The young boy who kicked off the comic book trend of teen sidekicks has been a figure of fun to some, a son to others, a friend, a boyfriend, a partner and brother to others. From Dick Grayson to Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown and Carrie Kelley, everyone has a favourite Robin and every fan has their favourite Robin stories. For those of you who have no idea where to start I hope this gets you interested and for those who know their stuff I hope my take on things brings you some joy. So without further adieu let’s pop on our pixie boots and head out in our speedos.
32. Underworld Unleashed:Buggin’-1995
Well we’re off to a weird start then as is often the case on Kinker Korner. This little issue is set during the multi title crossover Underworld Unleashed which focused on certain villains. It focuses on Killer Moth, a joke of a villain who has a breakdown due to the mockery and low standing he has in the villain community. He is visited by a demon, ends up in some sort of mad cocoon and comes out of it as a Cronenbergian moth monster now known as Charaxes. A proper weird little horror tale and very different for the ongoing Robin title.
31. Return Of The Flying Grayson-1973
A cool wee backup story that sees Robin taking down a group of thieves as a couple of brothers look on. They talk to him about his agility and how it reminds them of the young Grayson boy from The Flying Graysons….awkward. They discuss who is the better athlete but Robin replies that it’s impossible to tell as they’ve never been in the same place together wink wink. Fun wee story.
30. At Dark Dawn-1997
This contemplative one shot is set during the Genesis event in which superheroes lost their powers and the world seemed like it was coming to an end. Batman and Robin are out stopping a crime spree brought on by the panic when Robin questions the point of trying when the world is ending anyway. Batman explains to him that winning isn’t the point, it’s the right thing to do and he’ll never stop. He explains to Robin that he’s better than that and he believes in him to prove it. Robin later takes those words to heart when saving a young gangster who is trapped under debris with water rising. He realises that the young boy is terrified and just trying to fit in. It’s a great issue that drives home the purpose of the hero and for a young man like Time Drake it’s a real learning experience.
29. A Partner For Batman-1951
A sweet little tale from the golden things weren’t gritty but they were mainly…..well terrible in terms of Batman stories. That said this wee story is cute and sees Robin pick up an injury on a mission. Batman takes on Wingman for a while instead. Wingman was in training to be Europe’s Batman and he took Robin’s place while he was incapacitated. Robin freaks out and starts greetin’ and bawling thinking he is permanently replaced and it’s fitting as he is a kid at the end of the day, something writers often forget. The confusion is cleared and Batman let’s his young ward know how important he is. All wrapped up nicely without a twenty issue crossover, them was the days eh?.
28. Flying Solo-1993
After three successful miniseries featuring the then new Robin Tim Drake, DC decided to give him his own ongoing series and Chuck Dixon would write it. Dixon became known in the 90s as the writer of most of the Bat-family stories and he really got a hold on the dynamic between them all and pretty much molded our perceptions of what characters like Drake and Spoiler should be written like. In this first arc the massive Knightfall arc was still running and the increasingly violent and disturbed Jean Paul Valley was Batman while Bane had broken Bruce Wayne’s back. Robin is dismissed and shunned by Valley and so heads out on his own where he meets Stephanie Brown, Spoiler who he would form a strong relationship with and who would become a huge fan favourite.
The backup story in this 1970 issue is all about Robin chasing down a couple of kids who have run away from a corrective home to presumable cause trouble (bloody kids eh?). After a fight with them he finds out that the kids were desperately trying to escape the home because there is a crime ring recruiting kids from the home and forcing them into their dastardly ways. The two kids were trying to break it up and Robin learns a lesson about diving in feet first.
26. The Origin Of Robin-1969
This 30th anniversary issue takes a look at how a few characters came to be but the wee story we’re looking at is a retelling of Dick Grayson’s tale of how he became the first Robin. From his parent’s murder during their spectacular Flying Graysons trapeze act to Batman taking him in as his ward and training him it’s a story most comic book fans know well but it’s nice and compactly told here by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn in dynamic fashion by Ross Andru.
Superstar artist Lee Bermejo gave writing a shot with this ongoing series looking at a group of downtrodden youths inspired by Robin who decide to come together and give this vigilante business a go. The only problem is they are not skilled martial artists, don’t have money for gadgets etc and are being led by a mysterious voice (through text messages) called Nest. It leads to well intentioned actions ending in disastrous results at times and it’s such a great concept. Bermejo proves he’s a hell of writer as well as a talented artist. I wish he had done the art on this though, he only did the first few covers.
