Without a doubt, Batman is one of the most popular comic book characters in the history of comics. The franchise has become so popular that it now spans over several media and the characters and the locations from the franchise have become an essential piece of modern-day pop culture. But today’s article is not about the Caped Crusader, it is about his trusted sidekick – Robin, the Boy Wonder. Debuting back in 1940, a year after Batman’s own debut, Robin has become the archetypal comic book sidekick and a vitally important part of the Batman mythos. Although the costume has remained – more or less – the same, several people have worn the costume in the main Batman canon. This article is about those people.
A Brief History of the Robin Character
The character of Robin was first introduced in April 1940, in Detective Comics #38; this happened about a year after Batman’s own debut in the comic books. Initially, Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger were credited for his creation, but Jerry Robinson, another pivotal DC Comics artists, seems to have been the main inspiration.
The story on how the character was actually created vary. In one version, Robin was the product of Jerry Robinson’s fascination with Robin Hood and his stories; hence the name and the medieval-looking costume, highly contrasted to Batman’s dark outfit.
Another story suggests that his name does not come from the famous medieval outlaw, but rather from the American robin, a small bird, which was referenced in some later comics. Bill Finger, on the other hand, stated that Robin was imagined as Batman’s Watson, since Batman was initially presented as having been (partially at least) inspired by Sherlock Holmes.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, and knowing the interpersonal relations between DC’s editorial team during the 40s, it would not surprise us if every version was at least partially true.
As the years passed, Robin became an essential sidekick to Batman. The character evolved from the campy, happy-go-lucky child to a very complex character, usually with a very dark background. The stories changed over the years, as DC Comics decided to keep the Robin persona, but change the person wearing the mask. The character of Robin, thus, persisted, but the characters behind the masked evolved and moved on. In the main canon of Batman’s stories, there have been five Robins:
|Real name||Character Debut*||Later alter ego|
|Dick Grayson||Detective Comics #38 (April 1940)||Nightwing|
|Jason Todd||Batman #357 (March 1983)||Red Hood|
|Tim Drake||Batman #436 (August 1989)||Red Robin|
|Stephanie Brown||Detective Comics #647 (June 1992)||Spoiler / Batgirl|
|Damian Wayne||Batman #655 (September 2006)||None|
In the following paragraphs, we are going to tell you more about each of the Robins.
1. Dick Grayson – The First Robin
Richard John Grayson, better known as Dick Grayson, was the first Robin in the main continuity of Batman stories. He was first introduced in the afore mentioned Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) as Robin, The Boy Wonder, Batman’s acrobatically talented young sidekick. He is the Robin with the longest tenure behind the small domino mask.
Dick Grayson’s origin story is a dark one, although some changes have been made to it as the character developed. The most accepted story is that he was the youngest member of the “Flying Graysons”, a family of acrobats that frequently visited Gotham and entertained the people. Due to unresolved issues with mafia boss Tony Zucco, the “Flying Graysons” had an “accident” and died during a performance.
Young Richard did not participate in the act and he was able to see Zucco sabotage the ropes, which lead to the accident. Batman took Dick Grayson in; the relationship changed from Batman being a legal ward to Dick being his adopted son, depending on the author. Soon after learning Bruce Wayne’s secret, Dick Grayson became – Robin.
After years of being Batman’s sidekick and shortly after the leader of the Teen Titans, Dick Grayson decided he was tired of the Robin persona and sometime after the famous Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, he decided to go solo and become the masked vigilante known as Nightwing. Although he continued his collaboration with Batman and was a presence in Gotham City, Nightwing’s primary domain was the neighbouring town of Blüdhaven.
His adventures as Nightwing are numerous, but since this is an article about Robins, we shall not go into much detail there. Before we continue, it is important to note that Dick Grayson also became Batman at one point, wearing his mentor’s costume on several occasions, most notably in the aftermath of the Final Crisis storyline, where Batman was seemingly killed by Darkseid.
Robin has been present in other media, also in an essential role. Burt Ward played Robin alongside Adam West’s Batman in the 1960s Batman TV series and the 1966 film, while Chris O’Donnell took on the role for the Joel Schumacher-directed movies Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Brenton Thwaites plays the role in the TV series Batman. In the famous Batman: The Animated Series, and its subsequent sequels, Robin/Nightwing was voiced by Loren Lester. The character also appears in the Batman: Arkham video games, among others.
2. Jason Todd – The Second Robin
Introduced in Batman #357 (March 1983), Jason Peter Todd became the second character to don Robin’s costume in Batman #366 (December 1983), several months after his “civilian” debut. He remains the most controversial among the Robins, not only because of his behaviour, but also because of his story.
Initially, he was a complete replica of Dick Grayson (with Killer Croc being the killer instead of Tony Zucco) and was popular among the readers, but things changed a lot since then. First of all, he his origin changed. In the now-accepted origin story, Jason Todd is depicted as a street orphan who comes across Batman while trying to steal the tires of the Batmobile in Crime Ally; Batman catches him and then takes him in, wanting to reform him.
Jason Todd was characterised by his strawberry blonde hair, which was later changed to black like all male Robins. He was also a very rebellious persona and often clashed with Batman, especially over the possibility of killing their opponents.
Due to his controversial nature, Todd quickly became unpopular with the readers and the DC editorial team, led at the time by legendary Dennis O’Neil, decided to offer the readers the chance do decide Todd’s fate; this was also a publicity move, because the popularity of comics was declining at the time, but it had a lot to do with the story.
Namely, O’Neil organised a telephone poll, where the readers would call and decide whether DC should kill Todd or not. This was a unique move in the history of American comics. The poll was organised before the conclusion of the “A Death in the Family” storyline in 1988 and the readers decided to kill Todd by a slim margin of only 72 votes (5,434 to 5,271). In the last issue of the story, Jason Todd was ultimately killed by the Joker in one of the most iconic scenes in the history of American comics.
