Let’s get something out in the open first: I don’t actually hate Batman. The thing I do hate, though, is that Batman gets all the spotlight and his family of sidekicks and partners get almost nothing. Some have solo series, sure, or membership on teams, but outside of the comic book fandom, not much. So, let’s take a look at all the wonderful things the Bat Family has to offer, and why, really, of all the Batman characters, it’s Bruce Wayne himself that is the least interesting.

PART ONE – THE BOYS

Tim Drake

Timothy Drake was the third boy to step into the role of Robin, doing so not because of some tragedy in his life – though he would face tragedy several times in his life – but because he could see something most people couldn’t: Batman needed a Robin. Tim is far and away the best detective of the various wards Bruce Wayne has collected over years, struggling somewhat to master the more physical aspects of the job. He represents a questioning, a doubt, a search for answers, and a determination to discover the truth no matter the ultimate cost.

Red Robin proved a hero can be dark without being brooding and grim.

Red Robin proved a hero can be dark without being brooding and grim.

Tim’s gifts, sadly, lead him to see himself in the starkest of lights, never allowing his abilities to outshine his limitations, leaving him seemingly shy, awkward at times, and somewhat pessimistic about himself. He enjoyed being Robin and the experiences it entailed, but soon the time came when he would outgrow the role and he took on a new identity of “The Red Robin.” As a young adult now, Tim’s skills continued to grow and he was able to stand as a superhero in his own right.

For readers, Tim is something of an avatar. He’s the young boy who saw Batman and deduced who he was, then approached him and was invited into the family. He’s accompanied Batman during some of his most eventful times – through Knightfall, Zero Hour, and the three recent Crises – proving himself invaluable many times over. He found love, for a time, in Stephanie Brown aka Spoiler aka Batgirl, though this, like almost all relationships in the DC Universe, ended in tragedy. He was leader of the teen/sidekick super team Young Justice, then the Teen Titans, and all the while going to high school and college.

Tim’s somewhat reserved nature was a real change from the Robins before him, and his serious side, his inquisitive mind and his constant pursuit of truth made him a new take on the “teen sidekick” archetype. He could be funny, and he faced the “dramas” of high school and the like, but he never became Spider-Man, or the generations of teen heroes that followed.

All of this changed, of course, when the New 52 came along. Rebuilding the Bat Family from the top-down (starting with a desired endpoint then making the details “fit”) left Tim as never having been Robin, merely taking up the name Red Robin to emulate his heroes. The constrained time frame meant he couldn’t have spent any time as the Dark Knight’s sidekick, and meant he was only just forming the Teen Titans. Years of back story, over two decades of character interactions, swept away never to be mentioned again, leaving only the barest husk of the Tim Drake we’d all grown to love.

But Tim’s complicated history and penchant for detective work remain in the back issues and trades, and prove that the third Robin is not only as interesting in the mask as his mentor, but he is far more interesting when out of it.

Jason Todd

The second Robin. A street kid, caught stealing the Batmobile’s tires and trained to focus his pain and rage into the work of the superhero. Rather than a single tragedy defining his origin, Jason’s whole life was tragic until the moment he was taken in by Batman. He took to the role of Robin quickly, having relied upon his strength and agility while living on the streets of Gotham. His greatest role, however, came about when DC offered its readers a chance to vote on “who should die” and Jason Todd beat Barbara Gordon to the top of the list.

Jason Todd tries on his Robin suit for the first time

Jason Todd tries on his Robin suit for the first time

After being brutally murdered by the Joker, Jason came to represent the failure of Batman. Jason’s Robin outfit hung in the Bat Cave as tribute to a fallen soldier, one who died in battle, and one who Batman couldn’t save. Sure, apparently Jason only WON the poll because some guy set up an auto dialer to call the hotline, flooding it with his desired result, but the fact remains that Jason died, and it became the new tragedy that spurred Batman on to even greater depths of darkness in his war on crime.

And then, as all most comic book characters do, Jason Todd returned from the grave. It was thought by many that Jason Todd would be one of the few characters whose death remained static. That he, like Bucky and Uncle Ben, would remain dead forever. But, just like Bucky, it was not to be. A masked vigilante calling himself The Red Hood came to Gotham, killing criminals in a war on crime that made Batman look positively peaceful. It was all an act, a grand show, to draw Batman out, to confront him over the death of Jason Todd and his failure to get revenge upon Joker, Batman’s greatest villain who had so cruelly stolen Jason’s life. This Red Hood was, of course, Jason Todd, using the old name Joker had used during his earliest criminal acts.

Never able to forgive Bruce for not killing Joker, Todd would go on to be the dark side of the Batman’s teachings. A skilled student who would use the talents and the means Bruce had taught him, but who rejected the morals handed down. Without a code, beyond the fact that he directed his war only unto criminals, now, more so than ever, he represented Batman’s failings as a teacher, as a father and as The Bat.

The New 52, of course, changed much of this to fit the new status quo, but his outlook would remain largely the same. Red Hood took up with two other misfit heroes to become “red Hood and the Outlaws” a promising title for a book which failed to deliver quite what people – or at least I – had hoped. But the character at the center of the book would remain a complex and intriguing figure. Jason Todd was fuelled by rage and anger at a very specific tragedy, not so much his own death, but by the seeming betrayal from the one man who had shown him hope in his life. As time would go on, he would return to Gotham in order to “help out” during various emergencies, all the while protesting his presence. A loner with a family to return to. A true vigilante trained for good by superheroes. A young man struggling to find a new purpose in life when he never really wanted to lose his old one.

