Last time we went over the lengthy, oft-forgotten process of training Tim went through to become Robin the Boy Wonder. Once he proved himself and earned the costume, that meant the end of his training, right?
Much of the following stories in this part were written by Chuck Dixon, who goes on to pen Tim’s solo series. While Robin continued appearing in the Bat-Books (Batman and Detective Comics), his three miniseries would further evolve his character and demonstrate that the new Robin was popular enough to carry his own ongoing. Because Tim’s character development was an ongoing subplot in the Bat-Canon, the three miniseries would zero-in on certain aspects of Tim’s new role and flesh him out further to be more fully formed by story’s end.
PART 3: A HERO REBORN
The first miniseries, written and illustrated by Dixon and Tom Lyle respectively, picks up immediately where Batman #457 left off, and at first glance it’s completely contradictory. While Alan Grant’s Tim bursts at the seams to become Robin in the “Master of Fear” three-parter, Chuck Dixon’s Tim expresses feelings of deep anxiety and self-doubt, despite Bruce’s reassurance that they’ve both made the right decision. While this is a stark difference from the triumphant final page of #457, it tracks with a character whose potential is pushed with every new wrinkle as he dips his toe into Batman’s world.
Tim is worried that he’s not “street-tough” to be Robin (a notion which, to many an unkind passerby of the franchise must be laughable). Bruce concedes that his training in martial arts isn’t complete, so he sends him to Paris to study combat and healing arts under the Rahul Lama. The Lama teaches him healing techniques, but the martial aspect is taught by Shen Chi, a shallow fighter whose every line of dialogue serves to show how shallow he is. Tim spends weeks getting beat up with no idea if he’ll get any better in the near future.
One night, Chi takes Tim to a club where he meets a Chinese-French girl named Lynx. She takes a liking to him, but is then dragged off by a gang member. Tim’s sense of comic book chivalry has him don the Robin colors and follow the gang to a warehouse where they’re beating on a man named Clyde Rawlins. He throws himself into the fight to even the odds without knowing the details or if the guy’s even worth saving. The two are badly outnumbered but manage to chase the gang off.
Tim learns that Rawlins is an ex-DEA agent who’s been chasing the gang (the Ghost Dragons) for over a year. They’re working for a gang lord named King Snake who was responsible for the deaths of Rawlins’ wife and daughters. Later they learn that Snake gained a Nazi-era weapon which could set off a version of the Bubonic Plague, planning to sell the weapon to the highest bidder. They chase Snake to Hong Kong, along with Lady Shiva who wants to best King Snake for her own sense of pride.
There are several new characters in this miniseries. Throughout the five issues, Tim teams up with Rawlins and Shiva to prevent the plague and trains under them to improve his fighting skills and street smarts. He routinely gets his clock cleaned, but what’s more important are the philosophical differences that emerge between him and the other two on several occasions. Rawlins wants vengeance for his family, which leads to his eventual death at the hands of King Snake. Shiva wants to kill Snake, and hopes Robin will do it for her as her apprentice. Tim is frequently put in positions where he goes against the wishes of both adults to stay true to the moral code of Batman and himself.
The morality of the Bat-Family is often taken for granted. The No-Kill rule of Batman has (admittedly) been inconsistent throughout his history until roughly Post-Crisis. Nevertheless, it remains the go-to MO of the Dark Knight and his partners. With some characters, their personal moralities are sketchy. Tim is notable since we see the start of his moral development here. It might’ve been taken for granted that he wouldn’t kill because he’s a hero, but Dixon focuses on it as a way to specify how he and Batman are different for those simply wanting revenge. And it’s never easy for Tim, but by the end he lives to make it back to Gotham.
Tim’s stint as the Boy Wonder continues in Batman #465, with a cover by Norm Breyfogle explicitly echoing the classic image of the Dynamic Duo from Batman #9. It’s a nice done-in-one issue that brings that Bat-World to a fresh starting point. It’s Tim’s first night on patrol with Batman, while Commissioner Gordon and Sarah Essen become engaged. We see the new Bat-Family with the presence of Alfred, Harold and Ace the Bat-Hound, and there’s an overall sense that the good days are ahead for our heroes once again. Tim’s father even awakens from his coma. As Alan Grant writes however, “The past casts long shadows”, and the ghost of Jason Todd continues to haunt Batman and Robin as it will do for the next twenty years.
Issue #466 is another single issue concerning the Caped Crusaders chasing a crook and running into a teenage sniper.
It’s a small scene in a non-essential issue, but it’s worth reading for Tim’s development for Batman’s thought process at the end.
