Tim Drake came from a rare origin story in which both his parents were alive when he took over the Robin identity. And then they weren’t. So newly orphaned, the teenager can’t just be swinging across the rooftops before returning to his box under the bridge overpass in the morning. Apparently, things like “laws” prevent minors from doing whatever they please however they want and whenever they want to do it. But Batman has an idea. A very heart-felt idea. Let’s explore Tim Drake’s future/living situation today in the following issues:
Robin #134, written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Damion Scott
Robin #136, written by Willingham and drawn by Pop Mhan
Robin #138, written by Willingham and drawn by Scott
Robin #139, written by Willingham and drawn by Scott McDaniel
Batman #654, written by James Robinson and Don Kramer
First up, Batman’s plan (and part of today’s article title).
I’m no expert on adoptions, and I’m sure the state wouldn’t be pleased by a man in a bat costume raising Drake, but random men can only claim kids as their own as long as no other possible options exist (I assume). I mean, surely Robin can take care of himself — he’s had a solo series for since the early ’90s after all, but when it comes to laws Batman’ll break (like trespassing, assault, illegal wiretapping, etc.), he follows adoption procedures to the letter.
Well, no more Tim Wayne for Tim Drake. Bring the world adventuring uncle back home and Tim’ll get a proper house and other problems he’ll have to lie about to his new family member. Look, it’s not as if this is anything new to poor Robin. All he wants is the freedom to not attend school, patrol by himself, and do all those great adult things Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, and the others get to do. Even Batman would make Robin sit through classes and complete his homework before giving permission to jump kick bad guys. Such is the life of a 15 (or 16?) year-old kid.
How sweet, right? Edward Drake looks like a cool dude, like that uncle who lets you smoke a cigarette once in a while as long as you bring your female friends around for him casually leer at. Maybe he won’t mind his nephew fighting crime. Maybe he’ll use his doctoring skills to aid Robin. Maybe he leaves loving hand-written notes in Robin’s lunch bag every morning. Or maybe he’s a great big fraud. Probably the last one.
It’s not bad that Robin lied to Batman. It’s bad that he lied to the person with the most powerful, comprehensive computer in the entire world along with the single greatest problem-solving mind hidden behind any mask in the DC universe. Batman makes up for his lack of super strength by being superhuman at everything else. Like being super scary.
Drake even gets a half-smile from Batman, the largest grin possible from his brooding mentor. As for dear Uncle Eddie, he appears in one more scene after this and then never again. He doesn’t die or anything — a girl shows up at the apartment, Robin asks for some alone time, Eddie leaves, and we never see or hear from him again. Much like the parents of many other superheroes. It’s simply an unsolved plot line dangling eternally in the bowels of comic book history.
A year later (in both comic book time and real life time), Batman asks Drake once more if he’d do the honor of being adopted. It goes exactly as you expect: heart-warmingly.
About four years ago, I remember watching Saturday Night Live discuss one of President Obama’s triumphant debates over the Republicans. I forgot the context and the reason, but Seth Meyers made this joke:
Come on, Republicans … you thought you could take down Barack Obama by debating him? You realize debates are why he’s President, right? Seriously, all you guys do is complain how Obama is “all talk,” and then you invite him to a forum that is literally all talk. That’s like saying, “Let’s see how tough Aquaman is when we get him in the water.”
Y’see, each of the DC superheroes has their strengths and weaknesses — some physical, other personality — but those downsides are what make the characters so interesting. And Aquaman? So maybe he’s not so great to plop down in the Middle East, but may the DC gods and goddesses help whoever decides to challenge him in the ocean. The supervillain Eel learns this lesson the hard way today in Aquaman #21-22, volume six, written by Will Pfeifer and drawn by Patrick Gleason.
So currently, Aquaman patrols the city known as Sub Diego. It’s part of San Diego when an earthquake submerged half of it and all of a sudden its inhabitants could breathe in water and no longer breathe air on the surface. You can read an old article I wrote on it for more details. But much like all other great DC cities, the mobsters, criminals, and supervillains still make their home there — even if they now live underwater. Time for Aquaman to show these baddies who they’re dealing with (spoiler alert: Aquaman).
I’m not saying that a killer whale makes for a better sidekick than, say, Robin, but Hollywood did make four Free Willy movies. So let’s consider Sub Diego simply a wetter Gotham City. They even have their very own criminal mastermind, out to take control of the city’s underworld (though isn’t everything sort of considered the underworld now?). Meet Eel (real name Mortimer Coolidge), a telekinetic so insignificant that he only appears in six issues total. Three of those are alternative reality Flashpoint issues, so they don’t even count towards canon. But despite his lousy future, he’s still full of delightful supervillainy ambition.
