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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.