11 May 2008

Dick Grayson Goes Off to College

Back when I started this weekly Robin series, I described how the first superhero comics collection I ever read was Batman: From the '30s to the '70s. The last story in that volume to feature Robin was "One Bullet Too Many" from Batman, #217 (published in 1969), scripted by Frank Robbins and drawn by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. This story begins with Dick Grayson leaving stately Wayne Manor as he heads off to college.

Dick's departure was part of a revitalizing change in the Batman comics. In the same story, Bruce Wayne closed the Batcave, moved to an apartment in Gotham City, and dedicated himself to the charitable Wayne Foundation. That issue emphasized forensic investigation rather than the semi-comic capers and sci-fi of the previous decade. The look of all Batman stories grew more realistic (though the next few years contained more than enough horror stories).

As a young reader, I thought "One Bullet Too Many" was the last Batman and Robin comic-book story ever, that the From the '30s to the '70s collection covered the complete arc of their partnership. As a more sophisticated re-reader last year, I noted that the editors had actually included a later story featuring Robin, but fooled me by printing it earlier in the book. Throughout the 1970s, the writers brought Dick back from college whenever Batman needed a Robin.

I recall that comics volume coming from the library of the college where my father taught. He was a professor, as were all my uncles on both sides. Given that heritage, I never had any doubt that I'd go to college myself.

For that reason, no doubt, Dick Grayson's departure for college stuck with me more than the rest of this tale. It was the first fictional depiction I ever saw of that rite of passage. Indeed, I'm hard-pressed to think of another. The closest I can recall are moments in Breaking Away and Roots: The Next Generation, meant for general audiences rather than young readers.

Most YA fiction treats high school as the most important time in anyone's life--ever. There's a raft of fiction about young people in college, usually written by and for folks just out of it. But this comic book offered young readers the scene of a college-bound teenager taking leave of his family (even if that family consists of a slightly older man who dresses as a bat and a faithful English retainer). Can anyone offer other examples of such a scene from children's literature?

That comics page had been stuck in my mind for over ten years when I went off to college myself. Traveling with my family and a Datsun crammed with stuff, I had the vague sense that I was doing it wrong. Now I know why: my journey wasn't anything like Dick Grayson's solitary cab ride to the airport with two bags. I'd never tried to behave like Robin, as Jim Jacobs did, but I didn't have any other mental models of going off to college.

Mind you, when I showed this page to my mother a few months back, she said, almost with tears, "Oh, that shows exactly what it felt like!"

"One Bullet Too Many" is reprinted (in color!) in Batman in the Sixties.


Anonymous said...

That YA focuses on high school rather than college is not surprising given the target demographics of YA readers. I tend to think, though, that experiences in college have a greater effect on what kind of an adult someone becomes -- for those who go to college after high school. It's the first chance at independence, and is when most kids get to experiment with adult behaviors (or not). For a lot of people I know, it was a place to break away from what high school represented.

CLM said...

I am sure I can think of several examples of high school seniors leaving for college - what comes to mind immediately is The Real Thing by Rosamond DuJardin, one of the first books I ever bought myself, one of those Berkley Medallion paperbacks with the plaid edging for $.50 (purchased at a store called the Newton Booksmith, if I recall correctly). That focuses primarily on Tobey's college experience and whether she and her boyfriend were right to chose different colleges to grow individually and test their relationship (yes). But one you would surely like is Carney's House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace, set in 1912, which describes the summer before Carney's junior year at Vassar, back home in Minnesota. It describes her attitude toward the midwest, whether that meshes with Vassar at this time, how she expected to be a BWOC and to what extent she succeeded. She also brings home a more sophisticated college friend and part of the book is how Isobel fits in with the Sibley family and how Carney reacts to this.

I am sure I can come up with more, once I ponder. Of course, in Daddy Long Legs, Judy is simply leaving an orphanage, not a family, but it is the only home she has ever known.

J. L. Bell said...

It sounds like Carney's House Party is about a person in college, and I agree that there are a lot of books set at that age, some involving the folks and some not. Charles Ryder's dinner parties with his father are delicious, for example.

But the actual transition into college? I'm pleased to hear about Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) and The Real Thing (1956). Du Jardin's Boy Trouble (1953) takes place in "that special summer before college," according to its reprinter, as does Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer (1942).

Some of those should definitely qualify as Young Adult literature, though they also all seem to fit into the Romance genre, and thus be written mostly for and about girls. Anything for guys? And anything more recent?

I just realized that in my comics reading, even as I saw Dick Grayson's departure for college early on, I missed Peter Parker's altogether. I read the Ditko-drawn adventures of Spider-Man when he was in high school, and the Romita-drawn adventures when he was at Empire State University, but never saw reprints of the actual transition.

Anonymous said...

I think I read the exact same Batman collection from the library when I was a kid. Dick's departure for college stuck with me too, and I thought of it often as I just sent my son off to college.