Holy Backstory, Batman!
Batman: “I’ve been thinking, Dick. I’m not sure Bruce Wayne has what it takes to raise you properly.”
Dick Grayson: “Yeah, kinda noticed he’s never around. But if not Bruce Wayne, what about The Batman?”
Batman: “We’d have to give you a name.”
Dick: [Looks at his family’s logo] “How about Robin?” – The Batman, “A Matter of Family” (Season 4, Episode 1)
A gang meets in a warehouse to plan a robbery. While discussing the plans, they hear a skylight shatter. They draw guns, expecting Batman, but see a smaller person in a garish costume. The crooks laugh, thinking the intruder isn’t a threat. Their laughter turns to shrieks as he hurls shuriken at the unwary thugs.
One of the crooks shoots at the attacker, who dodges and leaps at the group. He pulls out a collapsible staff and attacks like a whirling dervish. As the last crook falls, Robin departs for the Batcave.
Robin was the archetypal sidekick in comics. He’s led the Teen Titans, the Justice League, and even became Batman when Bruce Wayne was thought to be dead. So who is he? How did he become Batman’s sidekick? How are there five Robins flying around? Let’s find out.
The Flying Graysons: Robin’s Backstory
[Robin’s parents have just died]
Tony Zucco: “I think the “Flying” Graysons might have to change their name.” – The Batman, “A Matter of Family” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Robin debuted in Detective Comics #38 in 1940. He was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Robin was created to give children a relatable character and to lighten Batman’s vigilante image.
Dick Grayson was the son of circus acrobats John and Mary Grayson. He was trained in acrobatics to join his parents in their career as soon as he could walk. Dick heard a mob boss named Tony Zucco extorting the circus’s owner. As the Graysons prepared for a special performance without a safety net, Zucco had the trapeze sabotaged. The Graysons fell to their deaths just out of Dick’s reach.
Bruce Wayne had attended the Grayson’s final performance and was reminded of his own tragic past. Realizing Dick was a kindred spirit, Bruce adopted him and revealed his identity as Batman. He trained Dick to be a crimefighter, avenging his parents without becoming a murderer. Robin Hood’s legends inspire Dick who took that anti-hero’s name as his own. Batman and Robin dismantled Zucco’s gang, avenging the Graysons, in their first outing.
Flight of the Nightwing: Robin’s History
Bruce Wayne: [sparring with the third Robin] “You work with me, Tim, you follow the rules. Rule one: You give me everything you’ve got. Rule two: Then you give me more. And Rule three: [knocks down Robin] I make the rules.”
Dick: [walking out of the shadows] “Watch out for that last one, kid. It’s a killer.”
Dick: [shrugs] “Hey, no one can be a Boy Wonder forever.” – The New Batman Adventures, “Sins of the Fathers” (Season 1, Episode 2)
The Dynamic Duo proved an unstoppable force against Gotham’s criminals. Robin underwent a mission with fellow sidekicks Kid Flash and Aqualad. The trio worked well together and recruited new character Wonder Girl to form the Teen Titans.
Robin ran himself ragged working with the Titans while serving as Batman’s sidekick. This, blended with teenage rebellion and Robin’s fear of always being in Batman’s shadow drove a wedge between the Dynamic Duo. Dick abandoned the Robin identity and joined the Titans full time. To add insult to injury, Robin visited Superman to discuss a new identity and chose the name Nightwing based on a Kryptonian legend.
The newly named Nightwing became one of the de facto leaders of the superhero community. He has led several iterations of the Teen Titans and the Justice League. He has also mentored a whole flock of Robins and even mended his relationship with Batman. When Batman was seemingly killed in Final Crisis, Nightwing completed his hero’s journey and became the new Batman.
The Rest of the Nest: Robin’s Legacy
Raven: “Whoa. There are three other Robins?”
Female Robin: “Oh, there have been more than that.”