Chuck Dixon returns to writing Tim in Batman #467 for a three-part story featuring the return of King Snake and Lynx. This is essentially a sequel to the Robin miniseries, bringing the Ghost Dragons to Gotham and having Tim face villains that are specifically out to kill him. This time however, he has Batman on his side, who questions if King Snake is truly back from the dead. When a direct threat to Robin’s life comes in the form of a dead Triad teen found wearing Robin’s costume, Bruce deigns to keep Tim home until he investigates further. While Tim obeys, he surmises that Bruce is holding himself back by not having a partner to watch out for him. Batman ends up shot with a broken rib, and Tim confronts him for reverting to his bad habits back when Jason died.
Dixon keeps Tim as the same young man he’s been since “A Lonely Place of Dying”. Tim trusts Batman to know what’s best for him, but knows he doesn’t always take better care of himself. He’s seen firsthand what careless fighting does to him and, like Alfred, keeps his mind in check by insisting that he keep his body in check. Batman tries to keep Robin safe by fighting the Ghost Dragons alone, but Robin ensures their defeat by keeping Batman safe as well.
Of course, Batman doesn’t listen.
By part three there’s another threat on Tim’s life in the form of a dead bird sent to Batman by Lynx. Bruce is resolute in leaving Tim home to take on King Snake solo. He falls into a trap and during the fight against King Snake gets another broken rib in the process. Meanwhile, Tim decides to go after Batman.
Despite the pain, Batman beats King Snake half to death. Lynx has a sniper rifle trained on him, but is thwarted by Robin. Despite saving his life, Batman chides Tim for disobeying him.
This three-parter illustrates the fundamental line of demarcation between Bruce and Tim’s relationship and Bruce and Dick’s, or even Bruce and Jason’s. Jason’s death always keeps Bruce and Tim at a distance. Despite Tim’s qualifications, Bruce’s attitudes towards him often hampers his judgement and provides a guilt complex that impedes their work together. This comes back in a big way during Knightfall.
PART 4: JOKER’S WILD
Robin II: Joker’s Wild is important in several ways. The first Tim miniseries sold well, so this was hyped as a major follow-up, pitting the new Robin against the killer of the old one. Shorter at four issues instead of five, each issue came with variant covers containing holographic images of Batman, Robin and Joker. It’s also, when re-reading, practically a back-door pilot for Tim’s ongoing series. Dixon and Lyle return, and with it comes Dixon’s trademark style of portraying Tim’s insecurities. Batman’s out of town and Robin has to pick up the slack when the Joker breaks out of Arkham for the thousandth time.
By this point Tim’s been Robin for over a year in real time. Canonically he’s fourteen, as evidenced by his reference of waiting two years to get his driver’s license and the fact that he’s now a freshman in high school. The story takes place during the Christmas season, last seen during the Scarecrow three-parter where Tim earned the Robin mantle, implying a year has passed.
With these details comes the introduction of his supporting cast: Nerdy best friends Sebastian Ives, Hudson, and Flash Thompson-lite Karl Ranck.
We see Tim’s devotion to being Robin crowd his personal life. It’s a switch from his training days when he was still enrolled at boarding school, for he now goes to a public high school (Gotham Heights). Pulled at both ends, he considers the new identity he’s shaped for himself in Robin’s persona. This isn’t the last time Dixon has Tim view himself in such a split way, as seen in Robin #2 (1993).
Regardless, Tim is all business when it comes to confronting the Joker, despite how afraid he is. The Joker is stunned to see the Boy Wonder, positive that he killed him in Ethiopia.
Over the course of the story, the Joker brings Gotham City to its knees. Kidnapping computer genius Osgood Pellinger, he uses his mind to manipulate and bring down various city-running systems such as power, electricity and computing programs so that the entire town is run out of whack. Gotham plunges into a State-of-Emergency, and the Mayor calls in the Governor. Commissioner Gordon is constantly calling for Batman, but only Tim can answer him. At one point Robin tries to hack into Joker’s supercomputer, but gets tricked and nearly brings the Bat-Cave under from Joker’s tech-virus.
Much of Tim’s fear and apprehension comes from failure. Failure at not living up to the legacy, failing his city, failing Batman. This is a recurring theme with many of DC’s Legacy heroes in the 1990s. Superboy, Conner Hawke, Wally West, Impulse, Kyle Rayner, Steel and Robin III all compared themselves to the progenitors of their respective brands. In “Joker’s Wild”, Joker deduces that Robin is alone while the rest of the city counts on Batman to save the day. Tim struggles to keep a cool head whilst fighting both his fear and the odds against him. Inevitably he does beat the Joker, proving yet again his worth not just as a hero but as a character, and one that could continue to have solo adventures divorced from Batman.
