Since the Golden Age, superheroes have had youthful sidekicks, and at this point, it’s a staple of the genre. Perhaps the most famous of these partners-in-crimfighting is, of course, Robin the Boy Wonder, who, like many of his youthful wards in other books, was created as a means to attract a younger readership to the emerging Batman books. Batman and Robin co-creator Bill Finger also wanted the Dark Knight’s young partner to work as a Watson figure to his master detective, and while the character emerged out of similar tragedy, Robin would stay far more grounded.
Another aspect that made Robin stand out is that he is one of the few figures in mainstream American comics who was allowed to age and grow up in a superhero world. While Batman remained the same, Robin would have to find him, and eventually her-self as a newly evolved person. The most successful Robins are all defined by their ability to grow past Bruce and become fully-realized adults. Of course, there are others who succeeded in different ways. Today, we unveil the 15 — yup, there have been 15 — best Robins.
15. Talon (Earth-3)
Talon began life as the kid partner to Earth-3’s Owlman. While not the first Talon, he would eventually make his way to Earth-1 after Infinite Crisis. Talon served as a member of the Teen Titans shortly after the “One Year Later” story arc, but vanished soon after. It wasn’t until the New 52 that we got a better sense of what happened to Talon and his ilk on Earth-3. Dick Grayson’s parents were murdered by Owlman, so that Dick would bond with him as a better partner.
Earth-3’s Talon, aka Dick Grayson, gets tired of Owlman’s antics and wants to fight crime by his terms. This leads to The Joker carving up Grayson and sending him back to Owlman in 6 boxes. While that ends this version of Talon, there’s another one who is loosely tied to the Court of Owls. So, what makes this version of Robin into a great hero? It’s his independent streak. Being Batman’s partner is one part of the job, but there has to be a willingness to think for yourself. Sometimes it works out and other times, well… the Joker kills you.
14. Stan Lee’s Robin (Earth-6)
When Stan Lee dared to imagine the DC Universe, some fans were skeptical. Lee’s Robin played as a mix of the Bronze Age urban vigilante and Lee’s trademark teen heroes. Robin is presented as an orphan-turned-self-made-man who rose through the streets to become a marital arts tough guy. The costume was simplistic and evokes a lot of the street level heroes from Marvel Knights and the Marvel Netflix shows. Compared to the authentic Batman Earth-6 costume, however, it felt uninspired.
The Earth-6 Robin was an orphan brainwashed by the villainous Dominic Darrk and his church to steal goods and kill Batman, who ultimately breaks him out of Darrk’s trance. The end result is the Earth-6 Robin taking off as a solo hero. The origin and first adventure are strong, but incredibly hokey. Given John Byrne‘s involvement on the art, you could almost feel that he was cheering on Stan Lee’s throwback style. That makes sense, of course, given that this Robin appeared during Byrne’s fascination with trying to recreate period-appropriate untold tales of the X-Men and Spider-Man’s early years. Check it out for an interesting take on Robin (and less for the actual book).
13. Robin Redblade (Earth-31)
On an alternate Earth, the planet has been devastated by climate change. Now, this universe’s Batman runs a pirate ship with a crew of heroic individuals. Robin Redblade is his first mate, and the two attack villains with Pirate gusto. Coming fresh out of the Caribbean, Redblade was one of the first Robins not just with a nautically-themed appearance, but also as a person of color. His background wasn’t the only thing to make this Robin special, though; what made him truly stellar is that it returned to the Robin concept to its Golden Age roots. Well, the roots that weren’t stooped in an acrobatic child wearing pixie boots, anyway.
Robin Redblade was a hero cut from the Errol Flynn cloth and played like a period take on Nightcrawler, dashing, charming and bouncing around the Earth-31 villains with a style that a Robin hasn’t seen in decades. The downside to the character was that he had only limited appearances; of course, there aren’t a lot of times when Pirate Batman and Robin are needed. DC is doing a Multiverse story? Awesome! We’ve got your guys. Any other time? Pirate Robin hangs out in limbo, waiting for adventure on the High Seas.
