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Why We Love the Drake: A Spotlight Series on the Fan Favorite Robin (Part 3)


In the previous entry (part 2) we saw Tim Drake settle into the role of Robin by being put through the physical, mental and emotional wringer. He battled the Joker, saved the world from the Bubonic Plague and took on both King Snake (three times) and the KGBeast, all while barely maintaining a secret identity. His relationship with Bruce grew, as Batman recognized Tim was not only a terrific choice for a partner, but at times knew better than he did when trying to take care of each other. While Jason Todd wasn’t mentally fit for the role due to his feelings about the loss of his parents, Tim weathered the return of his father and pressures from school with relative grace. By the end of “Robin III: Cry for Huntress”, there could be little doubt that Tim successfully filled the cape with aplomb and would be Robin for the remaining future. After everything he had gone through and accomplished, what could possibly give him trouble at this point?

 

The 1993-1994 year saw big changes for the DC Universe. The Comic Book Industry was rocked by Image Comics, which would define the decade for better or worse. Crossovers became more frequent, and shock storytelling characterized many changes to major characters. Princess Diana was dethroned as Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan spontaneously turned into a super villain, and time in the DC Universe itself would be radically altered. Most importantly was the “Death of Superman” in 1992. This was the biggest DC story line since Crisis on Infinite Earths, and made more news coverage than the death of Robin in 1988. During the “Funeral for a Friend” story line, the DC Super Heroes gather to discuss how to carry on without the Man of Steel. Still a relative newcomer to the crime fighting world, we see Tim feel his inexperience while in the company of the Big Leagues.

But while Superman took his final stand against Doomsday in the pages of his comics, the Dynamic Duo were dealing with problems of their own that would irrevocably shape the future of their books for the remainder of the 90s.

 

PART 6: ROAD TO KNIGHTFALL

Batman #485-490 served as a six-month build-up to the Knightfall story line. While rescuing Lucius Fox from Black Mask, Batman is badly beaten from a fight with one of Roman Sionis’ heavies. His nose is broken and he suffers from over-exertion, yet refuses to quit until he captures the still-at-large Black Mask. While in pursuit, a new costumed crook named Metalhead appears, followed by an assassin named Headhunter who goes after Commissioner Gordon. Once they’re dealt with, Batman chases the Riddler, who unbeknownst to him has been doped up on Venom by Bane’s goons to serve as an observation test. As all of this goes on, Bruce refuses to pace himself and wears his body down until he can no longer sleep or meditate. After collapsing on the steps of the Batcave, Bruce seeks the help of Dr. Shondra Kinsolving, who is treating Jack Drake. He’s also giving attention to a new partner in Jean-Paul Valley, a young man who’s the heir apparent to the mantle of Azrael, the Avenging Angel. He instructs Tim to show Paul the ropes with intentions of working through the System, a subliminal training mechanism which turns Valley into a killing machine.

 

These issues are a terrific, and, I would suggest, essential components to Knightfall, for they foreshadow the violent ordeal Batman will go through until he reaches his fated confrontation with Bane in the Batcave. Bruce was already running on 0% before Bane destroyed Arkham and broke the inmates out, and it’s compelling to see how he tries and fails to circumvent his eventual fall without relying on Alfred or Robin’s help.

 

These issues are written by Doug Moench, and while he’s a great Batman writer whose experience with the character goes back to the 1980s, it’s his initial take on Tim Drake that we will be looking at in particular. By this point, Tim’s been a consistently rendered character, from his introduction by Marv Wolfman to his development with Alan Grant and especially Chuck Dixon. Doug Moench’s Tim was a decidedly jokier, lighter character which read in stark contrast to the more contemplative version that we’ve been used to up to now. His Tim started out more prone to slang and was more reactionary compared to his previous portrayals. Most telling was how he addressed Alfred as “Alfie”. Granted, Chuck Dixon had Tim say that once in Joker’s Wild, but with Moench it came out of Tim’s mouth incessantly.

   

His voice for Tim was also more expressively distant in how he referred to Batman, as evidenced by calling him “Boss”.

Again, Moench was a great writer for Batman. This isn’t a sign that Tim’s been ruined, but it is an off-reading for the character. Frankly, it’s more appropriate for Jason Todd’s Robin’s voice than Tim’s. Jason was the Robin Moench was used to when he wrote for Batman in the 80s, so perhaps he missed the boat on how different the two characters were meant to be. As it stood however, coupled with his spiky haircut, Moench’s voice for Robin closer resembled Bart Simpson than Tim Drake. He’s just not a seriously minded as the character should be, and even has him make stupid mistakes that Tim would never do.