PART 5: GIRL TROUBLES
Tim continues to thrive into the second half of 1992. He interacts with the larger DC Universe during the Wonder Woman themed DC Crossover “War of the Gods,” during which he not only first meets the Amazon Princess (Wonder Woman vol.2 #59), but Maxie Zeus (Batman #470) and Etrigan the Demon. (Demon issues #22 and #23, vol.3). Over in Detective Comics, the team of Dixon and Lyle pit the Dynamic Duo against not one but two villains called The Electrocutioner. In ‘Tec #645, Batman is nearly electrocuted to death, which sends Tim into an angry panic.
By the story’s end, Batman and Robin beat both electrically powered men with Commissioner Gordon’s help. Batman, at first, yells at Tim for acting on his own but then relents.
We all know where this comes from, right?
Batman #480 sees Jack Drake return into Tim’s life, confined to a wheelchair from his ordeal with the Obeah Man in Hati. He’s on a long road to recovery, but insists that Tim no longer stay with Bruce Wayne and live back with him. It’s not clear when Jack was informed that Tim was with Bruce, or even how he was told Tim and Bruce came to know each other. Tim states that his father has no relatives, so what must his father have thought when he learned his only son was living with Gotham’s famous playboy who’s previous adopted son was blown up in Ethiopia?
All signs point to Tim’s brief career as Robin ending to care for his father full time. Tim mulls over his future, while Batman is entirely accepting and welcoming of any choice he makes. It’s a new situation for him, the fact that a Robin has a parent to return to and care for.
Once again, callbacks to Jason Todd come to mind, only that hardly lasted the day for the situation to see itself through.
Luckily in this issue, Batman and Robin are dealing with basic crooks, so they have time to openly discuss Robin’s future.
Consider also the scene at the end of The New Batman Adventures, “Over the Edge”, and how Batgirl confronted the future of her crime fighting career by dealing with her father.
Thankfully, and somewhat conveniently, Bruce and Alfred present a house on Bristol grounds that is next door to Wayne Manor. In Batman #481-482, Tim convinces his father to move into the large home, which has a secret passageway straight to the Batcave. So his life as Robin is intact for the time being.
Detective Comics #647-649 is a seemingly unassuming three-part story involving old-school Riddler knock-off, the Cluemaster. Reintroduced by Chuck Dixon, his gimmick is that prison cured his obsession with leaving clues and, now out of jail, he’s trying to be smart about pulling crimes. Unfortunately for him, he has a teenage daughter who can’t stand the thought of him going back to his life of villainy, so she dawns a purple costume as actively sends clues to his schemes to the police in the hopes that Gordon or Batman will stop him first. It’s here where we and Tim meet for the first time the Spoiler, a.k.a. Stephanie Brown.
While Batman takes on Cluemaster’s plots head on, Robin is the first the spot Spoiler and deduces her identity during the daytime. Contrary to later interactions, Batman’s actually impressed with how Stephanie has helped them, but maintains that she’s out of her depth and that her hunt for revenge against the Cluemaster isn’t the top priority. Regardless, like every teenage costume hero, she disobeys his orders and shows up to fight her dad head-on. When re-reading this story, I imagine that Dixon considered her as a one-off character who had potential. She’s pretty (and understandably) angry throughout the story and tries killing her father by the end. Batman convinces her that the act would ruin her life, and she relents. But Tim and Steph’s relationship, working or otherwise, doesn’t exactly begin here. She’s a foil meant for Batman and Robin rather than simply Robin, with her age being a coincidence. We won’t see Stephanie again until the start of Tim’s solo series.
“Robin III: Cry of the Huntress” begins in the middle of a few notable storylines, most famously “Death of Superman”. The “S” armbands are visible in the final chapters of the miniseries, and we’ll see them again in chapter one of Knightfall. It’s also separated from the goings on of the lead-up to Knightfall and Bane’s onslaught on Gotham, which explains Batman’s complete absence after the Part One (more on that next time). The basic plot is that the Russian Mob have come into Gotham, timed with, yet again, King Snake and the Ghost Dragons. Tim’s investigations begin after he just happens to stay out past curfew and witness a Russian printer get murdered by the mob and his daughter kidnapped. He teams up with the Huntress who’s been pursuing the mob herself, and the two tear up the Russian Underworld in order to find the slain printer’s daughter and stop the mob’s main enforcer, the KGBeast.
