Batfamily Dynamics In ‘Titans’

So you know how I love the Batfamily? Well, I do. And that’s another reason watching Titans makes me geek out like an idiot. It’s so centred on Dick and his growth that we get a lot of insight into how his family affected him. It gives us a unique and compelling take on Dick’s relationships with both Bruce and Jason, without having them as his entire story, and it’s fascinating to watch.

I loved getting to see Dick interact with Jason. But I haven’t seen anyone discussing the one thing that kind of weirded the comics fan in me out – the ages and the impact they have on the inter-Batfam relationships. Jason is the only character whose age we canonically know, because it was actually brought up in the show. Sure, people involved with the show have given us some numbers – or at least, vague ideas – for the others, but remember, Writers Cannot Do Math. So until everyone else’s age is solidified within the show, the only thing I’m willing to assume is Jason’s. Unless he was lying for some reason I don’t understand, Jason is explicitly nineteen. He’s also explicitly been with Bruce for about a year, so pretty much immediately after Dick left. Presumably, him going out as Robin has been recent, both because Robin hadn’t been seen in over a year as per the beginning of the pilot and because he needed time to learn the necessary skills. That confuses me, because it means Jason has been a legal adult for the entirety of his relationship with Bruce. He’s not an adopted son anymore. He’s not a child soldier. He’s young, brash, stupid, but he’s not exactly the kid that sees it as a game – he loves it, thinks it’s fun, but he also is okay with the idea that he’s drawing fire. It changes the relationship between all of them.

I’ve always thought that the age of becoming Robin was most essential to Dick, and less so for everyone else. This is because Dick’s story was about loss and pain. It’s a clear parallel to Bruce’s – they lost their parents at about the same age. They started fighting crime to deal with it. By the time Dick became Nightwing, he’d been Robin for pretty much half his life, and he’d set aside the role in a way Bruce never would have been able to, had their positions been switched. In the show, he’s been Robin for even longer. So it makes perfect sense that in the show, he is having a hard time letting go! With everyone else, except perhaps Damian, it seemed like their age was much less important. But now, I’m wondering if I was wrong. It may not matter whether Jason is eleven, thirteen, sixteen. But I think it does kind of matter that he’s a minor.

One of the recurring points in the comics is that Jason kind of saw being Robin as a game. He wasn’t as emotionally invested as Dick, who had a personal reason for putting on the mask. He was a kid that was kind of in over his head. Aging him up changes the tragedy, because now he knows what he’s going into. He’s not just a kid having fun and loving the attention anymore, he’s an adult more capable of making his own choices. So for me, his anger at Bruce upon his resurrection won’t ring as true anymore. Likely, Bruce’s guilt won’t, either. It seems likely that, if Death In The Family is ever adapted in this show – which I doubt, honestly – they’ll have to take his becoming Red Hood in a very different way. With the implication that Dick telling him he should cut out the tracker in his arm will lead to him doing just that, leaving Bruce unable to find him, I wonder if adapting that arc would focus more on Dick’s guilt than Bruce’s.

That leads me to Jason and Dick’s relationship. I find that very interesting, thanks to the age gap. DC often tries to convince us that they’re very close in age, rather than Jason being closer to Tim’s than Dick’s. I seem to recall Rebirth insisting that they’re only a year or two apart. This is despite the fact that I’m pretty sure when Jason was introduced, he was eleven and Dick was eighteen. But Titans is actually acknowledging that Dick is significantly older. More than that – because both of them have been aged up, it’s easier to see how much they’re in different stages of their lives. That made it fascinating to watch, because Dick was clearly trying not to take out his anger at Bruce on Jason, and only partially succeeding.

Throughout the scenes when they were discussing the Robin moniker, I was unsure whether it was clever or an oversight due to DC’s long history of ignoring how personal Robin is to Dick. When I look at it from my own perspective – that of a fan that knows the history of Robin – I think the former. And since it’s on a DC streaming service, viewership is mostly limited to DC fans with a solid knowledge of the comics history. So from that perspective, it makes a beautiful amount of sense to not bring up what Robin really means to Dick – his family’s colours. His mother’s nickname for him. Dick has spent a long time closed off from other people. He’s not going to just spill his life’s story to the random kid that came barging into his life wearing his costume and calling himself by his name. It’s more than enough that the audience knows why he’s questioning why Jason didn’t make his own identity, why he’s upset that his father figure handed over his name and costume to someone else the second he left, why he’s having such a hard time letting go of Robin and carrying the suit with him across the country. But. That doesn’t work as elegantly for viewers  that aren’t comic fans.

The episode didn’t delve into the origins of Robin, why Dick has so much difficulty letting go, why he has every damn right to take his suit all around the country and be annoyed at the kid that acts like he knows what Robin represents without knowing any of the history behind it. So for viewers that don’t know and love Dick Grayson, it must come across very differently. Jason’s speech must seem like a genuine armour piercing speech, cutting to the heart of Dick’s issues. And to an extent, that is the case. Dick doesn’t really know who he is, doesn’t know what he wants or needs. But it isn’t like he’s a kid that’s outgrown his favourite sweater but doesn’t want his little brother to get to have it. This isn’t about him refusing to move on. It’s about him being unable tobecause he’s afraid of what letting go will mean.