Batman #490 does present a significant change in Tim’s life, albeit subtly. When Batman benches him in their fighting the Riddler, Tim hints that he and Ariana are dating.

Moench would be given more time to write Tim, as Robin was featured in a mini-story line in the pages of Showcase ’93. Picking up in an arc that began with Catwoman in issues #2-4, Showcase ’93 #5 sees Robin battle a crime boss named Ramon Bracuda on his own throughout the streets of downtown Gotham. This is a hugely impressive story that showcases Tim’s determination in fighting an opponent who outranks him in brute strength. Dixon’s Tim had been there before in his fights against King Snake and the KGBeast, but Moench’s Tim grits his teeth and pushes on.

Unfortunately, everything Tim went through added up to a big goose egg, as he had no evidence to back up justifying his attack on Bracuda. Even wiretapping he learned would be inadmissible in court. While I suspect Tim should’ve already known this, it wouldn’t automatically be obvious to a fourteen-year-old. Regardless, this is a solid story that features an additional element to Tim’s ongoing learning curve. It’s also another unintentional parallel between him and Jason, when taking Batman #416 into count.

PART 7: KNIGHTFALL

Knightfall begins in earnest in Batman #491. As Bane destroys Arkham Asylum, freeing the inmates inside, Batman orders Robin to stay in Gotham with Jean Paul while he handles the crisis alone. This has been the refrain for the books for the months leading up to storyline, and while Bruce relents now and then, he tries to keep Tim at an arm’s length and chooses to meet Bane’s challenge head-on. Famously, this does not go well for him. Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon are simpatico in these beginning issues, with Norm Breyfogle providing visual continuity between both Batman and Detective Comics with similar scenes, chasing the Mad Hatter in the former, and the Ventriloquist and Scarface in the latter.

After getting separated in Detective Comics #659, they bump into each other in Batman #493 while pursuing the serial killer Mr. Zsasz.

Batman passes out from the battle with Zsasz while Robin trails Bane and his men. Bane gets the drop on the Boy Wonder, blindfolding and interrogating him about his prey. Before long, Killer Croc appears to exact revenge on Bane breaking his arms in Batman #489. This all takes place in an underground sewer cavern, and Tim’s luck only gets worse when the rustic bridges give way to rushing water.

Special note should go to the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Bane”, where this issue provided much of the story inspiration, specifically Bane vs. Croc and kidnapping Robin.

Batman #494 sees Tim escape his predicament and return to the Batcave. He quickly deduces that Bane broke out the Arkham inmates to wear Batman down, but Bruce presumes a deeper purpose. Both are frustrated by the weeks’ events, but once again Batman can’t see what Tim says is right in front of him.

‘Tec #661 has them battling Firefly, while Joker and Scarecrow scheme in the background by kidnapping the mayor. By this point Bruce is so exhausted he can barely put up a fight and is rescued by Robin once again. But it’s still the same old song between them.

This recalls the King Snake storyline from last time, but the situation’s different. Last time, Batman kept Tim away from the action because Tim’s life was directly threatened. Here, Bruce assumes the weight of saving Gotham when Robin reminds him that he’s not alone. He also calls Bruce out on going against his own teachings, which hearkens back to what Alfred said to him during “A Lonely Place of Dying”.

Tim does what he does best and investigates the Firefly’s origins. We get another patented Dixon moment where the pressures of the costumes crusade get to Tim.

Curiously, Robin doesn’t appear in Batman #495. The Firefly arc continues in Detective Comics #662 where Batman takes him head on. Meanwhile the Riddler has hijacked the not-Sally Jessie Raphael show, and Tim rushes to save the day. He seemingly prevents Riddler from blowing up the audience (turns out he never had a real bomb in the first place), but Bullock yells at him for being so rash.

Batman #497 features big showdown between Batman and Bane. What’s amusing to me is how this highlights, however indirectly, a key difference in the Robins between Tim and most of the others. While Batman is getting destroyed by Bane in Wayne Manor, Alfred stumbles out of the house to get Robin’s help from down the cul-de-sac. Imagine, if this were Dick or Jason or even Damian, they might’ve been able to help Batman out. It’s certainly not Tim’s fault what happens to Batman, but it is interesting that Alfred had to go across the street to get the assistance of their sidekick.

