Four plus three equals Batfamily: The Batkids and why I love them.

What makes a Batman comic great?

Is it the fight scenes, the character interaction, the villains..? Well, maybe. But if you’re asking me, I’m going to look you dead in the eye and say one word:

“Robin.”

I love Robin. Every Robin. All of the Robins in all of their various forms. Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Damian Wayne, even Carrie Kelly. Though to be fair to her, I’ll have to come clean and admit that it took me a couple of tries to get through the two books she was in. Frank Miller is not my favorite writer, and that art style was just…yeuch. Actually, speaking of terrible art, that brings me to the other half of the equation, namely, the Batgirls.

We’re actually going to start with the Batgirls because I have less to say about them than I have to say on the Robins.

For a long time, Barbara Gordon was my dream girl. I am saying this in the absolute least heterosexual way compared to what I actually mean, but yes. She was my hero. I loved her. I wanted to be her. Because I was born in 1990, and grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series. She was My Batgirl for a long time…until I got into comics. By the time I got into comics in 97, Barbara Gordon hadn’t been Batgirl for almost a decade. Instead, she is now Oracle, the wheelchair-bound computer genius who, arguably, keeps the superhero community connected. I loved her in that role, even more than I loved her as Batgirl. Batgirl will punch you in the face! Oracle will fuck your life up big time, the power is at her fingertips. Her recent return to the Batsuit…irks me. Why did it happen? What was the purpose of taking Barbara Gordon away from the thing she did best to get her back to doing what a thousand other people do just as well, if not better? The sting wouldn’t be so bad if the series was at least done well, but Gail Simone is really off her game on this one, and the art isn’t much better. But enough about Batgirl number one.

Now to be honest, I didn’t follow a ton of Bat-titles through the 90s, mainly because I could only really afford to pick up 4 or 5 titles a month (Flash, Impulse, and Titans always ranked above Bat-titles). If I had a little extra money, I would flip through the other titles on the shelf, usually paying more attention to the art rather than who was in them. And so, I’m a little ashamed to admit that for a long time, I passed up Cassandra Cain’s solo series, because Damion Scott cannot draw. I now own the entire series and, while the art still bugs the crap out of me when he’s on pencils, it’s still a great book, and Cassandra is a great character. She gives a new meaning to ‘strong, silent type’. But she also has just the right amounts of heartbreaking. Remember when Babs was trying to cheer her up, telling her, “You just go and be the best Batgirl possible!” And Cass was like, “Can’t. You were.” Oh god. Oh god my heart. When I read that, I knew that good art or bad art, I would love this girl for the rest of my life. Cass recently won the title of Most Kick-Ass DC Woman on Tumblr, via DCWomenKickingAss, and she deserves it. Hopefully, some DC executive types were paying attention.

You may be wondering why I’m going straight into the Robins. To which I say, have some damn patience, it’s only a few paragraphs more.

Dick Grayson is the single most important character DC has ever had. Why do I say that? Because while Superman and Batman were the heroes to little boys everywhere, Robin was one of them. A kid could only dream about someday being Batman. Robin, he could try right then and there. As Robin, Dick helped to found the Teen Titans. As Nightwing, Dick was the leader for several more incarnations of Titans, as well as the Outsiders. And then, after the battle for it was over, Dick became Batman. I could talk for ages about how much Dick Grayson means to me, but the truth is, he’s not my Robin. He was never my Robin, he was always just Nightwing to me. Want to know who my Robin was?

I first entered a comic shop in 1997. I’d been sort of into comics for about a year before that, reading backissues that my uncle and one of my grandmother’s friends had, but those issues were old, the most recent ones being from around 1986. Sure, I knew that Dick Grayson had been Robin first, but the first Robin I ever read about was Jason Todd. My uncle was more into Justice League and Superman than Batman, but he did have a few issues featuring Jason Todd, most of which I would later learn to be classified as pre-Crisis. So imagine my surprise the first time I go into a comic shop and see that Robin has his own series! Wait a second, that’s not…where’s Jason?! I actually had to ask the guy behind the counter who it was that was starring in the Robin series. After about five seconds of him being condescending (before he realized, whoops, that’s a little girl), he explained that it was Tim Drake, and that he’d been Batman’s partner for a few years now. “Wait, so where’s Jason? Is he Nightwing now?” The man explained to me very gently that Jason had died, and even gave me a copy of A Death in the Family (that was shot to hell and missing pages, but still, it was a nice gesture). I’d never been so upset over something fictional before in my life. This was three Bambi moms and a Mufasa all rolled into one. And right then and there, I swore that I would never like Tim Drake as Robin. Ever. Even years later, after Jason returned as the Red Hood, quite literally bringing sexy back, I would still hate that mantle-grabbing brat, Tim Drake.

I was a very stupid kid.

