The Hero/Sidekick Dynamic

Bam! Pow! Dang I wish I knew the coding to make that look cool…..

Today’s dynamic is going to be the Hero/Sidekick combo. The one-two punch of comic books.

Okay I’ll stop trying to be funny with this. Now to be serious. *Deep breath*

If you have watched/read/listened to any of the Batman media since, ever, then you know that Batman rarely works alone. He has a whole team on his side but most importantly he has Robin.

Is it too easy to go with this? Probably, but I’m a huge Batman fan so just see where I’m going.

Two of the most important people in Batman/Bruce Wayne’s life are Alfred Pennyworth, the man who raised him as his own and despite hesitations supports him in the pursuit of justice in Gotham, and the Robin. Without one or the other, Batman has a hard time being the ultimate fear inducing vigilante Gotham has ever had. But it is only with the absence of a Robin that we have seen the effects of. Straight up, it isn’t pretty.

The reason why I chose Batman and Robin for this dynamic is not only because they are iconic, but because this combination shows a variety of approaches, conflicts, and relationships.

There have been five Robins since the characters’ first appearance in Detective Comics #38 (Originally published in April of 1940). Five completely different people, taking up the mask for very different reasons. So quite a bit of variety to choose from. And now that I have justified… (Seriously that was not an attempt at a pun.) I’m going to try to bring up each style of Robin/Batman relationship and maybe they will link to other types of dynamics.

Without The Boy-Wonder

If you have read the comics following Death In the Family, or more recently the issues after Batman lost Damian, you have seen what Batman is like when he loses a Robin. He is, for a time, a completely broken man. He is reckless, and he pushes himself even harder than before. Ultimately Batman loses a sense of humanity and possibly a connection to the ‘normality’ of life. This is a man who grieves to the point of destruction after losing his companion, and ultimately refuses to recruit another until a young boy comes up to him and says “I want to be Robin” and can’t really get rid of him.

Though no one ever mentions Batman before the sidekick, only after. What was Batman like before Dick Grayson’s parents died? To be honest with you, very stagnant. He didn’t really develop. For the first twelve months of publication, yes Batman was great, but he ended up following a formula so to speak. There were no changes in the character and for the most part there really was no great revealing of him to the reader either. When you have a lot of thought bubbles, there are no secrets.

Being the hero of the story is much like that. If you have only the hero but no support, how do you expect them to develop. They have no one to bounce their personality of off. [What about Alfred?] Alfred has always been like a father to Batman and the perspective of a parent doesn’t really change much after a while. So that character has more of a familial relationship rather than a ‘working’ relationship. That is something that the Robins bring to the table. They expect differently from Batman because they look up to him. All sidekicks look up to their respective heroes and in turn they also develop; 4 out of 5 Robins turn into heroes of their own. Damian is still working on it.

The Robin Breakdown

Now to go into each of the Robin types and see how they change the dynamic into something of their own.

Dick Grayson/The Boy-Wonder/Nightwing

The first Robin, Dick Grayson, was the brainchild of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. One of the first things you notice with his beginning, is that is eerily similar to Batman. Parents killed by the mob, so lets go avenge their deaths by taking out crime in the city. This is one of the reasons as to why Batman and the original Robin were close at first, but as time goes on and Robin grows up, it shifts. He begins to question Batman and become his own person outside of the shadow of the cowl. With this we have Nightwing.

During the Boy-Wonder’s tutelage under the Dark Knight, he kind of becomes a copy of Batman, just with more spunk(?) or maybe just more puns. What he really brought to Batman was companionship and mirror of empathy. With their similar beginnings they were able to find a common ground that Batman couldn’t find with anyone else. This one child knew what Bruce felt watching is parent’s die and from then on Batman couldn’t be on his own.

Jason Todd/The Greatest Failure/Red Hood

Once Dick Grayson went off to become Nightwing, Batman was alone for a little while. The road of thought bubbles was pursued once again, and people were bored. Batman had hit a plateau and needed someone to get him going again. Enter Jason Todd. [Side note we are going with the post-Infinite Earths Jason] A little bit of a Damian prototype (just my opinion) Jason was, and still is, the exact opposite of Dick Grayson. So much so that readers had voted to kill him off in Death In the Family a year after his introduction. Come to find out, everything happens for a reason and he was brought back as the Red Hood.