Titans is shockingly subtle for a superhero TV show. It’s utterly character driven. I’m not used to this kind of storytelling when it comes to superhero media. It’s slow. It’s indirect. It waves forward than rolls back. It has characters go through similar storylines for very different purposes. If 1×06 was about Dick’s relationship with Bruce, 1×07 was the obvious follow through – his relationship with himself. His self loathing and anger and confrontation of the fact that it’s not really Bruce he’s mad at – he’s mad at himself. 1×06 ended with Dick acknowledging that Bruce did the best he could. 1×07 focused on Dick hitting rock bottom, because if he’s done blaming Bruce, it’s time to look inwards at himself. It’s nuanced. It’s hard to watch. It’s awesome.

It seems most people weren’t expecting anything this subtle, and as such, aren’t taking the time to interpret it as they would non superhero stories. You can see that both through the complaints that 1×07 was the same thing as 1×06 and through the complaints about Donna “badmouthing” Bruce in 1×08 when she contrasted Batman and Wonder Woman by saying Batman was created to punish the guilty, rather than protect the innocent. I saw a lot of people mad about that, saying that it’s missing the point of Batman and all that, but I don’t think that’s true at all – it’s been made very clear throughout the show that this perspective on Bruce is only part of who Bruce really is, and it’s coloured by bitterness and anger. Donna’s quote was even more like that than Dick’s own thoughts on Bruce, because Donna’s attached to Dick. She loves him and cares about him and saw how much all of it was affecting him.

That doesn’t mean that Dick doesn’t still care for Bruce! It doesn’t mean Bruce is the “bad guy”. It means that Bruce and Dick are flawed people with a flawed relationship. It means that vigilantism as a lifestyle is ridiculously unhealthy. It does a disservice to the quality of the writing to simplify it down to “they’re painting Bruce as a villain”. Dick went from refusing to talk about Bruce to casually referring to him as his dad to a stranger. And yeah, sure, that was probably at least in part because it was the easiest way to get the point across without delving into their whole relationship to a random person – the guy was already weirded out by Dick reminiscing about when Donna got her first camera before even introducing himself, how much more weirded out would he be if Dick started going on about his foster father that took him in after his parents fell to their deaths in a trapeze accident? But it was also about Dick coming to terms with himself and his relationship with the man that raised him. It was him remembering that his childhood had good times as well as bad.

Kory joked about Jason being younger, healthier, and smarter than Dick. As comic fans, we know only one of those things is true. But it made me consider what I know about this version of Dick – not comics knowledge, not cartoon knowledge, just what has been revealed in the show. And that’s kind of awesome to think about, because Dick hasn’t done any real acrobatics yet. For all that a segment of the viewership complains about it being the Dick Grayson show, we don’t really know all that much about his past, either. He hasn’t gotten a chance to show off many of his skills. That’s because the focus has been on who he is, not what he can do or how he learned it or the details of how he became who he is. And it works.

I’m obviously biased, due to my love for him, but even if I weren’t, I think it would still be pretty clear to me that Robin is one of the main characters of all those to have ever been part of the Titans. Almost certainly the most popular. Dick was the only member of the original roster that was included in the main cast of the cartoon and the main cast of this show. He leads the team. He’s had a successful solo series. He’s the poster boy for how Sidekick Graduations Stick. So, yes. It doesn’t bother me at all that the show is called Titans, while really being about Dick. It probably would if any other members of the Batfamily – except Tim, but that won’t happen for a while, if at all – end up as main characters, because that would be making it not a Titans show. Focusing on Dick? That’s just picking a main character.

Dick’s arc has moved beyond his issues with Bruce and into the territory of his issues with himself. So we don’t need a confrontation to conclude the character arc he’s going through – which is good, because introducing Batman will no doubt pull focus from the team that the show centres on, even though we know full well he exists without him showing up. However, because Bruce has been a spectre hanging over Dick since the first episode, we at least need something. It’s not going to be enough for Dick to be like, “hey, I worked stuff out with Bruce, we’re cool now”. For better or for worse, whether the resolution is us hearing the beginnings of a phone call or a season ending with him knocking on the door of Wayne Manor, we have to get something, and it has to have some amount of dramatic weight. The build up has been subtle. But the conclusion needs to be more.

Titans leaves me both wanting more of the Batfam and knowing there are few ways in which that could actually work. I don’t think Jason can carry a show. I know making any other members of the family recurring characters will pull too much focus away from what the show is supposed to be about. And being one of the Titans, rather than in a Batfam show where he’d always be second fiddle to Bruce, is better for Dick as a character. All this together means that I’m holding my breath, waiting to see how the writers handle the issue in the end of season one/beginning of season two, because they’ve built it up so beautifully, it’ll be downright tragic if the conclusion doesn’t measure up.

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The Robin Issue

Dan DiDio famously hates Dick Grayson.

DiDio is the DC equivalent of Joe Quesada – not just in terms of their position, but in terms of their attitudes towards superheroes. He hates endings, he hates characters getting to grow, and he thinks happy endings are boring. It’s been a long running joke in fandom that Nightwing’s greatest nemesis isn’t Deathstroke or Blockbuster, it’s DiDio. And a while back, he made a comment about precisely why he hates Dick that I found interesting – and by interesting, I mean frustratingly ridiculous. And that comment was that he hates him because he’s getting older.

The reason that I hate Nightwing is that he’s getting older… The reason people like Nightwing because he aged with them. But Batman can’t get older.

This is something I disagree with for multiple reasons – mainly because I think it’s silly to claim that a character as popular as Nightwing is only liked for one reason, and that it’s completely inaccurate to say he can’t get older. But even though I disagree, the comment made me think about the roles Dick has had in comics throughout the years, and comments I’ve seen from various people about different members of the Batfamily, and I came to a rather unfortunate conclusion that it’s not really that I disagree with his point so much as that I disagree with who the point is about.

