DC Histories: Tim Drake (Robin III)

Welcome back to another DC History. In the wake of the New 52, we’re looking at the history of some of the people and groups being reintroduced to the DC Universe. Only by looking back at what came before can we understand where we’re going.

This week, we’re looking at the Tim Drake, the third person in the standard DCU to be known as Robin.

Robin (Vol. 2) In-House Ad (1993)

DC was in a bind. In 1984, they’d allowed Dick Grayson to finally retire from the role of Robin, a title he’d held for 44 years. He graduated to the role of Nightwing, left Batman behind, and became his own hero. Since this split up the team of Batman and Robin, DC shoved another person into the Robin role. DC completely winged it by rushing the introduction of Jason Todd. They didn’t care who Robin was as long as someone bounced around Gotham City wearing those green short shorts.

Originally, Jason had a nearly identical background to Dick Grayson. Orphaned while working as a trapeze artist, Jason was selected by Batman to become the second Robin. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, his origin was revised so that he was now a street tough that Batman took in after seeing a spark of something special in his eye. In either case, Jason didn’t endear himself to the readership. He was arrogant, overly violent, and it was hinted that he may have killed someone in cold blood. When given the opportunity to vote on whether or not Jason should die in an explosion set by the Joker, fans decided that Jason should die.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #428 (1989)

That left Batman without a Robin. Again. But this time, DC editorial had a plan. They saw what had gone horribly wrong with Jason Todd. They, along with writer Marv Wolfman and co-plotter George Perez, began to make a different kind of Robin. In 1989, they introduced Tim Drake.

Tim began as more of a phantom than a character. Combining a bit of luck with some close observation skills, Tim figured out that Dick Grayson was Robin when he was only 9 years old. From there, he extrapolated that Bruce Wayne was Batman and that Jason Todd had died in combat. For a time, Tim stalked Batman from the shadows, taking pictures of Bruce’s increasingly reckless exploits. Knowing that Batman was lonely and blamed himself for Jason’s death, Tim hunted down Dick to convince him to take back the role of Robin. He was convinced this was the only way to make sure Batman didn’t burn out.

From New Titans #60 (1989)

Dick, realizing that Tim was speaking the truth and that Bruce did seem to be acting out more and more, returned to Gotham City. There he found a bitter, angry Bruce who claimed that going it alone was the only way to make things work. Bruce barely tolerated Dick’s help on his then current case. Against Tim’s wishes, Dick didn’t offer to become Robin again. He stuck to his Nightwing persona.

Tim didn’t take any of this well. His plan of having Dick become Robin again thus allowing Batman to mellow out was falling apart around him. When Bruce and Dick lost communication following an explosion in the building they were investigating, Tim and Alfred rushed to the scene. In order to protect the boy’s identity, Alfred offered Jason’s old costume to Tim. After they arrived on the scene and helped dig Bruce and Dick out of the rubble, Bruce nearly lost it when he saw another boy in the Robin costume. Tim stood his ground.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #442 (1989)

It’s a great speech. Tim would later claim that he wasn’t arguing for the job himself in that moment, but I don’t buy it. The kid is a good salesman.

This storyline is one of my favorite in the entire DC canon. Tim was introduced as a character who was as aware of the legacy and strength of Batman as the person reading the story. He’s thoughtful, kind, and can back up his point of view with a bit of backbone. He’s the opposite of Jason and many readers welcomed him to the Bat family with open arms.

While Tim didn’t convince Bruce to immediately allow him to become the next Robin, Bruce did allow Tim into the Batcave for training. In a change from the two Robins before him, when Tim entered Batman’s life, his parents were both alive and well. They don’t mind that Tim hanging out with a billionaire during his off-school hours because they were world-traveling archaeological jetsetters. Whatever Tim did while they were out of town didn’t really concern them too much.

