By Gardner Fox, Mike Friedrich, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin & various (DC Comics)
Robin the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940), created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & 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 has 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 in his original costumed identity but eventually in the reinvented guise of Nightwing, re-establishing a turbulent working relationship with his mentor Batman.
This broad ranging black and white compilation volume covers the period from Julie Schwartz’s captivating reinvigoration of the Dynamic Duo in 1964 until 1975 with Robin-related stories and material from Batman #184, 192, 202, 213, 227, 229-231, 234-236, 239-242, 244-246, 248-250, 252, 254 and portions of 217, Detective Comics #342, 386, 390-391, 394-395, 398-403, 445, 447, 450-251, Worlds Finest Comics #141, 147, 195, 200, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91, 111, 130 and Justice League of America #91-92.
The wonderment begins with the lead story from Batman #213 (July-August 1969) – a 30th Anniversary reprint Giant – which featured an all-new retelling of ‘The Origin of Robin’ courtesy of E. Nelson Bridwell, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which perfectly reinterpreted that epochal event for the Vietnam generation. After that the tales proceed in (more or less) chronological order, covering episodes where Robin took centre-stage.
First up is ‘The Olsen-Robin Team versus “the Superman-Batman Team!”’ (World’s Finest #141 May 1964). In this stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, the underappreciated sidekicks fake their own deaths and undertake a secret mission even their adult partners must remain unaware of… for the very best of reasons of course, whilst the sequel from WF #147 (February 1965, Hamilton, Swan & Klein) delivers an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt as ‘The New Terrific Team!’ quit their assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there’s a perfectly reasonable if incredible reason here, too…
Detective Comics #342 (August 1965) featured ‘The Midnight Raid of the Robin Gang!’ by John Broome, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, wherein the Boy Wonder infiltrated a youthful gang of costumed criminals whilst Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91 (March 1966) provided ‘The Dragon Delinquent!’ (Leo Dorfman & Pete Costanza) which saw Robin and the cub reporter both, unknown to each other, infiltrate the same biker gang with potentially fatal consequences.
‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ originally appeared as a back-up in Batman #184 (September 1966 by Fox, Chic Stone & Sid Greene), showing the daring lad’s star-potential in a clever tale of thespian skulduggery and classy conundrum solving, whilst ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ from Batman #192 (June 1967: Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella) displayed his physical prowess in one of comicbooks’ first instances of the now over-used exo-skeletal augmentation gimmick.
‘Jimmy Olsen, Boy Wonder!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #111, June 1968, by Cary Bates & Costanza) saw the reporter try to prove his covert skills by convincing the Gotham Guardian that he was actually Robin whilst that same month in Batman #203 the genuine article tackled the ‘Menace of the Motorcycle Marauders!’ (by Mike Friedrich, Stone & Giella) consequently learning a salutary lesson in the price of responsibility…
Cover-dated April 1969, Detective Comics #386 featured the Boy Wonder’s first solo back-up in what was to become his semi-regular home-spot, alternating with Batgirl. ‘The Teen-Age Gap!’ (Friedrich, Andru & Esposito) depicted a High School Barn Dance which only narrowly escaped becoming a riot thanks to his diligent intervention, but when Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson took over the art-chores for #390’s ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ (August 1969), the series came stunningly alive. Friedrich concocted a canny tale of corruption and kidnapping leading to a paralysing city ‘Strike!’ for the lad to spectacularly expose and foil in the following issue.
Batman #217 (December 1969) was a shattering landmark in the character’s long history as Dick Grayson left home to attend Hudson University. Only the pertinent portion from ‘One Bullet Too Many!’ by Frank Robbins, Irv Norvick & Dick Giordano is included here, closely followed by ‘Strike… Whilst the Campus is Hot’ (Detective #394 from the same month, by Robbins, Kane & Anderson) as the callow Freshman stumbled into a campus riot organised by criminals and radical activists which forced the now Teen Wonder to ‘Drop Out… or Drop Dead!’ before stopping the seditious scheme…
Detective Comics #398-399 (April and May 1970) featured a two-part spy-thriller where Vince Colletta replaced Anderson as inker. ‘Moon-Struck’ saw lunar rock samples borrowed from NASA apparently cause a plague among Hudson’s students until Robin exposed a Soviet scheme to sabotage the Space Program in ‘Panic by Moonglow’.
The 400th anniversary issue (June 1970) finally teamed the Teen Wonder with his alternating back-up star in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Colletta): a college-based murder mystery which once more heavily referenced the political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still found space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before the chilling conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ wrapped up the saga.
Never afraid to repeat a good idea, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #130 (July 1970) saw Bob Haney & Murphy Anderson detail the exploits of ‘Olsen the Teen Wonder!’ as the boy reporter again aped Batman’s buddy to infiltrate an underworld newspaper whilst World’s Finest #195 (August 1970) found Jimmy & Robin targeted for murder by the Mafia in ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ by Haney, Andru & Esposito.
Simultaneously in Detective #402, ‘My Place in the Sun’ by Friedrich, Kane & Colletta, embroiled Dick Grayson and fellow Teen Titan Roy “Speedy” Harper in a crisis of social conscience, before our scarce-bearded hero wrapped up his first Detective run with the corking crime-busting caper ‘Break-Out’ in the September issue.
