Idler and Comicosity writer Matt Santori-Giffith and I have a conversation about the New 52’s impact on the Batman titles up over on The Idler today. I had to do a fair amount of editing for space, but some stuff was too good to leave on the cutting room floor, so Matt agreed to let me post one of those edited sections here.
Gavin: I know you and I don’t always agree on Tim, and he’s always been a wildly different character than Damian, in ways both good and bad. I think we’re starting to get some really interesting tracing of the differences between the various Robins, and Bruce’s different successes and failures with each. (Particularly in Red Hood and the Outlaws, which gives us a glorious couple of pages of insight into Jason Todd’s relationships with the Bat-family every few issues. I can largely live without that series, but I wish I could just photocopy and compile those moments.)
Matt: And I don’t know if Jay was ever written as a teen so much as just an asshole.
Gavin: I think that’s right, until Tim Drake, most of the Robins weren’t really meant to be written as individual teen characters. And writers have been wildly inconsistent on how old-ish Tim is supposed to be.
Matt: Tim always did feel less like Batman’s sidekick, or even “partner” as we are now wont to say in the New 52, than the others. He had his own priorities, his own mission. . . ultimately, his own father. None of the others did. Critical difference.
Gavin: Yes! Totally. In fact, we’re getting to the point where each of the Robins have their own really unique history and role. Until now, Dick was the one who was most Bruce’s son. He was really young when he was taken in. Jason was a rescue case, and one that Bruce failed, but who also had problems that Bruce didn’t entirely see as his fault. Tim came in of his own initiative, he’s the one who wanted to be a Robin. Damian is as troubled as Jason was, but younger, and Bruce sees more of himself in Damian, in ways that he doesn’t know how to deal with, and is afraid of.
Matt: I wonder now too how much of Bruce’s desire to become a father to the fatherless came from losing Thomas (the elder) rather than from what Alfred did for him as child. I’ve never thought about it in those terms, but clearly the latter is even more formative, however unconsciously, than the former. And I will argue this to the day I die, but Tim always wanted to be Robin, but never Batman. Dick, Jay, and Damian are much more their father’s sons, even when the first two try to deny it.
Gavin: You might not be wrong, but my take would be that’s exactly why Tim would end up as Batman.
Matt: Well, there’s another huge difference. Jay had a father who was an asshole who abandoned him/got killed (frankly can’t remember — and may not need to in the New 52). Damian either always had an absent father or just never had one. Big developmental difference. Jay’s need for a father figure is about replacing something bad to the core. Damian’s core is empty. It can be filled with positivity or negativity. Nobody certainly was banking on that. Personally, I’m firmly in the Morrison camp. Damian is the Batman of the future. No question.
Gavin: I think it’s no accident that Tim is the one Damian feels the most hostility toward. Tim’s the one who was closest to a full partner, Tim knows how to run the store, and Tim (assuming this is still the case) is the only one who was adopted — the only one previously who took the name Wayne (or decided to not take it). That’s why Damian closes his fight with Tim by insisting on recognition as Robin and a Wayne. I think it’s hard to pull Damian out of consideration as the next Batman now that he’s there. Tim does have to find his own place, and the sooner the better. (Me, I don’t think it’s the Teen Titans, but obviously DC disagrees.)
Matt: Absolutely. Tim is also the one who had a father and wanted a second one, when Damian never even got a chance at one until now. I can see how to a ten-year-old, that might seem greedy. And that’s what I think so many people who deride Damian are missing. He’s not a jerk for no reason. He’s a fucked up little kid with a crazy mother, a grandfather who wanted to steal his body, and a missing dad who dies the minute they meet. Duh.
Gavin: Indeed. Me, I think that Batman and Robin is actually carrying a lot of weight on its own. I really want a Robins title — not Robin, not Red Robin, Robins — where a bit more of this can play out. I want to see more of Jason and Tim’s somewhat unexpected affinity. I want more of the Dick/Jason, Tim/Damian rivalries. There’s a lot that can be done, especially if making Bruce a bit more peripheral gives everyone a bit more room.
Matt: I’d buy that. But its necessity will always be questioned by those who feel there are too many Batbooks already. I always think the argument of a comic book not being “necessary” is the most riotous. Um, how are any of them “necessary”?
Gavin: Hell, I’d trade Detective Comics and Dark Knight for Robins. Right now.
Matt: Ah, but sir, Detective is getting indie pop star John Layman to write it, and Dark Knight has definitely improved since Hurwitz took over. It’s still the lesser of the books, but the drop is not nearly as far.
Gavin: It’s going to piss me off having to go back and buy the issues of Detective I skipped. I’m just not going to be able to tolerate a three-issue gap. I think Detective has been out-and-out terrible, so I’m really happy to see Layman come on board, but even beyond the specific quality, we have three Batman solo titles, I’d trade one for a bit more Bat-family.
Matt: Ha! You’d hate my collection. I dumped every issue of Batman that was fill-in for Morrison pre-New 52, because I just didn’t feel like it belonged in the same box.
Gavin: Yes, yes I would.