Sidekicks were always something I had very little interest in when I was reading and collecting books in my teen years. Even sidekicks that I should have been a predisposed to liking such as Superboy and Supergirl weren’t on my radar. The only “sidekick’s” I liked were the former sidekicks of Wally West (The Flash), Dick Grayson (aka Nightwing), and super-ally John Henry Irons (aka Steel). I liked these characters because they out grew the shadows of their mentors, and they were their own men. Despite a healthy snobbery towards sidekicks, I was regularly exposed to Robin (aka Tim Drake), Nightwing, and Barbara Gordon (aka Oracle pre-2011), and others such as Batgirl, Azreal, Spoiler, and the Ghost of Jason Todd (aka Robin pre-Drake). Of those, the Robins were the most interesting to me: Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, and Jason Todd. Stephanie Brown occupies a space unto her own over the way she ascended to the mantle of Robin, and how fans reacted to the first female Robin.
I Didn’t Like Sidekicks In The Beginning …
… but over time I grew to appreciate the sidekicks as they grew up and developed through the 1990′s and early 2000′s. I’m not their biggest fan, but I can say I have a better understanding of their place in the DCU. With that being said, it’s worth noting that few characters in the DCU, and in my opinion no sidekick in the DCU has developed a mythology as deep and as rich as that of Robin. It has become a foundational element to Batman himself. I simply do not believe one exists without the other at this point. Robin’s influence is really only felt within the Bat-universe, although the roles Grayson and Drake took on within groups like The Outsiders and the Teen Titans certainly saw them engage in battles against threats impacting the DCU as a whole. Outside of the comic world, Robin would stand alone as being the most immediately recognizable sidekick in the DCU, and almost all of that will be framed by the Batman television show of the 1960′s. For all of those reasons, and despite the disservice the 1960′s television show did to the character, the mantle of Robin stands alone, and proudly among DC sidekicks for being as well known and as important as many of the company’s top tier heroes. If all you know about Robin comes from the Adam West universe, you don’t know Robin.
For that reason the mantle of Robin is a heavy burden for any creative team looking to crown this grand jewel on a new, unproven entity. Being a legacy character tied so closely to a character like Batman, who is second only to Superman in terms of being the foundation all superhero comics for the past 75 years have followed, comes with some extraordinary history and baggage. In other words, it ain’t easy.
Robin Fans Are Insane
At this point there have been five different Robins, but each share traits that together comprise the DNA for a Robin in the DCU. They are: orphaned or forgotten, an honorable soul forced to survive in a horrific Gotham City, some unique specialty, and either a nod to the circus performing roots of the original Robin, or a flare for the dramatic. Everyone has their own list of what makes Robin great, but for me those are the characteristics that I find common among Dick, Jason, Tim, Stephanie Brown, Damian Wayne, and in our very brief introduction to Annie Aguila.
It is right, and it is just, that creative teams looking to pass the mantle from one character to another must honor and pay homage to the genesis of the Robin myth. It is equally true that the stakes for this sort of activity are so monumental because Robin fans tend to be a famously vicious lot. Don’t believe me? In 1988 they paid to call a 1-900 number and voted to let the Joker kill Jason Todd with a crow bar because they didn’t like him. As if that wasn’t enough, they then turned around and became evangelists when creative teams turned him into a martyr and a ghost that would haunt Batman, and rip at the depths of his soul for the rest of his life. These are not sensible people, and they send a clear message: Robin is not to be fucked with lightly.
Jason Todd was the first Robin to succeed Dick Grayson, and fans hated him. He was a street hooligan with a shitty attitude, and because he was such a little turd compared to the original standard barer, fans hated his guts. When DC called Jason Todd they took a very definite turn into a darker world following in the steps of the canon established in Frank Miller’s Year One story-arc. Almost immediately after the killing of Jason, a new upstart named Tim Drake figured out who the Batman was and out-negotiated Batman into becoming the next Robin. Robin fans almost immediately fell in love with Tim Drake though, and the character would become “my” Robin. From 1992 when I started collecting until 2005 he was the only Robin I ever knew, except for that very brief time when the most unlikely of throw away supporting characters first introduced in the pages of Detective Comics #647 (1992), and took over for Drake as Robin in Robin #126 (2004).
All About A Girl
Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. Spolier, a.k.a the first female Robin, was introduced in 1992 as the daughter of D-list Batman villain the Cluemaster. Stephanie didn’t have a relationship with her father as he spent most his time in jail away from Gotham City. She’s now a teenager and her father has been released from jail and is back in the city, up to his old ways again. In this story-arc, Stephanie Brown creates the Spoiler identity and sets out to take her father down, and send him back to jail. In doing so, she helps Batman and Robin in finding her father and taking him down. Despite constantly being told to piss off by Batman and Robin, who were worried she couldn’t hack it, Stephanie continues to patrol Gotham City as Spoiler, and often by Robin’s side. Spoiler and Robin fall in and out of love throughout the entire Robin series.
By 2004, Tim Drake was feeling the strain of keeping his secret identity from his father. In Teen Titans #8 (2004), Tim Drake moans to Batman, and Kid Flash and Superboy, about the strain he feels keeping his secret. It was also becoming a recurring theme in Robin, and finally came to a head when Tim’s dad discovered he was Robin and forced him to quit. When this happened, Stephanie Brown created her own Robin costume, showed up in the Batcave wearing it, and asked Batman for the job – to which he said sure.
And Robin fans lost their minds …
It didn’t take long for the creative team to get Stephanie Brown out of the Robin costume and Tim Drake back in it. Dan Horrocks who was writing Robin when Stephanie was killed during “War Games” later told an audience at a New Zealand Book Fair that they were mandated to kill Spoiler during the cross-over event, and that the only reason she was made Robin was to amp up fan sympathy for the character for when they killed her. In Horrock’s own words “it was a trick” and fans caught the whiff of it in the air.
Fan controversy to her death started immediately on web forums. When no memorial, like the one to Jason Todd, was erected within the Batcave, fans confronted DC’s Executive Editor Dan Didio who responded that “she was never really Robin”. Most fans lost what Didio was implying: that as far as he was concerned that story line never happened and it doesn’t matter what is published in ink. They’d get it soon enough.
Some argued that fans reacted poorly to a female Robin, and I have no doubt that there were a number of fanboys who “couldn’t even”, but I don’t think they are ever as big a group as they are usually purported to be. I also don’t want to down play that the first female Robin was thrust upon us in a manner that seemed sleazy and calculating, even ruthless, in the way she took over the mantle of Robin as soon as her boyfriend, Tim Drake, was removed from it. Stephanie had her calculations to make too, and she wanted to be a hero no less then Tim did when he figured out Batman’s secret identity.
I don’t think Stephanie Brown’s legacy as Robin was brought down because fans couldn’t handle a female character in the role. Fans have hung onto this bone of contention, and DC has continued to cave under the pressure. Fans of Stephanie Brown are going to get what they’ve been fighting for in the third week of Batman Eternal which our Jeff Hill is responsible for reviewing each week!
The Next Robin Will Be Annie Aguila…
… because it is inconceivable that DC Comics could give it to another male character. Not only is it beyond time for a female Robin, but the female comic fan demographic is an ever growing one and they deserve to see themselves in the pages of superhero comic books. The standard female superhero archetype hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, and no teenage girl can be expected to identify with them. The next generation of comic books is going to be different because the kids picking up these books are just as likely to be female as they are to be male. That’s a new reality, but one that I truly believe DC Comics is going to bet on when they make Annie Aguila the next Robin.