Ever since the publication of Detective Comics issue #38 in 1940, Robin the Boy Wonder has been a part of the Batman mythology. The sometimes sidekick, other times solo hero, has become as synonymous with the Dark Knight as the Batmobile or the Batcave.
Yet despite his iconic status, Robin is often left out of big screen Batman movie adaptations. Oh, he’s cropped up here and there, but largely he is absent from the Batman movie series, leaving some audience members who are unfamiliar with the character to ask the question ‘who is Robin?’
In this post, I’m taking a look at Robin, to provide a guide to his place within the Batman films. I will highlight what films he appears in, who plays the part, and what role he serves in the movie.
But before I begin, I should point out that in the comics there are multiple characters who have taken on the guise of Robin. Over time, Robins have either moved on from the role as Batman’s crimefighting partner or have seemingly (but not really) died, paving the way for a new Robin to take his/her place.
According to the comics, the first Robin was Dick Grayson, while the second was Jason Todd and the third, Tim Drake. Other Robins have included Stephanie Brown, Damian Wayne and Carrie Kelley.
Paving the way
OK, so before I take a look at the Robins that have appeared in live-action Batman movies, I need to highlight two Robins that appeared in the Batman serials of the 1940s. Neither of these serials were feature films, but they were shown on the big screen and did pave the way for the films that followed.
The first serial was The Batman (1943), which featured Douglas Croft as Dick Grayson/Robin, opposite Lewis Wilson as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The second serial was Batman and Robin (1949), which featured Johnny Duncan as Robin, opposite Robert Lowery as Batman.
Both Douglas Croft and Johnny Duncan played the role of Dick Grayson/Robin on film in a time when few people knew who Batman and Robin were. Both deserve recognition, even if the character they played was nothing more than a sidekick to Batman.
And now onto the films…
The first Robin to appear in a feature film was Dick Grayson, who took to the big screen in Batman: The Movie (1966). Here the role of Dick Grayson/Robin was played by Burt Ward, an actor who was already playing the role of Robin on the hit TV series, Batman – the precursor to the movie.
Ward’s take on Robin was earnest, easily excitable, and very colourful. However, in the movie – and the original TV show – no details about Robin’s origin were revealed to the audience.
For the most part, audiences were simply to understand Robin was Batman’s crimefighting partner. His alter-ego was Dick Grayson, the ward of Bruce Wayne, and he had a tendency to utter catchphrases that started went along the lines of ‘Holy… this’ or ‘Holy… that’ (eg. ‘Holy hole in a sock, Batman!’).
By not discussing Robin’s origin in Batman: The Movie (or the TV series), audiences accepted the character as one half of the Dynamic Duo, but it was hard to get a real fix on him as a person. Why did he want to fight crime? What was his motivation? None of these details were ever explored.
It would be almost 30 years before moviegoers would get answers. The details came with Dick Grayson’s second feature film appearance via the big blockbuster, Batman Forever (1995).
For Batman Forever – the third entry in the Batman Anthology – Dick Grayson/Robin was given an origin story. His origin was woven into the plot of the movie as a way of introducing the character.
In Batman Forever, Dick Grayson – as played by Chris O’Donnell – is a member of the Flying Graysons – a family of trapeze/high wire artists for a travelling circus. Unfortunately for Dick, tragedy strikes when the villainous Two-Face crashes a night-time performance at the circus, killing his family in the process.
Orphaned, Dick is invited to stay with Bruce Wayne – an offer he accepts with the proviso that it is a temporary stay. However, Dick soon uncovers Bruce’s secret life as Batman and decides he wants to become his partner.
After some initial discouragement from Bruce, the pair finally become a team and Dick officially becomes Robin. This is a partnership that continues into the sequel, Batman & Robin (1997), where the two costumed characters have become well known crimefighters in Gotham.
With Batman & Robin, the relationship between the Dynamic Duo is explored a little further, while also highlighting an undercurrent of disharmony in the team-up. Although both characters are seen as Gotham’s guardians, Dick’s youth often gets the better of him, and this causes issues between him and Batman.
Thanks to some additional meddling from the villainous Poison Ivy, the pair temporarily part ways, only to reconcile by movie’s end in order to save Gotham. Because of the journey they have gone on, their partnership is stronger than ever.
Robin’s story, which runs across Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, provides the audience with the opportunity to see a fully fleshed-out character. Dick Grayson is depicted as brave, yet impetuous, but a worthy partner for the Dark Knight.
In terms of what he brings to the movies, well, Robin is able to help Batman move on from being a solo hero to one who can put his trust in others. He allows the Caped Crusader to share the burden of being a crimefighter, with someone who also understands what it is like to suffer a great loss.
Moving onto a different kind of Robin now, and one who isn’t officially a Robin in the traditional sense, but rather a character who inhabits the qualities of a Robin. That character is John Blake, a police officer with the Gotham City Police Department.
In The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – the third and final chapter in The Dark Knight trilogy – Blake is introduced as an honest cop, trying to do his best by other people. Blake – played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – is an orphan, just like Bruce Wayne and just like Wayne he’s more switched on than many give him credit for.
During the course of the movie, Blake makes it known to Wayne that he has deduced his secret identity. But he doesn’t want to use this information for profit or gain, rather to encourage Wayne to continue his life as a hero, because he understands Batman’s place within Gotham City.
So, is Blake a Robin?
At no point does Blake don a Robin costume or is officially called a Robin, but hints are given that he has the characteristics associated with a Robin (bravery, integrity, etc). However, during the concluding moments of The Dark Knight Rises it is revealed that Blake’s real name is Robin, which provides a knowing nod to the audience that he could easily have become Batman’s partner or even become the next Batman.
Blake’s role in The Dark Knight Rises is to push Batman forward and to demonstrate that he can put his trust in partners. He demonstrates the qualities of a hero and offers hope for the future.
Birds of a feather
Outside of the appearances detailed above, a Robin suit was briefly seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but there was no onscreen explanation as to where the Boy Wonder was. It was hinted that something tragic had happened to him, which caused Batman to revisit his dark, solo career, but it was up to the audience to decide this.
As a general rule of thumb, Robin is absent from the majority of live-action Batman movies because writers/directors favour solo Batman stories over those that involve the Dynamic Duo. As a result, Robin’s big screen appearances are sparse at best.
However, whether directly referred to or indirectly alluded to (as in the case of John Blake), Robin’s role in Batman movies is always to help the Caped Crusader lighten his load. As a solo hero Batman is a dark, brooding avenger, which is a tough life to live; but with Robin around he is able to see a clearer path where he doesn’t have to go it alone.
Robins at a glance
To summarise, the live-action Batman movie Robins include:
- Dick Grayson – Batman: The Movie (1966), Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997)
- John Blake – The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
What are your thoughts on Robin? Do you think he should be included in more live-action Batman movies or do you prefer solo Batman stories? Whatever your thoughts and feelings, sound off in the comments section and talk about the Boy Wonder.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Should you want to learn more about the world of Batman, be sure to check out one of the recommended posts below.