Robin on his introductory cover. Artist: Bob Kane.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Bill Finger (writer) and Bob Kane (artist)
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Boy sidekicks weren't all that common among adult adventure heroes before the days of comic books, but once the comics heroes got rolling they were all the rage. Tho he wasn't quite the …

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… first (Little Beaver beat him out), the one that set the trend was Batman's young friend, Robin the Boy Wonder (no relation). Within a couple of years, The Shield acquired Dusty the Boy Detective, Captain America debuted with Bucky, Green Arrow debuted with Speedy, The Wizard acquired Roy the Super-Boy (no relation), and dozens of other superheroes, major and minor, were allowing juveniles to join them in dangerous pursuits. Robin was not only the first — he also lasted longest. Even today, Batman has his Robin (tho the boy in the costume has been switched out a couple of times).

Robin debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April, 1940), after Batman had had 11 pre-Robin adventures. Like most of the early Batman stories, it was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane. To anyone reading the first volume of DC Comics' Batman Archives, which reprinted those 11 stories along with more than a dozen of the earliest "Batman & Robin" tales, it was like flipping a light switch. Batman without Robin, a grim midnight avenger who seldom spoke except to issue dire warnings to evildoers, was apparently capable of making a pretty good splash in the comics world. But the addition of a bright, cheerful kid to provide counterpoint to his dark presence (as well as a sounding board for dialog) made him a classic.

Robin was originally Dick Grayson, junior member of a trapeze trio called The Flying Graysons. Batman entered his life when the elder pair, his parents, were murdered by gangsters as a warning to the circus owner, who refused to pay protection. After months of preparation (culminating in a candle-lit swearing-in ceremony), Robin helped Batman destroy the gang. From then on they were a team.

Robin not only lit up Batman's series — he even had one of his own. In Star Spangled Comics #65 (February, 1947), he ousted The Newsboy Legion, which had formerly been the stars of that title, not only from the cover but from the magazine itself. He later lost his lead status to Tomahawk, but remained part of the line-up until 1952, when Star Spangled switched to war stories.

Robin started out less than 12 years old, but from the 1940s to the '60s, gradually inched up into his teens. It was in the '60s that his tagline, "Boy Wonder", became "Teen Wonder". In 1964 he got together with Kid Flash (The Flash's sidekick and later replacement), Aqualad (Aquaman's sidekick) and Wonder Girl (whose relation to Wonder Woman is hard to describe coherently) to form The Teen Titans. Later, he went off to college, started adventuring on his own, and got a new series in the back pages of Detective Comics.

Meanwhile, Batman was without Robin — whom he sorely needed to keep the "Batman & Robin" trademark current. In a reprise of the 1940 Robin origin story (but without the formal swearing-in), a boy named Jason Todd became the new Robin. This happened in 1983, but it's hard to pinpoint the issue number because, as in the original case, it took months of preparation for Jason to become Robin, but this time they took actual months to pass rather than zipping by in a few panels. While this was happening, the original Robin, now starring in a second Teen Titans series, abandoned the name to him, started calling himself Nightwing, and grew up once and for all.

The new Robin was less than enthusiastically received. In 1988, in cartoonist Frank Miller's ground-breaking mini-series The Dark Knight Returns, which featured a much older Batman, Jason was depicted as having been dead for years — in that story, Robin was a girl. Later that year, readers were offered a chance, via phone-in poll, to get rid of him in the here-and-now. They gave him an overwhelming thumbs-down, and he was murdered by The Joker in Batman #428 (February, 1989).

But Batman needs his Robin, because the "Batman & Robin" trademark remains a valuable one. In Batman #436 (August, 1989) a youngster named Tim Drake assumed the role. Tim, a hip, with-it, '90s kind of kid, became a much more popular character than Jason. He had a mini-series of his own in 1991, and an ongoing series starting with a November, 1993 cover date. He's now been part of the Batman scene more than twice as long as Jason was, and looks like he might stick around a while longer.

But whether or not Tim captures the imagination of the 21st-century fan like he did that of the 1990s generation, one thing is certain. Kids wearing costumes may come and go, but Batman will never be long without Robin.


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Text ©2002-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.