Young Justice’s Robin: Perfecting a Boy Wonder
Since his debut in 1940, many a character has taken on the mantle of Robin. From Dick Grayson to Damien Wayne, different people and different interpretations of those people have donned the bright colors of Robin and been called “Boy Wonder” (or Girl Wonder for that period when Steph was Robin). Every iteration has its ups and downs, and debate has and will continue to rage over the “best Robin”. Consider this me making my case for a specific Robin: Dick Grayson’s Robin from the first season of the HBOMax show Young Justice.
Now, before we start, I should mention that this isn’t a deep dive into Dick Grayson’s character from the show. Only his Robin. As the show progresses, Grayson sheds the Robin persona and becomes Nightwing (much like his comic book counterpart), and while I really like Nightwing, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
What makes this Robin special? A couple of things. For one, the show allows us to see more of him than we’re used to. Robin is known as “the Boy Wonder”. One half of the “Dynamic Duo” with Batman, and in much of his appearances in media, that is how he has been portrayed. An extension of Batman, not so much his own person (at least not until he becomes Nightwing). Young Justice sidesteps that problem. Because the show is focused on the “sidekicks” (Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad are the main protagonists) separate from their mentors, we are allowed to experience these characters as their own people. And that forces them to discover who they are when untethered from the heroes. Robin goes into the team’s first mission with the ambition of being batman and it takes a catastrophic failure for him to realize that maybe he’s not quite as ready to lead as he’s previously thought. After the episode “Failsafe”, he confides in Black Canary that he no longer has that goal. That is a level of emotional storytelling that we hadn’t seen for Robin in almost any media, comic or otherwise.
The second reason, again made possible because of the distance to their mentors, is Robin’s interpersonal relationships with the rest of the team. Traditionally, Batman and Robin are somewhat of an isolationist duo. It’s just the two of them, but here we get to see Robin create and nurture friendships with others in the superpowered circle. His bond with Kid Flash is the tightest, but it doesn’t stop there. He’s easy enough to make friends with, even if he always covers his eyes, and even has a romantic relationship going with Zatanna by the end of the season. (How I wish we saw more of that!) Despite his upbringing, he’s friendly and personable, a sharp contrast to the brooding shadow that is Batman. He can tap into his “Batman-ness” (for lack of a better word), and that usually happens on missions, but mainly, the show takes great pains to illustrate that Robin is his own person separate and distinct from the Caped Crusader.
Finally, and this is perhaps my favorite part of him, is his uniqueness. He’s a 13 year old boy who has been trained since he was 9 in the ways of stealth and crimefighting, and he cackles before disappearing into the night. His bombs have that same cackle recorded to lure bad guys. His personal terminal has his face in different stages as a progress bar (I know this is more writing convention but it’s fun to think of him actually designing that). And there’s his speaking mannerisms. His cavalier, quipping attitude is well established but his speaking, and in particular his fondness for self-created words, is something unique to this Robin. In the first episode he remarks, “Why isn’t anyone ever just ‘whelmed’?” in response to Kid Flash being overwhelmed to see the Hall of Justice and Mr. Freeze. Since then, we’ve gotten such gems as “traught”, “concerted”, a fandom favorite which is “aster”, and many more. These things help to illustrate something that most other iterations of Grayson’s Robin skip over: he’s still just a kid.
The case for the “Best Robin” will likely continue for all time. All we can do is make our case for our pick. And that’s what I’ve tried to do here.