When Aquaman has to face the new head of Sub Diego’s mafia — an experience he probably didn’t have to face often in Atlantis — who does he turn to? Who in the DC universe has fought mobsters more times than Superman’s saved Lois? And it’s a bunch, because she falls out of a lot of buildings. Aquaman turns to the only other humorless member of the Justice League who, unlike Aquaman, cannot ride his sidekick.
Can we take a moment and appreciate the cool upwards angle of the Batcave in that first picture? But let’s talk about Batman’s comment (and ignore him handing Aquaman a deus ex machina) before we continue. I kinda do think Batman enjoys the “chase,” but that’s only because his entire self revolves around fighting bad guys. Batman can’t exist in a world without crime, and his claim does apply to most of the Justice League as well. Hal Jordan lives for the “chase.” So does Wonder Woman. Green Arrow needs it. Definitely Nightwing. Probably not Martian Manhunter, but he has other major issues to deal with. It’s hard to be a superhero and not enjoy the adrenaline rush that goes with it. Either way, time for Eel to realize the folly of his ways. Water plus Aquaman equals this:
Eel’s telekinesis only works around water, but when the local superhero bursts through walls like a fishy Kool-Aid man, what chance does Eel possible have? On that note, our dear Aquaman makes the mistake all good superheroes do once in a while: he underestimates his opponent. Mainly because what type of fight would this be if it’s over in a single page?
Round two, my friends. Despite Coolidge’s second wind, his opponent wildly outclasses him. Since I already shamelessly plugged another one of my articles earlier, have you read the article I wrote on mismatched superhero battles? I should tell you that my self-esteem relies entirely on my blog’s hit count. Oh yeah, and Aquaman pounds on Eel.
Look, all these other pages still likely hasn’t convinced you of Aquaman’s water superiority. It’s just a normal fistfight at this point. But y’see, Aquaman can’t lose. Like he had the fight wrapped up from the moment Eel dropped into the water way back in Sub Diego’s origins. We’re in Aquaman’s house, and his house is disgusting.
I hope Batman’s taking notes.
Every decade or two, DC and Marvel come together to have their superheroes punch each other in the face. That’s about it. Some excuse is made up as to why these two companies have to kick and throw batarangs at each other, but the story always revolves around the fights. And good. Because thanks to these crossovers, you get to see Aquaman and Namor chuck whales at each other. Flash vs. Quicksilver. Catwoman vs. Elektra. Lobo vs. Wolverine Batman vs. Captain America. And the list goes on, but I know the fight you’ve been really shouting for. Jason, you ask, it’s cool to see Superman fight the Hulk, but what about the match up that critics and fans alike have desperately begged for years and years? That’s right: Robin vs. Jubilee. Finally. Today, we’ll be using the following issues:
DC vs. Marvel Comics #1-3, written by Ron Marz and drawn by Dan Jurgens & Claudio Castellini
Legends of the Dark Claw #1, written by Larry Hama and drawn by Jim Balent
DC/Marvel: All Access #2-3, written by Marz and drawn by Jackson Guice
In the first time our two protagonists meet, two godlike creatures basically pick a superhero from each company and have them brawl. It’s for the survival of one of the two universes or whatever. Here’s the important part:
Teleportation complete. All that remains now is a dose of melodrama to heighten the tension and the two can throw fireworks/hit each other with bo staffs. I’d like you to always have in the back of your mind that in current comics, Jubilee is a mother. Also, a vampire. The past couple of years have been rough to her.
Of the eleven matches in this series, six were determined by writers and five were determined by voters. This one did not get left up to the fans, but we can all pretty much guess our eventual victor. Whether it’s a constant overcompensation by the writers for no superpowers or simply the benefit of an incredible amount of training, Robin totally takes down the living Fourth of July. I don’t normally like to spoil this stuff, but I can’t see this coming as any sort of shock whatsoever. For the other fights, you can buy the book. I won’t spoil those.
While Robin takes some time to learn about Jubilee’s fetishes, I can’t stress enough just how insane this crossover event becomes. It’s great. Situations that have never occurred in comics and never will again pop up on every other page. Want to see Peter Parker flirt with Lois Lane? I’m about to show you. How about Dark Claw (Batman merged with Wolverine) fighting Hyena (Joker merged with Sabretooth)? Yes, it’s amazing.