I adore Dick Grayson and his relationships with other members of the Batfamily, but we’ve reached the point of oversaturation. DC has spent so long relying on a formula that works when it comes to non-powered heroes that they’ve wrung out just about every bit of use they can get out of it. As the first, and arguably the last, kid sidekick, Robin is hugely important to the Batman mythos…but I think it might be time to retire the mantle.

The Many Characters To Use The Name

Batman-and-Robins

A few months ago, there was this whole thing going on. Zack Snyder had mentioned on Vero that he had envisioned the Robin whose suit we saw in Batman v Superman. There was quite an uproar about that, with a lot of people objecting to the idea because “being killed by the Joker is Jason’s story”. Similarly, many people complained about the characterization of Dick in Titans, insisting that he was behaving more like Jason or Damian. I found both of these complaints very strange. Because you know what? Even assuming they’re true, after everything that the other Robins have taken from Dick, I don’t see a problem in Dick retaliating.

The thing is, Robin is one of the legacy characters with the most people that have held the title. The Batfamily in general is enormous. Between Alfred, Dick, Jason, Tim, Barbara, Stephanie, Cass, Damian, and Duke – even if the current roster doesn’t include all those people – it’s a massive slate. And the one that ultimately loses out is Dick.

For a significant amount of time – close on twenty years, really – what we now call the Batfamily was just Bruce, Dick, and Alfred. And it was a dynamic that worked, which was why Jason was introduced to begin with. But now? Now, it’s too much. There are too many characters, and because so few writers have a good enough sense of nuance, there’s little sense of what makes each of them unique. It’s not a zero sum game, or at least, it shouldn’t be. But every time there’s a new Robin, they get some of Dick’s character traits, plot points, even friends, in an attempt to give them a clearly defined role within the family. To try and justify their existence – to make their value clear – writers have to lessen Dick, make him less competent, intelligent, driven. He’s a hugely popular character. Yet with how he often gets treated in works where he’s not the central character, you’d think he’s the Betty Kane to Jason, Tim, Damian’s Barbara Gordon – a far less competent character than the others to bear the name whose only claim to fame was being there first. That is painfully far from being true, because Dick defined Robin. Everyone to take up the mantle after him took on at least some of his traits.

Jason got Dick’s sometimes strained relationship with Bruce. Tim got his intelligence. Cass got his “best athlete in the Batfam” thing. Different people have started arguing that everyone should get his position as heir to Batman. Even Alfred plays a role, because he took on the position that was originally Dick’s as the most important person in Bruce’s life, the first one that he trusted and considered family. That last one has now been true for longer than it wasn’t, so I don’t mind it so much, but it is frustrating to see just how many comics involve writers forgetting how important Dick is while singing the praises of other characters for something Dick was first.

The Gradual Lessening Of Character Complexity

Dick is hard to write well, because even more so than the other characters in the family, because you can’t really distill him down to core characteristics. If you do, you’ll end up with seemingly contradictory traits that you’re forced to choose between, because he is that much of a complex character. It took him years to truly define himself, but when it comes down to it, he learned his attitude from Superman and how to deal with criminals from Batman. When Dick is written well, he’s the jack of all trades. He might not be as good a hacker as Barbara or Tim, as good a marksman as Jason, as good at fighting as Cass, but he can easily beat anyone else at all of those things. He has one of the worst tempers in DC while also being one of the nicest people. He’s a loner with social skills. He’s the former teen rebel that became the Golden Boy that set the standard all his successors have to live up to.  He’s a character that really can’t be simplified without cutting out half of what makes him interesting. It’s why he’s my favourite character.

Both in and out of universe, Dick was a trailblazer. He inspired a whole generation of heroes. He’s a monument to everything Bruce has ever done right. He has – or maybe has had is more accurate – interesting relationships with just about everyone else in DC. And because all of this was built up over eighty years, it all felt earned. Nothing felt rushed or undeserved – everything to do with his character, from leading the Titans to moving to Bludhaven to becoming Batman – was a natural progression of the character. It’s why I can buy his version of “student surpassing the mentor”. It took pretty much the entire time from his debut in 1940 to being the Batman to Damian’s Robin to do it fully. It was a lot of effort and time, but he did it.

nightwing.jpg

A lot of the newer characters just don’t have that level of nuance. Whether it’s because DC is impatient or they haven’t had good enough writers yet or any number of other reasons, their progress into becoming a hero falls flat. Take characters like Harper Row. Sure, she’s not used too much anymore (if at all, I can’t remember), but when she was, she came across to me as a complete creator’s pet. She had the same “get characteristics from predecessors” thing, but it was poorly done and felt jarring, because the writers felt it wasn’t enough to have one thing she was great at or many things she was good at, she had to be more determined than Steph, better with tech than Tim, be described by Bruce as his ideal Robin. That’s a problem that I think will only get worse with time and more new characters, especially if those characters become Robin.

The Batfamily is now considered by many to be basically everyone in Gotham. The roster as it stands is too much. Gotham has too many heroes. I’m not saying that DC should simplify it by not including some of them. Of course not. At this point, pretty much all of them have a long history and unique fanbases. But it is beyond time to stop adding new members. Certainly Robins, but maybe even in general, because at a certain point, it’s going to be all but impossible to give all these characters sufficiently nuanced personalities. They’ll end up more similar than different.

The Attitude That The Status Quo Is God

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DiDio also once claimed that Dick was redundant because he was never going to be Batman and wasn’t Robin anymore, arguing that once characters are allowed to age, they all become too similar – again, this is clearly ridiculous, but buried in there is something approximating a valid point.