24….And Red All Over-2004
The mid 00s isn’t the most fondly remembered time in the Batman mythos with the War Games and War Drums stories wielding disastrous critical responses and some bizarre editorial choices. That said this little one shot in which a brand new Robin (Stephanie Brown)
has taken over from Tim Drake after his dad found out his secret life and demanded he stop. Batman surely could have written him a note for god’s sake. Anyway her first mission sees her out investigating a couple of murders when Batman realises it’s Mr Zsasz on the rampage and demands Steph stays out of this one as he’s far too dangerous. She learns a tough lesson about Batman’s strict and insanely stubborn rules when she ends up saving him and still gets a stern dressing down and punishment as a result. It really drives home how tough Batman works his wards especially since the death of Jason Todd. Steph’s time as Robin was very brief but this little tale was a good one.
23. Requiem For A Titan-1968
What a cracking cover by Nick Cardy. This Teen Titans tale deals with self doubt and seeming loss as we join Robin who is being taunted by a villain named Gargoyle who seems to be showing him his friends and Teen Titans members dead and he is distraught. We end up in a flashback all setting up how we got here. It’s one of those one shot contemplative issues that comics can do so well at their best.
DC tested the water of Tim Drake’s popularity with his first five issue miniseries which went over really well. It sees Tim travel to Paris on Batman’s dime to learn from highly skilled martial arts masters. While there he gets up to all sorts of shenanigans and falls afoul of a heroin dealer and his gang while Lady Shiva, one of the best martial artists in the entire DC universe gets involved. The first ever Robin to get his own mini and it’s a great wee one.
A couple of years before the Columbine school shooting in America and the following years repeating the phenomenon in a seemingly endless cycle of insanity Chuck Dixon took on the subject of gun violence in schools. At Robin’s school a group of kids get their hands on guns and silly arguments turn into life and death situations. This kind of topic is commonplace in media now but this was incredibly bold at the time.
20. Batman And Robin The Boy Wonder-1940
So here we are, the 40s have begun and we have the birth of the teenage sidekick. Many more would follow but Robin was the first. We know Dick Grayson’s background story, at least you should if you were reading and paying attention earlier!. Traveling circus performer, trapeze artist parents refuse to cooperate with gangsters, said gangsters kill parents, Bruce Wayne takes in young Dick (stop it) and so the dynamic duo were born. …Jesus no wonder America took their time getting involved in world war two with this kind of entertainment at home.
19.A Death In The Family-1988/1989
Much like it’s placement on my top Batman stories list it’s here mainly on importance levels rather than quality although it is enjoyable in a completely insane and confused way. The tone is all over the place with Jason Todd searching for his mum in a compelling and tragic story whilst The Joker becomes the Iranian ambassador in one of the most stupid and unintentionally hilarious plot devices in Batman since the 60s. I’ve talked about it and the storied history of Jason Todd’s death in the Batman list so go check it out. Suffice to say a young boy being mashed to death by a crowbar and blown up sits alongside that Joker subplot like gravy and yoghurt.
18. The Odds Against-2009
A really enjoyable wee story from a time when the series wasn’t at it’s best at all. Stephanie is dead (before that was retconned) but Robin keeps seeing visions of her as Spoiler that end up being things like tablecloths….He’s in a relationship with a girl called Zoanne and his constant distractions and late night missions are putting a huge strain on the couple. Oh and The Condiment King is in it….sold?
17. Did Robin Die Tonight-1987
This is the first appearance of the post crisis Jason Todd….sigh….ok so Crisis On Infinite Earths was a DC wide story that rebooted the entire universe so Jason Todd had existed before that and was really just a carbon copy of Dick Grayson. Here we meet Todd jacking the wheels of the batmobile. He’s a tearaway, a wild lad and wildly unpopular with readers which I never understood. It seems readers didn’t want any tension and just wanted Robin to go along with Bruce and do whatever he says with a smile on his face like the good old days. Todd brought challenges to Bruce like having a teenage kid would do and it led to a great, troubled dynamic but hey ho, the readers spoke and he was killed of in Death In The Family.
