Each time we get a new live-action
Batman, I’m perplexed as to why we never get a Robin. No, I don’t mean Chris
O’Donnell reluctantly moving to Wayne Manor when it looks like he’s already 21
or older. I don’t mean Joseph Gordon Levitt inexplicably being referred to as
Robin during the very last minutes of a trilogy. And I certainly don’t mean
hints of a long-dead Robin, sacrificed as additional kindling to toss upon the
pyre that is Bruce Wayne’s grief.
Why don’t we ever get eight-year-old Dick Grayson? Why can multiple animated series and comic book arcs introduce a young, vulnerable child into Batman’s life, can give him purpose and gravity in the narrative and allow him to develop into a partner and then a hero in his own right, while movies either avoid him entirely or warp him into something unrecognizable? People more familiar with Batman as a pop culture icon than a character with a long, established comic history tend to be those who dismiss Robin by claiming that Batman is an eternal loner. That we’re tarnishing his character by burdening him with a child sidekick, and that he must prowl the night in solitude or we’re denying the most essential parts of his persona.
Are you kidding me? Batman independently paid for the floating space clubhouse that his Justice League buddies meet in. He is instrumental in connecting the entire database of heroes that make up the DC universe. You’re threatened by the potential presence of Dick Grayson? Bruce—in precious canon!– has no less than five adopted/biological children: Dick, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, and Damian Wayne (and sometimes Helena Bertinelli). That’s not to mention the multiple young people he mentors: Barbara Gordon, Stephanie Brown, and Carrie Kelley in some continuities (and these same people will defend The Dark Knight Returns until their bitter deaths, so don’t you dare object to Carrie Kelley in the same damn breath).
I don’t think any other DC hero builds as large of an extended family as Batman constructs for himself. The Batfamily is legendary among the fanbase. Bruce loses his parents and he’s devastated and has obsessive and antisocial tendencies, sure. His gruffness is charming, even, but it’s a calculated presentation to conceal the brokenness at his heart. He seeks out troubled children to protect and guide again and again, because he doesn’t want them to develop his own self-destructive qualities. Everything that certain sectors of fandom glorify about Bruce, Bruce himself actively fights against seeing take root in any other vulnerable child. He trains them to serve Gotham City, but more importantly, he provides them with the stability to recover themselves from the brand of tragedy that shaped his own life. If you ask Bruce his greatest accomplishment, he’d say without hesitation, “Nightwing.”
If you think of Robin as a quippy sprite of a boy in bright colors and pixie boots, you’ve barely scratched the surface of what makes this character so important to the Batman mythos. He provides levity against Batman’s darkness, and it’s refreshing, sure. But he’s so essential to Bruce confronting his own trauma and development in being able to function as a team player—as an eventual member of the Justice League, which is a cornerstone of the upcoming films—that I honestly can’t wrap my brain around universes that exclude him. Dick’s presence forces Bruce to focus outside himself, and outside the single-mindedness of his mission. Batman needs Robin a lot more than Robin needs him, and the films consistently rob Bruce of one of the most significant bonds in his life.
We have a new universe on the horizon, and the herald of a dead Robin before we even get started. I hope the DC films are satisfying and successful—truly, I do. But it makes me ask the same question I’ve had each time a Batman film has released during the last few decades: why are cinematic universes so threatened by the premise of a living child being a part of Batman’s world?