11 April 2010

Gerry Conway on Robin in 1981

In December 1981, The Comics Journal published an interview with comics scripter Gerry Conway. This conversation took place during the period when, as recent weekly Robins have traced, Conway was helping to move Dick Grayson out of the shadow of Batman’s cape.

In the interview Conway stated, “I’m tentatively scheduled to write the Robin backup feature in Batman.” Depending on when the interview took place, this might be an early reference to the mid-1981 three-part story about Dick returning to a traveling circus that I described last week. Or it might refer to plans for an ongoing feature that never came about.

Conway expressed a traditional view of Robin, as well as Captain America’s boy sidekick:

Bucky ideally should be about 15 years old, just as Robin ideally should be about 15 years old. They should be on the verge of manhood, they should be on the verge of taking on the responsibility for their own lives, and they should be looking toward Captain America or Batman or whoever as the model on which they want to build their own lives. . . .

Robin now is almost a college graduate in his early 20s, I would guess, or late teens; at the very earliest he’d be 19. So you’ve lost that essential connection.
Conway thus helped to bring Dick Grayson to independence without having a clear sense of what the character would represent after that. No wonder the conclusion to his three-part story—“I am myself!”—is tautological. The question remained: Who is Dick Grayson to be?

Of course, most young people face that question as they enter adulthood. Finding his priorities and confirming his values helped to define Robin’s symbolic value for the next couple of years—but within the pages of the New Teen Titans magazine by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.

Conway was already scripting most issues of Detective Comics, and he took over Batman with issue #348, in mid-1982. That story brought the Caped Crusader back to Wayne Manor and the bat-cave, returning the saga to its pre-1969 settings. Robin helped moved Batman home, but did Conway have more in mind for him?

As it turned out, he didn’t. Titans artist Pérez described the situation in a 1984 interview archived at the Titans Tower website:
Gerry Conway, who was handling the Batman series at the time, had priority over Robin. Since he was the leader of the Teen Titans, it put us in a compromising position. Marv was being complimented on his characterization, I was being complimented on making Robin look like an adult at last. Yet we couldn't do anything more than just maintain a certain facade; we'd just make a very virile Robin. but couldn't do anything with his personality or his basic character. That was all the responsibility of whoever was writing Batman.

It wasn't until Gerry Conway said that he had no intentions of using Robin that we were given carte blanche. Then, there was talk that they wanted to give Batman a new kid sidekick, in order to bring back the father image of the character.
Conway’s vision that Robin “should be on the verge of manhood” thus opened the door for an older Dick Grayson to become Nightwing, affirming his step into adulthood. Conway went on to introduce the first Jason Todd who, in Detective Comics, #526, first went into a fight as the new Boy Wonder.

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