Robin’s further adventures transferred to the back of Batman, beginning with #227 (December 1970) and ‘Help Me – I Think I’m Dead!’ (Friedrich, Novick & Esposito) as ecological awareness and penny-pinching Big Business catastrophically collided on the campus, beginning an extended epic which saw the Teen Thunderbolt explore communes, alternative cultures and the burgeoning spiritual New Age fads of the day.
‘Temperature Boiling… and Rising!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia from #229, February 1971) continued the politically charged drama which is uncomfortably interrupted by a trenchant fantasy team-up with Superman sparked when the Man of Steel attempted to halt a violent campus clash between students and National Guard.
‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (World’s Finest #2000 February 1971, by Friedrich, Dick Dillin & Giella) featured brothers on the opposite side of the teen scene kidnapped with Robin and Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens waged eternal war on each other, before returning to more pedestrian perils in Batman #230 (March 1971) where ‘Danger Comes A-Looking!’ for our young hero in the form of a gang of right-wing, anti-protester jocks and a deluded friend who preferred bombs to brotherhood, courtesy of Friedrich, Novick & Dick Giordano.
‘Wiped Out!’ (#231, May 1971) produced an eye-popping end to the jock gang whilst #234 offered a clever road-trip tale in ‘Vengeance for a Cop!’ when a campus guard was gunned down and Robin tracked the only suspect to a commune. ‘The Outcast Society’ had its own unique system of justice but eventually the shooter was apprehended in the cataclysmic ‘Rain Fire!’ (#235 and 236 respectively).
The Collective experience blossomed into psychedelic and psionic strangeness in Batman #239 as ‘Soul-Pit’ (illustrated by new penciller Rich Buckler) found Dick Grayson’s would be girlfriend, Jesus-freaks and runaway kids all sucked into a telepathic duel between a father and son, played out in the ‘Theatre of the Mind!’ before revealing the ‘Secret of the Psychic Siren!’ culminating in a lethal clash with a clandestine cult in ‘Death-Point!’ in Batman #242 (June 1972).
After that eerie epic we slip back a year to peruse the Teen Wonder’s participation in one of the hallowed JLA/JSA summer team-ups beginning with Justice League of America #91 (August 1971) and ‘Earth… the Monster-Maker!’ as the Supermen, Flashes, Green Lanterns, Atoms and a brace of Hawkmen from two separate Realities simultaneously and ineffectually battled an alien boy and his symbiotically-linked dog (sort of) on almost identical planets a universe apart, whilst painfully patronising the Robins of both until ‘Solomon Grundy… the One and Only!’ gave everybody a brutal but ultimately life-saving lesson on acceptance, togetherness, youthful optimism and lateral thinking.
‘The Teen-Age Trap!’ by Elliot Maggin, Novick & Giordano (Batman #244, September 1972) found Dick Grayson mentoring troubled kids – and finding plenty of troublemakers his own age – whilst ‘Who Stole the Gift From Nowhere!’ was a delightful old fashioned change-of-pace mystery yarn.
‘How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?’ by Robbins, Novick Dillin & Giordano from Batman #246 (December 1972) is actually a Dark Knight story with the Teen Wonder reduced to helpless hostage throughout, but issue #248 began another run of short solo stories with ‘The Immortals of Usen Castle’ (Maggin, Novick & Frank McLaughlin) wherein a deprived-kids day trip turned into an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, whilst the ‘Case of the Kidnapped Crusader!’ (pencilled by Bob Brown) put the Student Centurion on the trail of an abducted consumer advocate and ‘Return of the Flying Grayson!’ by Maggin, Novick & McLaughlin from #250 painfully reminded the hero of his Circus past after tracking down pop-art thieves.
Batman #252 (October 1973) featured a light-hearted pairing with a Danny Kaye pastiche in the charming romp ‘The King From Canarsie!’ by Maggin, Dillin & Giordano, whilst ‘The Phenomenal Memory of Luke Graham!’ (#254 January/February 1974 and inked by Murphy Anderson) caused nothing but trouble for Robin, college professors and a gang of robbers…
It was a year before the Teen Wonder’s solo sallies resumed with ‘The Touchdown Trap’ in Detective Comics #445 as new scripter Bob Rozakis and guest artist Mike Grell catapulted our hero into a fifty-year old college football feud that refused to die, whilst ‘The Puzzle of the Pyramids’ (#447 illustrated by A. Martinez & Mazzaroli) offered another clever crime mystery.
This magically eclectic monochrome compendium concludes with an action-packed human drama in ‘The Parking Lot Bandit!’ and ‘The Parking Lot Bandit Strikes Again!’ from Detective #450-451, (August and September 1975, drawn by art from Al Milgrom & Terry Austin).
These stories span a turbulent and chaotic period for comicbooks: perfectly encapsulating and describing the vicissitudes of the superhero genre’s premier juvenile lead: complex yet uncomplicated adventures drenched in charm and wit, moody tales of rebellion and self-discovery and rollercoaster, all-fun romps. Action is always paramount and angst-free satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed. This book of cracking yarns something no fan of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction can afford to miss.
© 1964-1975, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.