Tim Drake, from the beginning, was in love with the idea of being Robin. He was (subtextually) in love with Dick Grayson, enough to be able to figure out that Dick was Robin, just from seeing Robin perform a move that Dick had years ago. Oh yeah, and Tim had been at the circus the night Dick became Robin. To this day, I still haven’t read a lot of early Tim stuff, from before he had his own series, though I do own about 90% of the Robin title, as well as all of the Red Robin book, and let me just say this: If Dick Grayson is the guy everyone wants to know, then Tim Drake is that gigantic dork that everyone knows and loves, but can’t figure out why. For a long time, Tim was this giant nerd that, for some reason, endeared himself to me. He was never my Robin, though he was the one I ended up knowing best. Probably my favorite thing he was ever in, though was Young Justice. It was nice to see how awkward he was compared to DC’s other teenagers. He held the title of DC’s emo kid from 2004 until about 2009, though to his credit, DC shit on him pretty thoroughly for those years. And while he was sort of starting to get back some of his more essential Tim-ness towards the end of his run in Red Robin, that completely vanished once DC rebooted, so I guess I can go back to hating him in peace.

Stephanie Brown is my favorite Robin. No, seriously. I loved the idea of Steph as Robin in the World Without Young Justice crossover event, and when that actually happened in the main canon, I freaked. A girl Robin! Oh my god! And it was the girl who bricked Tim Drake! Steph was part of the reason I kept buying the Robin title. She was just so…normal, compared to Tim. She was this girl who had friends and went to school and didn’t exactly lie to her mom about what she was up to at night. Her only real flaw was that she seemed to have Tinya Wazzo syndrome, inability to function without Tim in her life. Though, I chock that up to it being Tim’s book, because whenever she’d appear in Cass’ book, she was just fine. And then she died. I didn’t even find out she died until, well, until Tim did. Because I didn’t really follow crossover stories. I didn’t know how to react. Surely this was a Disney death. Obviously she’d be back in a few weeks, because this wasn’t really happening. Well, Stephanie did eventually come back, as Spoiler, in one of the strangest, stupidest explanations for a character death ever. I mean, this was ‘Bucky was found by the Russians, given a new arm, and sent to kill things’ weird. But I swallowed it, because by this time, I’d pretty much accepted that I’d been drinking the Tim Drake Kool-Aid for years now. And then, an amazing thing happened. Stephanie, my Robin, my eggplant warrior, made the ultimate leap. While Cass ran around starkers (seriously, did she just…get naked on the roof and leave the uniform there?), Steph donned the cowl for the very first time as Batgirl! Augh, can I just be a fangirl for a second and screech about how much I loved it? Power Girl had her own (awesome!) title, and Steph had her own ongoing as Batgirl. Not to mention that the very Silver Age Batgirl/Supergirl friendship was revived…I was in heaven. Because here’s something you’re all going to hate me for. Stephanie Brown is my favorite Batkid. She’s my Batgirl, she’s my favorite Robin, she’s the one who worked the hardest for the recognition. She’s not perfect. She makes mistakes. But she doesn’t close herself off or hole up somewhere to mope about it. She just deals with it and moves on, just like a normal, well-adjusted person who runs around in a purple Bat-suit is wont to do.

When he first came on the scene, I fucking hated Damian Wayne. No, I didn’t just hate him. I fucking hated him. Expletive needed. He was this whiny, bratty, next to useless twerp who, yes, kicked Tim’s ass, but he also threatened Alfred. In my eyes, no one with a soul could want to hurt Alfred. And then his dad died. Damian teamed up with Dick and oh my god, that was the best. I started buying Bat-titles. Me. Batman and Robin hardly ever disappointed me. I mean, you guys know. You were here. You remember. Because while Dick was a fantastic Batman, Damian was a flawless Robin. He held himself to the highest of standards, learned from his mistakes, and started to crack wise. He even formed a kinship with everyone else in the Family (except Tim). And now…I don’t like reboot Damian. It’s like everything Dick was trying to teach him is slowly slipping away. He’s being more ruthless now. Why? In an act of defiance? Because he wants his brother back? Tell us what you want, Damian! We will try to give it to you! Also, hello, Bruce. Your child likes cats, and you bought him a dog. Wake the hell up.

If my body wasn’t telling me that I’m very tired, this would probably be longer. I’m sorry, Carrie Kelly fans, but I will not be discussing her this evening. I didn’t like the only books she was ever in, so I only ever read them once, to say that I had. And while I’d like to talk about Colin, technically, Abuse isn’t a Batkid, just a kid associated with Damian. Maybe some day, if Damian is ever allowed to age, we’ll have more Robins. But for now, we have a Nightwing, a Red Hood, a Spoiler, a Red Robin, a Batgirl, a Black Bat, and yes, a Robin. And I think we can all be content with them.

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