By the way, those Amalgram combo-superhero issues? They made 24 of them. The ’90s could be a wacky time for comics. But as we jump back to our sorta-love story, we pick up a year later in the sequel. The superhero Access (real name Axel Asher) has the superpower to travel between DC and Marvel. That’s his sole purpose for existing, and Jubilee wants to abuse that power.
Remember what happens when two superheroes attempt a serious talk? That emotional bubble must be popped before it manifests itself into something mushy and gross. Luckily, before Robin and Jubilee can round the bases in the rain, they have to first overcome an obstacle. It comes with the cape and cowl duties.
In this series, Robin’s petrified of Two-Face. Like Harvey Dent’s the Darkseid of Gotham City. I understand that Two-Face’s a good shot and such, but so is 90% of the bad guys Robin battles every night he goes on patrol. For the sake of this story, Two-Face is someone to be feared. Robin’s blood freezes as a grown man wanders the soaked streets looking for children to shoot. Plot-wise, what’s about to happen works — the goal to heighten suspense and give the two young superheroes a legitimate challenge is totally achieved. But just how dangerous is Two-Face really? Couldn’t Jubilee light a Roman candle under his chin followed with Robin’s kick to the face? Down goes the supervillain.
How do these kids beat this unstoppable maniac? Capes, of course, which blows The Incredibles‘ moral right out of the water. Also, note that giant coin? Symbolism, dude.
You know how earlier I mentioned it would take one firework and a good kick to defeat Two-Face. I’m wrong and I apologize. It took one firework and two kicks. I’m a big man and I can admit my mistakes. Scorpion (Spider-Man’s baddie) pops up in the next page. He’s a much scarier supervillain in terms of abilities, but I’m going to skip the fight. In summary, Batman pops up to shows Scorpion why he’s the C-lister he is.
If you look again, Robin’s the one leaning in. He totally kissed her. Good for him. And to be fair, it’s probably not cheating if the girl lives in another universe.
No two superheroes have less in common than Impulse and Batman, except maybe a mutual respect for Batman. The child speedster arrives in Gotham to play a prank on Robin — that’s his entire motivation for coming to the city and almost a perfect summary of the character himself. And you know Batman already, the scariest man in the DC universe. Today, they team-up against the Joker and it’s absolutely delightful. Let’s read together Impulse #50, written by Todd Dezago and drawn by Ethan Van Sciver.
Note the brilliant difference in art styles. Impulse is drawn like a living cartoon with a larger noggin and softer features while Batman has his standard gritty lines and indulgence in shading. Unfortunately, despite Impulse’s superpowers and Batman’s over-reliance on solo work, there’s one more solid reason for Impulse to run on home. Y’know, it’s in his superhero name. Also, you can really see the clear gorgeous difference in the art on these pages:
Witness Impulse’s first conversation with the Joker. The poor kid has to keep Joker busy long enough for Batman to disable all the traps. Luckily for all the Joker’s unpredictability, at least he’s always terribly verbose.
Joker’s bad grammar aside — it’s almost impressive for the Joker to bring about that level of fear in those he’s around. The guy has no superpowers, no real alliances, an above average but not genius intelligence, and fairly middle-of-the-road martial arts skills. Though I guess anyone would pick up a few fighting tricks getting bashed in the head monthly by Batman for the past decade or two. So what would any good supervillain do with a speedster at his disposal?
You can click the picture for a larger version of the montage. And you should, because it’s fantastic. Note all the jokes: the two notes he starts to write his real name before crossing it out, that gleeful panel of Batman and Impulse cackling like mad scientists, Impulse’s poses as he takes pictures for Joker, etc. For all the darkness and extreme-ness of comics in the ’90s, we can’t forget that glimmer of silliness and fun hidden beneath numerous pouches and leather jackets.
Also, three great jokes on the next few pages.
There’s a three page fight scene after this, but you can buy the issue for that. The important life lesson comes at the story’s conclusion, where all young superheroes experience growth through the tribulations of working with their elders. Most importantly, Batman does something that’s his own perfect character summation. He manages to give a compliment and an insult at the same time, thus bringing Impulse’s feel-good status back down to neutral. You wouldn’t want the kid to get a big head, right? I mean, a bigger head than he already has.
We’re back to Robin on Wednesday because Tim Drake holds a special place in my heart. He makes out with Jubilee. How’s that for a tease?
Every weekend from 2003 till the reboot, the DC superheroes would ship their child sidekicks off to San Francisco to bond or whatever. Maybe Batman just needs a break. Maybe he wants some time without have to worrying about being a good role model or wearing pants in Wayne Manor. In Teen Titans #1-7, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Mike McKone & Tom Grummett, we get to see the teenagers’ days off from fighting crime. Which they use to fight crime anyway. But the idea of Teen Titans? Fantastic idea, and good for personal growth or at least two days a week that Flash doesn’t have to deal with the DC universe’s annoying kid brother.
