period), he’s far more associated with the role of Nightwing than Robin these days.
Even Dick himself has gone on to praise subsequent Robins for being more suitable to the role than he is and, having been Nightwing pretty consistently for over thirty years now, Dick has largely separated himself from being Batman’s “sidekick”. The fantastic Titans (2018 to present) show went in-depth into Dick Grayson’s (Brenton Thwaites) journey from Robin to Nightwing and even the diabolical Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997), has Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O’Donnell) don an outfit that is visually very similar to Nightwing’s as part of his desire to establish his crimefighting career out of Batman’s (George Clooney) shadow.
The illegitimate son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, daughter of the functionally immortal Ra’s al Ghul, Damian Wayne was initially considered to be a character that existed outside of mainstream DC continuity until he was officially made a part of DC canon in Batman and Son (Morrison, et al, 2006).
Trained from birth by the League of Assassins, Damian was initially portrayed as a bratty, violent young boy who was arrogant, rude, disrespectful, and had no compunction about killing his opponents. He believed that, as Batman’s true son, the role of Robin was rightfully his and nearly killed Tim Drake just to prove it. Eventually, though, Damian softened and earned his place in the Bat Family; after Bruce Wayne appeared to die in the awful Batman R.I.P. (ibid, 2008), Dick Grayson briefly operated as Batman and took Damian as his Robin. While this initially created an interesting reversal of the Batman and Robin dynamic (with Dick being a more light-hearted Batman and Damian as a grim and stoic Robin), Damian has since excelled in the role, having joined the Teen Titans, returned from the dead, and forged friendships with both John Kent/Superboy and others in the Bat Family.
Damian may very well be on the path to being the most accomplished of all the Robins but he’s still relatively new to the role. His fighting proficiency and augmented knowledge and intelligence make him a formidable opponent but it seems as though Damian’s destiny is to one day break away from Batman’s shadow and either become Batman himself or forge a new identity. Therefore, while he has since gone on to assume the role of Red Robin and…Drake…Tim Drake is still the definitive Robin for me. Introduced some time after Jason’s death, when Batman was in a violent downward spiral, Tim wanted nothing more than to reunite Dick and Bruce as Batman and Robin and wound up assuming the mantle for himself. A keen detective and computer whiz, Tim brought something new to the role; for one thing, he was the first to ditch the short-shorts and pixie boots and wear a functional, respectable Robin costume and, for another, he was far more grounded and relatable than other Robins.
Although he never aspired to be anything other than Robin, Tim did briefly assume the mantle of Batman after Batman R.I.P. and has been shown, on multiple occasions, to eventually become a violent Batman in the future. However, Tim is probably most well-known for having taken up the identity of Red Robin; while I find the “Red” portion of this identity redundant and wish he had, like Dick, forged an entirely separate code-name, it showed that Tim still very much considered himself Robin first and foremost (except for that weird period when he inexplicably took the identity of “Drake”). Tim was also the first Robin to get his own ongoing comic book series and that he is, for all intents and purposes, probably the most successful of the full-time Robins at really making the identity his own as Batman’s sidekick, a solo hero, or as part of the Teen Titans and Young Justice.
What are your thoughts on Robin? Do you feel he’s too bright and cheerful for the normally grim and gritty Batman or is he an essential part of the Batman mythos? Who was your favourite Robin? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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