26 August 2012

What Is John Blake Supposed to Be?

Bleeding Cool’s Between the Pages vlog has offered a friendly video discussion between editor Grace Randolph and superhero-fashion blogger Alan Kistler on the history of Robins, with particular attention to the latest iterations in comics (Damian Wayne), videogames (Tim Drake in a hoodie), and movies (Det. John Blake).

The thorough discussion proceeds along standard lines, with a lot of familiar imagery. It’s interesting to see how comics fans’ perception of changes can differ based on when they encounter them. For example, Kistler points out a couple of times that the dark, gritty original Batman lasted less than a year in the comics in 1939-40. However, the conversation leaves the impression that Batman went through an extended period of grimness after Jason Todd’s death at the end of 1988.

In fact, it was only a few months before Tim Drake came on the scene as a new Robin—DC had already put out a call for that character. I suspect that Kistler was then reading monthly installments as a young adolescent, and that period felt much longer.

It’s also notable what assumptions Randolph’s presentation makes about how fans view Robins:
Joseph Gordon Levitt is Robin and/or Nightwing in The Dark Knight Rises 2012. But is his John Blake supposed to be Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, or Tim Drake? . . . And do you think Joseph Gordon Levitt is meant to become the next Batman, Robin, or Nightwing?
John Blake exists in a universe in which [***SPOILERS***] French arch-detective Henri Ducard and ancient Mideastern assassin Ra’s al Ghul are the same person, in which Lucius Fox knows his employer’s biggest secret, and in which—the biggest change of all—Bruce Wayne is willing to retire from being the Caped Crusader.

There’s no reason that unfamiliar universe has to contain a Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, or any other character from other tellings of the Batman mythos. Blake is a new character, displaying the narrative essence of the Robin character and a few similarities with previous incarnations, but entirely independent.

Will Blake become Batman or Nightwing (the latter having no precedent in that universe)? I don’t think it matters. A big theme of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is the value of the Batman (or Harvey Dent) as a symbol of bravery and hope for Gotham City. Blake’s [***MORE SPOILERS, but nothing that’s not in the video***] departure from the police force and entrance into the cave at the end of The Dark Knight Rises promise that he’ll do something with those resources—and implicitly that he might inspire someone else in turn. But exactly what? We’ll never know.

ADDENDUM: Additional commentary from Caleb at Every Day Is Like Wednesday.

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