Robin — specifically Dick Grayson — represents one of the most important aspects of Batman’s character, in that it shows just how much he's able to change the world. . . .Sims’s essay includes this panel from Batman, #700, which many comics analysts have used to illustrate the contrast between Bruce Wayne as Batman and Dick Grayson as Batman. Dick acts friendly to Officer Bailey, remembering his name and family situation. The Bruce Wayne of the last twenty years would offer a brusque comment at most. (Of course, the Bruce Wayne of 1945-1985 would also have remembered Officer Bailey’s name, possibly from the singalong at the precinct’s last holiday party. The character has changed greatly over the years.)
Bruce and Dick start at the same place — between the dead bodies of their parents, taken from them by crime and chance through no fault of their own — but because he’s taken in by someone who has been there and fought through it, Dick ends up at a dramatically different place. For all the fact that he’s surrounded himself with a network of sidekicks and has been a member of the Justice League for decades, Bruce is still characterized as grim and alone, but Dick? Dick’s no less driven or skilled, no less devoted to battling crime and injustice, but he's also happy.
There’s something about that panel that I haven’t seen Sims or any other interpreter mention. As Batman fans with better memories than I noted, it fits with references in Batman, #666, and a later story in #700 to trace the life of Max Bailey, the wheelchair-bound policeman’s son. In the future that scripter Grant Morrison is dealing out card by card, that boy appears to grow up to be a supervillain named Max Roboto.
In that future, Dick Grayson has met an unspecified but terrible fate, and Damian Wayne has taken over as Batman—an even nastier Batman than the recent Bruce Wayne. He kills bad guys. Any kind of bad guys. He may or may not remember police officer’s names, but if they’ve been turned into Jokerzombies he uses satellite lasers to zap them dead. He defeats Max Roboto and leaves the formerly wheelchair-bound child to be eaten alive by mutant rats. Even though Dick Grayson was friendly to the guy’s dad.
In other words, the Max Roboto storyline suggests that—unlike Bruce Wayne’s Batman, as Sims describes him—Dick Grayson’s Batman doesn’t change the world for the better. Despite his efforts and friendliness, it gets worse. Dick might save Damian by making him Robin, as the Batman and Robin magazine suggests, but he can’t preserve Batman’s ideal in Damian’s hands. Gotham becomes a less nice place despite having had a nice Batman.
And that should worry everyone, not just Robin fans.
COMING UP: Robins and the problem of the future.