Yes, it’s true that Dick’s not Robin anymore and will never go back – which is good, I have no idea why DiDio seems to think that’s a bad thing and have no desire to try to unpack that one. But it’s also obviously false that he’s never going to be Batman, because he has been. Repeatedly. The first time he donned the cowl was in 1994! And you know what? It’s completely untrue to say fans would never accept him as Batman on a more permanent basis, because we did. Dick as Batman after Final Crisis was widely loved to the point that readers lamented him going back to Nightwing. It’s completely false to say that any of this is because of the fans. No, this is because of writers that can’t move on – fanboys are running the asylum, and they don’t want to tell characters to grow.

Because of this fixation on the past, DC reboots its entire universe at the drop of a hat. They compress timescales, send loved characters off into limbo, erase relationships from existence, and force characters back into old roles rather than letting them move on. As long as they’re doing that, they have to stop adding new characters, because then it’s just getting ridiculous – there are so many vigilantes in Gotham, all serving approximately the same purpose, that it’s a wonder someone can even jaywalk without getting stopped!

Dick has been shoved back into Bruce’s shadow, because various people refuse to actually allow the student to surpass the teacher. The pre-Flashpoint Dick was the single most beloved hero in the DC Universe. He’d grown up and had his own life going on. He was extremely competent. He learned from both Batman and Superman. Everyone respected him. He was Bruce’s first son and his most trusted partner, an older brother to the other Robins. But now? The scale has been compressed so much because writers refuse to let Bruce be older than, like, thirty five. It’s resulted in Dick being presented more like Bruce’s younger brother than his son, and all of his accomplishments going unacknowledged. He’s gotten mentors that he stopped needing years ago, and stopped having relationships nearly as meaningful with his friends from outside Gotham. It’s nonsensical. And if that’s all that Robins have to look forward to – being unable to age or grow up or become heroes of their own – what’s the point in adding more?

Robin as a legacy once hugely important. It was good for Dick’s successors, because there was a precedent set they could both follow and stray from and a person from whom they could learn. It was good for Dick, because it demonstrated just how influential he was, proved irrefutably that he’d moved on, and let him complete the cycle as a mentor rather than a mentee. But that legacy, as much as I love it, has been used about as much as it can be. It’s time to let it rest, if not retire forever.

I made a post a while back about how Chris Claremont has never moved on from a certain plot point. In it, I noted that he wanted characters to get to grow and change, but that he was writing endings in a medium that doesn’t do endings. But you know what? Claremont’s approach seems largely the way to go, when we’re talking about DC and Robin. He’s very much not a fanboy running the asylum. He wouldn’t be afraid of letting characters grow up and change and move on, even as they maintained relationships with each other. In the hands of a writer like Claremont, given the freedom to make creative choices, I might not think it’s time to put down the Robin mantle. Unfortunately, that’s probably not happening.

I love Robin. I love the concept of Batman and Robin and the idea of the Batfamily. But unless DC completely changes its approach – and soon – I don’t see a way for the mantle to continue past Damian.

“Fuck Batman”: The 7 Most Likely Characters To Call Bruce Wayne Out On His Bullshit

There was a lot of debate upon the release of the first Titans trailer about whether or not Dick Grayson would ever say “fuck Batman”. That debate lessened upon the release of the first episode, where it became clear that it sounded way better in context. But there was still a lot of people that evidently think it was out of character, judging from how many comments I saw saying that’s more something Jason would say. Personally, I think that’s nonsense and Dick would absolutely say that. When it comes to calling out Bruce and doing the opposite of what he says, Dick is the original. But he’s far from the only one.

7. Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Slaps Bruce.pngWhat an icon.

So the context of this panel is that Steph just found out that Bruce is, in fact, not dead. Naturally, she was mad, and demanded to know if all she’d just gone through was some kind of trick or game. Bruce, being Bruce (which is to say, kind of a dumbass, sometimes), told her it was a test. Stephanie…did not take that very well.

Steph and Bruce have often not gotten along, what with him frequently telling her not to do stuff, dismissing her abilities, and used her to make Tim jealous so he’d come back. So this slap was kind of a long time coming. After this, she was all, oh God, did I really just slap Batman? Bruce was more, what just happened? Then she told him she was glad he wasn’t dead, then ran off. Go, Stephanie. This was beautiful.

My point by all that rambling: Stephanie’s middle name might as well be “Fuck Batman”.

6. Jason Todd

Okay, this one’s a no-brainer. As much as I disagree with the claims that Titans Dick is more like Jason than Dick, it’s true that Jason has spent years being in a state of fuck Batman. Unlike Dick, though – and most others on this list – Jason’s fuck Batman is mainly in words, not spirit.

Jason spent a huge amount of time post revival complaining about how the Joker was still alive, how Bruce would have killed him for Dick, and a lot of other similar things. He claims he doesn’t care what Bruce thinks about what he does, but he very clearly does – he does a string of irrational nonsense for the sake of getting Bruce’s attention. He could have gone anywhere after his resurrection, but he went back to Gotham. Because unlike Dick, who felt smothered and wanted space/for everyone to see him as him and not an extension of Bruce, Jason acted out so people would look at him.

5. Commissioner Gordon

Oh, look, the guy that’s just trying to get through the day when Batman shows up and vanishes on him when he’s talking. And probably introducing quite a few problems and villains even as he deals with others. The Commissioner Gordon brand of “fuck Batman”: “Fuck Batman, here I am, doing my job and this guy insists upon being obnoxious when interrupting me”.