Burt Ward Robin: “Golly, our chum Batman does go through a sidekick or two.”
Angsty Robin: “But we’re the best of the best.” – Teen Titans Go!, “The Best Robin” (Season 2, Episode 24)
Batman came down with empty nest syndrome when Robin left to become Nightwing. He soon met an orphaned thief named Jason Todd who was trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. For some ineffable reason, Batman felt Jason made good superhero material. If you want to know how that story ended, check out our Top 5 Anti-heroes article.
Batman became withdrawn when Jason was murdered. He was dragged out of depression by Tim Drake, a teen genius who had deduced Batman’s identity. Tim was convinced that Batman needed a Robin to keep him stable and convinced Bruce to train him as the third Robin. He has since abandoned the Robin identity to become Red Robin. I want to know how much DC was paid for that tie-in.
Tim was in a relationship with a fellow vigilante called Spoiler. When Tim was incapacitated, Spoiler became the first female Robin. A lack of Batman’s training led to her death when she tried capturing the villain Black Mask. Spoiler was eventually resurrected and became Batgirl. Why she doesn’t stick to her own identity is anyone’s guess.
The final canonical Robin is Damian Wayne, Bruce’s illegitimate son. Bruce was raped by the villain Talia al Ghul and their child was raised as the heir to her organization, The League of Assassins. Despite an anti-heroic mindset, Batman allowed their son to become the newest Robin.
Tools of the Trade: Robin’s Powers and Personality
[Nightwing disables a helicopter with an electrified harpoon fired from a rocket launcher]
Nightwing: [to Batman] “You know what I missed about running with you? The toys.” – Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010)
Robin was already an expert acrobat before Batman got his hands on him. Under Bats’ tutelage Robin learned martial arts, detective skills, languages, stealth, criminology, and a helluva lot more. Robin also gets to use Batman’s wonderful toys, including bolas, smoke bombs, grapnel guns, glider capes, an unbreakable pair of Escrima sticks, and modified Batarangs he calls wing-dings.
Much like Batman, Robin has a knack for fighting superpowered opponents. He constantly defeats villains who should be capable of killing him in one hit. As Nightwing, he frequently duels the assassin Deathstroke to a standstill. For context, Deathstroke has defeated the entire Justice League on several occasions, even moving fast enough to stab the Flash or knock Superman for a loop.
Robin is a jovial counterpart to DC’s usual brooding vigilantes. As Nightwing, he is one of the most respected superheroes. He is often considered a leader of the superhero community second only to Superman. Not bad for a carny kid.
The Actors who play Robin
Holy thespians, Batman!
The most famous Robin was Burt Ward, Adam West’s co-star in the 60’s series Batman. Burt has reprised the role on several occasions, including the two Legends of the Superheroes specials, the comedic Return to the Batcave, and the animated movies Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and Batman vs. Two-Face.
Robin has too many shows and actors to list, so here are the big guns. Robin appeared in every season of Super Friends voiced by Casey Kasem. his version of Robin also appeared in The New Scooby Doo Movies, another of Kasem’s shows.
Robin was later voiced by Scott Menville in the 2003 series Teen Titans. Menville reprised his role for the spinoff Teen Titans Go! and recently starred in Teen Titans Go! To The Movies.
Douglas Croft first played Robin in the serial Batman in 1943. He was replaced by Johnny Duncan in the sequel. NCIS-star Chris O’Donnell played Robin in Batman: Forever and reprised the role for Batman and Robin, one of the worst superhero movies ever made. DC has announced a Nightwing movie, but no actor or release date have been reported.
Robin will be the main character of Titans, a flagship show for DC Comics’ streaming service. Brenton Thwaites plays Robin. Considering the series trailer involved Robin killing an alleyway full of thugs before snarling “Fuck Batman”, I don’t have high hopes for quality.
Did ya get all that?
The original sidekick. Accept only Batman-approved substitutes.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.