12. Richart Graustark (Batman: Thrillkiller)
Howard Chaykin is known for stylized takes on superheroes and period pieces, so when Earth-37 emerged in “Batman: Thrillkiller,” Chaykin put his personal stamp on the Batman mythos. Batgirl and Robin are counterculture figures trying to stop crime from taking over Gotham City. A female Joker runs the scene as a Noir style femme fatale, yet certain relationships with villainy are kept classic. What about Batman? Well, the Wayne family went bankrupt during the Great Depression on Earth-37, and are otherwise nowhere to be found.
Instead, we get Barbara Gordon, a trust fund brat who bought Wayne Manor and is preparing to begin her vigilante life. She takes Richart Graustark as a partner/lover, even though he carries many of the classic Dick Grayson baggage. Richart has lost his parents, hides part of his true identity and has an huge thing for redheads. This world’s Robin works well because he faced adversity and leadership changes, but still found a way to become the hero we know and love. While things don’t work out for this Earth’s Robin, it shows that some heroes emerge regardless of the situation.
11. Robin (Tiny Titans)
No matter your age or pull-list, you can never really have enough Tiny Titans in your life. This version of Robin is a little kid who decided to become Batman’s partner. All the girls at his school love him, but Robin only has eyes for Batgirl. Art Balthazar and Franco Aureliani’s refreshing take presented us with a kid Robin who just wanted to do the right thing, even if that means his name causes local birds to flock around him in the playground. Other Robins on the list frequently gave him grief in the series, but Robin overcame it.
The funniest, most-meta part of the series happens when Robin gets angry about being chased by birds, which is when he changes his name to Nightwing. Unfortunately, no one knows what a Nightwing is and Robin abandons his misfired persona. If there was a Charlie Brown of the DC Multiverse, it has to be Robin from Tiny Titans.
10. Robin the Toy Wonder (853rd century)
The DC One Million event is criminally underrated. We might be biased, but it was easily accessible to new readers and it was rather cost-affordable to a reader who wanted to read every single tie-in and chapter. When your DC events are spearheaded by Grant Morrison, the end result turns out to be quality. Morrison’s future take on Batman and Robin was quite interesting, presenting Batman as a warden of the prison planet Pluto, who was assisted by a robotic Robin android.
This Robin was created by Batman after his parents were killed in a prison riot. Batman (853rd Century) programmed his childhood self into Robin’s AI, so that Robin could function as a reminder of better times. Robin the Toy Wonder enjoys knowing that he represents Batman’s better self and tries to find greater purpose when brought face-to-face with his ancestors. If you want to read a truly unique take on Robin, pick up the “Young Justice” DC One Million tie-in.
9. Tris Plover (Legends of the Dead Earth)
Tris Plover first appeared in the “Legends of the Dead Earth” DC Annual event. Plover was a farmer on the space vessel Gotham. One day, she notices Batman flying overhead and calls out, causing the authorities to believe that she is working with him as an accomplice. Fearing for her life, Tris flees into the ship’s sewage system. While hiding, she is rescued by Batman, who informs her that the ship isn’t heading to a new home planet, as promised. In fact, the computer navigation system is damaged and the ship is just floating endlessly into space.
Tris agrees to become his Robin, so that the duo can fix the navigation system and free the people of Gotham from its endless flight. That’s when Chuck Dixon drops the biggest downer of his career on us: Batman and Robin are successful and they reprogram the ship, but it will take 300 years to get to the next inhabitable planet. Batman is too big of a symbol to die, so Robin sacrifices herself to ensure that Gotham is safe. The readers find out that she is executed and her body is chopped into fertilizer. Some Robins just don’t get happy endings, even the ones who have the biggest self sacrifices.
8. Jason Todd
Jason Todd was never going to get a fair break. The character was dramatically revised within three years of his inception, and every other early issue featured a callback to how awesome it was to be Dick Grayson. If that wasn’t enough, Jason Todd was initially forced to dye his hair to look more like Dick, which makes sense, given that Todd’s Pre-Crisis was almost identical to Grayson’s. He was eventually reimagined as an orphan who stole the wheels off the Batmobile. After being rescued from an Oliver Twist style Fagin figure, Todd gets to become Robin. Naturally, a character this pointless would eventually be killed by an army of angry readers making use of a call-in line.