This status quo changed when the Drakes were kidnapped in Haiti by a voodoo cult. After a fancy bit of detective work, Batman was able to track down their kidnapper. While Batman did manage to free them from a sacrificial pyre, a pitcher of poisoned water brought them down. Tim’s mother was immediately killed by the poison while his father slipped into a deep coma.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #621 (1990)

Devastated, Tim continued on with his training. Over time, his hand-to-hand skills increased but he knew he wasn’t ready to graduate to a mask. Tim was pushed into action when Batman was held captive by the Scarecrow. Realizing that he’d not yet earned the title of Robin, Tim put on a ski mask to hide his identity when he infiltrated Scarecrow’s lair. After Batman was saved, Bruce commended Tim on his deferential treatment of the Robin legacy. But time moves on and Bruce knew that Tim was ready to claim the role. With that, a new Robin costume was granted to Tim.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #457 (1990)

This costume was awesome. Going from that kinda goofy suit designed in 1940 to this modern, full legged affair was the right choice. When I first read this book, my 8 year-old mind was blown. His cape was two-toned! The ‘R’ was different! This new costume just popped. Tim had arrived.

Here’s what made Tim so endearing to me as a pre-teen reader. Tim was a character who had a lot to be confident about. Batman had personally selected him to be Robin. Dick Grayson had given his consent to Tim adopting that name. At the age of 9, Tim had figured out who Batman and Robin were by himself. This guy had everything going for him but he was still incredibly humble and unsure of himself. For instance, Tim needed to talk to his comatose father about his first run-in with the Joker, which happened to coincide with Batman being out of the country.

From Robin II #4 (1991)

Over time, Tim would begin to flourish as a hero. He was one of the first in what would come to be a whole wave of new teen heroes in the ’90s. Superboy came around shortly after Tim got going. Bart Allen, then known as Impulse, wasn’t far behind. DC, seeing positive fan response to these younger heroes, slowly let them begin to cross over together.

From Robin Plus #1 (1996)

Eventually, this would all culminate in Young Justice, an ongoing series featuring seemingly every single young hero in the DCU. During this series, Tim would become extremely close friends with Superboy and Bart. True, he had friends in his civilian life, but actively saving the world together tends to draw people close.

Speaking of Tim’s civilian life, it continued apace. He had a regular girlfriend. He had homework. He had his own solo series. And, eventually, he had a dad again. Tim’s father, Jack, slowly came out of his coma. Difficult physical therapy allowed him to walk again. Now, Tim had to balance a normal home life with his superhero one.

Young Justice ended after a time. Many of the members of that group went on to form a new Teen Titans. Tim, along with Superboy and Bart, found themselves in this new group. During an adventure that had them time jump into the future, Tim found himself in a Gotham City guarded by a new Batman. This new Batman turned out to be a future version of himself but it was a version he didn’t recognize. This Tim killed.

From Teen Titans (Vol. 3) #18 (2005)

After arriving back to his current time, Tim couldn’t help but wonder what was it that pushed his future self to such extremes. Over the next few years, he would learn what it may have been.

The first, and perhaps biggest, blow to Tim’s ideals came when Jack Drake was killed trying to defend his home against a supervillain. Tim was the first to arrive on the scene. He was too late.

From Identity Crisis #6 (2005)

Next, his best friends Superboy and Bart would die within a year of each other. Gone were his two closest peers who would empathize and understand exactly where Tim was coming from. Not too long afterwards, Bruce Wayne died. To make matters worse, when Dick Grayson assumed the mantel of Batman, he chose Bruce’s biological son to be Robin. Tim was out of a job.

From Red Robin #1 (2009)

Feeling more alone than he ever had in his life, Tim took on the persona of Red Robin. He was now a free agent, roaming the world, fighting ninja assassins, and looking for Bruce Wayne. Tim was the only person convinced that Bruce wasn’t dead.

He would be right. Eventually, Bruce returned to the land of the living. So would Superboy and Bart. But the time apart from each of them had affected Tim. He would never be his old self again.

At the very end of his last solo series, Tim would finally track down Captain Boomerang, the man who killed his father. Knowing that the man couldn’t resist a good heist, Tim set Boomerang up with a score that seems too good to be true. It was a heist that was also designed to kill him. Telling himself that Boomerang was doing everything of his own free will, Tim nearly let the captain die after a fight on a roof. At the last minute, just as Boomerang was about to fall to his death, Tim intervened.

Bruce saw the entire score go down. He wasn’t impressed with Tim’s choices. In this moment, Tim was only a hair’s length away from becoming that future self he saw years earlier.

From Red Robin #26 (2011)

What did Tim decide to do from here? Well, we’ll never know. That was the last appearance of Tim Drake in the old continuity. My oh my, how things changed in those 22 years, eh?

