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Why We Love the Drake: A Spotlight Series on the Fan Favorite Robin (Part 4)


Editor’s Note: If you are jumping on board for the first time, be sure to check out the first parts of this Character Spotlight including Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

When we last discussed Tim’s adventures as Robin, Gotham was rocked by the double-blow of Bane defeating Bruce Wayne, and Jean-Paul Valley as the new Batman. After fleeing the Batcave for what he feared would be the final time, Tim’s stories continued in the pages of his own title, a series which would last for fifteen years. During those years, he would take part in a number of crossovers, some of which we’ll discuss in this chapter. For now, we left off with Jean-Paul running rampant as the Dark Knight, and the Boy Wonder left to fend for himself. It can’t end this way, can it?

 

By this point Tim’s character has been firmly established throughout the DC Universe. With a new ongoing series detailing his development, plus continued appearances in the various Bat-Books and crossovers, I won’t be covering each and every one of his showings because they all vary in importance. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the writer of Flash or Green Lantern wanting to show Batman and Robin, and Tim being that Robin. There’s not much investigation into how Tim feels about whatever’s going on in whichever title because as Robin the Boy Wonder, he’s seen his fair share of craziness. Zero Hour is the only DC crossover where what happens to Tim is important enough to discuss. Everything else will just cover the various Bat-Books and his ongoing, and even then, it won’t be an issue-by-issue basis. For instance, Robin had a crossover adventure with the Huntress in issue #6 of his series, and in the pages of Showcase, but that doesn’t serve much besides a one-off, and repeats the same dynamic between the two that was first displayed in Robin III: Cry of the Huntress. In the pages of Batman, Detective Comics and Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Tim is left in the lurch as Jean-Paul rips up the streets in his new Bat-Armor. An occasional scene by Doug Moench or Alan Grant merely show the status quo of a Robin abandoned, and a Batman increasingly losing his grip on sanity.

 

PART 10: KNIGHTSEND

Everything comes to a head in Robin #7. Over in the pages of Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Legends of the Dark Knight and Justice League: Task Force, Bruce rescued Shondra Kinsolving and Jack Drake, returning to Gotham with a healed spine and regained use of his legs (sorry Oracle ☹ ). As he greets Tim and reunites his with Jack, he seriously considers retiring and leaving the mantle of the Bat to Jean-Paul, unaware of Paul’s rampage. Just before Bruce’s return, Jean-Paul let the serial killer Abattoir fall to his death. As a result, a hostage Abattoir had kept tortured died from his injuries before the police found him. With the blood of two men on his hands, Valley’s actions infuriated Commissioner Gordon and further distanced him from the GCPD. Bruce is appalled to learn of his successor’s misdeeds and immediately seeks to set things right.

Unfortunately, Bruce is in no shape to take Paul on and is defeated. He resigns to the fact that he must regain his edge in the hopes of defeating the new Batman, essentially retraining himself in a similar way that he did more than a decade prior. He resorts to operating under Lady Shiva’s instructions, and after weeks of regaining his muscle memory, has a gauntlet of martial artists and killers set upon him for a murder that Shiva committed. While that’s going on, Robin is tasked with keeping tracks on Jean-Paul. This time however, he’s not alone.

Nightwing teams up with Robin, and thus we see the beginnings of the Tim and Dick relationship, which will continue throughout Prodigal later. Before I get ahead of myself, this isn’t the first the two have teamed up together. Over in Showcase ’93 issues #11-12, the two worked together on a case while avoiding their own problems. Dick has freshly left the New Titans after his disastrous wedding and mental breakdown, and helps Tim out on taking down Ramon Bracuda for good. During this story, we see some insight into how he views Tim and himself.

(Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. NIGHTWING CAN FLY!)

There’s distance to Dick and Tim, which is natural because Dick’s been out of the Bat-Books for many years. Returning to Gotham, Bruce and Alfred are gone, the Cave is wrecked, and the Batman is a rampaging vigilante. Tim, the new kid he helped bring in, is the only one he can talk to, so their bond fosters naturally and is a welcome respite during such a stressful and dark storyline.

