This post has been particularly difficult for me to write, partly because I don’t know how to put into words what I’m feeling. Now that I’m reading the New 52 (DC’s 2011 continuity reboot), I feel like I’m mourning Tim Drake. The new continuity essentially erased everything important about Tim, watered him down to a non-character, a shade of his former self only present to tell the Teen Titans what to do. And it’s such a weird thing to do, such an odd creative writing direction to take the Bat Family’s story in, it makes very little sense. Tim Drake, as he exists within the metanarrative, is hugely important to Bruce Wayne’s emotional well-being; he was Robin for 20 years (and then Red Robin) which means he was the Robin for a huge portion of the fanbase; and has a well-rounded (complicated, intricately developed) history and personality that is widely respected by other heroes and villains (Ra’s al Ghul is particularly obsessed), nearly on par with that of Dick Grayson.
And the New 52 shunted him aside without a second thought. I’ll continue to read comics that feature Tim, but let’s be clear: this is not really Tim. Tim died with the retcon. And I am so bitter.
When I first started reading the various Batman comics, I new the basics about each Robin. For whatever reason, Tim got talked about the least (although that could be attributed to the Jason-focused blogs I was following). I knew he was Robin for a long-ass time, but since there was very little chatter about him, I thought he was boring, filler-Robin. I WAS WRONG I WAS SO WRONG.
This is important because unlike the other Robins, I got to formulate my own opinion on Timmy as I was reading and learning him. In this way, Tim is my Robin. I came here for Jason tbh (see previous post), but I left clinging to Tim Drake-Wayne. I spent more time reading Tim as Robin than I did with any of the others (Dick’s the only one with a history long enough to compete, and I didn’t start reading until he was already Nightwing). I learned who Batman really was, actually became a fan rather than a casual reader, when Tim was Robin. So ya, his New 52 treatment hurts.
Tim Drake was created in response to the death of Jason Todd, making him the 3rd Robin of official continuity. I won’t go into detail on how classist the whole affair is – killing off an angry street kid and bringing in a quiet, smart little boy from a 1% family – but the differences between Tim and Jason are vital. Jason’s death changed Batman for the worst, in that he was deeply depressed, reckless, dark, and overall pretty fucked up. And I don’t mean to make light of the situation; Bruce Wayne lost a son the day that Jason died. His response is totally valid. His heart was broken.
Tim Drake, a lonely, genius son of two millionaire, jet-setting, absentee parents, noticed. The little boy that lived next (read: acres away) door would follow Batman and Robin into the city and take pictures of their daring deeds. He figured out their identities pretty much right away, when he witnessed Robin do a quadruple somersault – a move that only Dick Grayson could ever achieve when he performed in the circus. Tim knew when Dick left to become Nightwing, and because he knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, deduced that his new ward Jason was the new Robin.
Knew that when Robin died, so did Jason (Jason, who was Tim’s hero, who Tim looked up to). Knew that with the death of his son, Batman took more and more risks, didn’t care about his own life, was on a devastating downward spiral. Tim knew that Batman needed a Robin.
Tim surprised everyone when he announced that he knew Batman, Robin, and Nightwing’s identities. He tried to talk Dick back into being Robin, because Batman was such a hot mess. Dick refused, partly because he was now an adult, but mostly because he and Bruce were stuck in that many years long phase of constant fighting (not made any better by Jason’s death). One of the many ways that Tim is unique is that Bruce didn’t choose him as Robin – he chose himself.
He basically stepped up to the plate to save Batman from himself. Bruce was way reluctant to take on Tim, this untrained tiny little boy he didn’t know, let alone a new Robin at all (because children fighting crime is an obviously big no-no that got the previous Robin blown up). And he’s hard on Tim, way harder than he was on Dick or Jason. Bruce is terrified of losing another Robin, would rather go it alone than put another child in the field. But Tim becomes Robin and takes his training in stride, if slowly. Tim has none of Dick’s natural acrobatic talents, and he doesn’t have Jason’s born-out-of-necessity street fighting skills. He has his intellect, and his perseverance (not that this stops him from becoming a fucking ninja badass later).
