The character of Robin was introduced to DC Comics in April 1940 by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. It was hoped that a new sidekick would attract a younger audience to Detective Comics a year after Batman first appeared. It did, and Robin’s popularity soared as he embarked on a career that would rival his mentor’s. It’s fair to say that eight decades have seen Robin undergo more changes than the Caped Crusader.
The original Robin was Dick Grayson, the 8-year-old sole survivor of the “Flying Graysons” circus act. Grayson’s parents were killed as part of an extortion plot, leading Bruce Wayne to take custody of the young acrobat as his legal ward. Robin helped Wayne, or rather his masked alter-ego, bring his parent’s murderer to justice.
Taking the alternative title Boy Wonder until the late 1960s when he became the Teen Wonder, the young sidekick’s costume was a departure from Batman’s. Softened by Grayson’s arrival, even if his tragic story paralleled his own, Bruce Wayne let his protegee wear a uniform that paid tribute to his family’s act. It’s transformed and modernized over the years, but the original remains instantly recognizable. A red tunic, yellow cape, green gloves, briefs, and boots: that’s Robin.
But every bird has to fly the nest. After acting as Batman’s junior for 40 years of published comics, Dick Grayson took on the title of Nightwing in the early 1980s. Oddly, the character’s name was inspired by an old Kryptonian legend, thanks to a quirk of DC continuity. Donning a darker costume, Grayson assumed a leading role in the popular New Teen Titans title and would go on to patrol his own beat in Gotham’s twin city of Bludhaven from the mid-1990s.
But after 40 years, what was Batman without his Robin?
How many Robins have there been?
New Robins have arrived and left since, each one wearing a variant of Dick Grayson’s costume.
To date, there have been five Robins in Batman’s mainstream continuity. Just like Dick Grayson, and their mentor, most of them have their fair share of tragedy. But they’ve made it through several DC Crises and even death to form a crucial part of Gotham’s extended Bat-Family.
The second Robin was Jason Todd, who had to overcome one of the biggest foes of all⏤writing. Intended to be a contrast to Grayson, he was a bold experiment that didn’t work. A quick-tempered street orphan, Todd’s popularity plummeted before his adventures ended in the infamous Death in the Family storyline in 1988. That globe-trotting adventure followed headstrong Jason’s attempts to track down his birth mother, only to end up in the hands of a particularly brutal Joker.
In a fateful decision, DC handed the outcome of the fourth issue over to fans. By a majority of just 72, the decision saw Todd’s career as Robin cut short in graphic detail. It cast a long shadow over Batman and was one of the crucial factors that darkened the Dark Knight in the late 1980s.
But being comics, it wasn’t the end. The multiverse reset Infinite Crisis, which led to changes in the fabric of the multiverse that returned Jason from the dead. His character was different, taking on the mantle of the Red Hood⏤a pointed reference to one of the potential origins of his murderer⏤which suited Todd’s rougher, uncompromising character. And Gotham suited him. Batman and Tood eventually reconciled, and Todd remains part of the Bat-family.
The 2020 animated adaptation of Death in the Family included an interactive reenactment of that fan vote. The makers will have to hope that Red Hood hasn’t noticed. A final word for the Robins of the Dark Multiverse who joined the Batman Who Laugh attempts to overrun the DC multiverse in recent events Dark Nights Metal and Dark Nights Death Metal. If you’re wondering why those Jokerized sidekicks only ever say “crow,” you just need to think back to the Joker’s dispatch of Jason Todd in 1988.
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After losing Todd, it didn’t take long for a new Robin to arrive at the Batcave. Tim Drake took on the role in 1989, shortly after Batman’s first solo appearance at movie theaters. Tim Drake was far more likable than Jason Todd and a further reaction to Dick Grayson. As the first Robin to work out Batman’s identity on his own, he was clearly a better detective than his predecessors.
Drake wasn’t able to escape the curse of Robin, though. His father was killed during 2004’s Identity Crisis, the first of several events that led him away from the Batcave. That included the apparent death of his former girlfriend Stephanie Brown during the War Games storyline.
Before her death, Stephanie Brown had been the fourth Robin. Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns may have introduced the first female Robin in 1986, but Carrie Kelley took on the role in an alternate future while Stephanie was in the mainstream continuity. The daughter of the criminal Cluemaster, Brown assumed the name of Spoiler as an amateur crime-fighter to foil her father’s plans. The abrupt end to her career as Robin was controversial – she never received a Batcave tribute like Jason Todd, but her death was later revealed to have been faked. After Infinite Crisis temporarily wiped her from continuity, she returned as Spoiler in 2014.
The final character to take on the mantle of Robin is probably the most interesting. Grant Morrison dug deep into Batman’s history during a seven-year run on the titles that began in 2006. One of his first moves was making canon Batman’s liaison with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia and revealing their genetically engineered son.
Damian Wayne quickly proved a fan favorite and undertook an incredible journey from precocious assassin to a death in the line of duty as a fully-formed Robin. Death couldn’t hold back this Robin either, and Damian was resurrected in Peter Tomasi’s Robin Rises storyline in 2015.
How many Robins are there right now?
In current DC continuity, there is just one Robin: Tim Drake, who returned to the role after a decade or so of awkwardly being named Red Robin. Recent events show he remains one of the most groundbreaking Robins, but he’s not alone. All the other Robins are alive and well and working as part of the extended, if dysfunctional, Bat-family, even if they no longer use the name.
Dick Grayson remains Nightwing, having temporarily taken over the mantle of Batman during Bruce Wayne’s trip through time after Final Crisis. The new limited series Robin and Batman will explore the early days of Dick Grayson as the Boy Wonder in 2021.
Jason Todd continues to operate as the Red Hood, often alongside the antihero group the Outlaws. Having now assumed Barbara Gordon’s former masked identity, Stephanie Brown is the only character to have been both Batgirl and Robin.
Damian Wayne confusingly still fronts the ongoing Robin title, but he’s abandoned the name to embark on globe-trotting adventures of his own and track down the mysterious League of Lazarus.
In the expansive Bat-family, Batman has also taken other sidekicks under his wing. Harper Row’s Bluebird recalls the name of his more famous feathered sidekicks.
As mainstream Batman continuity will see Bruce Wayne leave the guardianship of Gotham in the run-up to 2022’s Shadow of the Bat event, his Round of Robins is likely to remain as vital as ever.