The 90s Batman era is heavily commented upon during Knightsend, and Dick’s presence represents the good old days. A lot of nostalgia is thrown into sharp relief, and Dick even laments what’s been lost when he and Tim break back into the Cave.

Throughout Shiva’s Gauntlet, Bruce fights master after master, regaining his second sense for martial combat. The final master is a giant of a man, not unlike Bane. To beat him, Bruce uses the Leopard Blow technique, a punch that shoves the nasal cavity straight into the brain, causing instant death. Nightwing and Robin arrive just in time and are horrified. What follows is a tumultuous scene involving everyone’s personal emotional baggage that crescendos all at once.

This also marks the first time Dick Grayson meets Lady Shiva, giving her the hat trick for Robin interactions going back to Death in the Family and continuing through Tim’s first solo series.

Luckily, Bruce faked killing the master to satisfy Shiva’s lust for death and injured him just enough so he’d appear dead but would only be badly wounded.

Dick’s pretty happy to see that Bruce hadn’t replaced his morals, and the two Robins return to the cave and wait for the true Batman’s return. Dick tells Tim that (ironically in the age of replacement superheroes I.E. the 90s), Bruce will always be the one true Batman, no matter who steps into the mantle in the future.

Compare this scene to a thematically similar one over ten years later, during Battle for the Cowl when Dick is dead set against returning to the mantle for what would be the second time.

In any case, Bruce returns in costume to reclaim the mantle of the Bat. The three catch up to Jean-Paul and a climactic battle takes place over the Gotham City bridges, escalating across town and concluding in the Bat-Cave, where everything began with the battle against Bane, or perhaps, when Bruce first fell through the hole on the Manor grounds and was scared by the bats? In any case, Bruce convinces Paul to give back the mantle and returns to the cave to take it all end. In Robin #9, Tim witnesses Bruce feeling overwhelmed by the events of the last several weeks.

Bruce isn’t the only one overwhelmed, as the events of the past few nights catches up with Tim as well (we’ll get back to that). As he struggles to stay awake for his dad and Ariana, the evening brings about new, albeit relatively small, threats in a hostage situation at the Gotham Museum. Tim races to the Batmobile only to find that he’s been ditched again, but not by Valley this time. Has he been fired for not telling Bruce about Valley’s actions earlier?

Robin makes it to the museum and tries playing catch up to Batman without alerting the crooks. Batman doesn’t respond to him over their radio frequency. Is he giving Tim the cold shoulder?
Tim doesn’t have anything to worry about, as Bruce is still mulling over come changes he’ll make in the future. But whatever they’ll be, they won’t exclude the need for a Robin.

And so we reach the end of the Knightfall saga, and everything is as it was before. Or is it? The Dynamic Duo have gone through a lot in the past year or so of issues. What new challenges will they face in the coming storylines?

 

PART 11: ZERO HOUR

In 1994, DC was still dealing with some minute inconsistencies resulting from the continuity shift of Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1986. While some things were set in stone, like Bruce’s origin in Batman: Year One and Jason Todd’s revised origin, certain elements were still murky and didn’t fit with the more serious tone of the 1990s. How many costumes has Selina Kyle work as Catwoman over the years? Did Alfred still start off as an overweight cockney butler, die, and come back as the Outsider? Was Joe Chill truly the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne? Those details would be retconned big-time during Zero Hour, but not ignored entirely. Throughout every title, there would be references to DC’s long history that would distinguish what was and wasn’t in continuity. As a result of the actual Zero Hour miniseries, time was falling out of synch, resulting in anomalies. Barbara Gordon ran around as Batgirl simultaneously with Oracle, and Superman ran into nearly every incarnation of Batman throughout the 20th century. More pertinent to this essay is the events of Robin #10, and how Tim Drake teamed up with the Dick Grayson Robin. This is one of my favorite comic books ever, one that I’ve owned since I was a kid. It’s delightful fun, endlessly re-readable, and furthers not only the similarities between Dick and Tim but their differences as Robin as well. Throughout the decades, Dick matured as Robin before he became Nightwing. Was he really just Batman’s sidekick, or were there attributes unique to only him? Robin #10 answers that, while showing that Tim is more than just a replacement as well.