Dick Grayson

The true adopted son of Bruce Wayne, and the original Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson could easily be the most similar to Bruce. At least, if he wasn’t so different. In fact, they could almost be opposites. I have sometimes daydreamed of an adult Dick Grayson as a stand alone superhero, protecting Gotham from the Dark Knight himself, had their stories played out differently. But as it stands he was the first Robin, the Laughing Daredevil, and he is the light to Batman’s darkness.

Cover to Nightwing issue 93

Pictured: complexity

Orphaned at age ten when his circus acrobat family was killed by the Gotham mafia, young Richard Grayson was adopted by millionaire Bruce Wayne who saw a striking similarity between the boy and his own tragic childhood. Bruce took Dick in and taught him to be Robin, harnessing the pain and anger from the tragedy in order to be stronger than regular people. Throughout, though, Robin was an important part of Batman’s own rehabilitation. A laughing, smiling, ten-year-old boy with a supportive family, not dwelling on the past, was a stark reminder what Bruce had lost, and what he was fighting for. A light to guide him back home if the darkness ever became too much.

Dick blossomed, of course, being a gregarious and tenacious young man. He soon led the original Teen Titans, a group of sidekicks striking out on their own. He fell in love (he has a real weakness for redheads) and made friends and grew into a man, all while wearing pixie boots and short pants. When he finally emerged from beneath the shadow of the bat he donned a new costume and became Nightwing–inspired to do good and fight for justice in his own way, still striking fear into his enemies, but never indulging in it. He could have fun while he was doing good, and he did.

Dick is a charismatic young man and in every way the opposite of Bruce Wayne. He has tried to have a private life from time-to-time, working as a policeman in the nearby city of Blüdhaven among a variety of other, short lived careers, even running the circus he was a member of as a kid, but nothing outside of superheroics has ever really stuck. He’s far too open, honest and gregarious to be duplicitous, making it hard to lead the double life for long. His two lives end up being entwined, which for ‘normal people’ is never a good thing. This is of course in contrast to Bruce, who has lived the double life for so many years, though his persona of Bruce Wayne has never been of primary interest. The Batman is all he really wants to be, but he knows he must maintain his outside image to honour his parents as well.

Dick has, on occasion, filled in as Batman during various times of absence, and it is then that the differences become truly obvious. The smiles. The warmth. The team-ups. All of Batman’s acquaintances could tell, almost immediately, that this was not their Batman. From Jim Gordon to the Joker, there could be no mistaking Dick for Bruce.

The young circus acrobat enjoys the pure physicality of the job, having a natural talent for that part of his role as Robin, Nightwing and Batman. While skilled at the detective work, that was the part he had to work on the most, even honestly feeling envious of Tim when the third Robin proved so talented at it. If Tim is the detective, and Jason the tragedy, Dick is the swinging, gliding, fighting superhero, each of them highlighting an aspect of their father/mentor/hero.

THE CONCLUSION

So this should, I hear you say, make Bruce three times as cool and interesting as his sidekicks. But sadly, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t. When a character can do all these things effortlessly, equally, without experience a challenge, then the drama (and the interest) are lost. By breaking Batman down into his component parts, each can be studied, written about and enjoyed more thoroughly.

He's talking about becoming Batman. Self doubt is great, interesting character material.

He’s talking about becoming Batman. Self doubt is great, interesting character material.

If Batman is the detective, he’ll always find the clues. His sense of self isn’t an issue. But if Tim is doing the detecting, and he was to miss an obvious detail, it would be a significant personal issue. And Tim is more likely to go further than he really should, searching out the truth behind the problem. He might even strain his personal relationships to do so. Batman, this is expected, and usual. Tim’s friends and family would create the drama. Jason’s detective skills are not unimpressive, but he’s more likely to take things at face value, or see them generally in the light he needs to in order to fit his view. And while Dick’s skill at detective work is virtually unmatched, his missing of details would not be impossible, and he may be too readily lead towards a favourable conclusion by those he trusts. Batman is unwavering.

In a fight, Batman will basically always win. Jason, though, could lose, but he’d go down kicking and screaming. Tim might be less likely to engage if unsure while Dick will be able to improvise his out of a sticky situation. Even if that means retreat, Dick knows when he’s lost, so it’s not unthinkable. Batman is unbeatable.

Batman is a member of almost every superhero team that DC has but his connections to others are never his concern. He moves through life, doing what he wishes, even against the wishes of his closest friends and family. Dick is almost as widely known in the superhero circles but, unlike Bruce, he’s very well liked. His connections link him throughout the various circles of the DC Universe, and if he needs anything, or if anyone needs him, then there’s no way he’d let them down if he can help it. Jason, obviously, has very few close friends he can call on, but his family is always there. His bat family. He would almost rather die than ask for help, but he knows that they’re there for him if need be. Tim has a very close group of friends around him, mostly from his Teen Titans connections, but thanks to his attentiveness to them, and his demeanour, his friendships are very close indeed. Superboy, Impulse, Spoiler, Wonder Girl. They can all be called upon in the direst of circumstances and he would do anything for them. Batman is almost always all alone.

Unwavering, unbeatable, and all alone. A character who is the best at everything he does, with no friends and little family, and no boundaries beyond his own self imposed ones, seems to me to be a very dull character indeed.

Stay tuned for Part Two – The Girls!

About The Author

Living in Australia, my life is probably quite like yours, except hotter and with more dangerous animals. I've had a love of comics for the last 20 years, which is almost exactly two thirds of my life, and very little else has been with me that long. I fancy myself as a writer, but I fancy myself as many things that I'm not all that good at, so go figure. I have strong opinions but I love to discuss things, so please comment, cos I'd love to hear what you think of what I think.

One Response to It’s All In The Bat Family – Part One: The Boys