How a dead Robin might influence the DC cinematic universe.
Before we jump in I just want to make it clear that the article below is built upon a foundation of speculation and rumor. The opinions and explanations laid out are simply a product of these rumors and this author’s attempt at making them fit into a logical landscape. Enjoy, and lets count how many times I’m forced to write “rumor”…
Death in the Family
Coupled with the early rumors that Batman v Superman would feature a grizzled, veteran Batman prowling the streets of Gotham and sister city Metropolis, was the whisper of a relic of the past. A suit, kept in glass and tucked away in the shadows of the bat-cave as an enduring reminder of Batman’s failures. This, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, is Robin’s costume. And if we’re to follow the appropriate Batman lore, only one Robin has been slain in active duty and then immortalized in glass: Jason Todd.
Jason Todd was the second character to take up the Robin mantle (Batman #357, 1983). While initially popular, his reception quickly fell and in 1988 DC held a telephone poll to coincide with their upcoming “Death in the Family” arc, urging readers to call in and determine whether or not Todd would be killed at the hands of the Joker. As a result Jason was beaten to death with a crowbar thanks to a margin of less than a hundred votes. And Batman’s guilt over his failure to prevent Todd’s death would become a running theme in subsequent stories.H
Jumping back to the present, the rumor of the appearance of Robin’s costume was finally confirmed (physically, that is) with the release of the Batman v Superman comic-con trailer, which notably features the Robin suit as well as a haunting message written across it in spray paint by the Joker himself. I rather like this take as it immediately presents us with an established history surrounding these larger than life characters, rather than an origin. Lines have already been drawn in the sand, and blood spilled as a consequence.
But that wasn’t all, soon after the internet fervor had died down a new rumor emerged (as is the trend these days). We were hearing that perhaps Zach Snyder would be going method with his approach to this portion of Batman’s history by taking the whole “Death in the Family” thing literally. Word was spreading that Snyder’s son, Eli, had been tasked with playing the fallen boy wonder in the upcoming film, presumably in a flashback sequence. Eli previously found his way onto his Father’s films, playing such roles as a young Leonidas in 300, and a young Rorschach in Watchmen. So the idea that he’d play Robin seemed quite plausible.
To further corroborate said rumor, Clay Enos, the set photographer who broke the desert suit Batman picture a few weeks earlier, posted one featuring Snyder and his son titled: Boy Wonder?
Interesting, non? Unfortunately without confirmation or flat out denial we’re left speculating. I’m leaning toward this is very much being the case, with Eli representing the first (and probably not the last) incarnation of Robin in the DCEU (recently christened as an Expanded Universe).
But something has me far more curious: Which Robin is he playing?
I know I mentioned Jason Todd above, as he’s the most logical through line when connecting the dots behind a dead Robin. But back in April another RUMOR (I’m getting sick of this already) reared it’s head in the form of a tombstone, or rather a picture of several tombstones, located near the Wayne family mausoleum. The picture reportedly came from an outdoor set near Detroit that had been used during the filming of BvS, and featured a grave marker with a familiar name: “Richard John Grayson“.
Now Dick Grayson is sort of a big deal. He’s the OG Robin, the one most classically associated with the name. And then once he’d outgrown the role, he became the hero known as Nightwing, a staple of the Bat-family and occasionally a fill in for Batman himself.
I doubt DC would go the route of two dead Robins, as that just seems like overkill and would lessen the impact of the sidekick’s death. Because Robin’s death represents a massive failure on Batman’s part. Not only does it call into question his abilities as a mentor, but as an idea, a force for good. Batman’s greatest sacrifice is taking the weight of crime upon his own shoulders. The bruises, the beatings, are all endured in the name of preventing the good people of Gotham from that hardship. At least that’s the ideological way of putting it, we’re all aware of the madness that no doubt lives below the surface. But a death like Robin’s would hang heavy on Batman’s conscience, and perhaps sway him to retire the cowl. Which might be where we find him in BvS, disillusioned after years in retirement and with a head full of bad memories.
Getting back on task, if we’re to believe these leaked pictures (it should be noted that Warner Brothers quickly called for their removal) it would suggest that the “Death in the Family” storyline has been adapted to fit Dick Grayson instead of Jason Todd, which would make for a far more tragic death than previously thought.
