There have been many to bear the mantle of Robin, and each one has been an important part of DC's history. It's no easy task being the partner to the Dark Knight, but the following sidekicks have shown that they have what it takes. As we celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Robin, join me as we take a look back on the rich history of these beloved characters.
The original and arguably most famous Robin, Dick Grayson was first introduced by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson in DETECTIVE COMICS #38 (1940). He was created to give Batman someone to talk to instead of always having inner dialogue, but also as a way to make Batman a more accessible character to kids and grow young readership. It was highly successful and nearly doubled the sales of Batman comics at the time.
Dick Grayson was an acrobat who along with his mother and father performed as part of Haly’s Circus under the name, “The Flying Graysons.” One day, both of his parents were killed during a performance when their rig was sabotaged by a gangster, “Boss” Zucco, because the circus owner refused to pay his extortion money. Bruce Wayne witnessed the tragedy and felt a kinship with the now orphaned Dick Grayson and took him under his wing. He built on Grayson’s acrobatic skills to train him as his sidekick. Robin, the Boy Wonder was born.
Over time, Batman and Robin became almost synonymous with each other, collectively earning the moniker of the “Dynamic Duo.” Dick served as Robin for over forty years, which is the longest stint behind the mask. Throughout that time, his role within comics expanded exponentialy. Solo adventures were produced, and eventually Dick moved from a simple sidekick to the leader of his own team—the Teen Titans.
As they say, nothing last forever. As the comic industry got darker and more sophisticated in the 1970s, Robin was used less frequently. Eventually Dick Grayson retired to attend university and eventually spread his wings. In 1984, he became Nightwing, which left the now abandoned Robin persona open for someone new, Jason Todd.
To this day Dick Grayson has been one of the most important characters in the DCU. He's gone through many changes, whether it be donning the cowl and becoming Batman himself or even spending time as a secret agent for SPYRAL, but one thing has always remained. He is the glue that connects every major character in the DCU and continues to be a shinging example of what it means to be a hero.
Jason Todd was the second Robin, and historically one of the most interesting ones considering everything that’s happened to him since he was first introduced in 1983.
Jason Todd is almost a complete contrast to the lightheartedness of Dick Grayson this. Or rather, he is now. But this wasn’t always the case.
When Jason was first introduced in BATMAN #357 (which was also the first appearance of Killer Croc), he was actually similar to Dick Grayson. Like Dick, Jason was the son of circus acrobats who were killed by a criminal. He was good-natured and largely obedient. In fact, the biggest change may have been his red hair, which Jason dyed dark after he became Robin.
However, all of this changed after 1985-86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, which rebooted much of DC’s continuity. In BATMAN #408, writer Max Allen Collins wrote a new introduction to Jason Todd. In this take, Jason was a street kid who first met Batman when he tried stealing the tires off of the Batmobile. Troubled, rebellious and difficult, this was a very different take on Robin and caused a lot of strife amongst fans, something that became apparent when in 1988 they famously voted in favor of Jason’s death during the A DEATH IN THE FAMILY storyline. As a result, Jason Todd was the first and for many years only Robin to die on the job.
While many were critical of the death of Jason Todd , it’s proven to be one of the most important events in Batman’s history. The grief and guilt Bruce Wayne felt over Jason’s death drove or played into Batman storylines for many years to come. However, it wasn’t too long until another Robin emerged, Tim Drake
But Jason didn't remain dead forever, he was resurrected in 2005 as the gun-toting antihero Red Hood. While at first he and Batman went at each other, he has since been welcomed back into the Bat family, even if begrudgingly. While he flirts with the line of hero/villain, he has become a fan favorite amongst many fans and continues to star in his own book.
Tim Drake was the third Robin within official DC Universe continuity, adopting the mantle after the death of Jason Todd. However, this didn't happen immediately. Tim made his debut appearance in a flashback within 1989’s BATMAN #436 where we learned that as a young child, he had been in the audience during the Flying Graysons’ fateful performance that ended with the death of Dick’s parents. Afterwards, he witnessed Bruce Wayne comforting the shocked and grieving Dick, something that helped him eventually piece together the identity of both Batman and Robin. It was here we began to see his keen detective mind at work. When he noticed that Batman was becoming more and more unhinged after the death of Jason Todd, Tim approached Batman about becoming his newest Robin. The Dark Knight eventually agreed after Tim’s mother was murdered and his father was crippled by a villain’s poison.
