The Boy Wonder made his comics debut on March 6, 1940, in Detective Comics #38, a teenage character intended to attract teenage readers to the growing medium. On March 18, DC Comics will celebrate the 80th anniversary of Dick Grayson’s first appearance as Robin with a 100 page Super Spectacular. The prestige format book will have variant covers galore and stories and art from some of the most famous writers and illustrators to have tackled the character, in all of their incarnations.
I say “their” because while March 2020 marks Dick Grayson’s 80th, it also marks the initiation of a legacy. As applied to comics, a “legacy title” is a secret or hero identity used by successive individuals, adapted to each person’s abilities and personality but always with the same core purpose. In the eight decades since Dick became World’s Best Detective Junior, for example, five other canon characters, and an additional out of canon character, have served as Batman’s sidekick Robin.
Content warnings: mentions of violence and sexual assault
Richard John Grayson (“Dick”)
Dick grew up in Haly’s Circus, they youngest member of the Flying Graysons, a family of trapeze artists. When gangster Tony Zucco tampered with the Graysons’ equipment in an attempt to extort the circus, the line on Dick’s parents’ trapeze snapped and they fell to their deaths. Dick was taken in by Bruce Wayne, secretly the vigilante Batman, who was at the show that night and, because of his own history, felt kinship with the boy. In some continuities Dick is Bruce’s legal ward, and in others his adopted son.
Bruce trained Dick to be his sidekick at Dick’s request after learning about Zucco’s involvement in his parents’ deaths, the elder man hoping to channel the young man’s rage in a way no one had been able to do for him. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, Batman was rarely seen on the page without his sidekick. By the mid-’60s, however, Dick had a side gig with the Teen Titans (Aqualad, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Wondergirl). Tired of playing second fiddle to Batman, Dick relinquished the green underoos in favor of the Nightwing suit in 1984 (time in the Batverse is flexible re: comics).
Dick and Bruce haven’t always gotten along but they’ve always been family.
The first Boy Wonder was replaced by…
Jason’s first appearance was in Batman #375 (1983) but he didn’t officially take up the Robin mantle until Dick transitioned to Nightwing in 1984. Jason’s original origin story was similar to Dick’s but was later rewritten to frame him as an orphan living on the street, stealing to survive and causing trouble for fun. Judd Winick’s Batman: Under the Red Hood added the delightful touch of Jason and Bruce first encountering one another after Jason steals the tires off the Batmobile.
Originally popular, fans soured on Jason after his origin became less savory and in 1988, given the opportunity to influence his future, voted to let the Joker beat him with a crowbar and leave him to die in an explosion.
Depending on which version you go with, rumors of Jason’s death were either greatly exaggerated due to time shenanigans or true but subject to the machinations of Ra’s al Ghul and a Lazarus Pit. Regardless, he was resurrected as problematic murder vigilante Red Hood in 2005. Red Hood was, both deliberately and ironically, an identity that had at one point been used by Jason’s murderer, the Joker.
Jason was succeeded as Robin by…
Time in the Batverse gets even more flexible with Tim Drake’s introduction in 1989. A revised continuity places him in the audience at Haly’s the night Dick’s parents died, albeit as a very young child; he even met Dick prior to the performance and had a picture taken with him. As his parents hurried him away from the crime scene, Tim caught sight of Batman with Dick.
At nine, matching a move he saw Robin perform on the news to one he had seen Dick do at the circus, and learning Bruce had taken Dick in, Tim made the connection decades of super villains hadn’t’t been able to puzzle out with two hands and a flashlight: Batman and Robin were, in fact, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. He continued to follow the pair after Jason took over as Robin and, after Jason’s death, became concerned that Batman seemed to be falling apart. He decided Batman needed a Robin to keep him sane.