Although there was a saying that Jason Todd is one of the rare characters (alongside Marvel’s Bucky Barnes and Uncle Ben) that stays dead in the comic books, he was fully resurrected in 2005 in the now-famous “Under the Hood” storyline as the second Red Hood. He was actually revived accidentally when Superboy-Prime altered reality, after which he was aided by Ra’s al-Ghul, before being fully resurrected and wanting to take revenge upon Batman, but later reconciled with his former mentor and became the antihero Red Hood.
Curran Walters portrays Todd in the series Titans, his (to date) only genuine appearance in derivative materials (not including the adaptation of the “Under the Hood” story). He also appears in the Batman: Arkham Knight video game as the supervillain Arkham Knight, before becoming Red Hood and saving Batman from Scarecrow.
3. Tim Drake – The Third Robin
The character of Tim Drake (full name Timothy Jackson Drake) was first introduced in Batman #436 (August 1989), before becoming the third Robin in Batman #442 (December 1989). Created by Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick, he was named after Tim Burton, the director of the 1989 Batman film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.
He was very different than his predecessors in a lot of ways. First of all, he comes from the same social class as Bruce Wayne and does not have a tragic past like the rest of them. He met Dick Grayson as a child and exhibited a genius-level intellect from an early age.
By the age of nine, Tim Drake managed to deduce the true identities of both Batman and Robin, which is why he was able to intervene when Batman became more reckless and violent after Jason Todd’s death. Soon after that, Batman decided to enlist him as the third Robin in 1989.
His intellect was such that Ra’s al-Ghul once bestowed him with the title “Detective”, a name he shared with Batman only, meaning that Ra’s considered him an intellectual equal to Batman.
An important part of his story is connected to the deaths and presumed deaths of his loved ones (his father, his best friend, his girlfriend), which is why he was forced to move from Gotham to Blüdhaven for a while. He also had to give up the mantle for a while after being forced to do so by his father; during this period, his then-girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, became Robin.
After the Battle for the Cowl storyline in 2009, Tim Drake gave the mantle to Damian Wayne, while he became the superhero known as Red Robin.
He has a prominent role in The New Batman Adventures, where his character was blended with Jason Todd; he was voiced by Mathew Valencia. He is the main Robin in the Batman: Arkham video game series.
4. Stephanie Brown – The Fourth Robin
Stephanie Brown had the shortest tenure as Robin, as she only played the part for a short time while Tim Drake, her then-boyfriend, had to “retire” at his father’s request. Stephanie Brown first appeared in Detective Comics #647 (June 1992) and was introduced as the amateur crime-fighter Spoiler in the next issue.
Stephanie Brown is the daughter of Arthur Brown, a quiz-obsessed villain known as the Cluemaster. She was initially just a plot device, but became very popular and was kept for the remainder of the stories. In 2004, after believing that her boyfriend, Tim Drake, was unfaithful to her, she forced Batman to train her as the fourth Robin, which he reluctantly accepted. Stephanie Brown thus became the first and to date only female Robin in the main continuity, but her tenure was not that long.
While working with Batman, Stephanie made a crucial error that resulted in a city-wide gang war in Gotham, during which she ended up being captured by Black Mask. Being the sadist, he is, Black Mask brutally tortured and ultimately killed Stephanie Brown, whose short tenure as Robin ended in a brutal way.
She reappeared quickly, again as Spoiler, only to reveal that she never actually died and that Leslie Thompkins, Batman’s friend, had faked her death during the gang war. Later on, Stephanie Brown also became the fourth person to don the mantle of Batgirl.
Beside Young Justice, she has not appeared in any other media.
5. Damian Wayne – The Fifth Robin
Damian Wayne is the fifth and current Robin. The unnamed infant first appeared in the 1987 comic Batman: Son of the Demon, but was first identified as Damian Wayne in Batman #655 (September 2006) and as Robin in Batman #657 (November 2006).
After sleeping with Talia al-Ghul, Ra’s al-Ghul’s daughter, Batman conceived a child with her. Well, technically… he did and he didn’t. Damian was raised in an artificial womb and is basically a eugenics experiment i.e., a genetically engineered child that was destined to be the heir of Ra’s al-Ghul’s criminal empire (as Batman turned down that offer).
He was raised and trained by the League of Assassins before being given to Batman’s care, which is why they often clashed – Damian was raised by mercenaries and killers, while Batman strictly forbids killing, despite the circumstances. He became Robin at the age of 10, but was ultimately killed by one his mother’s agents in 2013; Batman revived him in 2014 and he has been Robin ever since.
A futuristic, hellish future presented by Grant Morrison in Batman #666 (August 2007) showed Damian becoming a brutal, demonic version of Batman, after inheriting the cowl from his father.
He had a prominent role in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but hasn’t appeared much in other derivative materials, beside direct adaptations of comic book stories.
A Couple of Honourable Mentions
Before we conclude, we’d like to mention something, or someone else to you. The first person we are talking about is Carrie Kelly, a young girl who became Robin in Frank Miller’s cult comic The Dark Knight Returns, which is set outside the main continuity (precisely, on Earth-31). Kelly was, this way, the first female Robin (years before Stephanie Brown), but since this great story was set outside the main continuity, we haven’t included it in our list.
Another honourable mention is the We Are… Robin series, which ran from 2015 to 2016 as part of the New 52 imprint. It shows a group of children in Gotham, led by Duke Thomas, who all became unofficial Robins in the post-Endgame Gotham City. Although not one of the great stories, it is definitely worth a read and a mention on our site.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped answer your questions for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!