   

The contrast is even highlighted when Bane throws Batman into Jason Todd’s memorial case. The scene is immediately followed by Alfred reaching the Drake household.

Unfortunately, Robin is too late and Bane snaps Batman’s back, tossing him off a building onto the streets of downtown Gotham.

 

Tim is horrified to learning the extent of Bruce’s injuries and pleads to Alfred to take him to a hospital. Alfred insists they return to the Batcave, per Bruce’s wishes, and all Tim can do is pray that his partner survives the night.

Consider Tim’s perspective at this point. He’s been fighting alongside his hero for some time now, probably a year, and a new super villain has released an onslaught of his hero’s worst enemies to wear him down before deducing his identity, ambushing him in his own home, and beating him within an inch of his life in a place where he’s surrounded by trophies of his greatest achievements. Considering what Tim is about to go through, it’s a miracle he stayed committed to the role for as long as he did. Personally, I think it might’ve been neat if Tim’s personal life clashed with his costumed life during the Bane crisis like it did in “Cry of the Huntress”. Imagine, while Batman’s wearing down and Gotham is going to hell, Tim’s Guidance Counselor is calling his father, reporting his injuries and suggesting he stay away from Bruce Wayne. Batman only appeared in the first issues of “Cry of the Huntress”, so the structure of it would remain sound. Instead of getting caught up with the KGBeast and rivaling mafias, Tim could be shown chasing down Firefly and the Riddler as he had been. In the end, the stories are fine in how they were originally told. Most of the subplots show the fallout and perspectives of Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD, which was welcome and would become very common in the 90s. Nevertheless, you can’t help but wonder how Tim manages to balance school and his social life during the events of Knightfall. In any case, we’d be shown how he would soon enough.

 

PART 8: WHO RULES THE NIGHT?

Batman issue #498 “Knights in Darkness” picks up the transitional period between Bruce vs. Bane and Jean-Paul Valley donning the Mantle of the Bat. While the Bat-Team licks their wounds in Wayne Manor, Bane tears up the gangs of Gotham and quickly assumes total rule, even strong-arming Catwoman on his side. Tim and Alfred come up with an excuse for the public on how Bruce Wayne might’ve injured his back, while Bruce wakes from his coma and decides that Jean-Paul should stand in as Batman.

 

Tim’s feelings on his hero’s defeat are explicitly rendered in issue #498, where he’s brought to tears over Bruce’s expressions of guilt and failure. Luckily Alfred proves he has a stronger constitution and prevents Tim from losing it.

Later, Bruce and Tim discuss what to do in Bruce’s absence. Tim suggests that Nightwing fill in as Batman, and Bruce quickly rejects the notion, saying Dick deserves to live out his own life. This has been a controversial scene over the years, with fans complaining that Dick Grayson was the only and obvious choice to fill in as the Dark Knight. Some even see Prodigal as an answer to fans complaints that Bruce would ever not think to go to his first Robin for help.

The conflict is that Knightfall was intended from the start to be an allegory for the changing times and presentation of heroes in the 90s. In the Superman books, the Man of Steel was replaced not only by Superboy and Steel, but the darker characters Eradicator and Cyborg Superman as well. It was a popular way to have fans yearn for the return of their original heroes, proving their more traditional moralities were the ones they’d always return to. Denny O’Neil said that fans often complained, especially in the wake of stories such as “The Killing Joke” and “A Death in the Family”, about Batman’s code of not killing.

  

In Detective Comics #665, Jean-Paul immediately loses it in his role as Batman, resorting to nearly killing criminals at the drop of a hat and arguing that tougher tactics are the way to go to beat Bane.

This is the thematic refrain for the entirety of Knightfall. Batman didn’t lose to Bane because his morals were weak. Jean-Paul eventually defeats Bane, but soon proves to be worse for Gotham than any new criminal could ever be. Throughout it all, Tim is forced to see his hero’s image tarnished by someone who doesn’t care.

Jean-Paul even has the temerity to violate one of Bruce Wayne’s most sacred rules: Wearing the costume near an open window!

This, while sort of a goofy scene, recalls Tim’s honed moral code which he shares with Bruce that we saw tested throughout his first miniseries. Back then, he could deal working with Shiva knowing that he could rely upon Batman back in Gotham. Now, back in Gotham with “Batman”, as he states in Detective Comics #665, he feels “more alone than when [he’s] solo.”