After the huge critical and commercial smash that was Year One DC tried it again with the average Year Two that was ok but weighed up against it’s predecessor it wasn’t even close to being as good. So when Year got it’s turn to shine it came and went without making much of a splash which is a shame as it’s really underrated and tells yet another story of Dick Grayson’s tragic beginnings interspersed with a current story of him as Nightwing. Sadly overlooked although Pat Broderick’s art isn’t his best.
15.Robin ii: The Joker’s Wild-1991
As previously discussed, the first Robin miniseries was a huge success but instead of diving in and starting an ongoing series they dipped their toe in the water again with a sequel. This one was very entertaining and sees the first meeting between The Joker and Tim Drake. It’s not long after Jason Todd’s death and so Joker coming face to face with Tim Drake shocks him deeply as he thinks it’s Jason. Batman is out of town on a mission and so Tim has to deal with The Joker who is way above the danger of his normal villains so it’s a massive test for him.
14. Fear Of God-1998
Kelley Puckett and Dave Taylor tell the story of how Robin and Superman met. This is Dick Grayson as Robin who, if you know your dick (sigh), has had a long obsession with the Man Of Steel even taking an old Kryptonian name when he became Nightwing. So here we see him in complete awe when he meets his hero and can’t believe it when Superman leans on him for his detective skills to help track down criminals. Superman is the light to Batman’s dark so here Dick gets to share his playful side with someone who is also a child at heart and indulges his charming nature. It’s lovely to see Robin so utterly elated and just an incredibly sweet piece of storytelling.
13. Batman Reborn-2009
It took me a long time to warm to Grant Morrison’s take on Batman with his sprawling epic being incredibly confusing unless you kept up with every issue over about five series but this cracking series of Batman And Robin was what got me on side. Bruce Wayne is “dead” and so Dick Grayson has taken up the cowl of Batman and Bruce’s newly discovered son Damian Wayne (trained from birth by the league of assassins) becomes Robin. Damian had been a psychopathic killer child with very little redeeming features up until this point but his dynamic (excuse the pun) with Dick became a brilliant big brother little brother relationship. Scottish superstar creative team of Morrison and Frank Quitely deliver with this hugely entertaining series with new villains and excellent artistic panel placement by Quitely.
When legendary Scottish writer Alan Grant created the anti hero Anarky in the late 80s he was card carrying anarchist and incredibly well read on the far left political philosophy. That’s why whenever any other writer uses Anarky in their stories it rarely works as they just don’t get it. They use him as a full on villain just smashing shit up and soullessly complaining about rich people when there’s far far more to it than that. Being of a far left disposition myself I love the character and to see him written by Grant in the kids series based on the animated tv show is not only shocking but brilliant. DC teaching kids about anarchist philosophy? that one slipped past editorial no doubt. As Anarky is a teenager he’s perfect as a foil for Robin and there’s an excellent bit where Robin bests him in a fight and Anarky asks what his crimes were and if he agrees with his philosophies….Robin walks away confused and wondering why he agrees so much with him. It’s way above the usual kids comic in terms of intellectual writing which is expected from Alan Grant.
11. Red Rob: The Grail-2010
Unfortunately it seems when most writers get to do a Batman related series they want to make it all grimdark which obviously works for Batman himself but for Robin he’s supposed to be the light to Batman’s dark, the effervescent, naive joy to his nihilistic view of the world. That said, Chris Yost took Tim Drake in this dark direction at a time when it actually made sense. Batman is gone, presumed dead, Dick Grayson is now Batman and Damian Wayne is Robin. Tim feels completely forgotten about and with good reason, he’s an afterthought at this point. He becomes Red Robin and goes to work on his own with the resolute belief that his adoptive dad Bruce Wayne is still alive. It’s dark Robin but with good damn reason.
10.The Boy Wonder Returns-2013
The last big bang at the culmination of Grant Morrison’s giant epic run saw Damian Wayne, the character he created, die at the hands of Leviathan. It was an odd time too as when he was brought into the comics fans detested him but by the time of his death when he was the new Robin they had grown to love him so it hit hard. The fact he’s a wee ten year old boy just drives it home which is why it made my saddest moment in comics list. Seeing Batman hold his son’s lifeless body in his arms is heartbreaking.
What a fun one shot issue this is from writer Paul Dini with great art from Don Kramer whose Joker I love. Robin spends the majority of this Christmassy issue tied up in the taxi from hell as Joker joyrides through Gotham smashing into civilians while a couple of dead bodies sit in the back seat. It’s insanely cinematic and perfectly paced. Just an enthralling and exhilarating one shot.
