Robin: Tim Drake’s return is a long time coming
As Tim Drake steps back into the spotlight, headlining a new monthly comic book series, here’s a look back at the fan-favorite Robin’s complicated history.
Though Dick Grayson may have headlined Robin’s solo adventures in 1947’s Star-Spangled Comics, the first solo Robin comic book series to bear that title didn’t star the original Boy Wonder or even his immediate successor Jason Todd. Instead, that distinction went to the third Robin, Tim Drake, who brought his own unique sensibilities to the superhero role and was the first hero not borne of tragedy to form the other half of the Dynamic Duo with Batman. Despite marking this landmark in the superhero mantle’s legacy, however, Tim has been relegated to the sidelines and has become one of the more underused figures in the Bat-Family across his history.
As the first solo comic book title starring Tim as its protagonist in over a decade launches with Tim Drake: Robin written by Meghan Fitzmartin, illustrated by Riley Rossmo, colored by Lee Loughridge, and lettered by Tom Napolitano, here’s a look back at Tim’s occasionally complicated place in the DC Universe. From being the reluctant Robin to a major team leader within the DCU, Tim’s road back to the spotlight hasn’t been an easy one but Tim Drake has never been a character to ever count out for long.
A Different Kind of Robin
Tim Drake was created by Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick in the 1989 storyline 'Batman: Year Three,' exploring the Dark Knight’s third year defending Gotham City and providing an updated origin story for Dick Grayson as the first Robin. Within this tale, a young boy named Tim attends Haley’s Circus to watch the Flying Graysons with his parents on the fateful night that Dick’s parents are murdered under the big top. This revised origin fed into the subsequent storyline 'A Lonely Place of Dying,' by Wolfman, George Perez, and Jim Aparo.
The 1989 storyline saw a teenage Tim approach Dick with the knowledge of his and Bruce Wayne’s secret identities in an effort to reunite the original Dynamic Duo, feeling Batman needed a Robin in the wake of Jason Todd’s death. It is revealed that Tim deduced, from an early age, Dick and Bruce’s superhero secret after noticing Robin perform an acrobatic move similar to the one he saw Dick do at the circus, quickly putting the pieces together to learn the Gotham heroes’ true identities. Though Dick had no interest in ditching his new role as Nightwing to become Batman’s sidekick again, he and Alfred Pennyworth advocated for Tim to serve as Robin instead. Though Batman was initially against this decision, he changed his mind when Tim saved his life during a harrowing encounter with Two-Face.
In contrast to his previous sidekicks, Batman subjected Tim to an arduous training process to ensure he wouldn’t be killed in action like Jason, with Tim often relegated to providing support from the Batcave for many of his early appearances as Robin. This helped solidify Tim’s status as more of a detective among the first three Robins, with Dick established as the acrobat and Jason as the reckless fighter. Tim proved popular with comic book readers, with DC commissioning three different miniseries starring the character before launching a monthly ongoing series in 1993, initially written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Tom Grummett and Scott Hanna.
The Robin series began in the wake of the crossover event 'Knightfall,' which saw Bruce brutally beaten down and broken physically by Bane, leaving his superhero future in doubt. As Bruce left Gotham for rehabilitation, he handpicked Jean-Paul Valley to serve as his successor as Batman, unaware of just how mentally unstable Jean-Paul was due to his connection to the religious antihero Azrael and the cult behind it. Robin and this new, lethal Batman quickly found themselves at odds, leading Tim to operate alone as Robin while keeping tabs on Bruce’s unpredictable replacement until Bruce himself returned to Gotham to reclaim the mantle for himself.
In contrast to Dick and Jason, Tim initially came from a happy home life, with both of his parents alive and well when he first became Robin and living near Wayne Manor, which helped facilitate his superhero career. In the 1990 storyline 'Rite of Passage,' by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle, Tim’s mother Janet was killed by a vicious cult while his father Jack was grievously injured. The 2004 crossover event Identity Crisis, by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Blair, saw Jack murdered by Captain Boomerang for his connection to Robin, leaving the legacy of the Boy Wonder as one held by orphans from violent crime.
