Robins: Individual Characters, Not Bruce Clones

robin characterization post 2We’ve all seen that one Shortpacked comic where Bruce is taking inventory of the Robins and he’s pleased with the ones that look like him and lowkey annoyed with Stephanie, the lone Robin that doesn’t. She’s the only individual among the Robins and the whole point is that Bruce prefers his tiny clones over her.

It’s hilarious, but at the same time, it’s just a joke. It’s funny because like four out of five “main” Robins have black hair and blue eyes and yeah, they kind of look like Bruce, but they’re so not like him.

The reality is that if you know anything about the Robins, you’ll know that they have very different personalities and varied characterizations. They’re written as their own people and sure, their Mission lines up with Bruce’s and they share many of his ideals, but good Robin characterization hinges on them being separate from Bruce. If you’re reading a book with more than one Robin and you can’t tell Jason from Dick in either looks or temperament, you’re not reading a very good comic.

The Robins are Batman’s partners, not clones.

Not aspects of his psyche.

And yet some people actually think that.

Some people who read comics (and a couple that write them) don’t really see the Robins as individual characters that exist outside of Bruce’s issues and his identity. And that’s just weird to me because we’ve got over seventy –five years of comics that tell us otherwise. We have decades of history that tell us that the Robins are their own characters who don’t depend on Bruce for every move they make.

Let’s be real here: if they weren’t individuals, that aspect of Bruce’s life would be so much easier because they’d do what he wants.

I had just finished reading B&R:Eternal when I saw a screencap from a part of an interview with James Tynion IV that left many of my fellow Robin fans on tumblr feeling frustrated and annoyed.

I’m going to be real here: It annoyed me a little bit too.

Not the entire interview, that’s actually not terrible. I like that there’s a focus on defining Robin throughout the interview and I’ve never had the feeling that Tynion was someone that doesn’t like the characters he’s writing.

At the same time though, Tynion’s interpretation of the characters doesn’t sit well with me.

Tynion is one of the masterminds behind the Batman & Robin: Eternal title and I have thoughts about the way that he looks at the Robins because it feels as If he doesn’t necessarily understand the Robins. (Thoughts that will get their own explanatory post once a couple more issues of B&R: Eternal come out.)

Batman & Robin: Eternal is a new book and we’ve got time to see how it evolves. That doesn’t mean that early critique isn’t warranted. Comic fans are paying a fair amount of money for the books and snap decisions on comics that are new or upcoming are par for the course. Sure they’re not always right, but I think it’s important to talk about these things.

I don’t dislike Tynion’s writing or even his headcanons but at the same time, I’m unfamiliar with his writing because I’m not super interested in what he’s writing all the time. I’m not familiar with him which means I’m not inclined to give him a pass.

Here’s the quote from the article that has a bunch of Robin fans kind of grouchy:

[…]ever since I was a kid I sort of had a theory of how they relate to each other and to Bruce. And that’s that Dick Grayson is his compassion, Jason Todd is his rage and Tim Drake is Bruce’s intellect. And each of them, they lean into one of the core central parts of how Bruce operates as Batman, to an extreme, and together, they’re capable of being an even stronger version of Batman when they’re working at their absolute peak together.

I mean… not to knock anyone’s childhood theory, okay, but –

Tynion been able to make this theory a reality because he’s writing the official comics. He’s defining Robin now, him and the team working on this weekly series, and he gets to do that. But at the same time, his definition of Robin, the way that he looks at the characters and sees them as parts of Bruce – that’s just not a thing that makes sense.

The point of the Robins has always been that they provided something, added something to the story that Bruce didn’t have. Like I think that Tynion is doing something here that makes sense to him, but kind of minimizes the Robins. He’s turning them into the tiny clones that fit inside of Bruce neatly like the Matryoshka doll imagery like what we get from the last panel of the Shortpacked comic.

David Willis - Shortpacked - Like A Russian Nesting Doll

I’m sure that Tynion probably has this grand plan out for defining Robins and doing that one big Batman & Robin story but from this interview, what we’re getting is his version of a definitive Robin story. And while that’s not a bad thing… that doesn’t mean that I’m super invested.

Let’s be real: at no point does he mention Stephanie or Damian in this interview. I’m a little concerned that he’s going to push his theory at us until it sticks and that feels like his idea of Robin which may not be a very narrow one.

