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Batman's Sidekick Robin Comes Out. It Makes Sense, If You Were Paying Attention

In <em>Batman: Urban Legends #6</em>, Robin (Tim Drake) comes to a realization. Writer: Meghan Fitzmartin. Art: Belén Ortega. Color: Alejandro Sánchez.
DC Comics
In Batman: Urban Legends #6, Robin (Tim Drake) comes to a realization. Writer: Meghan Fitzmartin. Art: Belén Ortega. Color: Alejandro Sánchez.

Well. That's over, at last.

After 80 long years, the fusillade of sneers, slurs and innuendos are finally done with. For decades, homophobes looking to land cheap jokes and queer fans aching to see themselves in the comics they love have shared an unlikely common goal — to shove Robin, Batman's trusty sidekick, out of the closet.

And this week, in the pages of the DC anthology comic Batman: Urban Legends #6, Robin comes out. He rescues a male friend from the hands of a villain and experiences a flash of insight, a "lightbulb moment" — and later, in his civilian identity, accepts his friend's offer of a date.

/ Courtesy of DC Comics
Courtesy of DC Comics

Some points of order:

1. This isn't the original Robin, the free-wheeling, acrobatic Dick Grayson introduced in 1940, who grew up and assumed his own superhero identity of Nightwing.

2. Nor is it the second Robin, Jason Todd, who famously died a bit (he got better, it's comics) and adopted his own, violent, decidedly anti-heroic identity of The Red Hood.

3. Neither is it the fourth Robin, Damien Wayne, Batman's son who was raised by an international cadre of assassins/eco-terrorists. (See above, in re: comics.)

4. No, this is the third Robin, Tim Drake, the Robin who most resembles his mentor in intellect and demeanor.

Tim was created by Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick in 1989 in the aftermath of Jason Todd's death; he figured out Batman's identity and urged Dick Grayson to re-assume his old role and costume, entreating him that "Batman needs a Robin." When Grayson refused, Tim assumed the role himself. (There was always an element, to that storyline, of Tim as a kind of teenage Dick Cheney leading Bush's VP search committee, but let that go.)

You'll see some coverage declaring that Tim has come out as bisexual, but that's not technically true. Yes, he's dated fellow hero Spoiler (Stephanie Brown) on and off. But his journey is just beginning, and Tim is still figuring himself out — he hasn't applied any specific labels to himself yet, and his creators haven't either.

Which only makes sense, given who Tim Drake is.

A huge number of different creators have written Tim Drake's Robin over the years, but a clear and consistent through-line has emerged: He's analytical, self-critical and tends to over-intellectualize. In recent years, upon being supplanted by li'l Damien Wayne's Robin, he's questioned his place in the Bat-family, going so far as to rebrand himself with the perfectly terrible and just plain confusing name "Red Robin," despite manifesting neither a predilection for fast-food burgers nor bob-bob-bobbing along, and later still, "Drake."

That's it, just "Drake."

Like "Cher." Or "Madonna." Or "Beyonce."

... Yeah we really should have seen this coming.

I'm only half-kidding. Think about it: Tim canonically figured out Batman and Robin's secret identities by closely watching their exploits in news coverage. He recognized their signature moves, he analyzed their body language. Which is to say: He watched these two men with a kind of achingly pointed attention that queer readers know only too well.

It stands to reason, too, that his coming-out process would be one marked by a halting, introspective approach. Writer Meghan Fitzmartin captures the central, yawning internal disconnect between what we're told we should be and what we truly are:

Ever had a lightbulb moment? Like something out of the ether taunting and teasing you. Like you know you're supposed to be on the same page as your brain but not everything made sense. People keep asking me what I want ... But I couldn't grasp it. Whatever it was, it always felt just out of reach. Until now. Until right now.

Whatever specific letter or letters of the queer initialism LGBTQIA+ Tim will ultimately resonate with, he'll join a growing pantheon of queer superhero and supervillain characters like Northstar, Batwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Iceman, Apollo, Midnighter and the Golden Age Green Lantern. None of them, however, share a level of public recognition anything approaching that enjoyed by Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Robin was the very first superhero sidekick, and he's entered the global public consciousness via comics, movies, television, games, toys and bedsheets. He's a vital part of the Batman character; his role, over the years, has been to supply light and humor to temper the Caped Crusader's brooding darkness. Treatises have been written, and entire chapters of (very well-received!) books devoted to, the queer subtext in the Batman/Robin relationship. In Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), the late filmmaker Joel Schumacher did everything he could to transform that queer subtext into a butchy, leather-queeny text.

But today ... well. Incredibly enough, to those of us who've been waiting for years, Robin just came right out and said it himself, in the pages of Batman: Urban Legends #6.

"... It always felt just out of reach. Until now. Until right now."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.