As you know if you’ve been kicking around here for a while, or have seen an iota of marketing from DC Comics this year, 2020 is Robin’s 80th Anniversary! Specifically, it’s the 80th anniversary of the debut of Dick Grayson, the first Robin, but DC has taken the opportunity to celebrate the entire Robin legacy.
Shiri’s got a Robin rundown for you over here, so I’m going to skip the biographical notes and get to what we’re really here for today: making fun of the poor sartorial choices of orphans. I’ll be looking at not just what each canonical Robin wore as Robin, but any costumes they may have donned before and after their stint in the pixie boots. Strap in for the best and worst of every Robin’s costumes!
I’m placing the original Robin costume here sort of as a control, because I legitimately think there is no way to assess it as a “good” or “bad” costume 80 years later—we’re simply too far removed from the 1930s circus aesthetic it’s pulling from, or a time when little boys wore short pants (although, um…not that short) as a matter of course. Plus, it’s too ingrained in the pop cultural consciousness. I mean, they were questioning the appropriateness of those gams in the ’50s and making fun of it in the ’60s—we are well past being able to apply any sort of semi-objective analysis to it. It’s just here to remind us of what every Robin costume since has been in conversation with.
After he quit being Robin, Dick finally had the chance to choose his own clothing for the first time in 44 years. He, um, maybe should have called Alfred for some advice:
Oh, Richard, honey, no. He’s lucky he’s so beautiful because it’s the only thing that’s allowing him to pull this off even a little (and it’s a very little). I think my favorite part is that as is typical for comics, it’s about five years out of fashion. Sorry, kid, but disco was definitely dead by this point.
Side note: I just noticed that the little yellow bits at his waist kind of look like eyes, like there’s a little face on his belly/groin, and now I can’t look away. Help.
You know, I dislike his second Nightwing look significantly more? At least the first one was playful. This is somehow overly busy but boring at the same time, plus: mullet. It looks like an off-brand action figure you’d buy in a bodega three-pack in 1993 along with a miscolored Spider-Man and a Ninja Turtle.
But it’s still better than whatever’s happening here, which apparently will be hitting the stands this June:
…Let’s move on.
Can there be any doubt?
When Dick got it right, he really got it right. The iconic look (especially after he cut that damn mullet off) is hands down one of the best superhero costumes ever. It’s the opposite of the “boring but busy” look above: it’s breathtakingly simple but still stylish. There’s nothing extraneous to get in the way of his acrobatics, and the pop of bright blue adds a necessary note of friendliness to the no-nonsense black. DC has been fussing with this costume for nearly a decade now, but you can’t improve on perfection. Put him back in the finger stripes, guys.
As Robin, Jason pretty much wore Dick’s old castoffs—like, I’m not actually sure Bruce washed them before stuffing Jason into them. When Jason returned from the dead, he took on another discarded identity: Red Hood, a name formerly used by the Joker, the man who murdered Jason. Since then, Jason has been defined by “trying way too hard while also insisting that he doesn’t care,” and his costume choices are absolutely part of this trend.
Jason Todd is the gritty bad boy of the Batfamily who rides around on a motorcycle (okay, they all ride around on motorcycles) and uses guns and stuff, so he generally rejects the usual trappings of superhero costumery in favor of tactical street gear. This white spandex + cape + extremely goofy and uncomfortable-looking helmet are the exact opposite of Jason’s usual disdain for superhero/villain pageantry. They’re not terrible on their own, but they make zero sense for the character.
Once he’s out of the spandex, it’s basically cargo pants and kevlar plus a weird motorcycle helmet, so whether or not the costume works depends on whether Jason/the artist is, as mentioned above, trying way too hard.
Like: somehow putting facial expressions on a featureless helmet and also encasing his entire body in metal? With a jacket?
Going oh so very lumpy?
Whatever is happening here?
There we go. Creepy featureless helmet, tactical gear that is protective but still possible to move in, total absence of ten thousand unnecessary pouches and buckles. I almost believe this is a genuinely cool dude who doesn’t desperately crave approval from his family at all times! Almost.
(Jason, leave Bizarro alone, he is a gentle soul who just wants to smell flowers and talk backwards.)