One of the hallmarks of superhero team-ups is that they must fight upon first meeting each other per a misunderstanding. It’s a trope made famous by Marvel Comics, and while it sometimes makes sense depending upon certain characters’ personalities, it’s not always the best idea depending on other character’s personalities. Dick and Tim get alone fine, with Tim being slightly older than Dick is in the issue. They butt heads when chasing after a jewel thief, but Chuck Dixon knows they’re both smart young men and wouldn’t resort to cheap fist-fights in order to get their differences across.

At the same time, Tim does feel insecure when he’s around Dick. It’s not often played up, but there’s always a small part of Tim that will be the little kid arriving at Wayne Manor begging the adult Dick Grayson to become Robin again. Now that he has the role, he feels pressure to make sure everyone knows he earned it, even if he knows he doesn’t have to. In the issue, Dick has the right instincts about the jewel thief they’re chasing, but Tim doesn’t see things the same way. After Dick easily avoids falling into a whale tank while Tim isn’t so lucky, the latter is ticked off and wants to catch this z-grade burglar so he can focus on more important matters. Dick suggests caution, and the ever present and conspicuously missing second Robin makes his ghostly presence known.

However, Tim’s still a sharper detective than Dick is at his young age. When it seems that their jewel thief has bit the dust, Tim finds it to be too convenient at face value.

In this way Tim’s Robin is closer to Batman when teamed with the Dick Grayson Robin. The classic idea of Robin from the 60s show is usually playing catch-up when figuring out crimes, often not figuring things out quite as fast as the Dark Knight. Dixon plays with that dynamic, while still giving the original Robin his props in terms of what he does plainly better than Tim. It also sets up how Dick is a much better detective than Tim as an adult. Think back to their first meeting at Haly’s Circus when Tim thought he had everything figured out, but Dick proved otherwise.

Tim learns from Dick, who at one point learned from Tim, who learned from Dick. There and back again, everything’s cyclical.

 

Zero Hour ends with Robin #0, which is a Post-Crisis recap of the Robin mantle, from Dick to Jason to Tim. It ends with what many were clamoring for during Knightfall, and a lead-in to our next crossover event…

 

PART 12: PRODIGAL

Dick Grayson is now the Batman. As Bruce goes off to…wherever the heck he goes (it’s later revealed that he was setting up multiple headquarters and batcaves throughout parts of Gotham City. At the time there was no clear explanation.), it’s up to the original Robin to keep Gotham City safe. This is where the brotherly dynamic between Dick and Tim really flourishes. As Batman and Robin, they operate more as friends with shared work experience rather than assigned partners or co-workers. To be sure, Dick has his fair amount of angst throughout Prodigal. At the end of Zero Hour is was revealed that during a Two-Face adventure he’d accidentally gotten someone killed, and was subsequently beaten in front of Batman for it. It’s a thread that carries out almost the entire first half of Prodigal, and adds more guilt and anxiety to Dick’s character.

 

Was this needed? It feels like a way for Two-Face to remain as a heavy hitter Batman rogue, which upon reflection is giving him major interactions with all three Robins. He killed Jason Todd’s father, and was the villain for Tim Drake to fight against in A Lonely Place of Dying. In Robin: Year One, the flashback tale gets expanded upon, and references (or foreshadowing) to the death of Jason Todd are played up. I never minded it when I was younger, but re-reading it, it really doesn’t seem necessary to make Two-Face this personal demon of Dick Grayson’s. Beyond Robin: Year One, their history isn’t referenced again.

Nevertheless, the gauntlet for the return of Batman begins, and first up is Killer Croc in Batman #512. What’s interesting about this is that Dick doesn’t know who Croc is.

 

That’s actually a contradiction to Croc’s first appearance, which was also the first appearance of Jason Todd way back in 1983. Killer Croc was responsible for the death of Jason’s parents, and Dick knew them as fellow acrobats.

At first you want to throw the “WHICH IS IT DC?!?!?!” fanboy card, but remember that both Crisis on Infinite Earths and now Zero Hour are in play. Time has been rewritten, and with Jason’s new origin comes a perfect excuse for Dick to not know who Killer Croc is.