So is it Grayson or is it Todd? And if it’s Grayson then what do we make of the buzz that maybe DC is fast tracking a Red Hood film. Red Hood, for those not versed in convoluted canon, is the alias of the later resurrected Jason Todd, a sort of anti-hero, whose methodology for cleaning up the streets often takes a fatal turn. He does what Batman refuses to do, kill, which immediately puts him at odds with his former mentor and much of the other heroes.
The Under the Red Hood story-line, while dancing in shades of Winter Soldier, would make for a great on screen adaptation, as it can basically fit in anywhere. If Suicide Squad is well received, Red Hood’s adaptation could drag Batman and Joker into a confrontation with their bloody past. So would this be a Suicide Squad sequel? As Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship is apparently directly affected by Robin’s brutal death.
Or would this be the plot Affleck tackles in his stand alone film? Who knows? Well….someone knows. Although my money is on this idea being linked with the Suicide Squad films, as Geoff Johns’ involvement in Affleck’s Bat film indicates a potential adaptation of his “Earth One” material, or something similar in tone.
Ultimately, I think if you’re to include one previous Robin you go with Dick Grayson. But we won’t know if Snyder feels the same way for at least several more months.
What if Todd Was One of Us?
So what does it mean for Robin to be dead? Regardless of whether it’s Grayson or Todd who met their bloody end, Robin’s death directly speaks to what DC is trying to achieve with their cinematic universe. And well, it’s rather simple: humans, as in the masses, are ultimately irrelevant. We’re the casualties meant to line the periphery. Yes I know, Batman v Superman seems to take on the narrative of the public’s perception of a super-human like Superman, but ultimately you can be sure this matters little more than a mewling crowd to be manipulated by the powers that be (ie Luthor). Just like a dead teen matters little in the affairs of Gods.
And the DCEU is exactly that, a game of gods, not mortals. Man of Steel, even removed from what you think a proper representation of the character should be, very much devolved into a clash of titans. That is what Snyder seems to orchestrating with it’s pseudo-sequel, an operatic epic whose scale and stake grow larger and larger with each new addition to the pantheon.
Is this a bad thing? Certainly not, these kinds of stories have intertwined themselves with the hero narrative since the beginning. But it’s important to understand the distinction and not be fooled by the more comic-faithful elements. We, the people, don’t matter, plain and simple. As a reference point we can take a walk over to the MCU.
In last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier we met our first true-blue (or red) side-kick. One of that film’s greatest triumphs is establishing a Falcon that stands on his own, yet shares a terrific bond with Cap himself. They feel like a worthy duo whose skill sets compliment one another and offer the potential for simultaneous ass-kicking and character development. But Falcon is more than just a super-buddy. He’s an outsider, an average joe, albeit with military training, that has no stake in the greater strings being pulled. He is a tether to the outside, and isn’t punished for not existing within the Avengers arsenal.
Robin’s death emphasizes the opposite. It punishes Batman’s humanity, plunging him deeper into his crusade of darkness. To be clear I’m not saying Batman can’t exist without Robin, arguably the more successful iterations of the character on screen have existed without him. But killing his partner is the sort of bleak shit Snyder rolls around in while no one is looking. It ostracizes Batman so that he only understands humanity with a capital “H”. Which in some ways takes away the element that makes Batman stick out from the rest of the Justice League.
So where do we go from here? Is it possible, amidst the tragedy and gloom of Snyder’s DCEU, that this set-up is in fact the launching point for a new Bat dynasty? Another popular rumbling as of last week was the reveal that Jenna Malone is most likely playing Barbara Gordon, the deceased (in this movie-verse) Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. In the comics Barbara is known for being both Batgirl and Oracle. The latter, a result of a run-in with Joker that leaves her wheel-chair bound, acting as a sort of information hub for the Bat Family as they hit the streets.
I’m just gonna be blunt and say: Please, for the love of god, let Barbara be Batgirl. There’s no reason to maim both side-kicks, literally and figuratively. Barbara Gordon is the perfect witness for the return of the Dark Knight, and arguably would be the most effective replacement for Robin. She could be a stand-in for Batman in the films Affleck isn’t able to appear-in, maintaining a unique stance as well as the feeling that this world is very much connected. Think the Falcon scene in Ant-Man, rad- I know.
This would somewhat solve my issue above about the common folk not mattering. Because while it’s fun to watch these heroes and villains battle it out on a stage much like our own, they were born from the notion that they would elevate us to new heights. Not the other way around.
This topic contains plenty of points to debate, so please let us know what you think in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.