21 July 2013

Robin Statuary at Comic-Con

This weekly Robin features photos of two statues of the Boy Wonder on display at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

On the left is an inflatable figure of Robin from the Teen Titans Go! cartoon, about two stories tall, courtesy of Bleeding Cool. I think he’s supposed to be pointing the team into battle (“Teen Titans, GO!”), but given the way the balloon was positioned, I couldn’t help but perceive him as making fun of Raven.

Below is a smaller sculpture of Robin as he appears in the Batman Live arena show—the US version, not the British one I saw. (The US costume includes extra arm pads and those red patches on the outer thighs.) This life-sized figure was constructed of Lego blocks.

For someone who started reading comics forty years ago, it’s striking how “off model” these images of Robin are. Back in 1964, DC Comics felt it had to trumpet “New Look” when it modernized the style of its Batman comics to make them more like the rest of the line.

Twenty years later, the company had to show Jason Todd wearing the exact same costume as Dick Grayson and dyeing his red hair black so as to mollify its licensees. Already readers (and characters) were pointing out the deficiencies of that outfit. And surely some folks in Gotham City might have noticed that a young former circus flyer started dyeing his hair (how many young teen boys do that?) just when Robin reappeared at Batman’s side. But the need to keep the art “on model” trumped logic.

The success of Carrie Kelley in The Dark Knight Returns might have assured DC that its fans didn’t need all Robins to look alike. A couple of years later the company commissioned a new costume from Neal Adams for Tim Drake.

That costume in turn influenced how Dick Grayson dressed in DC’s Animated Universe and, with futher modifications, in its televised Teen Titans offshoot. We’ve since seen new designs for the 1990s Batman movies, for new Robins, for Batman Live, for the Arkham videogames. Each variation, of course, makes it easy for established fans to identify which Robin is which, and each represents a new possibility for collectibles.

It now appears that the original “model” Robin costume never existed in the “New 52” universe. In other words, as these competing statues demonstrate, we’re all “off model” now.

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