 

Throughout all of this, Tim’s father Jack is kidnapped along with Shondra Kinsolving. Whoops. While that subplot wraps up in the Knightquest: The Search later down the line, it does pop into Tim’s head now and then considering that it’s not the first time his father’s been kidnapped. What’s interesting about the kidnapping scene is how Bruce adds it to his list of failures, a list which consistently includes Jason Todd. As this entire Tim Drake retrospective has shown, Jason’s never been far from his thoughts, and lately he’s had the dead boy on his mind.

  

Batman #500 comes ‘round, and it’s the first appearance of Ariana Dzerchenko since “Cry of the Huntress”. She and Tim seem to be dating, but we’re introduce to their relationship by Tim already blowing her off.

Robin returns to the Batcave and hashes it out with Jean-Paul, whose mind is halfway in Azrael mode. Paul has all but abandoned the trappings of Batman by this point, and leaves Tim in the lurch. Tim appeals to Paul’s sense of decency, but Paul’s left that behind as well. By this point Moench’s take on Tim has matured. I had to double-check to make sure this wasn’t written by Chuck Dixon. The stress of the Bane and Paul situation has gotten to Tim, and Moench doesn’t portray him as the smirking wisecracker he had written in the lead-up to Knightfall.

But the big scene is between Robin and Nightwing, returning from the pages of The New Titans. Dick’s gone through A LOT in his team book, far too much of a tangent to recall here, but by this point he’s on his way out and that departure and his return to the Bat-Books begin to cross over in Batman #500. It’s worth briefly comparing the discrepancies between the two versions of Dick learning the events of Knightfall.

  

Dick and Starfire very nearly get married in The New Titans #100. The cover date for that issue is August of 1993, the same month Batman #498 and Detective Comics #665 came out. Dick is learning of Bruce’s injury at the right time. However, in this issue Alfred and Tim found the time to attend Dick and Kori’s wedding. When did they ever squeeze enough hours in the day to do that?

Tim even suits up to battle Raven and Deathwing with the Titans.

Note this is the first time Tom Grummett properly draws Tim Drake as Robin. More on that later

The weirdness of Batman #500 is that Nightwing says he learned of Bruce’s injuries from Oracle, not Alfred. It jives with Batman #498 because Bruce insisted to Tim to leave Dick out of their troubles. But Dick also doesn’t know that Bruce isn’t the Batman in the Gotham City news.

This massive screw-up is the fault of Denny O’Neil as group editor. It’s a continuity hole and lack of communication between Marv Wolfman and Doug Moench. While Wolfman was famously on his way out of the Titans book in the next two years (suffering from writer’s block), it’s confusing for Moench to write Nightwing as learning of Bruce’s back injury from Oracle, yet not understanding that he’s not Batman. That’s far too confusing. However, we do see that Dick is burned by Bruce’s decision to pick a relative newcomer over him to fill into the cape and cowl. This will carry over big time during Prodigal.

 

The second half of Batman #500 features “AzBats” vs. Bane. Paul outmatches Bane’s reliance on Venom with his new razor-edged costume and beats him half to death. As Robin and the GCPD watch, Paul doesn’t give into the System and allows Bane to be imprisoned in Blackgate.

It would seem that Jean-Paul and Tim have reached an uneasy alliance, one that will take them well on into the future as Batman and Robin. Right?

 

Detective Comics #668 sees Tim gain his special Driver’s Permit, with his dad’s handicap taken into consideration. He breaks into the Batcave (the passageway between the Drake home and the Batcave had been bricked off by Paul in #667) and finds a specially modified vehicle made for him, the Redbird. Unfortunately, Paul finds him in the cave and whatever alliance the two men had is instantly erased as Paul tries to flat-out kill him.

Tim holds his own for a minute, but Paul gets the upper hand. The story is continued…IN ROBIN #1!

 

PART 9: FLYING SOLO

We finally arrive at the 1993 Robin ongoing series, majorly written by Chuck Dixon, illustrated by Tom Grummett, Phil Jimenez, Mike Weiringo, Staz Johnson, Pete Woods, Freddie Williams III and many more. This 183-issue series maintained the foundation on which the Tim Drake character was built on, and continued to develop his supporting cast and personal growing pains for the next fifteen years. While beginning in the middle of Knightfall, this book would include crossovers such as “Bruce Wayne: Murderer”, “No Man’s Land”, “Officer Down”, “Last Laugh” and “Batman R.I.P.”

