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Why Robin Makes Batman Better

Illustration for article titled Why Robin Makes Batman Better

Robin plays a big part in the Harley Quinn's Revenge DLC that hits Batman: Arkham City today. Yeah, it's apparently not that great. But the character's presence in the add-on reminds me that people exist who really, really hate the Boy Wonder. I mean, folks who rabidly rail against the very idea of a Robin.

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Those people are wrong. Robin is one of the best things about the Batman mythology.

It was about a year ago when I last had a conversation with Polygon's Chris Plante about whether Robin's an epically pointless character. I remember Plante's argument was something along the lines of "why would this grim avenger of the night ever adopt a boy, put him in green hotpants and have him fight crime with him?"

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When Robin, the Boy Wonder got introduced in 1940, it started off the kid sidekick trope in superhero comics and just as significantly, the move also gave young male readers a four-color reflection of themselves. Part of the character's creation might have been market-driven. With adult superheroes popping up all over the place, a kid crusader on a comic-book cover would stand out. Still, it's a bit weird to think that some people hate The Dark Knight's junior partner when he's been around almost as long as Batman himself. Surely, the longevity of the concept would quiet such haters, no?

Illustration for article titled Why Robin Makes Batman Better

But it hasn't. The most infamous example of Robin hate happened when more fans called into a 1-900 number and voted to have Jason Todd—the second person to wear the Robin costume—die after being badly beaten by the Joker. The margin of live-vs-die votes was close and that in and of itself stands as testament to a strain of Boy Wonder antipathy that had been brewing for a while, though to be fair a lot of it was probably Jason Todd-specific.

Superhero comics get called out a lot for being adolescent male power fantasies. Its pantheon is filled with characters who deal with trauma in ways that would be unhealthy in the real world and who use might to make right. Batman's a classic example of that argument, some would argue. Bruce Wayne could've moved on from the death of his parents without creating a macabre psychological construct that essentially preserves his grief for his entire life. Is Batman emotionally stunted, then? You could make a case for that.

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Robin, however, punches out that logic. When Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane had Bruce Wayne take a suddenly bereaved Dick Grayson under his wing, it introduced an element of empathy and family to Batman's evolution. After all, Batman could've been a hard-ass and left the tearful, traumatized boy acrobat at the circus. But the oath that Dick Grayson swears in the Batcave doesn't get the kid on the vengeance trail. It also pulls Bruce Wayne back from a darkness that would eat him alive.

Part of what we see in the Batman/Robin relationship is the ability to create family out of incredibly dire circumstances. It also gives him something to lose. If Batman dies in the course of battling evil, he's fulfilling the idea of a hero's ultimate sacrifice. In a way, it's what he supposed to do.

But if Robin dies while fighting crime, it's more tragic. He's younger and—by virtue of that and Batman's caretaking—hopefully less bound to the dark obsession that drives his mentor. He's also a brighter counterpoint to Batman's dour demeanor. So, if evil snuffs out the Boy Wonder, there goes Batman down into that abyss of grief again.

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Critics who've tried to explain the anti-Robin sentiment have theorized that the Boy Wonder undermines the aspirational aspect of the Bat-mythos. Batman's only human and part of the appeal of the character is the implicit promise that you can become him if you train, study and brood enough. But if you're a kid reading about Robin, he's already more awesome than you'll ever be at the same age. And, it's even worse if you're an adult reading Robin because the same reasons get multiplied.

Yet, I'd argue that Robin's very existence means that Batman's not so far off the bend that people can't still care about him. In one way, it doesn't matter who's wearing the R-emblazoned red vest. They're all protégés and student in Bruce Wayne's obsessive crusade, interchangeable according to the needs of plot and subtext. But in another way, the specific presence of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Carrie Kelley, Stephanie Brown, Tim Drake or Damian Wayne changes things greatly. You get the child who'll honor a father figure in their own way or the truculent spawn who haunts the same father's memory. Maybe it's the well-adjusted kid who handles the pressure abnormally well, the eager-to-please offspring working with a distant dad, or the prodigy brat whose skills outstrip their maturity. But the thing that connects all of them is that they highlight the Dark Knight's humanity in a way that's not incredibly bleak.

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DISCUSSION

I can tell you exactly why people hate Robin, there are a few reasons actually.

He started out exactly as you said, a marketing ploy. And that ws just fine! Comics were very campy back then and he fit right in. Also he was decidedly a sidekick... no boy ever wanted to grow up to be Robin, they wanted to be Batman.

The issue with Robin popped up when the book became serious and darker again. Suddenly this technicolor tag-along became very out of place in batman's world. The logical thing to do would have been to kill him and use that grief to further Batman's crusade, but NOOOO they had to do what every company did to a aging character in the 90's... they threw him in a black suit and tried to make him all emo.... thus Nightwing was born.

Some people love that character... we call those people the brain-dead sheep that actually fall for these lame marketing ploys. Nightwing is the very definition of a desperate corporate attempt to save a character that no longer appeals to a modern audience. Most Batman fans hated the fact that Robin was no more, so much so that they ignored the fact that he no longer had a place in the mythos. Thus Jason Todd, Tim Drake and now Damian. Each more emo than the last and each so un-robin like that they might as well not be there.

It's the crime fighting part that kills it really. Batman having an adopted son, that aspect of the characters is really good and they should work with that, but having a teenage boy with no super powers fighting criminals in a modern book is just silly...THAT is why people hate Robin.