1/30/10

How a Christopher Nolan Robin Could Work

The best and most recent incarnation of the Batman franchise starting with Batman Begins and culminating in The Dark Knight has been successful for many, many reasons. It has been argued that one of those reasons is that Christopher Nolan has vowed to banish Robin, Batman's plucky sidekick, from the franchise altogether. I believe there is a way to include Robin into the story without compromising the integrity of the films as they have been thus far.

First off, obviously, get rid of that ridiculous red, green and yellow costume and put some frakkin pants on. We'll get into some costume design later, but no one can take the pictured costume seriously. This is one of the reasons everyone gets turned off by the thought of Robin in a serious Batman story.

But let's dig deeper into the story of Dick Grayson, shall we? Originally, young Dick was appointed Bruce Wayne's ward after his family was murdered by gangsters who were trying to extort money from the circus at which they worked. The Flying Graysons, they called them. Yeah, that's not gonna work. Maybe that can be his back story, but in Christopher Nolan's Batman we won't even tell it. What made the Boy Wonder an orphan can be just as much of a secret as the Joker's origin. And as much as they liked to believe Bruce Wayne was a stand-up guy who would take on the responsibility of a young ward back when he was first created, it's just not what we have in our new Batman. Bruce is a troubled man. A troubled man with a huge secret and a huge company. This is not the kind of man who would relish the thought of having a teen ripping through his mansion. So in Christopher Nolan's version, Dick Grayson is a ward of the state, a trouble-maker and a gang-banger.

Follow me on this: as a young man growing up in the corrupt legal system of Gotham City, Dick Grayson is often found alone, fending for himself, stealing in order to survive and even killing if he has to. Martial and acrobatic/parkour skills are learned out of necessity, and a life on the street gives him a better knowledge of those streets than even Bats himself.

So now we have a rough and tough Dick who probably calls himself The Robin, after his apparent ability to fly, in order to stop people from making fun of his real name. Maybe he has a tattoo of a stylized robin on his arm clawing at a skull. Dick "The Robin" Grayson is a deceptive, baby-faced killer who's never seen a single day of public school and learned everything he needs to know on the streets. He wears an iconic red jacket with a dark green hood and wrap-around sun glasses. And what's most important about dear young Dick is that he's the bad guy.

This is important. We need to introduce The Robin as a bad guy who consistently eludes Batman due to his acrobatic skill. Look at him as a foil to Batman - a young man who crosses the thin line that Batman walks between vigilante and criminal. The Robin presents Batman with with an alternative version of himself: a version that is not privileged, who struggles to survive and cares for little more than making it through the day in Gotham. Batman takes interest in the lad because of his uncanny ability to escape Batman's clutches, but in learning more about him, takes pity in poor Grayson. Which Dick obviously hates. He doesn't need anyone taking pity on him or taking him under his wing. Bruce doesn't even try. Like I said, he's in no position to care for a child. There's only one way this can end. The Robin screws up and gets caught.

On his 18th birthday Batman lands Dick in jail for murder. Tried as an adult, Dick is sentenced to life in prison. Where can he go from there? This is where it gets interesting. Bruce Wayne takes an interest in this particular inmate. He spends the next two years occasionally meeting with The Robin. After developing a deep trust, when Dick asks why Bruce has taken an interest, Bruce explains the parallels he sees in their two stories. How they were both orphans trying to make it on their own and how it somehow turned out that they operated on opposite sides of the law. Dick points out the obvious fact that Bruce had money. Dick didn't. When Dick is twenty years old, Bruce bails him out and offers him a room in his mansion if he would pay rent by honest means. Dick is, therefore, on his own. Bruce doesn't have to worry about taking care of him. He pays for his own groceries and utilities, really starts to take on some real responsibility. After he gets out of jail and lives in Wayne Manor, he is known is Dick Grayson. The Robin is no more.

Well, it doesn't take long for Dick Grayson to realize that Bruce is Batman. He's out every night, he keeps certain parts of the mansion a secret, it's not difficult to put two and two together. So Dick decides to take back out his old red jacket. He hits the streets as The Robin once more to find Batman and confront him as Bruce Wayne. What he doesn't know is that this is exactly what Bruce wants.

It was made clear in The Dark Knight: Bruce does not want to be Batman. This whole time he was sizing up Dick Grayson as his replacement. When they meet on the streets, Batman spills the beans on his intentions for Grayson, but Grayson doesn't want to be Batman either. He already has a perfectly fine alter-ego: The Robin.

Batman spends the next years of his life training The Robin as a replacement for Batman and making sure he's ready leave his old, lawless ways behind him to embrace the way of taking the law into his hands. The most important part about being Batman is that he never kills his enemies, and his challenge is to take a young killer and turn him into the next Dark Knight.

Update (7/25/12)
So, The Dark Knight Rises just came out and it was fantabulous. There was no "Robin", per se, but there were some Robin-esque qualities about which I shall not write in fear of spoilers. You should all go see it now. I still say, however, that my idea for Dick Grayson should be used some time. I think it's brilliant.