4. Oswald Cobblepot

Oooh, look, the one villain on this list!

If there’s a single villain that’s gonna say “Fuck Batman”, it’s got to be Penguin, just for the sake of Love Bird. It all amounted to a very sweet story where Batman spoke on his behalf and explained everything to his girlfriend, but still! Penguin was trying to go straight with an umbrella factory and help out ex-cons who couldn’t get jobs elsewhere, Bruce saw felons entering the building and burst in to investigate, and Penguin got sent back to jail for violating his parole by consorting with known felons. Come on, Bruce!

3. Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, Oracle, one of the coolest heroes in all of Gotham. Also: viewed by practically everyone as a lesser version of Bruce.

As Oracle, she’s not second to anyone. She’s a member of the Batfamily, yes. She’ll work with all of them with relatively few issues. But Bruce Wayne being the control freak that he still tries to push her around, even though she’s not his sidekick, she’s his equal. So perhaps not fuck Batman…but definitely shut the fuck up, Batman.

2. Clark Kent

When it’s not Bruce’s relatives, it’s Clark that has to deal with Bruce. And as much as I love their friendship, Bruce is not an easy person to be friends with. The man keeps a chunk of kryptonite in the Batcave. The sole purpose of said substance is incapacitating Kryptonians! Clark may have nigh-incomprehensible amounts of patience, but Bruce has got to be trying even him.

1. Dick Grayson

Of course.

Dick has to get the number one slot in this list, just by seniority. Yes, technically Gordon predates him. But Dick has spent more time actually putting up with Bruce’s nonsense. Think of all the gripes he must have by now:

  • Firing him
    • Granted, this one depends on which version of continuity we’re going with, but Post-Crisis, Bruce fired Dick as Robin. Dude! Not cool.
  • Making Jason Robin without giving him so much as a heads up text
    • Sure, Dick had grown out of being Bruce’s sidekick. And I’m pretty sure Dick approved of letting Jason have the mantle pretty quickly in all versions of the story. But that was still his name! It wasn’t Bruce’s to give.
  • Constantly criticizing his decisions
  • Only singing his praises to everyone when he’s not there
    • I mean, yes. Bruce is probably less stingy with the praise to Dick than to any of
    • Only Thing Bruce Ever Did Rightthe other Batkids. But the stuff he says to other people about him is so much
      nicer, and if Dick finds out about it at all, it’s through someone else. Come on, Bruce! Rude.

And that’s not even half of it. They have a long history! So I don’t care what anyone says when they’re whining about Titans Dick being more like Jason or Damian. He’s got “fuck Batman” seniority.

My Utterly Unsolicited Opinion On Dick Grayson as the Robin in ‘Batman v Superman’

Zack Snyder commented on a Vero post today. This is nothing unusual. He spends a lot of time on Vero, and he comments on a lot of posts. But this time, he was saying that the dead Robin in Batman v Superman – the one pretty much everyone assumed was Jason, even though I do remember some debate based on that one picture of a gravestone labelled Richard Grayson – was in fact Dick, not Jason. This prompted Twitter freaking out. I…think that’s an overreaction.

As I’ve pointed out countless times, I adore Dick Grayson. He’s my favourite comic book character of all time, and the very first comic I read was his miniseries from 1995. I love him as Robin, I love him as Nightwing, and I love him as Batman. So believe me when I say…what I’m going to say has absolutely nothing to do with me being a “Snyder fanboy”. I adore Zack Snyder. I think he’s an awesome storyteller. But my love for Dick Grayson goes back a long way. I’ve loved his character since the same year 300 came out. Like all my posts about him illustrate, I’m very protective of how he’s interpreted. So my defending Snyder’s creative choices – even ones that I’m unsure about – has nothing to do with being a blind follower and everything to do with how Snyder has given me reasons to trust him.

I saw several Tweets along the lines of “having Dick be the dead Robin would have been a terrible idea”. To those, I just have to laugh, because you know something? Snyder has demonstrated that he knows how to make something incredible out of “terrible ideas”.

I do not like Frank Miller. I think The Dark Knight Returns is a bad comic that really doesn’t have many redeeming qualities in it. My instinct would have been to say that adapting it would have been a terrible idea. But that’s what Snyder did when he made Batman v Superman, and that was awesome. I love that movie with all my heart. There is no comic book movie on that level of incredible. And that’s because Snyder thinks things through. He creates nuanced takes. He found the good in The Dark Knight Returns and turned it from something I consider kind of terrible to something beautiful. That he could do that is huge. As it is, it doesn’t really matter to whom the Robin suit in Batman v Superman belonged, just that a loss had a major impact on Bruce. But I absolutely believe Snyder could have made something unique and compelling out of making it explicitly Dick rather than Jason.

Another comment I saw – that a lot of people were upset about – was about how it makes so much sense that it was Dick and not Jason that made Bruce so reclusive and angry in Batman v Superman. People often take comments about Bruce’s love for Dick being special as attacks on the other members of the Batfamily, but that’s not it. Of course Bruce has the capacity to love multiple people. He has room in his heart for all of his children and all of Gotham. That doesn’t mean that he and Dick don’t have a unique and beautiful relationship. Dick is his first son. His first partner. Dick saved Bruce from a dark path. Bruce once kept a whole universe from getting destroyed because Dick was in it. Dick has been there through everything. As a character, he predates Alfred, Barbara, Jason, Selina. He’s Bruce’s most valued partner and the one thing he did right. He’s utterly crucial.