Tim’s Robin tenure is also unique because he doesn’t really need Bruce? Not like Dick and Jason did. Tim’s parents are alive (for a while), he doesn’t need Bruce to be his dad (for a while). He’s not reliant on being a superhero, either, not in the way that won’t allow Bruce or Dick ever step down (for a while). And when I say ‘for a while,’ I mean a relatively long time. Tim was Robin from 1989-2009, so there’s plenty of time for character development.
So compared to Dick and Jason, Tim is a more healthy, balanced kid who chose to be Robin not for himself, not for vengeance, not as an outlet for his anger, but purely because Batman needs a Robin. And he totally makes a difference. Tim pulls Bruce back over the line, brings light back into Batman’s world. They face challenges together, act like a team, and it makes for an actual Dynamic Duo.
That 20 years of character development? That’s rough stuff, buddy. Tim gets put through the wringer. I mean, he gets his own super-successful solo series in order to do so, so that’s cool, but man, this poor kid. Tim almost-dies more than anybody. His mom dies early on, and his dad is put in a wheelchair and years of physical therapy. Tim’s constantly lying to his Dad, and he responds by sending Tim away to boarding school. Tim globe-trots in order get a bunch of ninja training in by Lady Shiva herself, returns a bo staff-wielding badass. A lot happens.
In this time, Dick Grayson, who I’ve already mentioned was born be an older brother, takes on this familial responsibility in way he never got to with Jason. Dick’s dealing with all his guilt about not being there for Jay, and then Jay died, and Dick wasn’t even on planet when it happened. So he becomes the brother that Tim needs, that Jason needed but never got. And it’s beautiful.
I can go on for days about Dick and Tim’s relationship. Tim’s story is different because he’s relatively healthy, but he comes from a weird home life. His parents are alive, but absent. He’s from a rich family, but is almost always alone. Even his relationship with Bruce is unorthodox for the narrative, because it takes them awhile to get into the swing of their partnership. Bruce isn’t his dad, for one. Bruce doesn’t really want another Robin, secondly. And don’t think Tim doesn’t notice.
Tim is constantly comparing himself to Dick and Jason, his predecessors. He knows he doesn’t have their natural talents, knows that every time Bruce looks at him he’s seeing his dead son. Tim can’t get out from under Jason’s shadow, even in his own head. It takes years for Tim’s confidence to build to normal, appropriate levels. And a big part of that is Dick.
Dick gets upwards of twenty years to mentor and befriend Tim. He calls him little brother even before Bruce adopts Tim (more on that later). They shit talk about Bruce, they commiserate over the job, they work through Tim’s insecurities, they hang out and have fun and generally get to be a family. Dick is famously an older brother to Damian, yes, but that was necessary on a nearly parental level. Tim and Dick are just happily, healthily brothers unlike, arguably, anyone else in the DC universe.
So Tim’s got Dick for a real older brother, which is a game changer, he gets trained by the toughest fighter in the DC Universe (Lady Shiva), he’s a computer genius, and has a detective mind to rival Bruce. When the Robins are compared against each other, Tim’s always described as the detective. Boy’s crazy smart, and a lot like Bruce in more ways than one. Bruce and his latest Robin eventually grow into a healthy friendship/mentorship. Tim even gets out from under Jason’s shadow, and becomes a legendary Robin in his own right.
But a lot of shit happens to Tim. Despite successfully keeping the secret for years, Tim’s dad finds about his vigilante career, prompting Tim to hang up the cape (his girlfriend Stephanie Brown briefly becomes Robin, but she’ll get her own post later). And while everyone is understandably upset about this, Tim is also unique in that he only ever meant to be Robin temporarily, anyway. As we all know though, one doesn’t just casually stop being a superhero. It’s in the blood.
Tim takes hit after hit. He literally almost dies during the Contagion storyline when he contracts the Apocalypse virus. He sneaks back into Gotham during No Man’s Land, until his Dad uses his rich white guy-ness to get him “rescued” (I’m not even exaggerating it’s that blatant). And then, during the Identity Crisis, his dad dies.
Correction. He doesn’t just die. Jack Drake is murdered by Captain Boomerang while he’s on the phone with Tim who’s rushing to save his dad but is too late. Kid literally hears his dad get murdered over the phone. It’s so awful, you guys, it’s so bad. And it changes his relationship with Bruce. Bruce offers to adopt Tim, but Tim’s in such a funky, emotionally raw place that he literally hires a fake uncle to be his legal guardian so he doesn’t have to deal with any real life shit.