 

Shadow of the Bat #32 sees the return of the Ventriloquist and Scarface, two other villains that were past Dick’s time (they first appeared during the Alan Grant run of Detective Comics when Jason Todd was Robin). Notice also how Dick uses the classic Batmobile instead of the souped-up Norm Breyfogle design (*it was destroyed by Jean-Paul in Knightsend).

We also see more of what differentiates Dick from Bruce as men. There are several scenes throughout Prodigal of Dick cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking food. Tim, who’s used to Alfred doing all the work, comments the working-class nature of his new partner.

There’s also Tim’s relative inexperience. He still makes mistakes, and even feels some of the salt he felt when paired up with the younger Dick Grayson from Robin #10 in Detective Comics #679.

In Shadow of the Bat #33, he recognizes his limits and holds back.

Detective Comics #680 sees the end of the Two-Face arc, and has Tim interacting with Oracle for the first time (despite what the cover to Batman #511) shows).

This scene was discussed in detail in the sixth Anniversary episode of Batgirl to Oracle. More discussions on the interactions between Tim and Barbara Gordon will be discussed in future articles.

 

Robin issue#12 sees Dick observing his partner’s state of mind through Tim’s eyes. While at the movies with Ariana, Tim gets into a fight with two clowns who’re heckling the film. He gets beaten up, holding back to protect his secret identity, and is feeling the embarrassment of getting thrashed in front of his girlfriend. Dick keeps an eye on him, but not too closely as he relates closer to Tim than he did Bruce.

Detective Comics #681 and Robin #13 serve as the two-part end of Prodigal. A killer in a metallic, razor-sharp costume is causing havoc, and all signs point to Azrael. Tim isn’t so sure, so the Dynamic Duo split up to follow their own leads. Even at the end, Chuck Dixon keeps the Dick and Tim friendship at the forefront of their scenes.

Dick turns out to be wrong and finds a disheveled Jean-Paul Valley at a homeless shelter. Tim runs into the real killer, Steeljacket. While he’s battling over the skyline of Gotham, Dick returns to the Cave only to find Bruce back and ready to resume his stint as the Batman. But Dick won’t budge until he knows where he stands with Bruce.

What follows is the end of an arc that started way back in Batman #416 in 1988. Dick and Bruce have been on the outs ever since Jason Todd replaced him as Robin, and while there’s always been a distinct difference in their personal viewpoints, tension had been rising ever since then, and exacerbated after Jason’s death.

Batman #416 shows Bruce and Dick speak to each other for the first time since adopting Jason Todd and Dick becoming Nightwing (Post-Crisis). Bruce is being obstinate at why he pushed Dick away before taking on another partner, and Dick calls him out on his hypocrisy and deliberate caginess after they spent years together as Batman and Robin. Bruce is eventually forced to admit that he missed Dick, implying that Jason was a way for him to recreate the relationship he had with him.

Bruce admits this to himself at the end, when Jason dies in an explosion set by the Joker. Before finding his body, Batman’s mind reels at how he brought the young orphan to this destructive end (Batman #428).

In New Titans, Bruce and Dick get into a vicious blow up that ends with Dick banned from the Batcave. Bruce was still in his throes of grief, and lashing out at Dick was the worst of it.

Now we’re at the final part of the “Batcave” conversations between the former Dynamic Duo. Dick points out that they haven’t discussed a lot of particulars ever since Dick came of age, and inner demons come flowing out as Bruce becomes truly candid with Dick in a way he’d never been before.

What does this all mean in the long run? Bruce is admitting he’s not always sure of his actions, even when he commits to them. The Jason Todd debacle screwed with his head for years, and he never really got over it in the same way he never got past the death of his parents. In these scenes in Robin #13, especially as a conclusion to Batman #416 and New Titans #55, we see that Bruce had trouble defining his relationship with Dick Grayson. Is it simply a chance for him to improve on the lives of other orphans, taking both Dick and Jason into consideration? Is it his need for backup on the streets as Batman? Is he simply just a very lonely man? As is written at the end, the Batman and Robin relationship is ideally seen as a surrogate father and son dynamic. A tradition of the father and son archetype is that the son goes their own way, in many ways surprising the father. But Bruce didn’t set out to become a father, as Legends of the Dark Knight #100 demonstrates when retelling Dick Grayson’s origin.

