Saturday, March 2, 2013

Robin, Robin, Red Robin, and Robin

On Wednesday, the current Robin died. Yesterday, I published my second "1987 And All That" column on The Chemical Box, about Max All Collins' revamp of the Jason Todd character, who would eventually become the first Robin to die. The pseudo-coincidental timing of this was unplanned (I committed to writing my Robin thing a couple months ago), but the result was that in the days leading up to the publication of my piece, I got to read a TON of other online articles about the Boy Wonder, exploring the character's history, purpose, necessity, and so forth. They were mostly good, often educational, and sometimes enlightening. But there was one thing that none of them touched upon*, and it's been worming around in my brain for the past couple days, so I thought I'd spew it out here:

Explaining the present state of Robin to anyone not currently reading comicbooks is a difficult and frustrating task.

In the New 52, Batman has had 4 Robins in five years. One of them has died and returned, and another is Batman's now-dead biological son. Neither of those two, however, is Dick Grayson, the Robin with whom most people are familiar (by origin story if not name). And the remaining guy isn't technically Robin but Red Robin, a mantle he's always used in the New 52 for reasons still unexplained. I'm losing myself a little in trying to summarize all of this, and I already know that I know what I mean.

I've had a couple of conversations with lapsed or non-readers about Batman's sidekick and how much turnover the position sees, and in general the response if bafflement ("Wait, which one is this?/How many are there, again?/Who is the son's mom? Talia what?"). Now, it's certainly not anyone's duty to make the history of the Robin role (or that of any ongoing character) easy to digest or understand, so I don't even think I'm complaining here. It's just something I have noticed and been reminded of in recent days. "Robin" now includes a complex, confusing, chronologically improbable legacy that has only been widened by the death of the most recent child to carry the name. Damien Wayne will now be replaced by a fifth kid, who I believe we already know is going to be a young woman, although that may just be Internet speculation. It's exciting, I suppose, to see who the newest Robin will turn out to be, but that doesn't make her addition to the greater Batman tapestry any less complicating. In an industry that needs fresh fan blood, a female Robin might potentially bring some in, which is great. Yet at the same time, every additional piece of the ever-expanding continuity puzzle means one more obstacle for any hypothetical new reader to overcome.

And it raises the question, in my mind, Why does Batman keep bringing in new Robins, anyway? Evidently it only takes like a year to graduate out of the job anymore, and now that there is a Batman, Inc. in place, including all of the previous Robins, the hiring of yet another short-term underaged personal assistant seems somewhat redundant. With the convoluted history surrounding Robin, maybe its time for DC to give it a bit of a rest, let Batman and his gaggle of former proteges handle things on their own for a while. Or maybe I am just zeroing in on a pointless detail that doesn't matter. Could be both.

*That I saw. If this was, in fact, covered elsewhere, my apologies for missing it and repeating the sentiment.

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