Soon after this, girlfriend-cum-Robin Stephanie accidentally orchestrates a gang war that tears Gotham apart, resulting in her faked death (she really did almost die after being tortured by Black Mask). So Tim’s just lost his dad, and now his longtime girlfriend.
And then Jason comes back, and he does not return unchanged. Jason is angry and bitter and a killing machine, and takes out his ire on Tim. He tracks his ‘replacement’ to Titans Tower to beat him half to death just to prove a point. To Jason, Tim is the actualization of all his deep-seated issues: easily replaced as Robin, easily forgotten and replaced as a son, Bruce’s willingness to put another child soldier in harm’s way. Tim epitomizes Jason’s fear: that he never mattered.
While all of this generally sucks for Tim on a physical level, it also reintroduces his own doubts. Tim questions his place in the family and his role as Robin. Jason was Tim’s personal hero, and you know what they say about meeting your heroes – they might just try to kill you.
During all this, DC presents Infinite Crisis, which is basically just a very messy way of cleaning up the continuity, but it’s importance here is that it ends with the death of Conner Kent, AKA Superboy. Who is also Tim’s best friend. Tim doesn’t take it well. In fact, he takes it very, very badly. Superboy is the partial clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, which means he can be cloned again, right? Because that’s the sane course of action when your friend dies. Attempt to re-clone them. And TIm gets really close to succeeding, too, because he’s a total genius. But it doesn’t work, and even if it did, whatever came out of that test tube wouldn’t be Conner.
All DC titles skip forward a year after Infinite Crisis. Bruce, Dick, and Tim have been traveling during that time, and by traveling I mean Bruce was rediscovering himself in a cave for months while Dick and Tim hung out. But this is also when Bruce formally adopts Tim in the most heartwarming panels ever. Bruce genuinely wants what’s best for Tim, wants to support him without replacing Tim’s father, and Tim’s ready for it this time. By now, Tim wants to be Bruce’s son.
Everything is pure and good, but for like, two months. Because then Damian shows up. I knew that Tim and Damian had a vicious rivalry, even though Tim is seventeen and Dami is ten, but I thought it was about hurt feelings and emotional repression. I was wrong. They hate each other. Damian’s mom has reinforced the idea that he will have to fight for his place in the family, that Bruce will never love him they way he loves his current Robin (Tim). Tim, newly adopted by Bruce, struggling with his identity as a Wayne, is told over and over to his face by Damian that he’s not the real son, he was adopted out of pity, he’s just a stray. And Damian was raised to be blood thirsty, so he lowkey actually attempts to kill Tim.
Tim doesn’t get enough sympathy, to be honest. Dick and Bruce don’t really like Damian for a while, but they want to help him and rehabilitate him, think that he deserves a chance to prove himself. And that’s all fine and good, except that it comes at the expense of Tim, who I guess is older and should know better (but I tend to side with Timmy because I would have responded the same way). Anyway, Tim’s already got all of these self-esteem issues which are now doubled by Damian’s appearance.
And all of this angst and melodrama culminates in Final Crisis, when Bruce dies (not really dead but everyone thinks he is for like a whole year). The family’s in shambles, Dick’s trying to pick up the pieces without wearing the Batman cowl (because he desperately doesn’t want to be Batman), Jason’s causing havoc again, and Tim’s just lost the last person he thought was actually on his side. His dad’s dead, Conner’s dead, Stephanie’s presumed dead, Jason nearly kills him again, and somehow, Damian got Dick in the divorce.
The nail in the coffin (and quite a nail it is) is when Dick makes Damian Robin. His logic: Dick’s now covering as Batman, he needs to keep an eye on his violent kid brother, ergo Damian is now Robin. And in order to do that, he has to take Robin away from Tim. Tim does not volunteer the title. It is forcibly taken from him, as it has been from all other previous Robins in some way or another. His last foothold swept out from under him. And Dami gloats.
Tim: You said we’d be okay. My entire life has burnt down! Again! I don’t call this “okay,” Dick.