When Jason Todd returned in the ’00s, the revival only confirmed why he doesn’t rank higher as a Robin. Batman isn’t the most stable guy, but he could pass your standard psych test (if he cheated). Jason, however, is traumatized and broken. History shows that Jason Todd was the rebound Robin, because Batman (and even the fans) didn’t know how to handle Dick Grayson growing up and forging his new identity as Nightwing. So, he adopted a similar-looking kid and dressed him up just like his former child buddy. The fact that it took years — and a convenient Superboy Prime punch — to finally loosen Jason Todd’s grip on the hereafter is pretty telling on just how badly he had to be shoehorned back into the DCU proper. Well… that, and everything about Jason Todd makes Batman look like a complete psycho.
7. Duke Thomas
Duke Thomas is the promise of the modern DC. When “We Are Robin” was launched, it was met with mixed response. The concept was intriguing, but did readers really need to have a gang of Robins defending Gotham City? A similar concept was explored in an early “Legends of the Dark Knight” arc and met with the same tepid response. Before his ascension to the Robin-like role, Duke Thomas met Batman during Year Zero. When The Riddler cut Gotham’s electric grid and conquered the city, he dared any resident to stump him with a riddle, after which he would restore power to Gotham.
While Duke trained, Batman served as an inspiration to form what would eventually become his Army of Robins. After some time, the Joker kidnapped Duke’s family and only Duke managed to escape before his family was doused with some terrible Joker chemicals. Now, Duke works as Batman’s most stable active sidekick, trying to save his family and protect Gotham City. What makes Duke unique is his utter reluctance to accept the Robin identity. Duke does everything that a Robin does, but he keeps reiterating his desire to stand apart. Normally, Robins have to get burned for a few years before requesting a new name.
6. Redbird (The Blue, the Grey and the Bat)
Redbird is one of those Robins who gets mentioned in lists about the weirdness of Batman. Honestly, every reader should pick up “The Blue, The Grey and the Bat,” an earnest Western featuring some of DC’s best creators from the 1970s. In it, Bruce Wayne is a slightly effeminate Union Army Captain, who doesn’t seem to keep his Batman antics too secret. After teaming up with the Native American Redbird, he finally has his Robin. Naturally, they celebrate this union by learning how to shoot pistols with better accuracy.
Setting a tale like this during the Civil War creates a push to use Western standards and, less impressively, stereotypes. Redbird talks with a Tonto stammer and most of the non-costumed action feels like an episode of “Zorro,” but he is one of the best Robins for one very important reason: Redbird doesn’t wait for Batman. What makes the story compelling is that the tale features a Batman who is struggling to keep up with Redbird’s penchant for destroying bad guys, giving a new wrinkle to their otherwise formulaic dynamic.
5. Carrie Kelley
Regardless of how you feel about Frank Miller, Carrie Kelley makes the “Dark Knight” trilogy matter. Kelley lives with stoner parents who don’t seem to acknowledge her existence. Abandoned, she watches an older Batman fight with Gotham’s mutants, and feels the call-to-action, winning over Bruce and becoming the Robin he swore he would never again “employ.” By the sequel, Kelley has become Catgirl, which says a lot about her stance as Robin. She still works as Batman’s second-in-command and possesses a great deal of admiration for Batman, but felt that the idea of Robin wasn’t necessary.
Does a title effectively make you a better superhero? Carrie Kelley tries on different guises as she attempts to put a stamp on what makes her identity work. She never finds it to a satisfying degree, but she shows the ability to grow and think independently of Batman. Carrie still makes mistakes and has yet to put her stamp on the role, but what ranks her high as a Robin is her ability to rapidly mature. A few years back, Kelley became part of the New 52. The issue was more of a gimmick, but it was nice to see Miller’s work finally becoming accepted canon: the joys of working in a Multiverse!