Around the same time, Dick left the Titans for a a journey of self-discover. Tim followed him, helped the original Robin solve a mystery at Haly’s, and convinced Dick that Batman needed a partner again. Hesitant to retake the Robin mantle, Dick went in as Nightwing and both he and Batman were captured by Two Face. With Alfred’s help, Tim wiggled into the tights and saved both men. Bruce was reluctant to take on a new sidekick but Tim, with an assist from Dick and Alfred, eventually convinced him—though Tim endured months of training before he was allowed to go on another mission. In the interim, his mother was (you guessed it) murdered by a psychopath and his father left in a coma; rather than giving in to anger, the fallout left Tim even more determined to enforce the law. His father eventually woke up and there was a lot of complicated feelings stuff between Tim, Jack, and Bruce.
In addition to partnering with Bruce, Tim was also Robin to Jean-Paul Valley’s Batman (Az-Bats) and did the same for Dick during his first time under the cowl.
More contemplative than Jason and more of a detective than Dick, Tim is the most cerebral of the Robins—though he’s definitely had moments in which he lost control and went rage monster, usually when someone he loved was threatened. Like Dick, he had a side gigs with teams of heroes his own age (Young Justice, New Teen Titans), though Tim did so while (mostly) maintaining his Robin identity.
Tim gave up crime-fighting temporarily when his father discovered his secret identity. He returned after Stephanie’s “death” (see Stephanie Brown below)
Tim had the Robin mantle taken from him permanently when Dick, during one of his turns as Batman, explained he saw Tim as an equal and not a sidekick, passing the Robin mantle to Damian. Tim…did not take it well and went off on a side quest, though he did return to Gotham when Dick and Damian asked for help fighting the Black Lanterns, rejoining the family using a new alter ego: Red Robin.
He has since been convinced by himself in another dimension to go by Drake. Which…A of all, that’s his last name so I’m not sure what sort of identity cover it provides and B is a duck, so…Look, I have no control over other people’s decisions.
Stephanie invented her identity as Spoiler after her father Cluemaster (Batman Rogue’s Gallery third stringer) returned to a life of crime post-prison, leaving clues that would allow the police or Batman to catch him. During the chase, she met Tim in his Robin identity. The two teamed up again when Cluemaster later broke out of prison. When Stephanie was kidnapped as part of one of her father’s plots, Batman and Robin came to her rescue after which she and Tim brought down the rest of the gang, over Batman’s objections that Stephanie be included. She popped up once more to assist when Tim and Connor Hawke (then Green Arrow) busted up a gun-running ring.
Shortly after that, Tim and Stephanie began dating.
There is a lot of relationship drama, made even more dramatic by the fact Stephanie only knew Tim as Robin (listen, I don’t make the rules…) for a huge chunk of their relationship. While Tim was away on a secret mission in Tibet (because of course he is) Bruce approached Stephanie as Batman and offered to train her, also revealing Tim’s real identity. Tim apparently felt this was a betrayal of some sort and he and Bruce were on the outs for a while; the revelation also caused issues between Stephanie and Tim which…yeah, okay. Whatever. Stephanie took BatDad up on his offer and also on his referral to the Birds of Prey, who assisted with Stephanie’s training. Stephanie and Tim eventually made up.
In one of his dickier moves (and that’s saying something), after a time, Batman informed Stephanie she wasn’t really “hero material”; the BOP also withdrew their support. Stephanie gave them all the metaphorical finger by continuing to patrol with Tim, though she also went on a solo ass-kicking rampage after being informed her father had died on a mission with the Suicide Squad. (Shocker: it was later revealed he had not, in fact, died on a mission with the Suicide Squad.)
Batman apparently revised his position on Stephanie again when Tim’s father discovered his secret identity and Tim retired temporarily; Stephanie made her own costume and snuck in to the Batcave, demanding Bruce train her to fill Tim’s spot and he agreed. They got along for a while but after Steph killed Victor Zsasz to save her own life and disobeyed Batman’s orders to save his life, he fired her. Refusing to give up, Stephanie went after Black Mask, who injured her “fatally.” Bruce later discovered that his once trust ally, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, had actually withheld treatment from Stephanie to make a point to Bruce about the violence his methods engendered. Ladies fridging ladies. I cannot even.
