I love deconstructions. I love Dick Grayson. And I’m definitely going to be giving Titans a chance. At the same time, I’ve been deeply conflicted about it since it was first announced, with every additional detail making me more and more torn. This article about the story details? Well, call me crazy, but it hasn’t exactly filled me with hope and optimism about the show.
Let me preface this by saying, this is absolutely not me rejecting something for being “dark” or “gritty”. Of course not. If you think it is, then hi! You must be new. I’m Keya. Deconstructions give me life and I own an I ❤ Zack Snyder T-shirt. I love dark takes that are, to an extent, grounded in reality. But this is part of the previously linked article, and the immediate, visceral reaction I had upon reading it is no:
Unlike the writer of this post, I think the Robin suit makes sense – after all, the name wasn’t given to him by Bruce, it was his mother’s nickname for him. It’s logical that if he was leaving Bruce to work alone because of hating Bruce, he’d stick with an identity that he associated with his parents rather than forge a new one. But even though that makes sense to me, all these details feel wrong. It could work, of course it could. I can’t be sure until I see it. But I feel like this, thematically, kind of betrays one of the central themes of the Batman Robin partnership. And that’s that they impact each other.
It’s not a one sided relationship. It’s not “what Batman did to him”. In the comics, Dick brought light and colour to the manor. He brought hope to Bruce and prevented Batman from descending into the dark. Bruce helped channel Dick’s anger into something productive. He helped him do what he would have done anyway, but made sure he’d stay alive while doing it. In doing that, he helped shape Dick into being someone that could move on, could get past his anger, could be a better man and crime fighter than Bruce himself. As Bruce told him:
I didn’t save you from some dark fate, those years ago. You saved me from one. And you still are saving me, every day.
Dick isn’t the happy go lucky, light and joy and embodiment of fun that some people consider him, that much is true. I talked about that in this post. It’s long been a part of his character that he’s afraid of becoming like Bruce. And he has canonically shut himself off from people that care about him. But he is a fundamentally more optimistic character than Bruce is, one with a lot of charm and leadership ability that is great at making friends and forming lasting relationships and that actually has a capacity to move on.
Is the generally accepted story for why Dick eventually set out on his own as Nightwing that he and Bruce had a falling out? Yes. But that’s not the same as Dick “growing to hate him”. The way I’ve always perceived it is that Dick and Bruce both have very strong personalities, Dick isn’t built to follow, and Bruce is a control freak that struggles with not being able to control what he does. As Bruce himself put it, Dick was born to be in the centre ring. He was always going to set off on his own. Yes, being raised by Bruce will impact him and in ways that aren’t always positive, like through instilling a sense of paranoia in him that can impact his relationships. Yes, his long partnership with Bruce will almost inevitably result in a bit of a learning curve when he has to instead work with new people whom he doesn’t know so well. But it’s insulting to Dick and his agency, his long history as a character, as well as his relationship with Bruce – one of the most important in all of DC – to suggest that Bruce screwed his head up to the point where even after years away, he’s still a mess incapable of forming healthy relationships.
Bruce in the comics has displayed a huge amount of parental favouritism towards Dick. He’s his oldest child, and it was because of him that the rest came along. To a certain extent, he was trying to fill the void. He was trying to replace a son. They spend a lot of time disagreeing and fighting, but that doesn’t change the fact that they care deeply about each other. Hell, I seem to remember an issue once where, when Dick had just moved out of the manor to go to college, Bruce responded by sitting in his room, nostalgic over a pair of shoes, before telling Alfred to pack up the Batcave because they had to move. Yes, that was an extreme example. But it’s just one of countless examples of how important Bruce’s first son is to him, and an example of why trying to get the audience to take Robin seriously through tarnishing his relationship with his father figure doesn’t sit well with me.
Deconstructing Robin would feel much less wrong to me if the deconstruction wasn’t through Bruce. By that I mean, I’d be much less wary to see the idea of Robin being deconstructed through examination of what being a child soldier would do to a person, even a fundamentally positive one, and how that would impact said person’s relationships with people they care about rather than turning Dick into a darker character by some “Bruce Wayne is a bad dad” thing. That just feels lazy. Not like an honest study of why Robin matters and should be taken seriously as his own character, rather than just as Batman’s sidekick.
In general, there has to be a construction before there can be a deconstruction. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman worked, because while they were deconstructing – then reconstructing – superheroes, they were iconic superheroes. Batman has had a whole trilogy in recent memory. Everyone knows Superman’s origin story and what the character is like when played straight. But while Robin is a cultural icon, the same can’t really be said for Dick Grayson. He’s remembered as a concept more so than a character. I think deconstructing him would have worked a whole hell of a lot better had he gotten a take where he was played perfectly straight first.
From this, the thing feels more like an All Star Batman and Robin style “deconstruction” (shallow grittiness for the sake of ~maturity and ~darkness rather than actually meaningful) than anything actually good. I hope that’s not the case. I’m hoping Titans proves me wrong. My initial reaction to the announcement was a healthy mix of anticipation and apprehension. The fact that Jason will be making an appearance suggests that there will be a reconciliation between Bruce and Dick and that Dick will take on the Nightwing mantle, which would go a long way towards easing the feelings of no, bad, stop that the linked article gave me. I’m excited to see Starfire, Beast Boy, Solstice. The fact that the legal red tape with Donna seems to have finally cleared enough for us to see her adapted makes me super happy. The aspect of the show that’s been making me nervous since it was first announced was how it would treat Dick. That’s still the case. But a lot sounds good about Titans, so I’m on board with it and its take until they give me a reason not to be. With any luck, it’ll be handled well and turn out fantastic. And anyway – that Nightwing movie is still in the works and Chris McKay seems to get the importance of the Dick Bruce relationship. Worst case scenario, I just have to wait a little while longer to see him done justice.