Earlier this month, Brian Cronin’s “Comic Book Legends Revealed” series at CBR discussed how Carrie Kelley, the possible future Robin of The Dark Knight Returns, emerged from the interactions of three highly praised writer-artists of the 1980s.
The history begins in 1982 when Jaime Hernandez drew his character Maggie Chascarrillo as Robin for The Comics Journal. That was only a year after he and his brother self-published their first Love and Rockets issue, but they had been picked up by Fantagraphics, also publisher of The Comics Journal. This art was therefore, I suspect, both promotion and a dig at mainstream comics.
Three years later, Frank Miller was planning what became The Dark Knight Returns when he shared a plane flight with fellow comics star John Byrne. Miller described that conversation in an introduction to his book’s 1996 reissue:
1985. At 30,000 feet. I talk to cartoonist John Byrne about Batman. John talks to me about Robin. “Robin must be a girl,” he says. He mentions a drawing by Love & Rockets artist Jaime Hernandez of a female Robin. To prove his point, John provides me with a pencil sketch of his own.Byrne called that a “napkin-sketch.” Here’s his tribute to the characters Miller eventually designed from 2008.
At the time, Miller was apparently not even planning to use Robin. “But then,” he wrote, “one day, I pictured a little bundle of bright colors leaping over buildings, dwarfed by a gray-and-black giant…and there she was. Robin.”
Miller tweaked the established Robin design to be even more bright than before. Carrie had the red hair that DC’s licensing department didn’t allow the first Jason Todd to keep, and she wore it swept upwards for more prominence. Instead of a dark domino mask, her eyes were covered by sunglasses with light green lenses.
The contrast in that Dynamic Duo, brightly colored versus dark gray, contributed to some of The Dark Knight Returns’s most iconic pages, such as this splash page priced at more than $100,000 two years ago.
As for Byrne, in 2005 he wrote on his website’s forum:
Some of you may recall that it was on a plane ride home from Altlanta that I suggested to Frank Miller some of the elements that became his female Robin. Those which he didn't use, I used in Radio Girl.Radio Girl was the Cold War–era sidekick to the Torch of Liberty in a superhero universe that Byrne created in the mid-1990s.