08 May 2011

“We need a new Robin right away.”

Yesterday I enjoyed Free Comic Book Day at Outer Limits, where the crowd seemed to be one-third regulars, one-third parents with kids, and one-third visitors from the International Steampunk City festival.

On the store’s freebies shelf I picked up a first issue with an embossed cover, indicating that DC Comics has high hopes for its title character. I suspect this young man will have staying power.

Last year I raised the question of whether in 1989 DC Comics might have decided to leave Robin behind. The comic-book business had moved its focus off the youth market, which the character had originally been designed for. That year’s Batman movie and the period’s bestselling Batman graphic novels didn’t include a current Robin. (The Dark Knight Returns introduced future sidekick Carrie Kelley.)

In fact, the Batman comics team apparently did want to let the Boy Wonder rest in peace as the editors and fans recovered from the brouhaha over Jason Todd’s death. But Warner Communications (which in March 1989 merged with Time, Inc.) saw no value in letting a nearly-50-year-old trademark wither. As Vaneta Rogers reported for Newsarama earlier this year:

Denny O’Neil, the Batman editor at the time, initially wanted to wait a while before introducing a new Robin. “After we bumped off Jason, I thought eventually, we’d need a new Robin, but I thought we’d give it a year,” he said. “But word came down from on high—I mean, higher than Jenette [Kahn, then DC president]—no, we need a new Robin right away.”
Marv Wolfman, co-creator and longtime writer of the New Teen Titans, had been instrumental in establishing Dick Grayson as an independent character, giving him the identity of Nightwing, and spurring the creation of the first Jason Todd. As for the search for a new Robin, he told The Titans Companion:
Actually, I was trying to stay as far away from it as possible, but I got a phone call from Barbara Randall—now Barbara Kesel—who was my editor, and she said, “Would you be interested in creating a new Robin?”

I wasn’t too sure, but then I thought about it and the idea came to me, and it felt like the old days where it was a real solid idea.
At the time Wolfman, having torn down and rebuilt the DC Multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths, was suffering from a debilitating writer’s block. He hadn’t created a successful new character for years. But this time he thought he had a winner.

COMING UP: O’Neil’s team prepares the ground for Wolfman’s “real solid idea.”

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