8. The Gauntlet-1997
This cracking graphic novel looks at Dick Grayson’s first mission as Robin. Batman has told him to hide out in Gotham and if he can avoid being found by The Caped Crusader then he gets to be Robin full time. Once out in Gotham he stumbles across a mugging which he breaks up. This leads him to a much larger scheme so he must break up the gang’s operation whilst also avoiding Batman. Turns out Batman has been watching in the shadows for a while and is so impressed with him, not only for his physical skills but for his detective work as well. Brilliant stuff.
7.Fear For Sale-1987
Mike W. Barr’s run on the series is one that often gets overlooked which is a shame as he had a lot of great issues in there. This one in particular sees Batman and Jason Todd Robin hit by Scarecrow’s fear toxin where Robin sees Batman die in his hallucinations, allowing Scarecrow to capture him during the confusion. It turns out Batman was hit with a new toxin that removes fear and makes people do stupid things ignoring risks. After saving Robin he is asked how he managed to fight through it he explains that he managed to place his greatest fear in his mind and we see that it’s Jason dying. Incredible prophetic as he would suffer that loss a couple of years later.
6. The Diplomat’s Son-1988
I adore this one shot and point any bandwagon jumpers to it when they discuss how rubbish Jason Todd was. This to me is exactly what made the dynamic of Tod and Batman so great. They bust up an attempted rape of a young woman but find out that the perpetrator is the son of a high ranking government official with diplomatic immunity so he walks away free. He then drives his would be victim to suicide which infuriated Jason into seeking true vengeance. He chases after him and by the time Batman catches up to him the villain has fallen to his death with Jason looking on. Did Robin push him or did he slip?. Robin claims the latter but it’s clear not all is what it seems. Brilliant stuff from Jim Starlin with great art from Mark Bright.
The brilliant creative team of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle were given the task of debuting Tim Drake as a regular Robin, He had been in the care of Bruce Wayne for a while but at this point his training was vast and he was ready to prove himself. …against Batman’s wishes perhaps?. He is ordered not to act alone but when Batman is in dire trouble at the hands of The Scarecrow Tim is torn and needs to decide what a true hero would do. We get a new suit design too which would go down as a fan favourite.
As you can probably tell if you read my lists I love these one shots character pieces that deal with the relationships between characters. This one sees Nightwing (Dick Grayson) out on a mission with Robin (Tim Drake) and as the two are bantering it really shows the big brother little brother between the two of them. Both bond over their experiences in this crazy world they’ve been living as part of the bat family.
3. A Lonely Place Of Dying-1989
After the death of Jason Todd Batman becomes more and more troubled and distracted during battle. He has become distanced from Dick Grayson now after he has left, become Nighwing and is permanently with the Teen Titans. This is where we meet a young genius named Tim Drake who is a huge fan of Batman and Nightwing and has deducted their identities. He knows Batman needs a Robin to offset his darkness with some light so he goes to Dick to convince him to mend his relationship with Bruce and save him from himself. It’s emotional stuff and a brilliant exploration of characters we’ve known for decades.
2. Robin: Year One-2001
A thoroughly entertaining look at Robin’s (Dick Grayson) first year in the cape and pixie boots. From an early mission taking out Mad Hatter to a disastrous first run in with Two Face. Chuck Dixon quite rightly got the nod to write it as he really defined the bat family throughout the 90s. Scott Beatty’s energetic and fun art perfectly compliments Dixon’s writing as we get to see Grayson’s turbulent first twelve months. If you’re looking to start somewhere this is a perfect one.
1 Dark Victory-1999/2000
The sequel to the smash hit “Long Halloween” is another collaboration between writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale who delivers, in my opinion, some of his career best work here. The later part of the sprawling story deals with yet another retelling of Dick Grayson’s origins which I’m getting repetitive strain syndrome talking about but it’s done brilliantly here. I’m starting to think I actually prefer this to “The Long Halloween” but I swap them around all the time in terms of favourites. Anyway it’s an absolute classic with tremendous art work and brilliantly paced storytelling (which is also a career highlight for Loeb) that makes for compulsive reading for any Bat fan.
…and that’s my take on The Boy Wonder!. Let me know your thoughts @swing_kinker and hit me up with any list requests you have too. Cheers x