17 August 2008

Grant Morrison on Robin

The Batman line of comic books, including Robin, is in the throes of a crossover story called "Batman, R.I.P." And boy, are its fans tired! Because the current Batman scripter, the highly celebrated comics writer Grant Morrison, is tossing in so many allusions to old Batman stories in so many new forms that no one can understand what's going on.

A few months back, the comic-book news outlet Newsarama talked with Morrison about what lay behind his plans for this story arc. It turned out that we'd all read the same Batman anthology back in the '70s. And Morrison has been pulling from that tradition rather than sticking to the "post-Crisis" adventures most of today's fans are more familiar with.

This is the part of the Newsarama interview in which Morrison talks about--what else?--Robin.

NRAMA: The strangest Batman story I remember was from this reprint book I found at the library in middle school, Batman from the ’30s to the ’70s.

GM: Yeah, yeah, I had that! That was my favorite book and I still refer to it. Re-reading [it] encouraged me to think of Batman’s adventures from the ’30s on as one big life story.

NRAMA: There’s this one where Batman and Robin have to do this thing underwater, only they can’t come up because they’ll get the bends, and they wind up spending like a week fighting crime underwater in a bat-submarine...

GM: Yeah! God, that was a great one! (laughs) Those were the days, when Batman and Robin on a riverbed was enough to sell millions of copies. Those stories represent the time in Batman’s life when he was first being influenced by Robin. I imagine that Batman--the 20-year-old Batman of Year One and the Golden Age stories, who’s given himself this mission--is working his issues out, but he’s still very grim and angry and lacks responsibility.

And then he meets this little poor kid, a carnival kid, a trapeze artist. And I figure that as soon as he met Robin, it changed his life, because suddenly he had someone to talk to. Bruce Wayne was emotionally frozen when his parents were killed, so he really needed Robin. He never got to have a pal like this when he was young because he was grieving. And where Bruce was a fairly sheltered rich kid, Dick Grayson is a rough-and-tumble street-smart circus boy so Batman learns a lot from the kid.

And I can kind of imagine Robin introducing all this cool stuff to the Batcave, the submarines and dinosaurs, all these crazy kid elements, and maybe even convincing Batman to wear a lighter-colored costume. They were like kids together. Emotionally Bruce was still a boy and some of those goofier older stories work more ‘realistically’ when seen in that light.

And again, when Robin leaves to go to college--at that point, we get the Denny O’Neill/Neal Adams stories which returned to a grimmer, ’30s-influenced Batman...and that’s obviously his emotional response to losing his little best friend to the grown-ups. (laughs)
Morrison's current story arc is inspired by the idea that Bruce Wayne has undergone all the experiences the comics ever showed Batman having--or at least something reminiscent of them--within the short life of a man in his thirties. So naturally he's gone crazy. Bat-Mite, the fannish imp with magical powers from 1959, is back as Batman's hallucination. Unless he's real. Or something like that. I'm waiting for the trade.


Sam said...

Bat-Mite is back? Didn't they do that about 15 years ago?

Or am I just confused? Seems like I plopped down some money for it, though. I'll have to check my Bat-Mite archive...

J. L. Bell said...

Bat-Mite's first run lasted from 1959 to 1964, when a new Batman editor deemed him too silly and ended his occasional visits to his idol Batman's dimension.

Since then, Bat-Mite seems to have appeared only alongside Superman's imp Mr. Mxyzptlk or in parody stories. Or, as in the current Batman issues, as (probably) a character's hallucination rather than an independent entity.

As I recall, there's a story in one of the Batman “Greatest Stories“ collections of Bat-Mite visiting the DC offices and insisting the company put him back in the comics.