Ohhhh Tim. Speaking of “trying too hard.” Ever since Damian took over as Robin and Tim got bumped to Red Robin, he’s been…let’s say overcompensating. His New 52 look was particularly, um, choice:
We’ve got double criss-cross straps! We’ve got bicep garters! We’ve got giant feathery wings which, I’m sorry, do not allow you to fly no matter what Greek mythology might tell you. Every element of this costume seems more arbitrarily placed than the last. Is his logo on the side of his shoulder? Is his belt buckle over his hip? Are those wheels in the middle of his boots???
His latest look, this inexplicably brown number, is better but baffling. Tim, stealing Wolverine’s rejected outfits is not a responsible use of pan-dimensional travel!
(Is this Tim’s first look without a cape? That’s weirding me out.)
It is sad to me that Tim has looked so bad for so long because his original Robin costume was absolutely flawless:
I mean, this is taking that dorky, dated original Robin look (sorry OG Robin look, I love you but for sentimental reasons only) and making it cool for the first time in history. It’s not just the pants, although the pants are obviously crucial. It’s the long, heavy black cape with the yellow lining; it’s the great details like the textured sleeves and gloves and the split-toed boots. Much like the classic Nightwing costume manages to be utterly simple without being boring, Tim’s original costume is complex without being busy.
And Tim has another great look in his closet!
I’ve mostly stuck to the comics for this retrospective because looking at animation, movies, and video games means opening up so many cans of Batworms, and a great number of those costumes are just riffs on comics originals. But this look was created for Tim’s introduction to Batman: The Animated Series, and it’s sublime. Removing the cool-toned green gives Tim a sharper color story in line with the edgier look of the later seasons, but the short cape and sleeves retain that crucial youthful quality. They later attempted to reverse engineer this costume onto Comics Tim, but without that very clean, crisp BTAS look it never really worked.
I would say that Steph has consistently had the best fashion of all the Robins. I mean, yes, admittedly I am a shameless Stephanie Brown stan, but my girl has taste. Even her very ’90s original Spoiler costume was reasonably sleek, even with the requisite on-trend thigh garter and bandolier.
But Tim isn’t the only one who’s had a rough time of it in the current Young Justice series:
To be fair, this is an alternate universe Steph—the Batwoman of Earth-3—but if Tim can get credit for an animated look, Steph can get dinged for an alternate universe one. This is just baffling. Why the cowl neck? Why the goggles? Why the implausibly vertical hair? Just, no.
Yes, this is just Tim’s costume with a miniskirt. Yes, it is gendered and impractical to give the girl Robin a miniskirt and a huge bouffant of grabbable hair. I don’t care. This look has made my heart sing since the moment I saw it on the stands, and it’s my list. Rock on with your fabulous self, Stephanie.
Steph’s Batgirl costume beautifully marries her classic eggplant hue with the equally purple Batgirl tradition (remember Yvonne Craig?). The textured ribbing on the sides neatly incorporates the athletic gear trend of a decade ago without drowning in it like so many costumes of the era did, making the overall costume look structured and wearable. Only #looks from Ms. Stephanie Brown, thank you very much.
Damian has only been around for 14 years, which is basically a picosecond in comics time (remember, we’re celebrating Dick’s 80th birthday!), and he hasn’t really experimented much sartorially in that time. Aside from an extremely brief and aesthetically unnoteworthy stint as “Redbird,” the two looks below are pretty much the sum total of his fashion history. Luckily for my purposes, one is great and one’s a real stinker.
Here’s the stinker:
Bruce has a prophetic dream that Damian will grow up to dress like this and it convinces him that his life’s work has been in vain, and you know what, fair. “What if spandex but also trenchcoat?” was not a question I needed answered, but here we are. That skirt looks impossible to move in, that collar eliminates all peripheral vision, and I can’t help thinking that the whole thing makes faint squeaking noises when he moves because of all the layers of weird rubbery fabric. No, child.
Damian’s Robin costumes have all basically been variations on this with the tunic shorter or longer and the accessories tweaked. And it’s great. Like Tim’s before it, it makes the Robin costume cool while also personalizing it to the wearer. The cloak nods to Damian’s training as an assassin, the sharp edges match his spiky little personality, and the kneepads are frankly just adorable. Safety first when you’re stopping just short of fulfilling your childhood programming to murder everyone who threatens your path to world domination!
This is only a sampling of the many, many different costumes these five characters have worn over the decades—I haven’t even touched on the retconned New 52 Robin costumes for the first three, which: woof. Luckily these children have all chosen Bruce Wayne as a role model, so we know they have terrible judgment and will be donning atrocious looks for years to come. Which Robin costumes are your favorites, and which really, really aren’t? Let us know on social!