So, You Want To Be A Boy Wonder

So far this week, you’ve been treated to retrospectives on Batman and his arch-nemesis the Joker. Today we turn the spotlight to a more polarizing character, the Boy Wonder himself: Robin! Love him or hate him, Robin’s been around just about as long as Batman has and he’s not going anywhere.  But, today we’ll focus on the places he has been. And brother, if you think Batman’s had his ups and downs, wait til you get a load of his ward’s track record.

Detective 38

Drum skins grown on trees when you’re a millionaire playboy.

Robin was introduced in 1940’s Detective Comics #38 with the intention of giving the young audience a character to relate to. It seems that the children of 1940 found it hard, for some reason, to relate to the gun-wielding murderous Batman of that era.  And just as Robin came on the scene, Batman mellowed out with the killing. I suppose having an 8 year old in tow will do that to even the most bloodthirsty vigilante. Dick Grayson, the first Robin, witnessed his parents’ murder just as had the young Bruce Wayne.  They shared a desire to avenge their fallen parents by dressing in costumes and fighting street crime. There was really no way they weren’t going to be friends, so Bruce naturally invited the freshly orphaned Dick to move into his mansion and become his ward.  Dick’s choice of outfit spoke to his lighter tone, he wore a bright red vest and a flashy yellow cape in contrast to Batman’s subdued tones.

This is as good a time as any to acknowledge the elephant in the room.  Psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham wrote in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent about, among other things, the homoerotic undertones of Dick and Bruce’s relationship.  The sort of situations that the Dynamic Duo would get them themselves into in those days would make Tobias Fünke blush.

batman and robin misconstrued

But nevertheless, I do believe they were unintentional. The poses are often taken out of context and the quotes were innocent at the time. There was also the infamous issue where the Joker says “boner” about 100 times.  The evolution of colloquial English makes fools of us all. However, I can’t really defend the whole sleeping in the same bed thing.  These were days when it was uncommon to show married couples in the same bed, millionaire bachelor Bruce Wayne and his ward shared a blanket in an enormous mansion. I assure this was mostly avoided in other media.

Douglas Croft/Johnny Duncan – 1940′s Batman and Robin Serials

serial robin

I’ve never seen Batman and Bob Hope in the same place…

Played by Douglas Croft (and later Johnny Duncan). Both were presumably orphans owned by the studio.  I’ve actually seen very brief clips of these and I’d only recommend them to you if you hate the following things:

A)Production Values
B)The Japanese
C)Enjoyment

Burt Ward – 1960′s Batman TV Show and Batman: The Movie (1966)

burt ward

Listen up, haters. Burt Ward was the first Robin I ever knew, and his portrayal of Robin defines the character to me. Hell, it defines the idea of a sidekick.  He was, for all intents and purposes, Batman’s equal when it came to crime-fighting, wall-climbing, and riddle-solving but he understood that there was an order to things. When it’s time to stand back to back and spin around kicking henchman, you step forward. When it’s time to talk to the Commissioner, you politely wait in the wings.

As a child, I rented the 1966 Batman movie at least once a month until I learned how to dub tapes. I had already seen the Michael Keaton Batman movie and of course I loved it, but this was so much more like a comic. This version of Batman was over-the-top and ridiculous and it was perfect for a five year old. I knew that it was absurd, but I loved every second of it… hell, I still do. Then, after I invented the internet (true story) I stumbled onto some of the lurid behind-the-scenes details of the 60s Batman series.  Apparently, Burt Ward was quite the Lothario, and had ample equipment with which to perform these tasks.  However, it is widely believed that Burt Ward himself, with little else to do these days, trolls message boards and open source encyclopedias fabricating these stories.

Casey Kasem – Batman Cartoon (1960s) & Super Friends (1970s-80s)

super friends robin

And now, a long-distance dedication from Solomon Grundy. He writes “SOLOMON GRUNDY!!!”

Most everyone knows that Casey Kasem did Shaggy’s voice on Scooby Doo, but I think this one still surprises people.  The Super Friends series fills the role in my eyes that the live action Batman series does for most others. It can only be enjoying ironically and even then, only in small cases. It famously brought us the one-dimensional legion of multicultural heroes that were Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, and Samurai. While DC’s Animated Universe from the 1990s and 2000s holds up as some of the finest animation ever created, the Super Friends is relegated to the Also-Drawn list.

