Though Warner Bros. has had a rough go of building its DC Extended Universe thus far, Batman has been one character the studio able to, largely, get right. The Christopher Nolan trilogy proved that, despite the Joel Schumacher era missteps, the Dark Knight can still thrive on the big screen, and the latest installment of “The LEGO Batman Movie” has been nothing short of successful in its first few weeks in theaters.
However, despite Batman’s mainstream success, the films have one common thread: a lack of any tangible Robin to speak of. It’s high time that the cinematic Dark Knight resurrect its Boy Wonder. The last Robin to appear in a Batman film was Chris O’Donnell, who portrayed him in Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin.” The Nolan films made a rather poor nod to the Boy Wonder at the conclusion of the Dark Knight trilogy that materialized into nothing, while “Batman v. Superman” indicated that Robin once existed, but no more. If Warner Bros. doesn’t want its most touted DC hero to become stale, they made one critical move: bring his iconic sidekick to life alongside him on the big screen.
The title of Robin is one that is as closely associated with Batman as villains like the Joker and Two-Face. Up to this point, the DCEU films have deliberately presented their heroes as dark, lonely misunderstood types who undertake their acts of heroism and vigilante justice alone. While that formula might have worked in Nolan’s film, trying to recapture that same dark, lonely Batman in a new solo outing isn’t going to cut it. If Warner Bros. hopes to take that next step with Batman, bringing Robin back is an essential first step in doing so.
For the most part, the most interesting aspects of the Batman mythos have involved his perennial sidekick. From the first Robin who started it all, Dick Grayson — who, coincidentally has just landed his own feature film, albeit in his post-Robin guise of Nightwing — to the current run of the Bruce Wayne’s son, the assassin-turned-hero Damian Wayne, each of them has their own distinct stories that would translate well to the big screen.
It is often the case that the Robins offer what Batman needs the most; a humanistic quality that offers up different sides of the Dark Knight that movie-only viewers have never seen, but comic fans are more than aware of. At their core, they represent the family Batman lost (hence the term “Bat Family”) and bring a humanizing note to his crusade on crime, as they often present differing views and actions that challenge him in a variety of way. They become sons to Batman’s dad, while also offering up their own distinct personalities.
On the one hand, you have Dick Grayson who, while being as strong in combat as Batman, has very different methods from his partner in that he doesn’t believe in gaining information and protecting the city through fear. In Batman’s eyes, he can be seen as very idealistic in a sense, and upon retiring the mantle to become Nightwing, it’s an aspect of the character that shines through, one we expect to see explored in his standalone film. Often looked upon as the best of the Robins, Dick has a very distinct relationship with the other men and women who took up the mantle after him, especially Damian, acting as a big brother of sorts to the young Robin. While his and Bruce’s approach to being heroes are rather different, they both have a deep mutual respect for each other, and even when Grayson becomes Nightwing, the two still work together from time to time. Though he’ destined for a solo outing, it would bring a much-lighthearted element to Batman’s story if he were to feature in a limited role, either in his adult incarnation as an equal, or a flashback sequence featuring the first Robin learning the ropes form his mentor.
Next, you have Jason Todd, whose most iconic moment (aside from his death) was when Batman found him stealing the tires off of the Batmobile. An orphan living on the streets, Todd is a representation of Batman’s style gone too far. His subsequent torture and death at the Joker’s hand, and subsequent adoption of the Red Hood persona makes him one of, if not the most tragic Robin of the bunch. His dark turn from hero to anti-hero is one of the most unique stories in the Batman mythos, having been retold in the DC animated film “Batman: Under the Red Hood” and even served as inspiration for the “Batman: Arkham Knight” video game. Todd’s fate weighs heavily on Batman, perhaps the heaviest next to his parents’, and seeing such a story like this adapted to live-action could provide the emotional spark and depth his cinematic character needs. The Robin uniform displayed in “Batman v. Superman” was apparently confirmed to be Todd’s, and leaving his story untold would not do justice to either character.
To counter that, you have someone like Tim Drake. As the third Robin, Drake may not have the combat prowess of Grayson or Damian, but he is lauded for his detective skills (possibly superior to even Batman’s), having deduced the identities of Batman and Robin when he was a young teenager. His supposed recent death in “Detective Comics” #940 had a big impact in the story, and has cause repercussions across other DC Rebirth titles like “Teen Titans,” where Beast Boy praised the intellect and leadership abilities of his thought-dead teammate.
If Warner Bros. truly wants to make a statement about its Robin, Stephanie Brown, who holds the unique distinction of being the first female Robin, is the way to go. Better known by her Spoiler moniker, Stephanie quickly became a fan-favorite. Though not possessing the combat prowess Grayson and Damian are blessed with, Stephanie possesses top-notch detective skills that rival that of her predecessor, Tim Drake.
The daughter of Bat-villain ClueMaster, Stephanie also has a very strong sense of right and wrong, and the root of her fight for justice often comes as a result of the deeds wrought by her father. Feeling the need to prove herself (and perhaps harboring a fear she could follow in her dad’s footsteps), Stephanie can often feel like a Robin that’s very much on the edge. Her original actions as Spoiler, a role she took to stop her father’s plans, are what got the attention of Batman in the first place. She is fiercely independent and always looking to change Gotham for the better, though she can often clash with Batman on the best ways to do so. Such an on-screen dynamic would do wonders for the Drark Knight, whose methods and ideals never seem to be threatened or question in recent films — at least from those within his own operation.
Current Robin, Damian Wayne, is still undergoing his own development. The son of Talia Al Ghul and Batman, Damian was genetically bred and fostered by his grandfather Ra’s Al Ghul who hoped his grandson would one day lead the League of Assassins. Having been trained by a young age to foster his killing technique, Damian now seeks to take control of his own destiny, joining his biological father in Gotham City and taking up the Robin mantle. As he learns that being a hero and an assassin aren’t the same, we have seen a more complex Robin struggle with his dual identity placing him in two distinct worlds: one as the grandson and heir to the Demon, Ra’s Al Ghul, and the other as the heroic Robin, son of Batman. Seeing the relationship between father and the rebellious assassin son makes for the same kind of light-hearted humor that Grayson offers, but with an added bit of depth that could be captured wonderfully on the big screen.
Over the years, the title of Robin has come to mean much more than that of a hapless Boy Wonder for Batman to save. Bearing the mantle of Robin means Batman has fully acknowledged your skills and deemed you worthy of working alongside him. Each of the most iconic Robins (we haven’t even touched on the various incarnations from the future) has carved their own niche alongside the Dark Knight, and all of them have the ability to thrive in a live-action adaptation sooner rather than later. Whether its Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown or Damian Wayne, welcoming any of them into Batman’s cinematic realm alongside Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson could be the start of what DC Films need to stabilize its currently rocky footing and take its most iconic character to new heights.
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