 

Tim manages to free himself from AzBat’s metal clutches and escapes the Batcave for what he fears will be the last time. For the rest of the issue, we’re reintroduced to Ariana, Ives and Karl Ranck.

Karl Ranck was an interesting character. While the Flash Thompson comparisons can be made, he actually didn’t seem to mind Tim too much and repeatedly tried to get him to hang out. While he was a lout and a loudmouth, it was interesting seeing Tim never picked on but hassled because of his social circle. Karl was more prone to pick on Tim’s friends and the fact that he couldn’t drive (not knowing that Robin could). We’ll keep a lookout for more of Karl’s character up to his demise in Robin #25.

 

We’re also introduced to Robin’s own police foil in Sheriff “Shotgun” Smith. He pulls Tim over while chasing a gang of carjackers called the Speedboyz, and presumes that Robin is part of them.

Interestingly enough, Shotgun Smith wasn’t an original character by Dixon. He first appeared way back in Detective Comics #428, and actually encountered Batman on two occasions. I suppose we can blame the differences between Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis for his lack of memory.

We see more of Tim’s struggles in maintaining a double identity. Ariana wants to talk after the events of issue #1, but Tim has to take a call from Alfred regarding their search for Shondra Kinsolving and his father. In a stark contrast to the continuity problems of Titans #100 and Batman #500, Robin #2 ties into Shadow of the Bat #22 quite nicely. Notice the exact transmission of the dialogue.

Robin investigates the Speedboyz with the help of the Redbird and tracks their location. While he’s overpowered and outnumbered, he’s not outmatched. Dixon and Grummett demonstrate how far Tim’s come to battling crooks on his own, even if he admits that he’s “got to find someone his own size to fight sometime.”

These first two issues start off lowkey. The Speedboyz by any stretch are low rent bad guys. They’re a gang and moderately dangerous, but just bush league enough for Tim to take down in one issue. The overarching subplot is the impending return of the Cluemaster, now teamed with the Lester Buchinsky Electrocutioner. With AzBats pushing Robin away, Tim has to contend with the newly escaped crooks on his own. Moreover is the return of the Spoiler, and it is with issue #3-5 that Tim’s romantic life takes center stage.

 

We first see Tim struggling to maintain his relationship with Ariana. His constant comings and goings suggest to her that he might be cheating on her.

Later, upon learning that the Electrocutioner has become a criminal and teamed with the Cluemaster, Tim’s detective mind runs overtime during a date.

Next, Tim has a harsh run-in with Stephanie Brown who’s donned the identity of the Spoiler again to catch her father. As she and Robin investigate, things start to heat up despite the snow.

The Cluemaster robs an armored truck full of money and plans to bury it in cement to hide it from the cops, digging it out later. Along with the Electrocutioner and the Baffler headbanger, they pull off the score but are caught just in time by Robin, who battles Cluemaster inside the back of the van. Unfortunately for Tim, Electrocutioner and Headbanger have no idea they’re inside, and bury the truck with cement as planned.

 

Everything comes to a head in Robin #5. Tim’s trapped in a buried armored truck with the Cluemaster, and oxygen begins to run out fast. First, he tries to think his way out, determining to not lose his cool and consider every option. He figures there’s a chance Spoiler might’ve been able to see the truck get buried, but she has no way of knowing he’s inside. When the Cluemaster wakes up (Robin punched him out earlier), he tells Tim that the plan was to recover the truck two days later.

When we cut to Stephanie, we see her waiting for Cluemaster’s buddies to make a move on the truck. Thoughts of Robin float over her head, while Ariana keeps calling Tim and ends up going out with another boy instead.

We cut back to Tim, five hours later. He and Cluemaster are slowly freezing to death as their oxygen runs low. Tim runs the variables in his head and figures they won’t make it by the time the truck is discovered. Thoughts of survival begin to surface and Tim recalls the favored options of both Batman and Lady Shiva, drawing on his training with the two masters.

At the last minute, a hole drills into the truck’s ceiling. Turns out Electrocutioner and Headbanger were pretty greedy and didn’t care to wait on their missing boss’s instructions, deigning to grab the swag themselves. Spoiler got the drop on them and is present for Robin’s most appreciative greeting.

So Tim lives to fight another day! But with this survival comes even more trouble for him down the line!

 

NEXT TIME: The conclusion of Knightfall, Dick and Tim working together, adventures with the Spoiler and more!

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