Marlon Wayans – (Very Nearly) in Batman Returns (1992)

marlon wayans

Image courtesy of the Criterion Collection featurette “Little Man, Big Role”

So, it turns out that Warner Brothers (probably in the interest of selling action figures) very much wanted Tim Burton to introduce a Robin in his second outing with the Batman franchise and the production team wanted In Living Color’s Marlon Wayans for the role. It  reportedly got very far along, and Wayans was actually signed on the make the movie until Warner Bros. (wait for it) decided to replace Tim Burton with Joel Schumacher. Wayans eventually got a chance to disappoint us, thanks to GI Joe,  and still gets paid Batman residuals to this day while we were instead treated to…

Chris O’Donnell – Batman Forever (1995) & Batman and Robin (1997)

chris-o-donnell-as-robin-dick-grayson-in

What I wouldn’t do for a crowbar…

I was so excited for Batman Forever when it was announced. Around that time I was huge into Batman, I watched the VHS tapes of the first two movies all of the time and I’d heard that they’d finally bring Robin into the mix with this one.  As soon as they released the logo of the movie, I had a t-shirt which I proudly wore as regularly as my mother would wash it. And then the movie came out and even as a ten-year-old I knew it was junk. It was everything the Burton movies were trying to distance themselves from.  It was blacklight sensitive street gangs and Jim Carrey clowning instead of genuinely creepy Danny DeVito.  It was self-deprecating jokes and Caped Crusader Costume Changes.  And I put it to you that it was WORSE than Batman and Robin.

batman and robin

HEAR ME OUT.

I recently  both movies back to back, and I don’t think it was just the accelerated drinking that made Batman and Robin far more enjoyable.  Now, don’t get me wrong… it’s a terrible, terrible movie with an awful script, piss-poor casting and atrocious direction. And that’s what I like about it… It was so bad it was funny. I don’t know why Batman Forever doesn’t strike that chord with me. It may be because it disappointed me so deeply as a kid, but I like to think I’m looking at things objectively when I say that Arnold Schwarzenegger in sparkly blue bodypaint is way more entertaining than Jim Carrey trying too hard.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt – The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

spoiler alert

***SPOILER ALERT****

In Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, he introduced a plucky young “hothead” Detective John Blake. An orphan himself, Blake is one of Gotham’s finest and one of the increasingly abundant people who know Bruce Wayne’s best kept secret. In the film’s climax, something happens to Batman… I’d rather not talk about it, but he’s not around anymore to do his Batmanning. In the final scenes Bruce entrusts Blake with the resources, headquarters, and  mantle of the Batman.  Oh, yeah… also, his name was actually Robin all along.

dkr jgl

Quit bein’ such a hothead, ya hothead.

Loren Lester – Batman: The Animated Series (1992), The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1994),The New Batman Adventures (1997), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman: Sub-Zero (1998), Etc.

cape toss

Take it off, Robin. Take it ALL off.

The Animated Series was the first time that Robin ever had his own arc.  Robin was initially shown in his traditional role as the housemate/sidekick of Batman. He was portrayed as a very clever young man, often outsmarting Batman himself and when convenient, he was written off by being away at college. When the series shifted to “The New Batman Adventures”, Dick Grayson was no longer the bearer of the Robin mantle, it had been passed along to Tim Drake and Dick has adopted the Nightwing persona. And in the fantastic episode “Old Wounds” we are treated to the backstory behind Bruce and Dick’s falling out, as told to Tim Drake. But despite their differences, Bruce and Dick are family at heart.

Scott Menville – Teen Titans

teen titans

Presumably (though never confirmed to be) Dick Grayson, this version of Robin was the leader of the Teen Titans. I was never personally a fan of this show. It’s not that I had anything against it, I actually enjoyed what I saw of it, but it was definitely designed for kids. The bulk of DC’s animated works have us adults spoiled, they’re cartoons that can entertain children and grown-ups alike. This one was more akin to what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was to my generation, and I wholeheartedly supported a show filling that role for the kids of the mid-2000s.

There are plenty of iterations of Robin that have not been addressed here since I stuck exclusively to Dick Grayson, but these ones stuck out to me as either the most notable, the most closely related to Homey the Clown, and the most… perky.

nips

CHICKS DIG THE CAR.

All images and characters depicted are copyright of their respective owners.

Posted on January 9, 2013, in Cartoons, COMICS!, Geekology, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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