One of the reasons Jason was so upset that Bruce didn’t kill the Joker was because he thought he would have done it had it been Dick who died. And there is some basis for that – Bruce completely flipped out and tried to strangle Lex during Forever Evil when he thought Lex had killed Dick. In Infinite Crisis, he grabbed a gun and threatened to shoot alternate universe Lex because of the same reason. The only reason he didn’t in both those cases was because Dick wasn’t actually dead. It’s a pattern of behaviour in the comics, carried through different writers, that Bruce probably would kill someone for Dick. So canonically, there could be that basis for why Snyder wanted it to be Dick and not Jason. But I don’t think that’s the real point. It’s not about what Dick’s place in the birth order means for his relationship with Bruce, but about what it means for the entire concept of the Batfamily.

Without Dick, there wouldn’t have been any other Robins. Tim could come after Jason because Dick already set the precedent for a success, for illustrating why Batman needs a Robin. But there’s no way in hell that Jason would have come along after Dick if Dick died instead. And without Jason – without the rest of the Batfamily – there would be no one to hold Bruce back and keep him from a dark path. So of course Bruce would be alone ten years after losing his partner. Of course he would be hugely more cynical and unwilling to work with other people. Of course feeling threatened by Superman could tip him into being ready to kill. That’s why Robin matters.

As someone that loves Dick, loves how he’s the gold standard that all his successors feel like they need to live up to, loves that he’s the member of the Batfamily most naturally suited to the job they all chose, and loves that Bruce considers him his greatest success, it upsets me to think that in the movies, that’s not the case and that he’s the Robin Bruce failed to save instead. But it also makes a huge amount of sense in this universe, even down to the simple matter of explaining where all the other members of the family were during the movie.

Is Jason best known for being killed by the Joker? Yeah. But we’re talking about superhero comics and their adaptations. Characters die and come back all the time. Killing a different Robin isn’t the same as taking something that’s fundamentally part of Jason’s story and not anyone else’s. And beyond that, movies are an adaptation. Changes are inevitable. It’s more important to me that they remain true to the spirit of the material than any particular storyline. And Zack Snyder has demonstrated that he has a lot of respect for the comics.

I wouldn’t want Dick to be the dead Robin, even though it does make a lot of sense and I know Snyder could make something awesome out of it that would, in all likelihood, respect Dick as a character, just because I love the Batfamily, I love Dick’s relationships with all kinds of different heroes, and I love how he’s the heart of the DCU. If he made a movie further exploring this, I’d go see it, and I’d be excited because it would be him making it, but I wouldn’t feel the same level of excitement as I do about other superhero movies, just because I get most excited about the other members of the Batfamily when they’re interacting with each other, especially with Dick. I wouldn’t be nearly excited to see any of them without that dynamic and a lot of emphasis on the importance of the Robin legacy and Bruce and Dick’s relationship. I really don’t care about Carrie Kelley, who Snyder said it a later comment, he’d have brought in (He said that Dick would have stayed dead until Carrie. I didn’t quite know what that meant – was that just referring to there being no Robin until Carrie, or was he saying that Dick himself would have come back to life after Carrie was introduced?).

And honestly, none of this really matters. It was left open ended at the time, presumably for the director of the Batsolo to decide how they want to handle it. For all we know, Matt Reeves won’t handle it at all. But I think it’s crazy to have such rigid opinions on how a movie that we probably won’t see would have been based on a one word comment. There are a million ways that story could go. I’m not saying I’d be thrilled about this deviation from the comics, and it might not have been what I wanted, but Zack Snyder has demonstrated that he makes purposeful changes. He doesn’t just change what’s in the source material for no reason. He cares about these characters. I trust that he’d give us an interesting story.

The ‘Titans’ Trailer and My Complicated Feelings About This Show

As I say a lot, Dick Grayson is my favourite comics character. Ever. So my initial reaction to the announcement of Titans was much the same as my reaction to the announcement of his solo movie – a healthy mixture of excitement and apprehension. And time – along with information – has only increased that feeling for me.

I want to go into this open minded. By that logic, I shouldn’t say anything – if I have a negative opinion going in, a confirmation bias might prevent me from enjoying something great, and it’s not like we’ve seen much yet. But that’s difficult when this is the first real adaptation of my favourite character, where he’s going to be taken totally seriously. I have a lot of opinions.

I saw a Tweet that was something alone the lines of, “people that don’t like this portrayal of Dick are usually not familiar with the post-Crisis version of the character” and that just set me off. I myself am guilty of doing the same sometimes – I occasionally pull out the comics when I’m making a point. I shouldn’t, usually, but it’s become a habit. And it is true that people are trying to use the Teen Titans cartoon as “evidence”  that Titans  doesn’t respect the source material, which is utter nonsense. But – ready for a controversial opinion? Here goes. Nobody “knows the comics”. I’m a comics fan. I have a decent amount of knowledge of a lot of characters. But superhero comics have existed for decades, it’s not possible to read them all, and what one writer says will be blatantly contradicted by another. There are different, equally valid interpretations. That’s not to say there aren’t common traits that should be kept consistent. But it is to say that it’s condescending and stupid to suggest that the reason people don’t like a portrayal is that they don’t know the comics. Maybe for some. But certainly not all.

For me, part of the reason I’m not sold on this is a simple matter of the fact they aged up Dick. Brenton Thwaites is twenty eight. And yet the Dick Grayson he’s playing is still Robin, not Nightwing. And that casts a whole different light on his, for lack of a better term, rebel period. I talked a little bit here about what I find off about the portrayal of Bruce and Dick’s falling out, and all that is still true, but now that the trailer has been released, I see a different issue – behaviour that would be believable if this Dick were, as is traditionally the case, a teenager comes across as just childish and immature.