We’re now in the New 52 and a slightly different Tim is attempting to put together a group of Teen Titans to help combat the people behind the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. organization. That group appears to be hunting down superpowered teens and Tim wants to protect as many as possible. The Titans have slowly been getting together and here’s hoping their story kicks into high gear soon.

From Teen Titans (Vol. 4) #1 (2011)

 


When Tim Drake first debuted as Robin, Jeff Reid would occasionally daydream about being him. Jeff was just the right age for that to not be weird. Now he’s the right age for you to follow on Twitter.

Comments

  1. pppiquer pppiquer says:

    Tim Drake is by far my favorite character in the DCU, I really hope the New 52 do right by him

  2. teen titans was one of the new 52 books I needed least selling on but i dropped it after 3 issues. I loved the characters of Tim Drake/Robin Impulse & Superboy from solo stuff and Superman or Batman books and from world without grown ups/young justice/teen titans but the new Bart, Tim & Connor just fell completely flat. Articles like this really highlight what a great charcater has been lost

  3. I recently bought the issues where Tim “technically” became the new Robin to get Batman and Nightwing out of a bind, and he was wearing the classic Robin costume. I believe this was Batman #442, where Tim made that “Robin is a symbol” speech. Not gonna lie…that speech aside, I was a little disappointed in the Tim-As-Robin reveal. It was seriously lacking any gravitas. That being said, I never read Batman #457. That image you posted above was exactly the dramatic reveal I was hoping for.

    I’ve been on a mission to collect the Chuck Dixon written issues of Robin, which is a bit of a chore since it’s BARELY in any sort of collected form. As of now, I have the first 15 or so issues, as well as the Robin I and II miniseries. Still looking for III.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      The reveal in BATMAN #442 might have lacked gravitas because he wasn’t actually Robin at that point. He was just a kid dressed up in a suit. It wasn’t until he was trained and approved that he officially became Robin in BATMAN #457.

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      Conor’s right. Tim wasn’t considered Robin in Batman #442. For the following year, Tim was mostly in the Batcave, doing research for Batman and training. It was when he went and saved Batman without using the Robin costume that Batman thought it was finally time to give him that moniker.

    • I should probably get those issues as well. Tim is my favorite Robin, so if there’s a solid story about his evolution into Robin, I definitely want to read it.

  4. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    Red Robin costume pre-New52 was/is way better, it has classic design while being a tad edgy, the New52 Red Robin has the same damn wings we’ve seen on Marvel’s Falcon for 50 yrs or so. Crisis of Infinite reinvent, Flashpoint created a paradox somewhere and something’s stayed the same while some didn’t so a good writer could easily reverse some effects anytime…..one can dream.

    • JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

      eventually, years from now probably, Flashpoint and the extreme continuity altering will be brought up in story. either with characters starting to remember or maybe a zero-hour thing where alternate realities start tp bleed over into the new 52, — something will eventually happen

    • KillTheG1mp KillTheG1mp says:

      Yep, you’re totally right! Why add wings to a character that doesn’t need them? I think they’re stretching the bird imagery a bit too far with this and I would LOVE a retcon on his costume too, I find the new one to be silly at best.

      I yearn for a solo Red Robin title again and crossing my fingers for one in the close-future. Tim Drake is by far of the best characters of the DCU. Thanks guys for making this great article! :D

  5. Walter Walter says:

    I was disappointed that Red Robin did not have his own comic in the new 52

  6. bcoop704 bcoop704 says:

    I love reading these DC Histories posts, but this one is officially my favorite of the series. I’m fairly new toc omics, but I loved the Red Robin title that was coming out before the relaunch. I would love to go back and read some more of Tim Drake. Is there a website on the internet that keeps a running list of each single issue number that characters from DC have appeared in? I know about ComicVine, but they just tell you how many appearances a character had in a certain title, they won’t give you a breakdown with the title name, the issue number, and the year, etc. Is there a website dedicated to this? Otherwise, I’ll never know what exactly I am missing from my colleciton.

    Also, if I can make any recommendations for future “Histories” episodes, I would love to see one done on Harley Quinn and another one on Deadshot. I recognize that you have mostly focused on heroes as a part of this series, but we gotta show the villains some love to. Thanks to the new Suicide Squad series, these are two characters that I am extremely interested in. If you could provide some background info on them so that I can read up, I would definitely appreciate it.