Let’s talk about Bart Allen for a moment. It’s weird and complicated, so I’ll try to explain the best I can. Bart comes from a thousand years in the future, but unfortunately all that speed juice or genetic abnormality started to age him prematurely. Like that Robin Williams movie Jack. His family raised him in a video game-esque environment to keep his metabolism in check (hence Flash stating that Impulse treats everything like a video game with continues, extra lives, etc.), but it didn’t work. Taking the next logical step, his mother sends him back in time to our day where medicine doesn’t have the ability to fix a future disease. The Flash (Wally West) races Bart Allen around the world and the crazy speed fixes his metabolism. Look, I’m not a scientist, but that’s comic books for you.
Now he’s the superhero Impulse, saving a yacht from a mysterious bad guy.
The Teen Titans’ arch-nemesis Deathstroke is an old man. His hair is white and he rocks full facial hair. Yet he spends his time battling teenagers, like the ultimate elderly dude yelling at kids about stepping on his lawn. Sure, he occasionally blows off kneecaps and slices people open with swords, but we can’t forget that he loses constantly to superheroes with a median age of 15.
Now here’s the thing about super speed — it also means super recovery. Impulse can heal fully within minutes, but like in the real world and not in the world where running fast cures metabolism issues, if the knee heals in the wrong place then Impulse can kiss walking goodbye. Plus, all the surgeons retrying after the healing ruins their surgery gives Impulse a long time to painfully think about his own life mistakes. Remember when his mentor said that he doesn’t believe in him?
Impulse is the only Flash-like character with perfect memory. Flash or Max Mercury or Johnny Quick can learn how to repair a skyscraper in the time it takes for the first brick to fall, but weeks later the skill’ll be removed with football stats or however superheroes spend their weekends without their kids. Time for poor Impulse to grow up.
Robin solos Deathstroke next. And as I’m a former English teacher, I’d be remiss not to mention that for all of Robin’s skills — martial arts, detective logic, weapon training, years of on-the-job experience, and a costume full of Deus Ex Machina gadgets — his life today gets saved because of books. Beautiful, glorious, spectacular books.
If knowledge is power, than Impulse now has the power of the entire San Francisco Library.
You can click the image above for a larger version where you can actually read all the text. Like many Pokemon evolutions, the Flash title takes two promotions to obtain. He starts as the immature and annoying Impulse. After he proves himself (with knowledge), he graduates to the second level Kid Flash. That’s the same title Wally West used before he became the real deal. In a few years, Bart’s Kid Flash finally gets his precious Flash moniker (for thirteen issues before he dies, but that’s a whole other story).
Oh yeah, the kids battle their superhero mentors, but you can buy the book for all that. As we end today, I want to mention one more time how delightful and refreshing real superhero growth is. I totally get that superheroes almost always must go through temporary change or personal growth with no future impact on the story — comics are a business and sales must remain steady. Though I guess the New 52 is out to prove me wrong. We should root with all our heart that this reboot succeeds because there’s no going back. Readers’ delusions of an “oops” and shift back to 2010 isn’t healthy. Buckle up for the long haul and enjoy the ride.
Being a superhero, Robin has an advantage that normal people don’t — namely superhuman detective skills and kung fu-ing faces. With his classmate dead, it’s time the teenage murderer pays for his crimes. Through kung fu-ing him in the face, mainly. Robin and his buddy Spoiler have all the information they need, and all that’s left is the bruising and the arresting.
I’m not totally an expert on teenage behavior, but two colorful vigilantes bursting through a gang’s door invokes less fear and more apathy. We forget that Batman’s the scary one. Robin’s the lighter side of crime fighting. Since children can’t be as frightening as Batman hopes, Robin’s bright colors allow the bad guys to underestimate him. He wins the fight through psychology. Or because Robin’s color scheme has been around for over 70 years and it’s too late to make any considerable changes to the costume. Giving Robin pants were a nice touch though.
You know Robin doesn’t belong in that area when he counters the thug’s threat with Gatsby’s catchphrase. Some hidden benefits of being a gang leader is your own theme song, like a half dozen highly armed men pounding a drum line for foreshadowed walks down the hallway. You know how Batman always wins because of his incredible level of preparation? Robin and Spoiler spend the next pages dodging a nonstop stream of bullets and other situations they’re not ready for. The chase eventually leads outside:
Daddy has a lecture planned. I know in the movies, they always show Batman’s eyeballs, but the white slits make for a wildly more intimidating Batman. Time for Robin’s life lesson this arc.
