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Published on March 4th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant

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Where is Robin in the Movies?

The Boy Wonder sure gets the shit end of the batarang.

You don’t need detective skills or the Batcomputer to know that superhero movies are at a peak craze for Hollywood right now.  In terms of DC Comics and Batman, Christopher Nolan’s trilogy has ended and we’re moving towards the Batman reboot with Ben Affleck donning the cowl and joining Henry Cavill’s Superman.  Having watched all these superhero properties rise in the last few years, my big question has slowly become — where’s Robin?

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For some reason, Hollywood has forsaken one of the best and most enduring characters in comic books — and the quintessential partnership, really.  While Batman and Superman are great together, if you ask any stranger on the street to name the first superhero partnership that comes to mind, they’re probably going to say Batman and Robin.  And yes, while I realize that Joseph Gordon Levitt was supposed to be this character, I think it was a cheap and unfulfilling nod to one of my favourite DC characters.

Those who are less inclined to want Robin on the big screen are likely to bandy about the notion that many readers hate Robin, and while I’m sure that’s true to a degree, it’s also largely anecdotal.  Haters always cite the famous call in poll from the ‘A Death in the Family’ storyline, where readers could call in to decide whether Joker would kill Robin or not.

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They choose his demise, but he only died by a tight margin (72 votes, to be exact), and even that is somewhat disputed today.  Batman editor at the time of ‘A Death in the Family,’ Denny O’Neil, once stated that he heard a fan had programmed a computer to repeatedly ‘dial for death’ for hours on end, amounting to over 200 votes from one person.  And second to all this, readers voted to kill Jason Todd specifically, who was known as being an annoyingly whiny bitch at the time (he’s since been reinvented as Red Hood, a better character).  So they didn’t want Robin dead — they just wanted THAT Robin dead.  And lastly, I’m sure some voted for Robin’s demise just to see some good drama unfold.  All of this is arguable, of course, but with over 10,000 votes and a difference of only 72, it’s clear that all the fans don’t hate Robin as much as we’re sometimes led to believe.

What really killed Robin, in the movies anyway, was Chris O’Donnell and the two garbage Joel Schumacher Batman movies, Batman Forever, and especially Batman and Robin.   O’Donnell was a 27-year old ‘Boy’ Wonder and Robin was reduced to being an overgrown, nippled armour wearing man-child that still lived with his (adopted) Daddy.  It made the character seem sillier and brought out the homoerotic stuff they invented Aunt Harriet to combat in the 60s.  They didn’t have the confidence to play it straight (no pun intended) and make Robin a real character.

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But before we really get into how to make Robin work in the movies, we need to address the comic books and what The Boy Wonder brings to the Batman universe.  I like a solo Batman sometimes, but I’m firmly in the ‘Batman needs a Robin’ camp.  It keeps him grounded.  It shows his empathy.  Without Robin, Batman becomes more cartoonish as a grim avenger; raising Robin helped Bruce Wayne be a better Batman.  It pulls him back from being devoured by the darkness that eats at him.  Would Batman have been a murderous Punisher-type character had Robin not brought him balance, the yin to his yang?

And through Robin, as the reader, we get to see Batman through another lens, both when he’s a hero, and when he’s teetering on the edge.  In fact, the character was wildly popular in the first place because juvenile readers could identify with the young sidekick.  Was he created as a marketing ploy at first?  Sure.  But hey, even Star Trek’s Ensign Chekov and his mop top haircut were a rip off of Davy Jones from The Monkees.  And besides, Robin has grown immensely as a character through the years and the different incarnations.

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He’s no longer the earnest, grinning, “Holy hamburger, Batman!” spouting Dick Grayson; his last incarnation was stone cold killing machine Damien Wayne, sharing his name with the Anti-Christ from The Omen movies.  Damien takes a crowbar to the Joker’s face, for God’s sake.  This ain’t your grandpa’s punning sidekick in green hot pants.  And hey, even Grayson grew up into Nightwing, briefly taking up the mantle of the Bat with Damien at his side in some of the best new Batman stories in recent memory.  There’s a lot of growth and history there, again, why Hollywood should take his story seriously.  (And let’s not forget the progressive angle of the female Robins, Stephanie Brown and Carrie Kelley).

Now DC is scrambling to throw together a Justice League movie to match the success of the Marvel film universe and The Avengers.  If DC played their cards right, they could have two Avengers-sized franchises.  The Justice League, but also a Batman Family franchise; under Grant Morrison’s recent contributions, the comics have been creating some killer material using all these characters in tandem.  I’m not saying bring back Bat-mite, but how are they not following the success of The Avengers with The Batman Family?  Heck, do Robin right, and you could squeeze a Teen Titans movie out of it too.

Perhaps the idea of four origins hurt some collective Hollywood brains, but I say, nevermind the damn origins.  Dive right in!  Dick Grayson as Nightwing, with the problems that he and Bruce have and flashing back to his training as the first Robin.  Jason Todd as Red Hood, the Robin that was murdered and has BatDaddy issues of his own.  Tim Drake as Red Robin, displaced from wearing the official ‘R’ on his chest, but a keen detective in his own right.  A young Damien, more warrior than boy, learning humanity under Bruce and Alfred’s tutelage.  And Bruce would preside over all of them as the leader and aloof father trying to do his best, but realizing he doesn’t have the tools to connect with his wards on the emotional levels they need.  The idea of a family of orphans is powerful stuff — the idea of finding family where it presents itself, however dysfunctional, is even stronger.  And from an action standpoint, a network of non-powered heroes that fight to save Gotham City from itself would be pretty amazing.

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Which leads us to another reason Hollywood is afraid of Robin, and why they cast old man O’Donnell — because it’s hard to have a hero that endangers the lives of a stable of small black-haired boys.  Or is it?  Could that not be a huge theme at the centre of it all?  In a complicated post-Nolan, post-Miller Batman world, a Robin story could raise engrossing questions and ethical debates about training a child soldier.

For example, in an episode of Young Justice, Wonder Woman is giving Batman the gears for indoctrinating a 9-year-old into crime fighting.  Batman coolly responds, “He needed help to bring the man that murdered his family to justice.”  Wonder Woman scoffs, “So he could turn out like you?”  Without missing a beat, Batman responds, “So he wouldn’t.”  That’s some powerful shit, people!

Who knows, maybe I’m the weirdo here; the one that grew up and yet still thinks Robin is cool.  Maybe I’m alone in this.  There is something odd about a grown man writing an essay begging Hollywood for a movie about a bunch of flexible young boys in tight pants.

Nah, screw that.  Robin endures.  He’s as much a part of the Batman legacy as Bruce’s dead parents.  His mythos may not be quite as iconic as Superman or Batman, but Robin is every bit as lasting of a character as his older DC counterparts.  He adds something definable to their universe — the ability to see it from young eyes and fresh perspectives.  As well, the depth of character brought out in his mentors, through their guidance of him.  I hope someday DC and Hollywood will realize this, so we can see one of comic’s greatest heroes take his place among the gods.

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About the Author

is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.



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