18 March 2012

The Mysteries of I, Werewolf

After DC Comics introduced Tim Drake as the next Robin in late 1989, he became popular quite quickly. Of course, he had the good fortune of being introduced just as Tim Burton’s first Batman movie gave the Caped Crusader and superhero comics in general a huge boost in sales.

In 1992, DC tried a miniseries showing Tim as he became a full-time costumed hero. That was the first comic book to be titled Robin. It sold so well the company did another short series, and a third, all within two years.

Those miniseries got caught up in the speculative overproduction of the early 1990s. Robin II’s battle with Anarky and the Joker had only four issues but fourteen different covers, some including holograms. Copies of the Robin/Huntress team-up are still available in sealed polybags for very little money.

But those magazines sold just fine at the time, even though a relatively scrawny adolescent determined to use non-lethal methods was the antithesis of the overly muscled, overly armed, ruthless title characters of the day.

One measure of Robin’s popularity was how projects were massaged to sell under that brand name. One example of this was Robin in I, Werewolf, a short prose novel for young readers that DC published through Little, Brown in 1992. (It probably wasn’t coincidence that Little, Brown’s parent corporation, Time, Inc., had merged with DC Comics’s parent, Warner Communications, in 1989.)

The author of I, Werewolf was Ed Gorman, who also contributed short stories to DC’s Further Adventures of Batman mass-market paperbacks published with Bantam to coincide with the Burton movies. The 64-page book about Robin doesn’t show up on every list of Gorman’s prodigious writing, but Fantastic Fiction caught it. While Gorman’s blog remains active, his website has been taken over by flimflam artists, so there’s no endorsed title list there.

I, Werewolf had spot illustrations by Angelo Torres, who did a lot of work for MAD magazine. Paul Kupperburg (another Further Adventures contributor) has explained:
The secret is, these books used to be edited by the department overseen by the late, great Joe Orlando, an original EC Comics and MAD contributor for whom many great talents did some really strange commercial jobs.
I suspect that Gorman wrote I, Werewolf before the character of Tim Drake was established. And I’m not the only one to think so. A commenter at iFanboy said: “It seemed like they had already written the book and then just inserted Robin in at the end. Like Find > Replace.”

It’s not that Tim Drake acts contrary to his usual character in the book. He’s got the same hard-working, self-sacrificing, and slightly anxious personality as in the comics. But the text refers only to “Robin,” and nothing in the novel is particular to Tim: having a father to worry about, being a tech nerd, and so on. If Torres hadn’t used the character design for Tim Drake, we wouldn’t connect this Robin of this novel to Tim (and even there, Kupperburg complains that this Robin looks like he’s in his early twenties).

Furthermore, the book starts off with “Fifteen-year-old Tim Dayton,” who becomes the victim Robin protects. That name would have been found-and-replaced immediately if book’s editors had been concerned about making Tim Drake stand out. But all they were concerned about, I suspect, was getting the name and character of Robin on the cover.

I wish I knew more about the genesis of I, Werewolf. Was it a story about Dick Grayson or Jason Todd, held until the market and corporate partnerships lined up right? Was it commissioned when DC was still unsure on details of the new Robin? Was it planned to coincide with Batman Returns, which at one point was going to include a Robin who was neither Dick Grayson nor Tim Drake? Or did the editors figure that the kids this book was meant for wouldn’t care which Robin it was?

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