April 16, 2013

The Best Robin Ever?

The Robins, by Dustin Nguyen

With all the hubbub over the recent events in Batman, Incorporated, the topic of 'Best Robin' has been thrown around lately in comic shops, internet forums, and dinner conversations (at least mine, anyway). Let's be honest - it's a debate that truly has no wrong answer, but we here at Rusted Mecha obviously have our own opinion on the matter. 

But first, let's set some ground rules...

Rule #1 - The Nominees for 'Best Robin' 
Dick Grayson. Jason Todd. Tim Drake. Stephanie Brown. Damian Wayne. Carrie Kelley. Helena Wayne.

Rule #2 - The  Role and Definition of a 'Robin'
This rule is probably most important because I can already hear you all screaming through my internet that Dick Grayson is the best Robin ever because "he's already been Batman" or that Jason Todd is best because "Red Hood is bad ass". While those statements aren't necessarily false, we're not talking about Nightwing, Red Hood, or even Spoiler here. The topic of discussion here is ROBIN, and who filled that role best. The role of Robin is simply defined as Batman's acknowledged sidekick. In a nutshell, the kid with the yellow cape that Batman allows to help him catch bad guys, but also uses and follows the same methods and morals as Batman himself. 

Rule #3 - DC's Universes

Some Robins have years of back stories while others have mere pages, due to retcons or simply just lack of time in the costume. To even the playing field we'll be judging each character from the primary universe that they appeared. For example, Tim Drake and Carrie Kelly were never Robins in the New 52, but Tim was the longest tenured Robin in the Pre-New 52 and Carrie was Robin in The Dark Knight Returns, so we'll judge them off those versions of their characters. Similarly, although Dick Grayson has almost always been the first Robin in every version of DC's continuity and thus has a larger history, we'll use the Post Crisis/Pre-New 52 version of his character.  

So without further ado, from least best to most best...

7. Stephanie Brown, 4th Robin (Pre-New 52)

Stephanie used a mini-skirted 
version of  Tim Drake's 
original costume.

Stephanie unfortunately holds the title of shortest tenured Robin. Her time in the costume was so short many argue she was never really officially a Robin in the first place, including DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio. There also isn't much to write about in terms of her accomplishments as Batman's partner, because...there weren't any. I guess the mere fact she was (reluctantly) allowed the chance is an accomplishment in itself, but she was obviously never meant for the role - Steph was ultimately fired by Bruce after disobeying direct orders. Being the only Robin to be FIRED doesn't make for much credibility. In the infamous War Games arc, Steph attempts to regain Bruce's trust (and her job), but her plans fail and she is tortured to death by Black Mask, and in the process subsequently 'helps' him rise to power in the Gotham Underworld. Despite being the second Robin to have been killed (which was later revealed as faked!) and directly acknowledged by Batman as an OFFICIAL ROBIN, Stephanie never received the same monumental Batcave tributes as Jason Todd or even Damian Wayne. And to top it all off, Steph's once boyfriend Tim Drake, who for so long mourned the death of Conner Kent/Superboy, barely grieved over her. Ouch.
Huntress was rebooted
twice in the New 52.

6. Helena Wayne, 1st Robin (New 52 Earth 2)

Helena Wayne just barely made our nominee list for 'Best Robin', as we haven't really been shown much of her time as Robin other than a few flashbacks. The daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Helena was raised at a young age to be the eventual successor to Bruce Wayne/Batman. She's been acknowledged as one of the 'Seven Wonders' of Earth 2, and she obviously did a good enough job as Robin that she's still in the Robin costume when we're first reintroduced to her. (Sorry, Stephanie!)

5. Jason Todd, 2nd Robin (Post Crisis/Pre-New 52)

Jason's original origin was
a direct ripoff of Dick Grayson's.
The cover for the collected edition of Death in The Family was the first comic book cover I ever laid my eyes on, and it wasn't exactly the best way to be introduced to Jason. He was the first Robin to be killed in action, and unfortunately his death more or less overshadows any real accomplishments.  Similar to Stephanie, there's not a whole lot of good things I can say about Jason's tenure as Robin, and he just beat Helena out for 5th place. Bruce didn't really see potential in Jason, but as more of a soul that needed saving. He gave Jason the chance to fill Dick's boots as a way to channel his anger and do good. Jason's brash attitude and anger issues didn't sit well with readers and was highly disliked from the get-go. In my opinion, Jason is much like Stephanie in that he was also not meant for the Robin role, distinctly because Jason is infamous for his deliberate breaking of Batman's moral codes of taking lives and the use of firearms. Remember that one time he pushed a dude off a balcony? Or fired a gun onto a group of crooks? By clear definition of the Batman/Robin role, this is an OBVIOUS deal breaker. It's clearly stated in Death in the Family that Jason unfortunately saw the role of Robin as a game, which would also lead to his death at the hands of the Joker. Being the first Robin to have been killed in action, Jason is regularly regarded as Batman's greatest failure. The monument in the Batcave to honor his death is regularly referred to as a means to remind Batman of this. Fail.