Spoiler popped up again about a year later and Stephanie explained that she had asked Dr. Thompkins to help her fake her own death (nice retcon save there, guys) so she could start over. Unable to give up the vigilante life, however, she continued fighting the good fight as Spoiler until taking over as Batgirl when Cassandra Cain relinquished that mantle.
The idea of Bruce and Talia having a child was floated in several different Elseworld and special event stories between 1987 and 2006, when Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert made the child’s existence canon and named him Damian. A eugenics experiment using the Wayne and Al-Ghul DNA, gestated in an artificial womb, Damian was initially raised by Talia and her father Ra’s al Ghul in the League of Assassins, and was a formidable warrior and killer before he hits double digits. Bruce didn’t know of his son’s existence until Talia dropped Damian off, a precocious, obnoxious, arrogant, lethal tween, intending to interrupt BatDad’s crimefighting work. Determined to win a place at his father’s side, Damian immediately went after Tim, intent on killing him and taking the Robin mantle. Because he was raised in the League, Damian thinks he has to kill all rivals to please his father.
In a rare fit of optimism, however, Bruce thinks maybe he can help Damian develop some…let’s call them boundaries.
Then Bruce up and dies, leaving the taming of the beast to Dick. Who does eventually manage to earn some modicum of respect from Damian, though he blows his relationship with Tim up in the process when he chooses the spawn of the demon as his Robin (see Tim’s section for rationale). Damian does, eventually admit to a grudging respect for Dick that slowly grows into a sibling relationship though he and Tim continue find reasons to beat the crap out of one another.
Though Damien never gives up his swagger, he does eventually choose the BatFam over the Al Ghuls and the League, at which point Talia disowns him and grows a new son she believes she’ll be able to keep in check. Bruce chooses that time to return from the dead and leaves Damian’s training to Dick so that he can focus on being a father.
With the advent of the New 52, which wiped out all the Batmen except Bruce, Damian became his father’s partner. He died battling an older clone of himself in 2013. I am sure you will be shocked to hear he was ultimately resurrected. His mother’s side of the family is still trying to kill him. He and Tim still really don’t like each other. He and Jason also really don’t like each other. He and Jonathan Kent pretend not to like each other.
One aspect of Damian’s origin story (written, retracted, and then rewritten by Grant Morrison. No one knows what’s going on in that shiny head except Morrison), one I don’t think gets talked about enough, is the fact Damian is a product of sexual assault. Talia drugged Bruce to, essentially, collect his DNA, and by doing so robbed him of the ability to consent: that is the definition of sexual assault. She then created a child from that DNA, hid said child from him for a decade, then dropped Damian off in Gotham. She did so without any warning or explanation, meaning that Bruce learns he has a child that is the product of assault and is asked to raise that child at the same time with no time to absorb or accept or, once again, consent.
Stop and think about the implications of that for both the now-custodial parent and the child for a second.
And people think comics are just for kids.
Seriously, ya’ll, I just work here.
Caroline Keene Kelly (“Carrie”)
Carrie Kelly crafted her own Robin suit after an older Batman, who had retired after Jason’s death, decided he could no longer stand by and watch Gotham collapse under the weight of crime and saved her from some thugs. Determined to help him fight crime, she went on patrol armed with a slingshot and firecrackers. Batman agreed to take her on as a partner after she saved his life in return, and together they defeated The Mutants. Carrie then helped Batman defeat the Joker. When the government sent Superman to take Batman down, Carrie helped Bruce and Alfred fake their deaths and then escape, along with Robin and Green Arrow.
And yes, I swear, that’s the short version.
Hope you’ve all enjoyed this foray into the history of Robin. Happy Anniversary, Boy Wonder. I’m both excited and absolutely terrified to see where you take us next.