What is shown in taking in all of what’s happened since Dick became Nightwing into account is that we don’t choose the relationships we eventually gain. Friends don’t set out to become friends, and those that become family to don’t start that way either. In the case of Batman and his Robins, Bruce understands intellectually that none of them needed to become him, despite all of them believing he didn’t at one point or another. But as Jay Allman wrote in his review of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker when discussing the father/son relationship between Bruce and his partners, “Fathers create sons; they don’t recreate themselves.”

 

This also explains how Tim became more like Batman as he grew older despite saying for years that he never wanted to. It’s a thread that echoes from Dick, to Jason, to Tim to Damian, and even in different ways to Stephanie and Cassandra when considering their careers. Prodigal takes its name from the Prodigal Son story from the bible, about the straying son who returns to his father. In this case, Dick is now back to being a recurring character in the Bat-Family of titles, after being away with the Titans since 1983. But the theme of family is soaked throughout the story, from Dick and Tim’s brotherly bond, to Bruce and Dick’s father and son relationship. It’s a theme that only increases in its specificity as time goes on, as seen in Red Robin #12.

PART 13: PULLED AT BOTH ENDS

Robin has been through a lot in the last few story arcs, but where has that left Tim Drake? With his father safe once again, Tim is pressured to sneak in and out of the house without arousing suspicions. Things get really complicated when Jack starts working with a new physical trainer, but we’ll get to that. Additionally, his relationship with Ariana has really become strained. After Bruce retakes the mantle, Tim struggles to stay awake when Ari tries to admit to him that she went out with another boy.

Tim tries to apologize in issue #11, and in issue #12 is when they run into the two punks that mess up their date at the movies.

Tim is spending his nights staying up late beating up crooks with Dick as Robin, but unfortunately his dad keeps waking him up early to spend father/son bonding time. When purchasing new gym equipment, Tim meets his dad’s new physical therapist (and future stepmom).

Things aren’t too bad though. On his way to meet Ariana at her house, Tim runs into the two punks again. With no witnesses to worry about, he can let loose and get his get-back.

Tim’s pleasure is only fleeting, as Ariana’s family is menaced by the Russian mob again. This leads into Troika four-parter, which sees the return of the KGBeast who threatens Gotham with a nuclear bomb the size of a baseball. Part four concludes in Robin #14 when Tim is face-to-face with the Beast, and Sgt. Bullock dying behind him. Surrounded by fire with no backup from Batman, Tim’s forced to think of hard choices in order to survive.

It’s a pretty intense fight scene, with both Robin and the Beast getting some devastating hits in each other. In the end the day is saved, and Batman promises some more upgrades to their arsenal that he was working on anyway while Dick was filling in for him.

 

Robin #15 has the Dynamic Duo investigate a series of bizarre robberies with equally bizarre clues. It takes them to Blackgate where they correctly guess that Arthur Brown a.k.a. Cluemaster has been sending them messages, only this time it’s for help. Turns out Stephanie has been kidnapped, and the hoods are forcing Brown to work out crimes for them from his prison cell. Batman follows one lead, the GCPD follows another, but it’s Tim who finds where Stephanie is held up at.

They escape and make it back to Stephanie’s house where she changes into the Spoiler. Batman is less than thrilled with her presence, but she tells him and Robin that it was Cluemaster’s idea to take her hostage in the first place, and that he’s been behind the crime gang the entire time. The three split up, with Tim and Steph teaming together, and his personal hangups bubble to the surface. Last issue he learned of what Ariana tried to tell him in issue #9, that she went out with another boy, and he lets that slip to Spoiler when she presses him on his personal life.

Robin #17 serves as part two of a gang war between King Snake (back once again) and a newcomer to the Triads in the form of Silver Monkey. While Batman and even the Huntress get in on the action, we meet Tim and Ariana having a spat in Gotham’s Chinatown.

Robin #19 has them make up, while hints of Ariana’s family moving begin to cloud over their heads. Ariana has fallen in love with Tim, so at the end of issue #20 we see her make a pretty rash decision just as Tim comes home late from wrapping up another Robin adventure.