4. Carrie Kelley, 3rd Robin (Earth-31)

I wish Carrie had more coverage
on this issue's cover. :(
Carrie Kelley was the first female Robin in any Batman story. Unfortunately Carrie is never really considered in these debates because she was never a Robin in the "true" DC universe. To leave her out is unfair, because not only does she appear in Frank Miller's now legendary The Dark Knight Returns, she has obviously contributed to the Robin legend and it would be silly to ignore that. On the alternate future Earth-31 universe, a much older and well-aged Batman returns from retirement and saves Carrie from mutant thugs on his first night back in the cowl. Their meeting amazes Carrie so much she begins saving money, eventually buys a Robin costume, and seeks out the Dark Knight. Although Batman initially disapproves of their teaming, after Carrie saves his life Bruce decides to give her the job. Like Stephanie Brown, Carrie has a problem with obeying orders. Despite this however, Batman decides to let Carrie stay because of her unique talent, display of skill, and obvious potential. She also plays a major role in helping Batman track down the Joker in the latter part of the book. It's clear that her talents and accomplishments outweigh her failures, which is why she ranks #4 on our list.

3. Damian Wayne, 4th Robin (New 52)

Dick Grayson appointed Damian 
as Robin after Bruce's "death".
Tt! The son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al-Ghul, Damian Wayne is the perfect Robin on a genetic level. He could arguably even be the most physically skilled, being trained by the League of Assassins, then partnered with Dick Grayson, and eventually teaming with Bruce Wayne himself. As impressive as all this sounds, Damian initially lets these traits and opportunities fuel his ego, and is probably the most arrogant Robin yet. Damian is constantly seen reminding everyone of his elite heritage and exclusive training. In a nutshell, Damian started out as a little prick. Despite his initial arrogance, Damian showed the most character development of any of the Robins and did it in a pretty short time, and proved himself to not only Batman but more importantly to the readers. Unlike Jason, Damian started out as annoying but readers eventually grew to like him. He showed his true colors when he stood up to his mother and the Al-Ghul legacy, siding with Dick Grayson, and more importantly Bruce Wayne and Batman Incorporated.  Ironically, Damian is probably more or less what Jason Todd could have been had he made better decisions. Even still, Damian had constant issues with teamwork. Remember when he tried quitting? Or tried quitting again? Listening to (and trusting) Batman goes a long way - like Steph and Jason, Damian met his eventual demise after disobeying a direct order from Batman. Tt!

GameStop, Inc.

2. Tim Drake, 3rd Robin (Pre-New 52)

I originally hated Tim's long pants.
(Why is he using a slingshot here?)
Tim Drake Wayne, the first Robin to wear long pants, and the Robin that had the role longer than any other of the other Robins here. Tim is also my personal favorite Robin of all, as I grew up reading Tim in the comic books. In my opinion, Tim had the biggest burden of all the Robins, in that he had the most to prove to Bruce (and DC readers), having both the legacy of Dick Grayson and the failures of Jason Todd to overcome. It makes his tenure that much more accomplished because of what he overcame and who he proved himself to. While he wasn't necessarily a very physically skilled Robin, Tim was definitely the smartest. As a young boy, he discovered the true identities of Batman and Robin. His detective skills rival Batman's, and (during Tim's tenure as Robin) Bruce even admitted to Alfred that Tim had already surpassed Bruce's skills at that age and he would only get better. Tim was also the one that proved to Bruce, Dick, and Alfred that despite the death of Jason Todd, Batman would always need a Robin. After the events of Final Crisis, its mentioned in Blackest Night that Tim was the ONLY member of the Bat-family (and probably the entire DC universe) that held the notion that Bruce was still alive. But in a unique twist of fate, he ended up losing his job as Robin to Damian. But because of this hunch, its arguable that Tim has a unique connection to Bruce that is largely different from anyone else on this list, even Dick Grayson.

My dad had this issue.
It got thrown away.
1. Dick Grayson, 1st Robin (Post Crisis/Pre-New 52)
It may be a little cliche that the first Robin is our choice for Best Robin, but that being said, Dick Grayson defined the role of Robin for ALL those that followed, and many argue that he defined the role of a sidekick for the entire comic book genre. Being the first to hold the Robin baton, Dick pretty much set the standard, and proved that not only could Batman work with others, but that he couldn't always do it alone - in an endless war on crime even Batman needed help. Being the first Robin also put Dick at the forefront of facing some of  Batman's deadliest villains. Dick MADE the role of Robin, and if it weren't for Dick's accomplishments there wouldn't have been a Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or Stephanie Brown, or even a Carrie Kelley to follow him! We also can't forget that Dick helped form and led the first Teen Titans, a group of sidekicks that themselves have developed into legendary A-class heroes. Dick is also currently the only Robin to abandon the role and take on a new identity, and also set the standard for a sidekick's "tenure". Having outgrown the pixie boots, Dick knew the right time to pass the baton to the next generation.

Further reading:

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I never felt Damian Wayne was a good Robin. To me, he broke the cardinal rule of no killing. I mean it wasn't even accidental killing, he blatantly killed people and to me, that is unbecoming of a Robin. That is probably why I rarely call Damian "Robin" because he lacks all of the necessary attributes of Robin. Even Jason Todd met some of the requirements though he too broke the cardinal rule.