What Happens When An Adaptation Displaces The Source Material In Public Memory?

As we get closer and closer to the debut episode of Titans, I’m getting more and more perplexed about some of the complaints I’ve seen about it. I have my own share of apprehensions about this show. I’ve been vocal about that. But what I don’t understand is the people whose complaints stem not from the show itself or how that translates from the comics, but from the knowledge of the cartoon.

While there’s nothing wrong with watching adaptations, but not reading comics, it’s not right or fair to insist that those adaptations are how the material either has been or should be. The Teen Titans cartoon – something that I genuinely enjoy, when I look at it as something other than an adaptation – has very little to do with the comics bearing the same name. The roster – Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg – has become so cemented in people’s minds that when the show roster was revealed, the question didn’t become where’s Kid Flash or any of the other members of the comics roster, but where’s Cyborg. 

Even setting aside Twitter and Tumblr, sites well known for being a mess, look at the TV Tropes page for the show. While some of the people editing it clearly have knowledge of the comics, there are just as many from people whose opinions are coloured by the cartoon. Supposedly Starfire is out of character for not being an all loving hero, even though the original Star was a complete hothead that was far more violent than the version of the character that appears in the cartoon. Supposedly Dick is behaving more like Jason or Damian for being angrier than the bright spot people expected to see, even though good characters are always more complicated than can be defined by an attribute like “violent” and the Titans version of Dick is in a stage between the initial “bringing light and hope to Bruce and Gotham” stage and the later “knowing himself and what he has to do and in control of his anger” stage. It’s silly. There’s plenty to be nervous about, but that’s not the same as dismissing something altogether without seeing it because it’s not like another adaptation.

It wouldn’t bother me that much under most circumstances, but I’ve seen what people growing too attached to one adaptation can do. This backlash is painfully reminiscent of the backlash to Man of Steel. The Christopher Reeves version of the Superman – nerdy, clumsy, awkward, all country bumpkin out of place in the big city – has been so formative to the public perception of the character, people flat out forget that he’s been portrayed very differently in the comics and cartoons. The idolization of the Reeves Superman, coupled with the poor memory of what those movies were actually like, makes it impossible for creators to move on and try a different interpretation that’s still supported by the source material without “fans” jumping down their throats and saying they’re doing it wrong.

There’s no easy solution to this, because adaptations that make that much of an impact are a good thing. There’s no one out there that would deny how important Superman: The Movie was. And it’s gatekeeping nonsense to say people can’t have adaptations be their introduction to these characters, especially because at this point, as much as I’m loathe to say it, these adaptations are aimed at the so-called “general audience” because comics fans alone aren’t a big enough market. I just hope more people start to remember that superhero comics are a decades old medium in which there have been countless interpretations, none of which is inherently more valid than the others.

The Awkwardness Of ‘Titans’

I’ve talked before about my mixed feelings about Titans. I’ve talked about its interpretation of Dick Grayson and why I’m apprehensive of how my favourite comics character is going to be portrayed. I remember telling a friend a while ago – like, before the trailer – that every piece of new information we found out about the show was making me more and more conflicted about whether or not I wanted to see it. Like, they’d tell us that we were getting Donna, but then say that Dick blames Bruce for ruining his life. They’d tell us Jason is going to have an episode revolving around him, then the set photos featuring Kory’s ridiculous wig leaked. And then of course, there was the trailer, to which my reaction can been summarized as what. On the whole, this show, while something I’m definitely going to give a chance, confuses the hell out of me. I feel like I’m getting whiplash.

Maybe it’s stupid to try to analyze this before the show actually airs, but the overall vibe I get is of a show that’s unsure of what it should be. It’s using the cartoon’s roster. It’s drawing inspiration from the comics run. While it’s hard to tell from stills from before the other characters suit up, it seems like they dropped all their budget on Dick’s cape and ran out of money for everything else. It’s only thirteen episodes and supposedly has a central plot, but it’s going to have all kinds of character introductions, including an episode that’ll be the launching point for a Doom Patrol series, threatening to render the whole show overstuffed from trying to do too much at once. The age lift makes it seem like the Bruce Dick relationship may be shifting from a father son dynamic to a brotherly one. It sets off my internal alarm bells. As excited as I am to see it, it’s more because it’s happening – that a show, featuring my favourite character is actually going to exist, regardless of quality – than that it looks like something I’ll wholeheartedly love.

I’m going to watch it. I’m going to try to let go of all my preconceived notions of what it should be and figure out if I like it for what it is. How can I not? We’re talking about the Batfamily here! But I’m still going to be chewing through my lip and trying to reserve judgement until the end of the season.