This leads into issue #21 where questions about the nature of Tim and Ariana’s relationship emerge. However, another relationship blossoms as it’s revealed Dana, Jack’s physical trainer, stayed the night. Both of the Drake boys have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!

The adventure of the issue begins when Batman and Robin are called to Commissioner Gordon’s office (Now Sarah Gordon, as Jim was fired by the mayor in Batman #519) to investigate a series of robberies by people dressed as ninjas. One of them fell off a roof, and it turns out to be a classmate of Tim’s. He investigates at the kid’s funeral and learns the boy went to a summer martial arts camp. While investigating at a magazine store, we meet Karl Ranck again in a key scene.

Next issue sees Tim investigate the ninjas further as a member of their summer camp. This is important, as we meet Tim’s “Matches Malone” persona in the form of Alvin Draper.

Tim goes through the motions of the camp, but it’s nothing compared to his training as Robin. Throughout this two-parter we see him comment on fighting styles, and how it’s “not about form, it’s about fluidity.”, and that “every fight is different”. He compares the training he took under Batman, Shiva and Nightwing to these third-string home invaders and handles himself easily. But he’s still a kid, and when the leader of the camp/gang “Dragoncat” Parsons picks on a kid, “Alvin” loses his temper and decks him. Luckily that gives him a lead into the inner circle of the camp where he learns how they make their scores as ninjas. Unfortunately, another kid from school is present, but doesn’t seem to recognize Tim.

Tim changes into Robin during the run and beats their butts. As Jack and Dana drive him back to Gotham, he learns that Ariana and her family are indeed moving.

But once again, Bruce Wayne’s bucks come in a pinch and buys Tim’s friends’ lots so that they can stay in the city. Remember, this is the second time Batman has ensured Tim’s happiness, considering that he bought his dad a house right next to Wayne Manor.

Ariana moves to Tim’s school at Gotham Heights, where she’s reintroduced to Karl Ranck for the first time since issue #1. Again, we get an eerie hint of what Karl’s up to when talking about personal security.

The mystery ends in Robin #25, when we find out that Karl showed Tim a gun he received from his father. Karl goes on a rant about Gotham Heights being invaded by hoods and homeboys, and insists that Tim step up his game to help protect the hallways.

Tim goes straight to his father, unsure of what to do. Jack suggests the police, but Dana knows Tim doesn’t want to rat out a fellow classmate. While Jack ponders his next move, we see Tim and Dana get to know each other better. While Tim never imagined having a stepmom, he likes Dana and isn’t threatened by her in the least.

Tim investigates the rise in crime around his school, and enlists help from the Green Arrow, who at this time is Connor Hawke after the death of Oliver Queen in Green Arrow #99 (also written by Chuck Dixon). The two are resuming their partnership after a crossover in GA’s title, but it’s not long before the Spoiler returns to get a piece of the action.

Jack Drake goes to Karl’s father and tries to get him to change his mind about giving the kid a gun. He listens and takes it back, only for Karl to steal another one. The next day, an argument breaks out between Karl and Young El, a local gangbanger who goes to Gotham Heights. Tim and Ariana go to the principal in the hopes of preventing any more violence, but they’re too late and Karl ends up dead from a shootout.

 

At the funeral, Tim spies Stephanie in her civilian guise. She doesn’t go to Gotham Heights, so Tim’s mulling over her interest in Karl’s murder. Unfortunately, Ariana notices his interest and takes it to be something else entirely.

Who can Tim turn to? The Spoiler seemingly, as Stephanie reappears in costume to find Karl Ranck’s killer. Robin meets her at her house and we see Stephanie’s new resolve to continue fighting crime, even with her father still in prison.

We also see that she now definitely has a thing for the Boy Wonder.

The two meetup the next night and track down Young El. Unfortunately, they’re outnumbered as a bunch of bangers from the Cranston gang back them in a corner. Luckily Batman arrives to save them. The story ends with Batman wondering why Tim didn’t call him for backup and Tim questioning how they can affect positive change in the suburban parts of the city.

WHEW! That sure was a lot! Knightfall and Prodigal were seemingly ending, but next time will only be more of the end of the beginning! More Ariana drama! More Spoiler! Contagion and more, more, more!

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