23 March 2008

Robin Goes Red

The last few installments of my weekly Robin series have explored Dick Grayson's original crime-fighting costume, which in practical terms would have increased the danger he faced rather than decrease it.

I haven't yet mentioned the source for the green parts of that 1940 costume: flared gloves, pixie boots, and trunks patterned vaguely like chain mail. (Ouch!) The red vest fits the source of a red-breasted robin, but what part of a robin is green? As the original comic book explained, the "Robin" name also came from Robin Hood. The green, quasi-medieval elements of the costume were thus borrowed from Errol Flynn.

That uniform was redesigned in 1990 for a new Robin named Tim Drake, shown above. His legs were fully covered, allowing the costume to contain both more red and more green. And that costume lasted for a little more than fifteen years, or less than half the time of the original.

With Robin, #148, published in early 2006, DC gave Tim Drake a new costume. (I haven't found any individual artist's name attached to the redesign. The particular rendering on the right is by Freddie Williams II.)

All the green is gone. Now Robin's dominant colors are red and black, with yellow accents (and cape lining). He has a new utility belt with pouches. There are pointy bits on the sides of his mask, on his gauntlets, and along the bottom of his cape (when artists remember to draw them).

This was part of DC's heavily-hyped "One Year Later" relaunch of its storylines after its heavily-hyped "Infinite Crisis" crossover event. Within the DC universe, Tim explained his new costume by saying he had adopted the colors of the second Superboy, his best friend, who had died saving the universe in that "Crisis." Superboy didn't wear any yellow, and for most of their years as friends his costume contained a lot of blue, but let's not quibble.

One obvious influence on the new Robin costume was the uniform worn by the version of Tim Drake in the television cartoon series, The New Batman Adventures. Shown at left, this outfit is credited to animator Bruce Timm. Even in reruns, a TV show attracts an audience of millions. Meanwhile, comic books are considered big successes if they sell 100,000 copies, and the real year-in, year-out revenue from superheroes comes in licensed products. So DC Comics has every reason to adopt the styling of the TV show, which more fans see.

Another influence, not lost on comics fans, was Batman's costume. For over sixty years he's had pointy fins on his gloves, scallops on the edge of his cape, a pouched utility belt, and black trunks over tights of a single color. Tim's uniform thus became more like Batman's. Which is both ironic and ominous since Tim's overarching personal narrative, running through all the comics he appears in, is his desire not to end up like Batman despite all his losses in life.


Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Love these Robin posts. Love the red Robin better than any previous look. Ever notice how Dr. Mid-Nite went the same route--ditching the green (and purple) to focus on his red and black? Mr. Miracle, Creeper, Hawkman--your turn.

J. L. Bell said...

I never got deep into the DC Universe beyond Batman and the Teen Titans, I'm afraid. Focusing on what's happened to Robin over the past quarter-century was a way to figure out some of the changes in the medium since I was a regular reader.

Which means that:

1) Dr. Mid-Nite is still new to me. I think the first time I focused on him in my life was staring at a a background character in Identity Crisis and trying to figure out who he was. This being DC, naturally, he's the third or fourth incarnation of the name.

2) In my conservative fanboy way I'm still not sold on the red Robin costume. Nothing against it as a costume per se, but I still think Robin deserves a little green. I came to like Tim Drake quite quickly, though.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Once there was a boy who did not have the most informed fashion sense. As he matured to a man, he decided to simplify and now almost exclusively wears solid-colored shirts and traditional pants (blue jeans, khakis, or dark slacks) to decrease his chances of mis-matching. Thus that now dictates said man's perspective on superhero costumes as well.

J. L. Bell said...

Curiously, the progression you describe also fits the costuming habits of Dick Grayson as Nightwing, which I might discuss next Sunday.