Batman’s right, of course, except for one tiny detail — the whole fear of Batman prevents crime thing. Maybe in a real life society, a giant man in a bat costume dropping from the sky to punch all your friends would give you some hesitation before committing the next illegal act. But Batman lives in a world where he needs stories to fill four or five monthly books — Gotham isn’t lacking in repeat offenders.
We pick up twenty issues later. Bad guys continue to rob banks and steal and kill and poison the water supply and tear people in life while wearing luchador masks. But today, we get the conclusion to Robin and Young El’s tale. One of them didn’t learn the first time.
See? What a great dilemma! Young El will need Robin’s help to survive his mistake, but Robin will be assisting a known murderer — and a personal tragedy in Tim Drake’s life — only to have Young El break the law later down the road again. While people rave about characters who “put down” their villains, of course Robin’s going to attempt to save Young El. He’s better than us. Batman’s better than us. Superheroes have to be morally superior, as it goes with the cape-and-underpants territory.
We end our Robin stories today, and like the other two articles, this one also ends unhappily. That child gets wrung through the emotional ringer. Thank goodness poor Tim has the composure to suppress or deal with trauma (and it certainly helps that he’s a fictional character) or else his father wouldn’t need to find the costume to discover Robin’s secret identity — he’d just have to listen to the daily night terrors and massive therapy bill.
In summary, Tim Drake’s the best Robin. I think that’s the message I’ve tried to convey this week.
Don’t worry, Robin’ll smile on Monday as we cover an Impulse moment from Teen Titans.
As a teenager, Robin’s going to come across the normal teenage dramas as well as occasionally batarang-ing Two Face or Penguin or whoever. Even Tim’s mentor can’t help with high school issues as unfortunately, Batman spent his own youth training as a ninja in the Himalayans. Vengeance takes decades of prep, y’know. So poor Robin has to get thrown into the inferno of improvised problem solving today in Robin #25-26, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Mike Wieringo, and Robin #46, written by Dixon and drawn by Cully Hammer.
Get ready for another after-school special with bo staff beatings, because hopefully nerdy ’90s teenagers would pay attention to stuff Robin does. Though it seems a bit patronizing in 2014, I’m okay with this type of story. While kids can’t totally relate to school shootings (well, maybe now but not so much in 1996), they do understand impossible choices and it’s nice to have their fictional hero attempt to tackle that type of problem. I might just be overly simplistic, but I think we can all agree that in summary, being a teenager totally sucks.
Tim enlists his dad to go talk to Karl’s dad. The conversation goes exactly as you expect.
Have you noticed how perfectly comic book characters’ hair grays? It only reaches the temple and never expands into the precious moneymaker at the top (see Hal Jordan, Mr. Fantastic, Alan Scott, etc.). Just a touch of distinguish-ness to show old age and a full, beautiful heap of hair above. Do comic book characters only ever have a thick, gorgeous head of hair or none at all? What about the balding superheroes and villains?
Oh yeah, and Karl’s rebuttal to Tim the next day also goes exactly as you expect.
You don’t have to be Martian Manhunter to figure out what’s coming next. That and the title of today’s article gives it away. Robin has no problem snitching on his classmate — it’s to save his life, after all. Did Karl really think Tim wasn’t going to say anything? The dude spends his nights handing over tied up bad guys to the police by the dozens. He has battled every psychopath, monster, and criminal mastermind that Gotham City can throw at him — and won every time. Robin ain’t scared of bullies. Though like all dramatic and sad superhero moments, our hero’s just a moment too late.
Why is this moment so upsetting compared to the rest of Robin’s career? Batman’s partner has seen hordes of dudes gunned down, women and children horribly killed, and the absolute core of Gotham’s evil. So why one dumb bully from his school? Simple:
Robin and Tim Drake are separate entities, and they have to be for a teenage boy to handle the stress and sights of being a vigilante crime fighter. Kids worry themselves sick over algebra tests, much less dodging machine gun fire. Robin keeps all that potential PTSD locked away behind that mask — something Batman doesn’t do. For a superhero who we all claim as a non-powered human, there’s very few human characteristics about Batman. Now Nightwing, he’s more of the perfect balance. I know it’s a little brief today but it’s a good stopping point for the second half on Wednesday (mainly because 30 images in one article gets draining) and Robin’s attempted revenge. Spoiler alert: it’s sad.