This series isn’t as popular or oft-discussed as “Joker’s Wild”, but I find it to be the most intense. Tim’s dual life gets its fiercest workout. He disobeys Batman and remains in fear of him early on, falls asleep at school and has stressful meetings with his guidance counselor, struggles to fight the mob and trust Huntress, and hopes to rescue the Russian girl, Ariana Dzerchenko. There’s a lot to unpack with each of these plots, so let’s come at them one by one.
First of all, let’s recognize how over his head Tim is throughout this adventure. While stopping a resurgence of the Bubonic Plague and battling the Joker on his own was no cakewalk either, he’s facing down two competing mafias whilst trying to stay alive. Dixon brings the point home in the beginning by having Batman save Tim from getting shot. The resulting carnage clearly freaks him out, and it’s not the first time Tim’s been shaken by the violence of their job.
We see this trait again in Knightfall.
It also calls back to Dark Knight Returns, and drives home the point of the Robin character generally being an underage child not used to the violence and brutality crime fighting can involve.
Tim doesn’t just witness violence, as he takes several beatings throughout the six issues that leave nasty bruises. This catches the attention of both his father and his guidance counselor, the latter whom can only guess that the cause of the new physical marks is the adult Tim spends all his time with.
This reeks of Frederic Wertham. The Michael Jackson sex allegations were in the news in 1993, same as this story, and while the correlation may be a coincidence, it’s a fair move for Dixon to take with Tim or any of the Robin’s. While most heroes have to lie on behalf of themselves, Tim needs to make sure his relationship with Bruce isn’t perceived as anything untoward. He lies and blames his bruises on an upperclassman, but that doesn’t keep his GC from notifying his dad, who’s less than pleased that Tim was fighting at all. This escalates when Tim, keeping late nights with the Huntress, blows off school one day and comes home with even more bruises.
Tim’s hurting. At this point he believes Ariana to be dead and is desperate to avenge her. He fights viciously throughout the second half of the story, much more violently than we’re used to, but it often contrasts with the downright sadism of the Huntress, who’s constantly referencing the fact that Batman won’t let her into what she refers to as their “club.”
Everything works out eventually. Ariana turns out to be alive working in a drug lab, and when Robin and Huntress arrive to bust the place up, the Ghost Dragons show up to take over the Russian Mob’s operation. King Snake beats the Beast in a straight up fight, and, in a good mood, allows Robin and the others to leave with their lives, thinking that he’s stumbled onto a billion dollars in uncirculated currency. Of course, Robin had fudged with the Data Strip, so that money won’t be usable anywhere.
Let’s talk about Ariana. This being her first appearance, she goes on to date Tim for over sixty issues in his ongoing title. Like Stephanie Brown, she’s developed much further in future storylines. In this story, she’s not much beyond a damsel in distress who Tim falls for. The murder of her father, her kidnapping and especially her presumed death, spur Tim on to fight against the KGBeast and the Mob much more energetically than we’ve seen before. While she might’ve been given more to do here, I’m not minding her role for the sake of the story. She’s the first girl Tim meets who’s not involved in crime or crime fighting, and their meet-cute is pretty nice. But there really is only so much to be said about her in this story, whereas in the page of Robin’s solo title she’s a much stronger character. Growing up reading the Robin series, I’m a fan of this ship. She and Tim are equally shy, and make a good fit together. It’s interesting to see their beginnings in this story, especially how violent and dramatic it is compared to lighter fare later in their histories.
Tim’s encounter with the Huntress is notable as well, especially considering the state of mind he’s in. The Helena Bertinelli Huntress in the 90s Bat-Books served as the dark outsider to the Bat-Family’s code of ethics when it came to crime fighting. She was violent, undisciplined and, at times, vaguely nuts. Like many other characters, she developed a lot by the end of the decade, culminating in a grand act of heroism in No Man’s Land. But it’s important to recognize the Huntress/Bat-Family interplay here because it repeats itself a few times over throughout this era. This won’t be the last time she and Robin work together, or that she contrasts strongly with Batman’s code of honor.
The story wraps up abruptly, with Tim apologizing to his father and the threat of moving to Metropolis (that was a thing for 0.1 seconds) rescinded. While Dixon put Tim through the wringer, it would be business as usual when he wrote for the character in his own series. But by 1993, Dixon had become Tim’s sharpest writer. He kept Tim relatable, sympathetic, and engaging without compromising in his relative inexperience, intelligence or personality. We’ll see the difference in other writer’s takes on Tim in the next part, but for this time span of 1991-1993, Tim Drake is as solidly defined as any character could have been.
NEXT TIME: Bane, Azrael, Nightwing and more! Tim gets his own series, his own car and a whole new set of problems!