The Impact of Adaptations on Perception of Characters

Adaptations are a funny thing. When it comes to superhero movies or TV shows, it’s almost inevitable that someone out there will absolutely hate it.

It’s easy to mock the “not muh Superman!” people that complain about a different interpretation of the character that holds true to the source material. But some of the time, I do understand where they’re coming from. Sure, with a lot of characters, one bad adaptation isn’t the end of the world, but adaptations have a major role on how people perceive comics and comic book characters. Especially live-action adaptations and first adaptations. Especially when the adaptation is of a character non-comics fans don’t know much about.

One of the reasons I’m so anxious about Titans is because as much as I adore Dick Grayson, as much as I know he’s popular among comic fans, I also am painfully aware of the fact that despite his longevity as a character, he’s simply not taken very seriously by the general audience. He’s not Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. All of those characters have gotten multiple adaptations within my lifespan, but Dick? While we’re supposedly getting a Nightwing movie, that’s like the Flash, Cyborg, and Batman ones – stuck in development hell to the point where I doubt it’s ever coming. If he doesn’t stand out as awesome in Titans, he’s not gonna get another chance to do so for a long time.

It’s a similar issue to bad interpretations in a long running series or a shared universe that includes a lot of characters and movies, rather than just a standalone solo movie, or even a trilogy. I mean, consider Harry Potter. In the movies, Hermione took on basically all Ron’s skills and personality. Despite the massive popularity of the series, I highly doubt there’ll be a reboot any time soon, so the only visual adaptation we’re going to have for a long time will be one that stripped one of the most important characters in the series of what made him interesting and managed to make a lot of people – an astounding number, really, considering that Harry Potter was the series that got pretty much the entire world to line up at midnight for a book release and learn about the book version of the characters’ real traits – forget just how important and skilled Ron was.

Take the X-Men movies. Those did a similar thing. Yes, they’ve had both highs and lows that I’ve commented on repeatedly. But what’s more important than deciding how good they are is they’ve had a huge impact on perception of the X-Men. The X-Men were introduced in 1963. The first movie came out in 2000. That means this interpretation of the characters has been around for more than 30% of the characters’ entire lifespan – at least. The characters introduced in 1963 were the original X-Men, from the days before Claremont, the days before characters like Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Emma Frost. Saying that the X-Men movies ruined a character, while still dramatic, is much more understandable than saying the same of a character like Superman or Batman. I have to suppress a laugh at people saying Zack Snyder ruined Superman because that just sounds ridiculous, but complaining about the movie interpretation of the X-Men? That I completely get.

Superman and Batman have had multiple different interpretations in my lifespan, in the forms of both TV series and movies, both live action and animated. The X-Men? Not really. When it comes to live-action, it’s just been the one set of related movies where no one that wasn’t Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, or Mystique got any real attention and we had to sit through Xavier giving Magneto the same “there’s still good in you” speech like six times. And since there’s never been a real reboot, none of the characters got to be rewritten in a more interesting or more comics accurate way. I try not to say things like X movie ruined Y character, because oftentimes, that’s not fair. There are a lot of unseen people that work hard in the industry on every movie and we should at least try to find something to appreciate before we start complaining about what we didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand bitterness towards the X-Men movies for how they treated most of the characters. Scott Summers is my favourite Marvel character, and I had to watch first the original trilogy strip away his background, personality, leadership skills, tactical instincts, and fighting ability, then the alternate timeline make him a totally different person. Believe me. I get it.

Adaptations have a huge impact on perception of characters and stories. Whether it’s how the Richard Donner Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve were so influential that people start talking about that as the source material rather than the comics, or how a first adaptation of a character can make or break their possibilities for a future adaptation, adaptations of superhero comics are arguably even more important than the comics themselves when it comes to keeping those characters alive in public memory. It’s disappointing. Comics are a wonderful medium with amazing stories and brilliant characters that should be acknowledged as such. And superheroes are a major part of cultural knowledge. But when it comes to the general audience, most of that knowledge comes from adaptations, or in a diluted fashion through cultural osmosis.

It’s neither good nor bad that the general audience doesn’t read comics and gets their knowledge of the characters from adaptations. Disappointing, sure, but not intrinsically bad. What is disappointing though is the lack of respect for comics in the writers and directors of a lot of these adaptations. I want the characters I love to get the best possible chance at making it into the public consciousness in an accurate sense. That won’t happen unless adaptations respect them and give nuanced takes. We’ll all still have different perspectives on whether or not those takes are good ones…but we’ll have to respect that there was thought and care put into them. In the long run, that’s what’s good for characters.

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!