As many will undoubtedly know, this year is the year of the Bat. It’s the big B-man’s 75th birthday, not that he looks a day over 30 these days, but regardless of appearance we have been blessed with many great Batman stories for 75 years and that’s something special right there. In honour of this, I’ll be running several Bat themed Top 5 lists this year ranging from today’s family members to villains, from writers and artists to story lines and covers. I know that for us comic fans there’s going to be a big focus in news outlets and in the very comics we’re reading especially with Batman Eternal launching this week just passed, but I can’t help but get caught up in it all. It’s freaking Batman guys! So let’s get this ball rolling, the greatest Bat family members!
5. Robin (Tim Drake)
Tim Drake is, for me, the ultimate Robin. I know, what about Dick? Well, I’ll get onto Mr Grayson shortly, but when I think of Robin I think of Tim. It’s most likely due to the fact that I’m 25 years old, so when my interest in comics grew this was the Robin I was getting the most exposure to, the Robin I grew up reading about. He’s a phenomenally good detective, always keen to learn more and fiercely loyal. For me, he’s the logical successor to the cape and cowl since he’s more in the mindset of any of Batman’s previous understudies. Dick is too independent, Jason is too much of an unpredictable and violent force and Damian was just completely broken as a human being. I get the idea that that kind of helps, but he was too disconnected having being so heavily indoctrinated by Talia. I know Bruce started breaking those walls down to an extent, but he would never have filled the role as well as Tim. Thing is with Tim, while he was damn good as a Robin and as an understudy of Batman, he resisted thinking too much like Batman. When Tim lost his Dad he dealt with it exactly like Batman would, he bottled it all up and threw himself into his duties until he realised that not only was this really unhealthy but that he had a team and a group of friends around him in the Teen Titans.
And the Teen Titans was where he really grew as a character, being able to be himself around them and grow into a real leadership role. His tactical thinking was highly valued by everyone in the team and his loyalty to his team mates and incredible abilities in the field led to him being one of the most trusted members of the team. For someone as young as Tim, he accomplished an incredible amount. Absolutely my favourite Robin and one of Batman’s all time greatest allies.
Thankfully Tim wasn’t subjected to dodgy short-shorts either…
When that fateful bullet from the Joker struck Barbara Gordon in the spine her life and those around her were profoundly changed. No longer able to don her version of the cape and cowl, Barbara was unable to take to the streets and fight crime with her friends and allies. This, however, did not stop the resourceful young lady as she used her incredible skills with computers to become a living information centre for the Bat family. Her eidetic memory helped with this somewhat too, to say the least, and even though she was confined to her wheelchair Barb became one of the most useful members of the Bat family. This also provided an interesting challenge for writers of Barb, no longer able to have her run the usual kinds of gauntlets street level heroes have to go through and presenting her with a unique set of challenges instead.
To say I was disappointed that DC decided to get Barb out of her wheelchair and back on the streets in the New 52 reboot would be quite an understatement, there hasn’t really been any real replacement in this regard for Oracle. And not just in the sense of a tech-wizard-information-hub type character, but also a relateable physically disabled character being one of the most useful characters in a physically dominated world of superheroics. That was something very unique and very special, don’t get me wrong I’m really enjoying Gail Simone’s Batgirl series, but I miss Oracle.
I don’t think we’ll ever see a character like this again
Well, he had to show up on this list somewhere, didn’t he? Some may be shocked that Bats himself is not up at the number one slot, but the reasons he’s not come two fold; one I didn’t want to come off as biased just because this is in celebration of Batman’s 75th birthday and two he’s not my favourite of the family. The second point is probably the most important there.
Still, he is an incredible character. Parents shot in front of him at a young age, trained all over the world to be the ultimate MMA fighter (that’s basically what he is to be fair), at the absolute peak of human fitness and ability and also the world’s greatest detective. And that right there is the side of Batman I find the most interesting, his detective side. I think it’s missed out far too often, writers instead going for big moments against his huge rogues gallery. I get it, he has some of the greatest villains in the history of comic books and they deserve the spotlight as much as he does in some cases, but I think he should be spending more time out in the field investigating.
I also find the Bruce Wayne stories really interesting, they tend to make for a nice change of pace from his charging around in the cape and cowl beating the living hell out of wrong doers. Seeing him trying to fit in with the high fliers of society, throwing parties or fund raisers as a cover for a case he’s working or to draw out a mark to take them down. It’s all great to see, and is something I think has been wildly underused in the last couple of years. Although, credit where it’s due, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been running one of my all time favourite runs of comics, not just Batman but overall, and that is an achievement in and of itself.
Capullo draws an incredible Batman, possibly my favourite
Dick Grayson has come such a long way since the fateful death of his parents at the hands of a Gotham mob boss, learning the tricks of the trade from his mentor and guardian Bruce Wayne. Dick started out with a note worthy advantage, being a circus trapeze artist meant he was already agile, well balanced and in possession of damn quick reactions. His decision making in dangerous situations, fighting technique and detective skills all came with time under the wing of the big Bat, but he evolved into one of the best characters DC has at their disposal.
Eventually escaping from under the shadow of Batman, Dick left his role as Robin and took on his own superhero identity: Nightwing. This, I think, was Dick’s greatest achievement. Leaving the Batcave behind, Dick was so determined to carve out a destiny of his own he moved away from Gotham to Bludhaven and tried his best to quell the criminal underworld there. He’s been a leader and eventual teacher for the Teen Titans, leader of the Outsiders and leader of the Titans. Sure there can be a bit of bad blood between Dick and Bruce, certainly a fair degree of mistrust, but you can always see there is a huge sense of pride from Bruce for his first sidekick.
Again, whenever I think of Dick Grayson I think of Nightwing since that’s the role he’s been in since before I was even born. It’s why I never consider him to be my favourite Robin, that’s not who was Robin when I was growing up. To me Dick will always be Nightwing, regardless of what Dan Didio wants!
His costume’s a lot better than his old Robin costume too, let’s be honest
1. Batgirl (Stephanie Brown)
I can think of at least one person that’ll see this and think something along the lines of “well, what a surprise” in a very sarcastic tone. Steph is my favourite Batgirl, there’s no question about it and to be honest, my favourite member of the family. I know that by New 52 continuity she’s not even around yet, not technically. We know she’s coming back into it from that issue of Batman that gave us a glimpse into the future of Batman Eternal, which I was thrilled to see, but aside from that we haven’t seen her yet.
Now the way I’d have done this New 52 reboot is kept Barb in the wheelchair and had Steph carry on in the role of Batgirl, but sadly I’m not even working for DC let akone in a position to make those kinds of calls. Still, I think Steph is a great character full of optimism and life, something that can be missing a little in Gotham based titles sometimes. She was frequently the light that helped people see a little better in the doom and gloom that was the capital of crime, and sure her inexperience could work against her sometimes she grew into her role of Batgirl as time went on, something that was plain to see and very interesting to witness. It was a joy to see her over come obstacles and challenges rather than it just being the inevitable, and her independence allowed her stories a bit of breathing room from the other Bat stuff.
I miss Steph as Batgirl more than I do Barb as Oracle, but it’s one of those things I guess. Roll on bringing Spoiler back in Batman Eternal!
Until recently one of the most unfortunate casualties of the big red “reboot” button
And that’s a wrap on the first Bat themed Top 5 of the year, agree or disagree with these choices? Feel someone else should have been included? Feel free to let me know what you think, but I’m pretty happy with this selection. Got a feature landing tomorrow on framing those special comics you want to display proudly on your walls, so keep an eye out for that one. As always, thank you for stopping by and I hope you’ve all had a great weekend!