Dick: He’s my responsibility now. You’re not my protege, Tim… You’re my equal. My closest ally. You’ll be okay. But him… Tim, you know better than anyone that left on his own, he’s going to kill someone. Again. You have to understand –
Tim: No, I don’t. This is all I have now… How can you let him wear that costume, Dick? What earth are we on that you’d choose him over me?
Damian: Don’t be so sensitive, Drake.
Dick: Damian, shut up. Now.
Damian: Sorry, Drake. You’re still part of the team – Maybe the Batgirl costume is available!
Tim: My name is Tim Wayne! (and the punches Dami in the face)
(Red Robin #1)
This is the worst betrayal for Tim. Not just that he’s lost Robin, not just that the title has been given to Damian of all people, but that Dick did this to him. Dick, his brother, his best friend, who should remember how much it hurts to have Robin taken from you. Stephanie (his not-dead girlfriend) is back by now, but that level of dishonesty kind of ruins the romance, so they don’t really get along anymore. All that to say, Tim is suddenly, totally alone.
Tim takes on the title and costume of Red Robin and leaves the country. He’s convinced that Bruce is still alive, but no one believes him. No one believes in him, not anymore. And Tim, who only wanted to be Bruce’s son, is truly desperate to believe he’s alive, but he’s also not wrong.
Tim: He’s out there somewhere. I know he is. I know I’m right. Bruce Wayne… Batman… is alive. They think I’m grieving. That I’m in denial. That I’ve lost it. But he’s all I have and he has to be alive.
(Red Robin #1)
The entire Red Robin series is Tim generally being a badass, taking on the League of Assassins by himself, defeating Ra’s al Ghul in multiple ways, and hunting for evidence that Bruce is alive, all while being soul-wrenchingly depressed and halfway suicidal. It’s an amazing series, and as someone who has and always will live with depression, it hits home in a very realistic way. Tim is exhausted to the bone, heartbroken, but he keeps going even when no one believes him (except Conner, who returns from the dead of course), even when there’s no concrete evidence that his father is alive. He just doesn’t stop.
During that time, a Bruce Wayne imposter named Hush has taken control of Wayne Enterprises and is throwing away all of his money just to hurt the Wayne family. But Tim swoops in mid-fight with Ra’s and saves the day. And he does it by being emancipated. This makes him a legal adult and Bruce’s legal heir to almost everything. Tim inherits the Wayne fortune and becomes CEO of Wayne Enterprises, usurping Hush and minimizing the damage. But he has to get emancipated to do it. This kid, who just wants his dad back, just wants to be Bruce’s son, has to give up that familial title in order to save Bruce’s legacy. And it ends with him falling out a window, not really caring if he lives or dies.
I’m not crying, you’re crying. My heart. It’s so well done, and I will go to my grave declaring that Tim deserved better. Dick saves Tim from plummeting to his death, Bruce eventually makes it back (thanks Timmy), everyone’s fighting again but at least they’re alive and together, and just when things might be okay –
The goddamn New 52. This reboot from hell. I won’t say it’s all bad, because it’s not, but it erases over twenty years of history and character development and family dynamics. Tim isn’t really even Tim Drake anymore, that’s just an alias; he’s not Bruce’s son, Bruce just sort of legally looks out for him; his relationships with the Bat-Family are minimal, certainly not fraternal. Does he even have a personality? I can’t find it anywhere. He’s driven by his own arrogance and confidence, endangering his birth parents because, idk. Whatever this is, it’s not Tim.
So yeah, I’m mourning Tim Drake. My dynamic, depressed, coffee-addicted, CEO vigilante son who just wanted a family, and right when he got it, the New 52 destroyed all chance of his happiness. My Tim, my Robin. I’m in pain. My heart hurts. Tim deserved better.
On the meta side, Tim shaped Batman and the entire family, the entire series, into what we now recognize it as. The famous Robin logo? Tim’s. The reason Robin was still relevant? Tim. Batman has jumped off the deep end, the family’s continued to grow, Dick being back in the picture at all after becoming Nightwing? Tim, Tim, Tim. I cannot comprehend why DC decided to negate its most successful teen-oriented character ever. He doesn’t deserve this. His story isn’t over.
I’m bitter forever.