In 1940, Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson decided to add a new character to their already popular BATMAN feature in DETECTIVE COMICS, one that would alter the character forever, and fundamentally change the nature of the series: Robin, the Boy Wonder. Robin would go on to change the very face of comics, with every superhero on the stands suddenly acquiring a kid sidekick in the hopes of cashing in on some of Robin’s instant and massive popularity. But for all the Buckys, Speedys, Sandys, Toros, Stripesys and more that would arrive, none would have the impact and staying power of Robin, who has remained in constant publication for the last eight decades. Let’s take a look at my 13 favorite Robin tales, in no particular order.
DETECTIVE COMICS #38 – “The Sensational Character Find of 1940 … Robin, the Boy Wonder,” by Kane, Finger and Robinson. This is obviously the one that started it all. And for a move designed to add some lightheartedness to the Batman strip, the story is surprisingly grim, as we see the murder of Dick Grayson’s parents at the hands of gangsters, and the young boy swears an oath to avenge their deaths alongside the Caped Crusader.
BATMAN #442 – “A Lonely Place of Dying, Chapter 5: Rebirth.” Writers Marv Wolfman and George Perez and artist Jim Aparo return Robin to Batman’s side here properly, as Tim Drake becomes the third boy to wear the yellow cape and pixie boots, following the murder of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker (or more precisely, at the hands of bloodthirsty readers who didn’t care for how DC had made Todd such an unlikable jerk).
UNCANNY X-MEN/NEW TEEN TITANS – You might not think of this epic DC/Marvel crossover by Chris Claremont and Walt Simonson as a Robin spotlight, especially with so many other characters to feature, but what really comes across here is Robin’s importance as a leader and a strategist, as he confers with Professor Xavier and co-leads the combined teams alongside Cyclops, and thanks to Claremont’s words and Simonson’s body language, you never doubt him for a minute. Of course Robin is in charge.
THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES – “Old Wounds.” We finally learn why Dick Grayson left Batman’s side as Robin in this tense, moody episode from scripter Rich Fogel and director Curt Geda. Secrets are revealed and confidences betrayed. Extra points for excellent voice acting from longtime Dick Grayson Loren Lester.
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – “Robin’s Reckoning.” Robin’s origin gets the animated treatment here, in this Emmy-winning episode from scripter Randy Rogel and director Dick Sebast. To their credit, the producers don’t pull their punches here, with the murder of the Flying Graysons being portrayed in a fashion that’s all the more chilling in its subtlety. In a series full of brilliant casting, BACK TO THE FUTURE’s “Biff” himself, Tom Wilson, delivers the most perfectly hateable performance as Tony Zucco, the murderer of Dick’s parents.
INFINITY, INC. #6 – “Divide – and be Conquered!” This one’s pretty dark. Set in the pre-CRISIS days of Earth-2, all the Justice Society members, including Robin, have mystically “drowned” in the Stream of Ruthlessness and turned evil, while still retaining their own personalities. Accordingly, Dick Grayson is consumed with a thirst for revenge on Boss Zucco, who lies helplessly dying in a prison hospital, with only Dick’s “sister” the Huntress stopping Dick from becoming a murderer, no better than Zucco himself. A rare look at how intense and vicious Robin could be if he wanted to.
BATMAN FAMILY #11 – “Till Death Do Us Part!” Growing up, I was a big fan of the “Dynamite Duo” Batgirl & Robin teamup stories in BATMAN FAMILY, and this issue was always my favorite. First of all, there’s nothing better than Robin’s orange tuxedo on the cover. And there was always this sly undercurrent that there was something going on between Dick and Babs, as in this issue where they’re hanging out unmasked having coffee in Barbara’s apartment after the phoney wedding.
NEW TEEN TITANS #1 – The untitled debut issue of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s soon-to-be-smash hit series really marks the beginning of Robin’s second act as an A-list DC character. It’s here that the character fully stepped out of Batman’s shadow, becoming the natural leader of a group of heroes who were all much more powerful than him, finding a mature romantic relationship for the first time with the alien expatriate Starfire, and being successfully portrayed as an adult, with such success that Wolfman and Perez were soon forced to get him out of the same costume he’d worn since he was 10 years old.
BATMAN #153 – “Prisoners of Three Worlds.” Batman comics were a whole other thing in the early ‘60s, with space aliens an almost common occurrence in Gotham City. Such was the case here in this odd but oddly sweet sci-fi tale from Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff, in which Robin and Bat-Girl (the original blonde version, Kathy Kane’s niece) are whisked away to another world by an alien teleportation device, where they find danger, alien sucker-disc plants, and surprisingly, romance.
BATMAN, ABC Television – “The Joker Goes to School/He Meets His Match, the Grisly Ghoul.” The second appearance of Cesar Romero’s Joker on the series, this episode finds the Clown Prince of Crime scheming to influence Gotham’s youth through gimmicked vending machines in the city’s high schools, providing viewers a rare look at Dick Grayson’s life outside the Batcave. But what really puts this episode over the top is Burt Ward’s hilarious performance as Dick Grayson going undercover to join the Joker’s gang of street toughs.
BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD – “The Color of Revenge!” After nearly a full season of Batman teaming up with just about every other DC character, Robin finally gets the spotlight here, in a tale about the now-grown Dick Grayson, on his own in Bludhaven, facing off against a revenge-seeking Crazy Quilt. Extra points for using both Robin’s 1970s orange motorcycle and his Earth-2 costume.
SUPERMAN ANNUAL #11 – Most people might think of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic “For the Man Who Has Everything” as a Superman story, but I’ve always loved it for how it gave Jason Todd the greatest victory of his sad short career, saving Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman from certain death at the hands of an intergalactic despot. If Alan Moore had gotten to write for Jason Todd more than once, readers never would have voted to kill him.
ROBIN: YEAR ONE – By far the best look at the early days of Dick Grayson’s career. Writers Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty and artist Javier Pulido show us how young Dick Grayson struggled through his first 12 months as Batman’s partner, contending with Alfred’s concerns, Commissioner Gordon’s misgivings, Batman’s doubts and an unholy beating at the hands of Two-Face. Great storytelling, and some of Dixon’s best work with the Dick Grayson character.