Image from Two Shots to the Head

It was his death that broke Batman. The Bat understood the dangers of bringing a child under his wing, but also may have never imagined that this connection he has would hurt him so much. So Jason actually brings two things of his own. He brings a challenge to Batman, much like that cynical best friend that tries to poke at any sense of optimism. He also brings Batman to reality. This is a dangerous business that he has gotten himself into and the consequences of his actions are real.

Tim Drake/The First Son/Red Robin

Jason’s death was hard for the hero. He needed someone and the Superhero world knew it, but so did the civilians of Gotham. Tim Drake was there the night that Dick Grayson’s parents died. He saw what Batman turned into without a Robin, and with the need he saw an opportunity. Tim wanted to be Robin, because Batman needed one not out of tragedy, and is the only Robin to do so. He was smart, almost as smart as Batgirl, and was able to find out who Batman was without trying. Once he got a hold of Batman’s leg, he never let go.

Tim is also one of the few that left on good terms. Where Dick got into a fight, and Jason met his untimely, though temporary, end, Tim left because he knew Batman no longer needed him to help him grieve. This child, who’s parents were still alive, gifted the Bat with compassion. Something that the Batman really needed, and reciprocated by adopting Tim.

Stephanie Brown/Spoiler/The Girl Wonder/Batgirl

To some people Stephanie was Batman’s ‘WTF?’ moment, and more often than not decide to discount her from being a Robin. So let me start off her section with this little bit of dialogue.

Stephanie: “When you let me be a Robin — it wasn’t just some kind of trick, was it? A way to get Tim to come back? Or your way to show me I wasn’t cut out for the job? Was any of it real? Was I ever really Robin?”

Batman: “Of course you were.”

Stephanie: “Good. Then I was really part of it — part of the legend. Even if it was only for a little while.”

So with that she counts. 😛

In a way Stephanie was new territory for Batman to work through. A girl sidekick that wasn’t Batgirl? What is this madness you speak? Pretty much everyone was against her doing it. Alfred even got a little “Mean Girls” on her by telling her Batman only let her do it to get Tim jealous. She was also a way to transition Batman out of having Tim as his Robin, before Damian came into the picture. Her taking up the mantle in Tim’s place was the only time where there wasn’t a dramatic exit for a previous Robin. Though she didn’t become a major Robin she did play an important role.

Remember how I said Tim was the only one to walk away in good terms? Well they tried to kill Stephanie too. Though much like Jason Todd, she was ‘killed’ by a villain and popped back up in the story a short time later and turns out to not be dead. But much like Tim she wanted to do it for a good reason, she just wanted her dad to stop being the Cluemaster, that was pretty much it.

What Stephanie brought to Batman as a sidekick, is much like what Batgirl brought as a supporting character, was that girls can do it too. Not the only reason, but a small one that I haven’t covered.

Damian/The Future of the League of Assassins/The True Son

We don’t really know what Damian is, he is kind of messed up. Raised by assasians until he was ten. There is no certainty that he is Bruce’s son or a clone. I guess it depends on who you ask. But ultimately, Batman sees him as his true son, and Damian returns the feeling even if he doesn’t admit to it. Where Dick is a mirror of empathy, Damian is his mirror of disconnection. This kid is calculative and dark, but he does have the ability to form relationships. Just like Batman was when he first started. Damian is a sort start over for Batman. Essentially rebuilding the Robin from scratch, but also facing his homicidal tendencies along the way. Damian in turn, wants Batman’s recognition and respect, but also a part of him that the other Robins never had before.

For me I’m not sure as to what Damian brings to the table as the sidekick, as I am still reading through his issues. But maybe this is the sidekick that develops more than the hero.

[I do NOT  own any of these images. Bob Kane is the creator of Batman and the image of Batman is owned by him and DC Comics.]

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