At first viewing, I thought the “fuck Batman” line was pretty silly. But I didn’t know why. I figured it was just stilted delivery. Then I watched it again. I didn’t change my mind about the delivery – though it may sound better in the actual episode – but I came to realize that I’m just not a fan of the line. We’re talking about a grown man that’s been away from Bruce for years talking about him like a petulant child. Context suggests that there will eventually be a reconciliation between the two. After all, Jason is supposed to appear – in an important enough role that he has an episode named after him – which indicates Dick will move on to become Nightwing and presumably get past his issues with Bruce. That, coupled with the fact people will be furious if they completely set fire to Bruce and Dick’s relationship, makes it seem like Dick has spent a decade pouting because he wants to be his own person and was chafing under Bruce’s need to control him. I understand their relationship being strained. I understand Dick being mad at him from time to time. But this feels over the top and ridiculous.

On the other side of the issue, I vehemently disagree with those that are calling this show “too dark and gritty” or suggesting that Dick is acting more like Jason, whether because Dick is fighting brutally or because he said “fuck Batman”. Dick Grayson is the original rebellious Robin. Jason did not invent the concept. Dick was disobeying Batman and having screaming disagreements with him long before Jason ever existed. And as for the fighting aspects of it…Dick became Robin as a child. He has no powers and frequently fights villains that do. Even when his opponents are regular humans, when he first started fighting crime, he was much smaller than them.  It absolutely makes sense that his fighting style will be violent. Dick is an excellent character and a very good person, but he’s not just there to be the fun, light, non-action guy to Bruce’s muscle.

It seems to me that both people that like the trailer and people that don’t are flattening Dick’s character to justify their position. But the way I see it, both perspectives are true. That’s what makes him such a good character. Canonically, yes! Dick has a bit of a temper. He lashes out at and pushes away the people he cares about. He was trained by Batman, so, yeah, there’s going to be some amount of “do whatever keeps them down” in his fighting style. But he’s also a fundamentally positive character that’s admired and respected by heroes all throughout the DCU. He’s charming and likeable and good hearted. He’s been an older brother and a mentor figure to both Tim and Damian. He keeps Bruce from descending into the dark. He’s suffered and lost people, but he’s still found happiness and a family and loves the life he’s had. As he once put it, “I wouldn’t trade this for the world”. It’s one of the many reasons I love Young Justice. It managed to balance the different aspects of Dick’s character better than just about anything else.

Dick's Letter To Bruce

At first I thought Dick had crushed that one guy’s neck, which I wasn’t a fan of, because that doesn’t ring true to me – while one of his flaws is his anger and while angry, he does things he’ll regret, it takes a lot to get him there. He stopped himself from killing the man that murdered his parents. Even the Joker – Dick only beat him to death with his bare hands when he thought he’d killed Tim. So that made me worried. But then I looked closer and saw that he broke the guy’s jaw instead, which is a whole different matter. So that much I’m okay with.

On the whole, I fully support new takes on characters, but this doesn’t feel genuine. It feels contrived. The only way I can see it working is if Dick starts understanding Bruce better through his relationship with Raven. It would be similar to the way comics Dick learned to control his anger when Bruce was presumed dead and he’d been left in charge of Damian – a great dynamic and source of character development for both of them.

Moving on from Dick, not much is catching my attention about this. I’m liking the looks of the flashbacks to the Flying Graysons – maybe we’ll also get some more to Bruce and Dick in happier times? The burgeoning Dick Raven dynamic is interesting, and I’m curious as to what Dick and Kory’s relationship will be like. Aesthetically, though, it’s not doing much for me. Beast Boy and Raven’s looks aren’t appealing to me very much yet. Starfire is a little better – ironic, considering the backlash to her wig and dress a while back – but I don’t love it. So far, the heavy colour splashes feel a bit Suicide Squad-esque, and while I do think that was an entertaining enough popcorn movie, I wasn’t big on its visuals.

It’s impossible to tell what the show is going to be like from a few posters, a less than two minutes long trailer, and a single article of story details. But I didn’t love the trailer, and it hasn’t sold me on the show. Sure, it’s possible – even probable – context will make it more palatable to me. But as of right now, my expectations aren’t high.

‘Titans’ and the Idea of Deconstructing Robin

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:

Titans Story Details Robin.PNG

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.

Comparing Comics Dick Grayson to the ‘Young Justice’ and Fan Interpretations

In an ill conceived attempt at distracting myself from my mourning at the air date for season three of Young Justice being pushed back to 2019 – seriously, haven’t we waited long enough? – I started rewatching some of my favourite episodes. In doing so, I started thinking about the show’s interpretation of Nightwing and how that compares to the comics version of the character as well as the fan interpretations.

Dick Grayson is my absolute favourite comics character ever. He’s absolutely essential to comics, to Batman. There would be no Robin without him. By extension, there would be no Batfamily. And, like a friend and I once concluded, without the Batfamily, Bruce would be like the guy from the Dark Knight trilogy. And no one likes that guy!

I saw a Tweet a while back from someone justifying the need for a Cyborg movie, and one of his points was something along the lines of “Nightwing is getting one, and more of the general audience  knows who Cyborg is than Nightwing”. That statement could well be true. And I fully support Cyborg getting a movie. But I think it’s also an oversimplification, because while Cyborg may be better known than Nightwing, I’d be willing to bet Robin is better known than Cyborg. Dick Grayson is better known  than Victor Stone. Dick is very important and very well known. But precisely who he is and what he stands for varies dramatically depending on who you ask.

