13 February 2011

Alan Grant on Robin, and a Road Not Taken

In 1988, the British writer Alan Grant began writing Batman stories in Detective Comics, at first with partner John Wagner but soon on his own (though Wagner’s name continued to appear in the credits for a while). Grant would end up writing Batman scripts for well over a decade.

In a 2009 interview with Graphic Novel Reporter, Grant had this to say about the Robin the Boy Wonder:

I’m not a Robin fan. Jerry [Robinson] told me personally they introduced Robin because the stories were becoming so dark the publishers were getting worried. They needed a younger audience, and a bit of color; Robin would bring it.

I accept the argument. I’ve read good Batman and Robin stories as well as mush. I’m just not a Robin fan. At heart, I don’t believe Batman—not the Batman I see—would really have a Robin. I know, I wrote it for years, but that’s the demands of my employer.
Grant’s first two years of stories didn’t include Robin. That probably wasn’t just his personal choice. DC Comics editors were struggling to figure out what to do with the character of Jason Todd, whom readers disliked and then killed, so they encouraged Grant to write Batman’s solo adventures.

In November 1989, Grant introduced a character called Anarky. He was a new vigilante in Gotham, driven not by Batman’s simple anti-crime agenda but by a philosophical commitment to anarchy. (Grant himself was entertaining such ideas at the time.) At the end of a two-issue tale, Batman unmasked Anarky as a very smart teenager named Lonnie Machin. Readers responded well, which gave Grant ideas.

Here’s how Grant described his thinking to William Cooling in a 2004 interview, originally at 411mania:
Funnily enough, I never mentioned the following interesting fact about Anarky. I originally created him specifically to be the new Robin. Imagine forgetting that. Don’t be a writer, Will, it scrambles your brain. Anyhoo, that was the plan. Batman was so popular back then, we’d have 3 or 4 meets in New York per year, planning out the future. Norm [Breyfogle, the artist working on Detective,] and I knew we’d soon need a new Robin, and what an honour—and what a profit—it would be for our character to get the job.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Some smart Marv Wolfman kid was waiting in the wings.
Grant said much the same the next year to 2000 AD Review, expanding on his thinking:
I knew Robin was going to die, and figured we’d need a replacement. I wanted a kid whose beliefs were not the same as Batman’s, in fact whose beliefs would clash with Batman’s. I didn’t want any dead parents who needed to be revenged. I wanted a kid who could think.

What I didn’t know, until the script arrived on my desk, is that Marv Wolfman had already created the new Robin. Bastard.
However, a 2006 interview with both Grant and Breyfogle tells a slightly different story of a gradually developing idea, which is probably more accurate:
Breyfogle: And then there’s Anarky of course, which was based on your directions because I wasn’t really familiar with the character V for Vendetta at that point.

Grant: Yes! I remember all I said was he was a cross between V for Vendetta and one of the spies from Spy vs Spy in Mad Magazine. [laughter]

Breyfogle: That’s right! I’d forgotten that.

Grant: I thought he’d only be there for one or two issues, but then I started to get ideas above my station by thinking, “Well fuck, this guy could be the new Robin!” Unfortunately, because everything was so top secret at that time and there was very little contact between myself and Marv Wolfman, who was doing the Batman monthly, I didn’t know that they were already working on a new Robin…

Breyfogle: I still want to draw Anarky as Robin. [laughter] I mean, Lonnie Machin, I would love to draw him as Robin still. Someday.
Finally, here’s Breyfogle’s own take on how the Anarky character related to both Batman and Robin:
Anarky’s singularity is due partly to his being, at his age, nearly as competent as Batman. I’m amused by Alan’s originally grooming Anarky to be the new Robin; the Robin role now seems too small for him! The audaciousness of a non-super-powered teenager functioning as a highly effective adult without a mentor is pretty iconoclastic in a genre where it sometimes appears “it’s all been done before.”
The big problem with Grant’s idea was that the dynamic he envisioned for Batman and Anarky had been done before. DC had just tried a Robin who started out as a criminal, who clashed with Batman in provocative ways. And readers hadn’t liked that. Their response had confirmed that Robin can’t be evil. DC certainly wasn’t going to try that again.

Anarky ended up being a natural antagonist to the new Robin that Wolfman created, Tim Drake.

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