4. Damian Wayne
Grant Morrison made an insanely wise choice following “One Year Later.” Damian Wayne was developed out of the one-off tale Son of the Demon that DC went out of its way to shove out of continuity. Due to the changing timelines of Infinite Crisis, the time was ready to give Batman a son. Unfortunately, this kid had been trained since birth by the League of Assassins. Damian’s mother (Talia al Ghul) uses him as a pawn to get back at Batman, but Damian’s presence does more to change Batman’s life than any other character. Much of his time in the Robin identity is used to appease his absent father without realizing a thing about what makes Batman work.
And yet, Damian is an amazing Robin, despite his insecurities and quite literally being born a villain. When Damian finally breaks free of Talia’s grasp, he earnestly wants to be the greatest Robin ever, even though he experiences the most growing pains in the role since Jason Todd. The difference being that Damian showcases the ability to learn from brash decisions and poor judgment calls. In fact, if you factor in Damian’s own resurrection, the case could be made that he is Jason done right.
3. Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown was the Robin of an admittedly short generation. Sure, she was Spoiler for most of that time, but many fans see her as Tim Drake’s equal, if not better. Taking on the guise of The Spoiler, she often helped Batman and Robin defeat enemies, getting close to Tim in the process. Robin and Spoiler would go on to spend years solving crimes and overcoming personal tragedies together, and it was Stephanie who became The Girl Wonder when Tim retired from the role.
One of the worst things about Flashpoint/The New 52 was retconning away Stephanie’s time as Robin, especially given how long Chuck Dixon andTom Lyle took in crafting her character as a viable part of the Batman family. While her time as Spoiler was special, her brief Robin run helped to showcase the problems with the position. A Robin can achieve to a point, but they can never succeed when stuck in the role. It seems DC has taken that to heart, as Stephanie is now seemingly bound to The Spoiler role. Check out Stephanie now as the co-leader of Batwoman’s squad in “Detective Comics.”
2. Dick Grayson
The first Robin isn’t necessarily the best Robin. That being said, Dick Grayson also had to work out a lot of the issues that later Robins didn’t, simply because he paved the way. If comic history stopped at 1990, no one in the world would have cast a vote against Dick as the greatest Robin, but we’re entering into an era where Dick has had far more success as Nightwing, a role that has now become iconic.
What makes Dick Grayson work (and ultimately fail) as Robin is his need to become an adult. While Batman had his ’70s renaissance, Dick fell by the wayside, attending Hudson University and being relegated to Teen Titans and back-up stories. Luckily, Dick improved dramatically as an athlete and fighter thanks to the Bronze Age push to get characters learning martial arts and adapting to emerging tech. Of course, Dick being Dick, he was more interested in flirting with Starfire and Barbara Gordon than being Batman’s equal or eventual better. Saying that, Dick is the only Robin who ever successfully aspired to be and eventually become Batman (delusions of grandeur and possibly apocalyptic futures aside). Unfortunately to some, the role never stuck to Dick, but he proved that he had the head and shoulders to carry the grave responsibility of being The Bat… even if he did it with a smile.
1. Tim Drake
Picking between Tim and Dick is like picking between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Fan camps have staked out their sides for either character, while the passive types want everyone to love both. That’s not the way the world works, however, and it is the firm opinion of this writer that the only answer to who is the greatest Robin is Tim Drake. Tim is Batman’s equal, even slowly surpassing him in terms of psychological and physical demands.
When Dick eventually fires Tim from the Robin role, Tim decides to become his own hero. While the name Red Robin isn’t the most original name, the costume change and shift in focus aligns more as a hybrid between the Batman and Robin roles. Whether it’s searching for Bruce Wayne or leading the Titans, Tim demonstrates a level of leadership that surpasses Dick, and in many respects, even Bruce. He is emotional, but controlled; he understands loss and uses it as an effort to learn and better himself.
Unfortunately, Tim Drake was recently abducted by an unseen force in the latest issues of “Detective Comics.” Will the one true Robin return to save the day? Will the other Robins ever learn how to work his crazy insane tech setup? Tune in next time! Same Bat List, Same Bat Website.
Who is your favorite Robin? Let us know in the comments!
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