27 November 2011

When Did Dick Grayson Become a “Ward”?

Prompted by an Oz and Ends reader, I plan to devote the next few installments of the weekly Robin to explore the legalities of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and between Bruce and his subsequent crime-fighting partners.

Even people who’ve never read Batman comics have heard that Dick Grayson is Bruce Wayne’s ward. I suspect that label was reinforced in our minds by the iconic performance of Burt Ward. But I digress.

When did the comics establish that relationship? It took a few months. Detective Comics, #38, which introduced the Sensational Character Find of 1940, referred to Robin as Batman’s “ally” and “aid” [sic].

That story famously showed the Dynamic Duo swearing an “undying oath” to fight crime together, and it stated that “months” of training followed. But there were no scenes of Dick leaving the circus, nothing about any surviving family, and no sight of the child-welfare authorities. Simpler times, at least in pulp fiction.

Batman, #1, featured Robin in three of its four stories, and also used the term “aid.” The magazine makes clear that Dick Grayson lives in Bruce Wayne’s home, and will continue to be Batman’s partner past the Zucco case, but offers no formal explanation.

Detective, #39, started spelling the word for Robin’s role “aide.” Detective, #40, included a scene featuring Dick, Bruce, and Bruce’s fiancée Julie, so it’s clear that people know that a teenager is living in Bruce’s home.

But not until Detective, #41, did anyone refer to Dick as Bruce’s “ward.” The term appeared in that issue because in its story Bruce enrolls Dick at a fancy boys’ school so he can investigate crime there. For the first time, Bruce acts in loco parentis, requiring a legal relationship (or at least the disguise of one).

The word “aide” returned in Batman, #2 (which also offered “protege”) and #3, and in Detective Comics, #43. All of the Batman stories of this time (including World’s Fair Comics 1940) provided new readers with at least a quick introduction of the main characters, but none explained why Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne live together. Not until the last story in Batman, #3, did the narration once again speak of “an idle playboy and his ward.”

COMING UP: Exploring the ramifications of Dick Grayson’s legal status.


Kristen said...

Thanks for addressing this topic! Not entirely relevant, but I always thought Dick was supposed to be a pre-teen when he first appeared because he wore short pants for a few years. I am not, however, an expert on 1940s fashion.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, Dick Grayson definitely wore short pants a lot in the 1940s. Back here I theorize that that, and the shorts in his Robin costume, were chosen to symbolize his youth.

Some stories from the same era show Dick Grayson driving a car, and some are explicit about him being in high school. So I don't think the Batman comics creators of the period had a definite age in mind for him. He was simply a boy.