With an updated costume and a personality that seemed to be a perfect balance of Jason’s edge with Dick’s devotion and dedication, Tim's popularity was astounding. In 1993 he became the first Robin to have his own ongoing comic book series. While Tim became a skilled fighter under Bruce Wayne’s tutelage, he was in many ways known more for his mind then his fighting skills. He used his computer skills and natural detective skills to outsmart his opponents almost as often as he defeated them at combat.
When Tim retired from his duties as Robin for a stretch, and eventually graduated to the role of Red Robin, his girlfriend, formerly Spoiler, took up the mantle of Robin.
With all of the New52 and Rebirth changes, Tim also has see many changes to his story. One thing has always remained though, he is one of Batmans most trusted allies and continues be one of DC's most beloved characters. He even recently changes his alias to Drake in the current Young Justice series.
The daughter of the villainous Cluemaster, Stephanie Brown is probably better known for her two other heroic identities, the Spoiler and Batgirl, than for her brief stint as Robin. In fact, of the “in universe” Robins, only Stephanie Brown was dropped as a former Robin when DC rebooted their universe in 2011 with The New 52.
Debuting in DETECTIVE COMICS #647, Stephanie Brown, unlike her predecessors, wasn’t created to be a Robin. In fact, she was originally created her purpose to foil her father’s criminal plots, leaving telltale clues for Batman and the GCPD so that they’d eventually capture him. Stephanie proved to be so popular, however, leading writer Chuck Dixon to use her in his ongoing Robin series. Eventually, she began dating Tim Drake and for a short while replaced him as Robin before Batman fired her due to her lack of experience.
Unlike Dick, Jason, and Tim, Stephanie never went through the same rigorous training and often made mistakes. While this lack of finesse was part of her appeal, it proved dangerous when she was tortured and killed by Black Mask. However, her death was later revealed to have been faked by Dr. Leslie Thompkins.
In current DC Universe continuity, Stephanie Brown debuted in the weekly series BATMAN ETERNAL, which ended with her once again adopting the Spoiler identity as a way of taking revenge on her criminal father.
She continues to appear hearvand there and can most recently be found in Young Justice. She's proof that no matter how many reboots, you can't keep a good character down.
Perhaps the most unique Robin, Damian Wayne, inherited the mantle after Tim Drake graduated to Red Robin. Drawing inspiration from earlier Ra’s al Ghul storylines, Grant Morrison introduced Damian Wayne in BATMAN #655 as a part of the acclaimed “Batman and Son” storyline. While Dick, Jason and Tim can all be seen as figurative, and at times adopted, sons of Bruce Wayne, Damian is the only one who’s actually Bruce’s biological child.
Mothered by Talia al Ghul, genetically perfected and trained since birth to be an assassin under his grandfather, Bruce had no knowledge of Damian’s existence until Talia showed up with him one day and left him with Bruce.
Calling Damian something of a problem child would be putting it mildly. Damian wanted to become Batman’s newest Robin from the start, it didn’t matter to him that someone else happened be in the role (Tim). It wasn’t until Bruce Wayne seemingly died and Dick Grayson became Batman for a brief and memorable run that Damian was finally was given the costume and officially became the fifth and current Robin.
With his occasionally brutal behavior and constant internal struggle to take the heroic, non-lethal path of his father rather than the violent one demonstrated to him by Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, Damian has proven to be both volatile and exciting .
Continuing as Robin after the launch of The New 52, Damian made headlines when Morrison chose to kill him off at the end of his BATMAN, INCORPORATED series. However, much like with Jason, the death didn’t last and Damian returned to life in 2014’s ROBIN RISES.
He has continued the legacy of Robin to this say and has grown a lot since his debut. He's currently the leader of this generations Tern Titans and has developed a strong bond with Jon Kent aka Superboy. He continues to make both his father and the rest of the Bat-family proud.
One of the most remarkable things about each Robin is how relevant all of them remain. While many super heroes have gone through various iterations (just look at The Flash, for one example), it's rare when all versions continue to thrive even after they’ve moved on from their more famous identities. Yet, each one of the above characters are still extremely active in DC comic books, making regular appearances in the Batman series of books and boasting their own solo or team-up comics. All of them are integral to the DCU and continue to have a huge following of devoted fans.