Because seriously, Jason is Bruce’s rage?

Jason?

Okay. Sure…

As much as I like the idea of a definitive Batman & Robin story in the DCnU, I just don’t think that jumping off from what is essentially a theory about how the Robins all combine to form BetterBatman a la Captain Planet is the best way to do it.

It also doesn’t make sense.

I know I keep harping on how little sense this makes to me, but Robins are my thing.

They’re the characters in the DCnU I feel the most confident about and the ones that I could literally talk about for days. That’s why I feel so strongly about this interview and a little less than enthused about the future of this weekly series (and Robin War, come to think about it).

Because I know these characters. I know them almost better than I know my own. I think that reducing them to one main characterization, to parts of Bruce, rather than keeping them as his friends, allies, and children is doing a disservice to the canon.

Dick Grayson isn’t Bruce’s compassion. He’s compassionate in a way that Bruce sometimes isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that compassion defines his character 100%. Jason Todd – Jason Todd isn’t Bruce’s rage. I mean, let’s talk about the fact that it’s been over twenty years and Jason is still seen as the “angry” Robin. That’s weak characterization right there because the anger is not and should not be everything that Jason is. And Tim Drake is smart, but he’s smarter than Bruce in some ways. He’s also a kid, a dork, a tech savvy teenager who’s been exceptional all his life (according to previous canon considering that we barely know anything about Tim this time around).

Like redefining these characters shouldn’t mean latching on to these traits and going “look at how much like Bruce they are because they exhibit these emotions/qualities occasionally”. Developing this Robin story that’ll stand the test of time should involve looking at the characters based on what they mean to the other Robins, not what they mean to Bruce.

After all, that just makes it another Batman story and we’ve got enough of those lying around.

I read the first issue of B&R: Eternal and it wasn’t bad. I’m not sure if I entirely like it because it seems needlessly complicated, too pumped up and determined to be this sort of storyline that changes everything in terms of personal relationships and Gotham.

That’s the problem for me.

On top of my worry about characterization (and I say that as someone who is very flexible about canon and fanon characterization), I’m worried because this is what we’re about now. We keep getting one BIG story that redefines everything and changes the way we look at characters but then the next reboot comes and erases all that?

Maybe if we got something different –something that didn’t rely on focusing on the characters’ relationship with Bruce and the man’s many secrets (as most of our big events have been lately) — they’d actually leave a mark.

Maybe they’d actually stick around in canon.

I’ve got minor beef with this interview. I’ve got a bigger beef with the fact that this is still going to be one of the best opportunities for Robin fans to see their favorite characters in a long time. I’ve got an even bigger beef in how Stephanie and Damian don’t show up in this interview and how Stephanie still isn’t a Robin.

So many people look at the Robins as parts of Bruce and don’t really look at what they mean to each other or to their own peers-in-canon. I’m not knocking the need for a definitive Batman & Robin story, but I am worried that it’s going to be this thing that focuses on the Robins as they relate to Bruce and Bruce’s mission.

I’m going to continue reading B&R: Eternal for as long as I can and trust me, even though it doesn’t sound like it here, I am reasonably excited for it. The thing I’m not that excited about is the way that it looks like they’re set up to continue perpetuating the idea that the Robins aren’t individuals or that they really only matter as far as Bruce is concerned.

The individual Robins don’t represent aspects of Bruce’s personality. Many of the male Robins may look alike (because of company mandates or artists that think that they’re supposed to look like mini-Bruce Waynes) and they may think alike, but they’re individual characters that make Bruce better while being strong enough to head up their own solo series.

You can’t divorce Batman from Robin’s origin story and the legacy character’s motivations, but at the same time, shoehorning Batman into everything as if he’s the Robins’ reasons for existence takes something out of the relationship.

That’s why many Robin fans reacted to that segment of the interview.

It’s the idea of Robins as parts of Bruce’s whole.

It’s doing that instead of looking at the Robins (really only Jason, Tim, and Dick) as individual characters who have actually excelled in canon when put into positions/roles that showed how they differed from Bruce.

I am looking forward to seeing how the individual writers handle the story as it stretches out so we’ll see if my (and fellow Robin fans’) fears and worries are valid in the coming months.

Now if you’re a fellow Robin fan, now’s your time to step up. What did you think about James Tynion IV’s interview and his views on the Robins? Do you agree with him or disagree? I’d love to hear from you!

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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