  7. Wally is my Flash, Kyle is my Green Lantern, and Tim is my Robin.

  8. Loser13 Loser13 says:

    Wow, great piece on Robin. Well done. I’m a huge fan of all of the Robins. Thanks

  9. AtomX says:

    I just want to chime in and say how much I am loving these DC Histories articles. I’ve read each of them and have learned a hell of a lot. I didn’t get into comics until maybe a year and a half ago. What started as interest in one single story has grown to become my biggest hobby, and DC books take up a large majority of that. That being said, the DCU is vast to say the least, and even with all I’ve read and researched, I still feel like I have yet to scratch the surface. So having these articles has been a real treat for me. You give just enough detail and insight without it getting bogged down with boring trivia. So please please please, keep it up!

    • AtomX says:

      Though one thing I might suggest would be an “essential read list” sort of thing. Like, a very short list of TPB’s that really help sum up who the character is. I know other sites do this (and I think maybe other articles on this very site), but if you’re showcasing a character’s history, I don’t think it’d hurt to have a “If you’d like to get more into this character, maybe read these!” bookend.

  10. DFWRob DFWRob says:

    Nice article Jeff. I’m a big fan of Tim Drake also, ever since Young Justice was the comic in the late 90′s that started me reading the DCU when I was 11-12ish. And from there into the other DC team books (JLA by Morrison, JSA by Johns) that got me hooked on comics.

    I do think you skipped over a BIG part of Tim’s history though when his father found out he was Robin and confronted Bruce. To stop his father from killing Bruce or exposing Batmans secrets Tim gave up his life as Robin and we got a great storyarc of Tim just trying to be a normal student combined with Stephanie getting her shot to be Robin. It was at that point that the old Robin series became my favorite book for a little while in the mid-2000′s.

  11. Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    I’m glad people seem to be enjoying these articles. They’re a lot of fun to write. Thanks for the kind words!

    Every one of these DC Histories is going to have a few holes. Sometimes, I may not own a particular issue or storyline so I can’t talk about it. Other times, I may trim things that I just can’t seem to find a way to fit into an article and still make it readable. I can’t include everything, even on a character who is only 22 years old. But hey! That’s what comment sections are great for. Make sure you tell each other your favorite storylines or character moments I missed!

  12. Skyfire124 Skyfire124 says:

    Great history piece, I’m also a big Tim Drake fan. Tim Drake got me into following the various Batman family characters, and I actually found them more interesting to read about than Bruce himself up until the new 52. I’d second Stephanie’s inclusion in the history, if only to add her “death” to the pile of bodies (Mom, Dad, Conner, Bart) that was pushing Tim to the brink. But I can sure understand not being able to get everything in here. This was a lot of fun to read, thanks!

  13. MisterShaw MisterShaw says:

    Good stuff. Tim is my favorite Robin; the 1st comic I ever bought with my own money was the Robin issue where he goes to a boarding school and fights ninjas (don’t remember the issue number, I think it was in the teens). I was really put out when Damien replaced him following RIP. The little punk’s grown on me, and I enjoyed a fair bit of Tim as Red Robin (which is a ridiculous superhero name), but I’d still rather it was Tim. I’ve been enjoying the new Teen Titans, but it’s not the same.

  14. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    Excellent piece. I had no idea of the depth and quality of Tim’s character. I’m now a fan.

  15. NRD NRD says:

    I think the character of Tim Drake is amazing, really well thought out and when they gave him the Red Robin alter ego, it was the right choice, he has enough background to become his own hero, just like Dick Grayson.

    Slightly disapointed with the new 52 stuff on him.

  16. Minion Minion says:

    I absolutely loved Red Robin. Now I’m hardly reading any comics. His absence is part of the reason. (College is the main one.)

  17. Abejarano12 Abejarano12 says:

    Great read on one of my favorite characters. I like how the Tim Drake has gotten love in the animated stuff.

  18. alexhoward says:

    I think much of the new costume is to tie the comic character to the design for the Young Justice version. I’m fairly disappointed with the New 52 version of Teen Titans. The time compression brought on by the reboot and eradicating of big evens like Crisis and the death of Superman and who-knows-what changes to Wonder Woman’s continuity makes most of these characters’ histories (and thus, past development) pretty irrelevant. Tim and Conner, especially, had become such richly developed characters and it all feels like such a waste.

  19. princegary08 princegary08 says:

    I really hope red robin gets a solo comic Coner has one. Tim needs one.