By Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Jim Aparo, Tom Grummet, Mike DeCarlo & Bob McLeod (DC Comics)
Batman is in many ways the ultimate superhero: uniquely adaptable and able to work in any type or genre of story – as is clearly evident from the plethora of vintage tales collected in so many captivating volumes over the years.
One less well-mined period is the grim 1980s era when the Caped Crusader was partially re-tooled in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, becoming a driven, but still level-headed, deeply rational Manhunter, rather the dark, out-of-control paranoid of later days or the costumed boy-scout of the “Camp” crazed Sixties.
Robin, the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson: a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still regularly undergoes tweaking to this day.
Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as an indicator of those turbulent times, he flew the nest, becoming a Teen Wonder college student. His creation as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with had inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders, and Grayson continued in similar innovative vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.
Robin even had his own solo series in Star Spangled Comics from 1947 to 1952, a solo spot in the back of Detective Comics from the end of the 1960s wherein he alternated and shared with Batgirl, and a starring feature in the anthology comic Batman Family. During the 1980s he led the New Teen Titans first as Robin but eventually in the reinvented guise of Nightwing, re-establishing a turbulent working relationship with Batman. This of course left the post of Robin open…
After Grayson’s departure Batman worked solo until he caught a streetwise urchin trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. This lost boy was Jason Todd, whose short but stellar career as the second Boy Wonder was fatally tainted by his impetuosity and tragic links to one of the Caped Crusader’s most unpredictable foes.
Todd’s unsuspected emotional problems and his murder were controversially depicted and dealt with in Batman: a Death in the Family. In the shock and loss of losing his comrade the traumatised Dark Knight was forced to re-examine his own origins and methods, becoming darker still…
After a period of increasingly undisciplined encounters Batman was on the very edge of losing not just his focus but also his ethics and life: seemingly suicidal on his frequent forays into the Gotham nights. Interventions from his few friends and associates had proved ineffectual. Something drastic had to happen if the Dark Knight was to be salvaged.
Luckily there was an opening for a sidekick…
In this volume, collecting a crossover tale that originally appeared in Batman #440-442 and New Teen Titans #60-61 (plotted by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, scripted by Wolfman with the Batman chapters illustrated by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo, and the Titans sections handled by Pérez, Tom Grummett & Bob McLeod) a new character entered the lives of the extended Batman Family; a remarkable child who would change the shape of the DC Universe.
In ‘Suspects’ Batman is rapidly burning out, and not only his close confederates but also an enigmatic investigator and a mystery villain have noticed the deadly deterioration. Whilst the criminal mastermind embroils the wildly unpredictable Two-Face in his scheme, the apparently benevolent voyeur is hunting for Dick Grayson: a mission successfully accomplished in the second chapter, ‘Roots’.
The original Robin had become disenchanted with the adventurer’s life, quitting the Titans and returning to the circus where the happiest and most tragic days of his life occurred. Here he is confronted by a young boy who knows the secret identities of Batman and Robin…
‘Parallel Lines’ unravels the enigma of Tim Drake, who as a toddler was in the audience the night the Flying Graysons were murdered. Tim was an infant prodigy, and when, some months later he saw the new hero Robin perform the same acrobatic stunts as Dick Grayson he instantly deduced who the Boy Wonder was – and by extrapolation, the identity of Batman.
A passionate fan, Drake followed the Dynamic Duo’s exploits for a decade: noting every case and detail. He knew when Jason Todd became Robin and was moved to act when his death led to the Caped Crusader going catastrophically off the rails.
Taking it upon himself to fix his broken heroes Drake determined to convince the “retired” Grayson to became Robin once more – before Batman made an inevitable fatal mistake. It might all have been too little to late, however, as in ‘Going Home!’ Two-Face makes his murderous move against a severely sub-par Dark Knight…
Concluding with a raft of explosive and highly entertaining surprises with ‘Rebirth’ this often-overlooked Bat-saga introduces the third Robin (but who would get into costume only after years of training – and fan-teasing) whilst acknowledging both modern sentiments about child-endangerment and the classical roles of young heroes in heroic fiction. Perhaps a little slow and definitely a bit too sentimental in places, this is nevertheless an excellent, key Batman story, and one no fan should be unaware of.
Short, sweet and simply superb, here is a Batman – and Robin – much missed by many of us, and this tale, like so many others of the 1980s, is long overdue for the graphic novel treatment. To the Bat-Files, old chums…
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