The Team Player
While Dick and Jason had both served on teams during their respective tenures as Robin, this aspect of the superhero’s legacy became more noticeably pronounced while Tim held the mantle. With the classic Titans associated with the Teen Titans name, Tim founded a new team of teenage heroes with Superboy and Impulse dubbed Young Justice in 1998. A new volume of Teen Titans was launched in 2003 by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone, featuring Tim as the leader while the original Titans took on more mentor-oriented roles and largely kept to the sidelines. Tim would continue his association with both the Titans and Young Justice over the years, bringing a keen tactical mind to help give his teams a strategic edge.
Tim’s growing role in the wider DCU coincided with the Bat-Family steadily growing beyond the Dynamic Duo and their faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth. Nightwing and Batman gradually repaired their relationship, making Dick more of a fixture in the Dark Knight’s adventures. As Barbara Gordon provided vital support as Oracle, the group were joined by new Batgirl Cassandra Cain and vengeful vigilante Helena Bertinelli, better known under her superhero moniker as the Huntress. Tim’s closest relationship from the extended Bat-Family was Spoiler, the superhero identity of fellow teen hero Stephanie Brown. More than just working with Tim, Stephanie quickly became Tim’s on-again/off-again love interest, with her presumed death greatly affecting the Teen Wonder during the 2004 crossover event 'War Games.'
Son of the Bat
Though Dick and Jason were taken in by Bruce as his legal wards, by the time Tim was orphaned, the legal custody laws had changed. This resulted in Bruce officially adopting Tim as his son in the 2006 storyline 'Face the Face' by James Robinson and Don Kramer, a proposition which Tim emotionally and wholeheartedly agreed to. This adoption would be fundamentally challenged, however, almost immediately after it took place.
2006’s Batman #655 by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert introduced Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul who was trained to be a lethal protector. Damian and Tim were instantly at odds, with Damian dismissing Tim as nothing more than a pretender while Damian’s arrogant nature and willingness to employ lethal force led him to dislike the Tim immensely. Damian uses underhanded methods in a fight with Tim in the Batcave to nearly kill him and seizes the mantle of Robin for himself. After Dick inherits the mantle of Batman from Bruce after the Dark Knight is presumed dead, he fires Tim from the Robin role to become his own man, with Tim creating the superhero mantle of Red Robin in 2009’s Red Robin #1 by Christopher Yost and Ramon Bachs.
New 52 Reboot and Rebirth Reinvention
In the line-wide reboot of the DCU with 2011’s New 52 publishing initiative, Tim’s origins were no longer linked to observing Dick Grayson but to using his tech savvy to hack into the Penguin’s private bank account and donate millions to charity. The Penguin is understandably enraged by the breach, forcing Tim’s family to enter witness protection but, impressed by Tim’s skills, Batman brings him on as Red Robin – with Tim never technically going by the main Robin moniker in this continuity – and gives him the assumed name “Tim Drake” to protect his identity.
As elements of the classic DCU continuity were gradually reinstated by the 2016 DC Rebirth publishing initiative, Tim’s original backstory was officially restored in the 2017 storyline 'A Lonely Place of Living' by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and Eber Ferreira while maintaining the mantle of Red Robin. Following another widespread restoration of established canon with the 2021 Infinite Frontier publishing initiative, Tim’s background had him becoming the third Robin again, instead of Red Robin. With Damian at odds with his father over his murderous methods, Tim has taken point as the main Robin in Gotham once again, coming out as bisexual in a storyline running through Batman: Urban Legends #4-6 by Meghan Fitzmartin, Belen Ortega, and Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque.
Tim Drake: Robin picks up many of the threads from Fitzmartin’s previous story, as Tim continues his budding relationship with classmate Bernard Dowd while facing the twisted villainy that only Gotham can offer. Tim has come a long way to reclaim the mantle of Robin, with more than one origin story and a varying role among the rest of the Bat-Family. But as one of the most resourceful characters to hold the mantle of Robin, Tim is right back in the role that his fans have come to associate with him the most.
Tim Drake: Robin is written by Meghan Fitzmartin, illustrated by Riley Rossmo, colored by Lee Loughridge, and lettered by Tom Napolitano. The first issue is on sale now from DC Comics, with the second issue slated to go on sale Oct. 25.
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