I Am Vengeance, I Am the Night
With The Dark Knight Rises in cinemas, I need to ready my adult diapers, some chocolate ice cream and a whole lot of vodka, because I’m pretty sure I’m about to be fantastically disappointed. Oh, it’ll probably be the best film of the year and everything, but following The Dark Knight and Inception? Without Heath Ledger? I want to believe you can do it, Nolan, but…
Anyway, I now have the perfect opportunity to talk about everyone’s favourite gargoyle-hugging, croaky-voiced, absurdly-dressed member of the 1%: Batman.
Batman is one of the few non-Joss Whedon things I still get stupidly fanboyish over. I will not hear words against him. I don’t care how many girls recoil away from my sweaty form in unease, I will not shut up about how awesome Batman is until the word ‘batarang’ is enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary. He’s the star of some of the best comics ever made, he’s second in fame only to the big blue boy scout, and in terms of character development, complexity and coolness, he kicks the ass of Supes and 99% of everyone else in comics. So what can I say about him without descending into an incomprehensible, rabid spray of expletives, references and orgasm metaphors?
I’m going to talk about Robin.
Robin has inherited… very little of his mentor’s popularity. Batman and Robin was one of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen. Out of the four Robins so far, two (three?) of them were explicitly hated by the fandom, one so much that he was killed by popular vote. Christopher Nolan explicitly said that he would never include Robin in his series, and it’s easy to see why. The character is campy, over-the-top, and clearly just thrown in to score points with kids imagining themselves fighting alongside Batman. How the heck is a scrawny, half-naked, brightly-clothed teenage boy meant to compete with villains like the Joker or Killer Croc? Why, when Batman’s motif and tactics are based around inciting fear, does he invoke the name of a harmless, sweet-sounding bird? Other than a cheap marketing tool, just what is the point of Robin?
Well, I’ll tell you. But first I’ll rant for a while, because about 50% of you just sniggered and thought ‘butt sex’.
Batman does not have sex with Robin. Yes, the tights, the unfortunate remarks and the fact that he is a grown man living with a partially-dressed underage boy all paint a grim picture. But Batman’s character does not include sexual deviancy. If anything, Batman is asexual; I mean, he can still have and enjoy sex, but like a righteous preacher or a sociopath, he’s far too focused on something far, far bigger than petty physical gratification. The man is a martial artist of the highest calibre; he’s more zen than the entire population of Tibet. To Batman, the idea of being distracted or compromised by sex is repugnant and impossible. Anyway, if he gets off on anything, it’s providing free facial reconstruction surgeries in Gotham City’s alleyways.
Anyway, if he doesn’t keep Robin around for the gross reason, why else? It’s not because he’s incredibly useful as a crimefighting aid. In the (unimaginably rare) event that Batman really needs another vigilante’s help, here’s a novel thought: turn to someone other than a 12-year-old boy. Huntress, the various Batgirls, Black Canary, Jim Gordon, Catwoman (when she feels like it), the Hood, the Question, Azrael, and if necessary, the entire Justice League, including several demigods… all of these people are battle-hardened, experienced fighters with impressive track records, all would be happy to give Bats a hand, and all of them have hit puberty. So no. Batman does not have Robin along for his impressive fighting skills.
My pet theory is this: Batman keeps Robin around, not because Robin is useful to him now, but as a living failsafe plan.
First, there’s the possibility that Bruce Wayne will be killed, and another man will have to take up his cape, cowl and stupidly non-aerodynamic throwing knives. This has happened multiple times in the comics, and will probably be a major part of The Dark Knight Rises. So Batman takes in a promising youth while he’s still mentally pliable, and spends the kid’s adolescence moulding him into a mirror of himself, so that when that day finally comes, Batman can live on beyond Bruce Wayne.
But there is a second, more awesome component to this plan. Batman trains and develops Robin personally, not just so Robin could replace him, but so Robin could kill him.
Batman is a terrifyingly powerful man. The US government and the Justice League have both tried to neutralize him in the past, with some seriously excessive measures, and failed. He has kicked Superman’s ass several times. Raʾs al-Ġūl (Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, for the Philistines) once stole a handful of Batman’s contingency plans, and with them he was able to incapacitate the entire Justice League.
In the world of DC, where possession, mind control and alternate ‘evil’ dimensions are as common as regrets on a Thailand holiday, Batman would have to prepare for the eventuality of his own evilness. We’re talking about the guy who memorizes biographical details from arthouse films just in case the Riddler leaves clues pertinent to Rashomon (and yes, that is a plot that actually happened). Of course he would have a failsafe in case he himself ever grew a goatee.
So despite the camaraderie, despite Robin often acting as a child-surrogate for him, that’s where the sidekick comes from. About once a decade, Bruce Wayne will find an impressionable young child, tell him/her his secret, train them to be the perfect replacement Batman, and let them in on all of his secret techniques, hideaways and weapons… just in case the day comes where Bruce Wayne himself has to be put behind bars. Just in case.
Batman, ladies and gentlemen. He’s not the hero we need right now, he’s the asylum-escaped, control-freak, teenager-kidnapping lunatic we deserve. Enjoy The Dark Knight Rises!
 The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Frank Miller
 The Killing Joke (1988), Alan Moore
 Batman: Year One (1987), Frank Miller
 Kingdom Come (1996), Alex Ross & Mark Waid