06 September 2009

Red Robin vs. Batman?

DC Comics is promoting Red Robin, #4, on sale this Wednesday, with this dramatic cover image of the title character (Tim Drake, who was Robin from 1990 until this year) fighting the current Batman (Dick Grayson, formerly Robin and Nightwing). On Twitter, DC tweeted, “RED ROBIN vs. BATMAN?”

As I responded in the new weekly Robin Twitter feed, “The question mark shows they’re just toying with us.” When a comic-book company can’t muster up even one exclamation point, we know there’s not going to be a “RED ROBIN vs. BATMAN” battle.

I’d be skeptical about a fight between these two characters even if there had been an exclamation point. That’s because, as I’ve written before, their fraternal bond has been an unshakable part of the DC Universe’s bedrock for the past twenty years.

Which is all the more reason, of course, for DC to hint that that bond has broken. Comic-book covers show what’s most dramatic and dire. What could alarm readers into buying comics more powerfully than a fight between these guys?

But by now we should know that comic-book covers lie. They’ve done so almost since the beginning. (In the first Batman story in Detective Comics, #27, for example, Batman never swings down on a rope gripping a man by his neck, as the cover shows.) Just as comic-book superheroes are symbolic characters, readers soon learn that most covers merely symbolize the story to be found within.

DC has played this game with Tim Drake and Dick Grayson several times before. The cover for Robin, #10 (above), shows Tim with another teen dressed as the original Robin looming dangerously behind him. The adventure inside reveals that this is the original Robin, Dick, caught in a temporal warp.

But there’s no looming in the story. The two guys get along famously, even at the start when each thinks the other is an impostor. Which is incredibly rare since comic-book rules say superheroes always have a misunderstanding and fight before teaming up.

The cover for the Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day paperback edition (shown here in a Spanish translation) pictures Robin and Nightwing sparring as their teammates also square off. The book has nothing of the sort. Instead, both teams fight against common foes. Furthermore, while Robin’s teammates are impulsive (one is even named Impulse), and thus at odds with Nightwing’s orders, Robin never is.

The cover for Nightwing, #110, has Nightwing dangling Robin off an apartment building. Not only does that scene never happen in the book, but during the two characters’ conversation Dick Grayson isn’t even wearing his Nightwing costume.

The fiery cover for Robin, #139, depicts Robin and Nightwing at each other’s throats. That story is, to my knowledge, the closest they have come to an actual fight. Dick physically tries to keep Tim from reaching one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits.

The tussle lasts about a page and a half, during which the fraternal conversation never stops. Then Robin and Nightwing team up against another martial artist. Ultimately, Dick decides to let Tim make his own decision, and the scene ended with the two characters hugging.

The first issue of Red Robin established new tension between Dick as the new Batman, who’s chosen a new Robin, and Tim, feeling cast off. I expect that when the characters meet again in the new magazine, they will argue. There may be sarcasm, and sulking, and refusal to listen. But flying fisticuffs, as shown on the cover? Not a chance.


Anonymous said...

This is what I've been telling myself. Surely they've realized how this relationship is one of the most popular in the DCU. Circumstances now could lead to an actual fight--since Tim appears to be in an irrational place--but they've also so far made it clear that Dick (and others) recognize that he's not being rational, so it's not really a fight. Or at least not one that wouldn't be forgiven. It seems to follow some of the same themes as the fight over the Lazarus Pit. Not so much a Tim vs. Dick situation but a situation where Tim has to make his own mistakes.

J. L. Bell said...

The popularity of Tim and Dick's relationship is a double-edged sword. Because we fans have invested it with emotional meaning, that means DC can grab us by threatening it, as with this month’s Red Robin cover. We feel the desire to know what happens, even if we desire only one possible outcome. At the same time, the company can’t really change the relationship without risking readers’ loyalty.

J. L. Bell said...

I realized I should acknowledge that Tim and Dick had a very brief tussle when they met for the second time in the Batman/Teen Titans crossover titled “A Lonely Place of Dying.” Dick found Tim sneaking around his circus and tried to grab him, but Tim surprised Dick with enough martial-arts skill to get away. So the superhero rules were obeyed.

Raius said...

I don't think Tim is behaving as irrationally as we've been led to believe. I think the story will bear me out on that. Also, that Robin #10 cover you showed? My first comic book ever. I was in second grade, i loved the Batman animated series, and especially any episode with Robin. And here was two Robins. I was hooked.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Tim is behaving as irrationally as we've been led to believe.

Oh yes, I agree. I said he *seems to be* in an irrational place meaning that to the view of his friends and family, it looks like he's just in the grip of emotion. And while he's right that Bruce is alive, he is snapping and being paranoid around the people who love him.

So since Dick sees that, and thinks he's just grieving, he's not angry at him.

And now that the issue is out we can see that the Daily Robin was indeed right. Tim demands that Dick give him a chance to prove they are really brothers, and Dick gives him one. So its their bond as brothers that brings them to an understanding. It's not broken.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, that Robin, #10, issue offers a nice little self-enclosed story—with double the Robins! It was somewhat Silver Age, in that one can enjoy the character interaction without really worrying about whatever time anomaly made it happen. (At least I could. I still have only a vague notion of what Zero Hour was all about.)

As for Tim’s behavior today, he’s bound to succeed in his bring-back-Bruce quest in some way. I’m not sure that DC’s writers can make his initial choices rational, though. I think the company wanted Tim to be off on his own in Eurasia, dashing from city to city like Jason Bourne. The quickest way to allow that was for Tim to roar off, acting on a hunch—i.e., irrationally. And that’s even before we consider the emotional tension with Dick. But of course now that he’s discovered Bruce spoor, Tim’s quest seem validated.