Is Batman’s sidekick too ridiculous for film?
Batman might have a code against killing, but he’s always looked the other way on child endangerment. The first Robin, Dick Grayson, arrived a year into Batman’s crime-fighting career, and while the Caped Crusader has flown solo a handful of times since, the Dynamic Duo remains the gold standard for a pairing of superhero and sidekick. DC Comics’ universe reboots can make continuity hazy, but since the debut of Dick Grayson, we’ve seen five different characters step into the role of Boy (or Girl) Wonder. (Yes, there are plenty of other Elseworlds examples, though those are considered out-of-continuity.) Carrie Kelley, who appeared in the non-canonical The Dark Knight Returns, is a fan favorite who many readers would love to see get a chance as an “official” Robin.
Unfortunately, Robins don’t often get happy endings, which is distressing when they fight alongside a hero famous for the painstaking lengths he will go to in order to spare a villain’s life. Three of the official Robins were killed in action, while Dick Grayson’s post-Robin relationship with Batman has always been strained, at best. Robin is one of the trickier elements of the Batman mythology to adapt for film. The grim and gritty Nolanverse chose to omit the sidekick entirely, outside of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge joke about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s middle name at the end of the final installment. Joel Schumacher’s campy Adam West throwbacks introduced Robin as an angry twenty-something, whose thirst for vengeance could only be quenched by fixing up cars. Chris O’Donnell’s Robin would get around to revenge after he was done taking the Batmobile for a joyride. He also did karate laundry.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters in March and depicts Batman as a veteran crime-fighter – a man with the brains and the resources to stand up against an all-powerful Superman – at the expense of being a control freak and loner who doesn’t play well with others. This version looks to be taking cues from the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns. But even if this Batman now works alone, at some point, he had a Robin.
And it looks like things didn’t end well. Whether Ben Affleck’s Batman has since recruited a replacement Robin is unknown, as several actors are cast in the film in unspecified roles. With the events in Dawn of Justice taking place in the same universe as Suicide Squad, a popular theory is that Jared Leto’s Joker is actually a former Robin. When a Robin meets a gruesome demise, Batman usually opts to return to brooding loner mode, instead of holding out tryouts for a new sidekick. This is understandable, although one has to wonder how the World’s Greatest Detective didn’t predict that teenagers might not last long against psychotic criminal clowns.
If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to set groundwork for a cinematic Justice League, Batman will probably be the most begrudging member. A flashback to Robin’s death will establish motivation for Batman to work alone and justify his distrustful nature. But even with the obvious showdown between Superman and Batman, the film will almost assuredly end with them working together to form the foundation of the Justice League. Which means Batman’s arc will include learning to trust and rely on others.
Initially intended as an avatar for kid readers, Robin eventually became a force for grounding Batman and connecting him to the real world. The character serves as a bridge between normalcy and Bruce Wayne’s crusade against crime. Next to Alfred, the Robins are the closest thing Batman has to family, and remind him that he isn’t alone. Never mind the fact that Robin was still a teenager helping a ninja detective fight an unending army of killers and lunatics.
Even the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns, arguably the most grizzled and unsociable version of the character, still needed a Robin to watch his back. Carrie Kelley took on the role without permission, but became an invaluable partner to the aging Batman. With Dawn of Justice‘s Batman being heavily influenced by Miller, it’s likely that he will have sworn off sidekicks in the beginning. But that Batman has definitely had a Robin in the past, and it’s likely a new character will assume the mantle by the end of the film.
While not essential to every Batman story, Robin remains a major part of the hero’s mythology. The Boy Wonder clashes with grittier takes on Batman, but fits in perfectly to a Gotham populated by a legion of theatrical villains. The Nolanverse wasn’t the place for a teen sidekick, and Joel Schumacher’s version looked like he hadn’t been a teenager for at least a decade. But with Batman going toe-to-toe with Superman in Dawn of Justice, he could use the backup. Robin might seem like a silly aspect of Batman’s history, but at this point he’s grandfathered in. Besides, is the Boy Wonder any more ridiculous than a guy who can talk to fish?