The fan interpretation frustrates me a bit because of how much it flattens the character. I mean, the same can kind of be said about all fan interpretations, especially the recursive ones, where that fan interpretation starts to bleed back into comics and movies and cartoons. Fan interpretations will nearly always flatten a character, with the rare exception of characters like Jason Todd, whose fan interpretation is probably more developed than he is canonically. But Dick being misinterpreted bothers me more than the misinterpretation of most other characters. It’s for a lot of reasons – one of which, of course, being that he’s my favourite comics character – but I think primarily, it’s because he’s flattened in order to make him look better next to the other members of his family,  usually Bruce. This post summarizes it all quite well: it’s a combination of a feedback loop, a cultural idea of Robin (more attached to him than any of the others), and it being easy to perceive him differently based on out of context traits.

Dick is one of the codifiers for the Sidekick Graduations Stick trope, and that’s true in that he’s never returned to Robin, but a lot of writers are wary of actually making that the case. Dick is better at what he does than Bruce. It’s a combination of who he has and the fact that Bruce raised him. Bruce himself has called Dick a better man than he is and acknowledged that Dick has far surpassed him in a lot of areas. But most writers are afraid of leaning into that because Bruce is just so iconic. So they make him less competent in order to make different members of the Batfamily look better, flatten his character to make his relationships with his family more saccharine, and regress him for the sake of keeping him Bruce’s sidekick rather than a full partner. It’s quite similar to how Barbara was reverted to being Batgirl – Oracle is an equal, with her own skillset, that mentors others. Batgirl, not so much.

It’s not at all that I think there’s only one way to write Dick. But I do believe that there are certain aspects of his character that should be constant if the circumstances of his life haven’t changed. Consistency may be all but impossible with comics, due to all the different writers with different interpretations, but the core of the character should remain the same.

Dick Grayson is absolutely a good person. Hell, he’s a Multiverse constant – he’s a force for good, so much so that Golden Age Superman had to acknowledge that he’s still a good man in a world filled with morally bankrupt heroes. But he’s also much more complex than the cool, encouraging, happy-go-lucky child of a big brother that loves to hug his siblings and crack puns. Sure, there are elements of that in him. He is an older brother that cares about his family, but he doesn’t always get along with them. He does encourage his siblings, but he had to learn that, and each of his siblings required something different from him. Damian in particular needed him to be able to control the temper that he does have. He has a sense of showmanship – he was a circus acrobat that was born to be in the centre ring. He’s naturally a better athlete than Bruce, to the point where canonically, he and Cass are the only ones that can beat Bruce in a fair fight. Dick has a temper that he learned to control. He’s driven and obsessive, even if he’s much more capable of moving on than Bruce is. He cares about the people around him and they care about him, too, even if he struggles to actually let them help him when he needs it. And I think that’s why I adore the Young Justice interpretation of the character so much.

I was having a discussion with someone a while ago, and they said they thought that that incarnation was too Superman-esque and not Batman enough, and while I respect their opinion, I disagree. Dick’s strength is that he balances optimism and a desire to see the best in people with paranoia and an urge to check people’s stories rather than believing them blindly. As such, I think the first two seasons of YJ did an amazing job with him.

He’s quick and witty and charming, he makes jokes and has lots of friends, he loves Bruce but doesn’t want to become him. He’s just as prepared and paranoid. He’s fully capable of running unstable and risky gambits that could get people killed. He’s absolutely dedicated to fighting crime…but he’s afraid of losing himself, of becoming a person that will manipulate and pull strings and do anything to achieve his goals. The show managed to convey both how this is someone that was raised by Batman and that he influenced Bruce himself through depicting him as a good leader that makes tough decisions – often better ones than Bruce himself – and whose team trusts him enough to forgive him, even when they’re mad at him for making those decisions. For me, that captures the essence of who Dick is as a character.

Bruce had a very minor role in the show, but it was enough to demonstrate how his and Dick’s dynamic works. They’re a team and family both. When Dick is jealous of Kaldur, Bruce responds by inviting him to play basketball as a way of assuring him that he’s irreplaceable. When Wonder Woman criticizes how he introduced a nine year old Dick to crime fighting, Bruce said that he did it so Dick wouldn’t turn out like him. The show did shift a bit from the usually accepted canon in regards to Dick transitioning from Robin to Nightwing in that it was an amicable decision where Bruce and Dick both agreed he’d grown up and needed to do his own thing, rather than a result of a major falling out. That does change the context of the Batfamily, but in a way that I like.

I’m wary about Titans. The pictures we’ve seen and information we’ve gotten has made me go back and forth over whether or not I’m excited for months now. I’m going to watch it, of course, because Dick has always been my favourite and I’ve been looking forward to seeing a good depiction of him in live action for years – fingers crossed that this one will be good – and I’m delighted that we’re going to get other awesome  characters, some of whom have never gotten an adaptation before, like Donna and Kiran. I’m nervous about how Dick will be treated…but if I want him to be catapulted into the cultural conscience as himself, more than just “Robin is Batman’s partner and adds colour and joy to Gotham” (which I will always acknowledge is important), I’m going to have to be ready for adaptations and interpretations that I won’t always agree with. That’s the case in animation – I’m talking about you, Son of Batman – as well as comics themselves – Grayson – and will be the case in live action. So I’m cautiously optimistic. Here’s to hoping that pays off!