Saturday, July 12, 2014

Favorite DC Characters #5 - Tim Drake

Character: Robin (Tim Drake)

Creators: Pat Broderick and Marv Wolfman. I'm not sure who I was expecting, but it wasn't those two.

First appearance: Batman #442.

First encounter: There's a chance it's Batman #481, but I think it's Robin #4. Either way, it would have been in one of those five comic grab bags you could get at the grocery store, or maybe as part of a Christmas gift bunch o' comics. Used to ask for that out of the Sears Christmas catalog every year.

Definitive writer: Chuck Dixon

Definitive artist: I like Tom Grummett's work a lot, and he drew Robin #4, but I gotta go with Pete Woods. He was the regular artist when I started buying the book, and remained in that role for the next 3 years.

Favorite moment or story: Robin #88-92. Tim ventured to the Himalayas over Spring Break to rescue his classmate Danny, who turned out to be a possible heir to control of Kobra, and was going to be used by the Lady Eve and her faction. But the old Naga-Naga wasn't ready to surrender the crown just yet, to say nothing of Tim's old foe, King Snake, now with his eyesight restored by a Lazarus Pit. Tim is alone, in the midst of all that sectarian fighting, complete with giant robots, mini-Yetis, and lots and lots of Kobra disciples, to rescue a friend. And he pulls it off, though Danny figures out Robin is actually Tim Drake. There's also a lovely aftermath where Tim relates all this to Batman, and more than that not only calls the Bat to task for revealing Tim's secret i.d. to Spoiler without Tim's say-so, but also confesses just how much he and Steph care for each other. Really, any time Tim tells off Batman for being a big jerk is a good moment. Bonus points if it actually punctures the Bat's shell of self-righteousness.

Why I like him: I don't think Tim Drake was the first DC character I became a big fan of, but he's probably the second. Robin was definitely the first ongoing from DC I bought monthly. Chris Sims isn't wrong when he says kids want to be Robin, the colorful kid who gets to hang out with Batman. He gets to fight crime like Batman, without being as grim and relentless as Batman. Tim had the added bonus that they gave him a bo staff, and a detachable "R" he could use like a shuriken. That may not sound like much, but at the time, I was really into the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. I spent a lot of time in my backyard, pretending sticks were ninja weapons. Tim caught me at a good time. If DC had given him nunchucks, I don't know what might have happened.

One of the other things I like about Tim is the physical stuff is an effort for him. Relatively speaking, anyway. Tim is still an Olympic-level athlete, or near it. But compared to most other non-powered heroes, Tim's not as gifted. He's not Cass Cain, or Dick Grayson. It can be a lot of fun to watch characters do really awesome things with seeming ease, but it can also be fun to watch characters find workarounds to compensate. He can't do the things they do. This requires him to be a little more careful, calculating, he has to find other ways. There's a Zero Hour tie-in where he meets Dick Grayson from Dick's early days as Robin (because time is falling apart, you see). They go after some thieves in a big aquarium and Dick, who at that stage is less experienced than Tim, simply leaps for some scaffolding, swings in a loop around it, plants and launches himself on towards the hoods. Tim's reaction is to hurl a grappling line and swing after Grayson, mulling to himself, if he tried that he'd break his neck. When he fights King Snake in the story I mentioned above, he's largely just trying to stay alive. He's tired, and King Snake is a better fighter than him, faster, stronger. Tim's advantage turns out to be Snake isn't used to having working eyes when he fights and sight is throwing him off. Even so, he busts Tim in the face with a kick that goes right through his staff, because Tim's just not quick enough. It's different to see a non-powered hero who isn't an entirely unstoppable physical specimen.

He has to use his wits, and I dig that, maybe because I fancy myself as being pretty clever, even though my track record with mystery novels indicates I'm no detective. It's fun to watch Tim piece things together, but because he isn't Batman, he still makes some mistakes or false assumptions. Sometimes he can't wait to get all the pieces, and has to go for it. Which means he can wind up in the middle of a mess before he figures out what's really going on, and then has to think fast to get himself out.

A fair amount of what I like about Tim is the Spider-Man formula. Teenager, trying to juggle superheroics with school, romance, friends, parental obligations, that sort of thing. The details are different, though, which makes a difference. Tim's being mentored by an older hero. He not only has civilian friends as Tim Drake, but Robin has lots of costumed friends as well. I know Spidey's a big team player now, but for a lot of the time I've been acquainted with the character he was in that mode where he might team-up with anybody, but they'd probably fight initially, and even afterwards, they weren't really friends. But Robin has a ton of friends, not just within the Bat-family, but also other heroes of his age, like the Young Justice bunch. Heck, he geeked out over getting to meet and work with Ted Kord (which is another reason to like Tim, he recognizes Ted Kord's a cool guy). That he and ted would get along well makes a lot of sense, considering they're both tech geeks, as well as non-powered heroes who don't get to be unstoppable fighting machines.

Another difference is Tim isn't motivated necessarily by the loss of someone close to him. I know his mother was killed sometime prior to his getting his own series, but at least during the time I bought Robin, she rarely came up. The closest might have been in the fact that Tim wasn't entirely comfortable around his step-mother, which is understandable. But I didn't see Tim out there driving himself crazy trying to make sure no one else lost their mother. He became Robin because he thought Batman needed a partner to keep him balanced, and found he enjoyed being Robin. The enjoyment didn't end because he lost someone. Later on, when they started heaping tragedy on top of him might be another story. He seemed to lose his grin, but that Robin isn't the one I particularly like. I didn't drop the book until Beechen's run gave us Crazy Cass Cain, but in retrospect, I should have bailed when Willingham took over.

Tim, for better or worse, has a fair amount of Batman's ruthlessness in him. That ability to look at things coldly and logically, and make ugly decisions. But the part of that I actually enjoy is Tim recognizing this, and recognizing that he doesn't want to become like Batman. He wants to continue fighting crime and protecting people, but he's smart enough to see the utter mess Batman makes of all his interpersonal relationships on a regular basis, and know that's not what he wants his life to be. So we get to watch Tim struggle against that, to hold onto the people close to him, to make sure to make time for his dad, for Stephanie. To just hang out with Superboy, Impulse, and Wonder Girl, or Nightwing. The key was he seemed to be succeeding in his goal, in spite of the general difficulties life presents, not to mention the unwitting damage Batman caused. Like when his Young Justice teammates learned about Batsy's "Kill the Justice League" plans, and started looking askance at Tim. They wondered if he had similar plans, or if he was collecting information on them for Batman (that's silly, that's what Batman built a sentient spy satellite to do. Well, that and kill people with OMACs). Which made a lot of problems for Tim, and helped push him to leave the team for awhile, because it was hard to have friends who didn't trust him. But they were able to patch things up, eventually. It was when Tim started losing that battle, because all the people around him kept dying, that I checked out.

Tim's not the most gifted hero, but he's smart enough to stay within himself and find a way to make things work, brave enough to take a chance when he has to. Cool-headed when he needs to be, but not sealed off from his emotions, still able to care about others, to have a life, and enjoy it.


SallyP said...

I like Tim. He's probably the smartest of the Robins, and maybe the most like Batman, in his dedication.

CalvinPitt said...

I'd definitely agree with that assessment. Being a detective seems to come more naturally to him than the others.