Friday, September 6, 2013

Batman 1966 Fantasy Casting: Robin, the Boy Wonder

[Note: As this post was fomenting and as I was composing it, word broke Thursday, September 5th, 2013 that Batwoman creative team J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman would be leaving the ongoing comic book series, citing editorial differences; specifically that DC was prohibiting Kate Kane's marriage to same-sex partner, Maggie Sawyer. The creators maintained that it was not so much the same-sexness, but the marriage. Over the last few years, previously married characters, like Superman and Barry Allen, had been re-booted as single. Superman's marriage to Lois Lane has been undone, and now he has begun a high profile relationship with Wonder Woman. Previously, the Amazing Amazon was linked to non-powered Steve Trevor. This new relationship launches a new Superman/Wonder Woman book. Also, in the last few years, Sue Dibney, the wife of Elongated Man Ralph Dibney was murdered by Ray Palmer's crazy ex-wife Jean Loring. Longtime partners Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman were separated, as were. Jay and Joan Garrick, by a recent line-wide re-boot. It seems only Aquaman and Mera have a stable relationship...although it is unclear as to whether or not they are married or just partners.]

Let's talk about Dick Grayson. Robin, the Boy Wonder. The original sidekick. He, and Jimmy Olsen, were originally created to make Batman and Superman more approachable and kid-friendly. The idea was that Robin and Jimmy would draw readers in, because they were the "stand-in" for the target reader. Young boys would be able to see themselves in adventures right there along-side The Dark Knight or The Man of Steel. It was ideal. While it worked for Jimmy Olsen, it became problematic over the years for Dick Grayson.

The problem for Dick Grayson is that, like Bruce Wayne, his parents were killed. Bruce Wayne's parents were killed by a stick-up man in an alley. A young, orphaned Bruce vowed to wage a war on criminals, and when he reached adulthood he was inspired to take on the guise of a bat and become a Batman. Originally he was a lone figure. His friendship, as Bruce Wayne, with Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon, kept him in touch with what was going on, but he was a loner. He was a millionaire-playboy. He was engaged to an up-and-coming actress, but that was short-lived. The problem for Dick Grayson, initially, is that he loses both his parents and is taken on in a male-chauvinist environment. His mentor is driven to perfection, and there are few females to counter-balance Batman.

A year after Batman made his debut in 1939, it was decided that he needed a sidekick. Something to balance and counteract the dark, Gothic image of The Dark Knight. For a year, Batman had fought monsters and gangsters. When Robin made his debut, he brought along with him the more colorful, and cartoonish rogues, like The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler. Robin made his debut in Detective Comics 38, April 1940. The Joker and Catwoman made their debut around the same time, in the first issue of Batman comics in the Spring of 1940. Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family butler, was introduced in 1943. In the 1964, shortly before the television series premiered, Dick was given an Aunt Harriet. For twenty-four years, Dick Grayson was focused solely on adventure, crime and criminals. He had a few crushes; the only times he has been paired up as a couple has been with female super-heroes.

Initially, he was paired off with the original Bat-Girl, Betty Kane, the niece of adventurer and female counter-part to Bruce Wayne, Kathy Kane. Kathy fought crime alongside Batman as Batwoman. Betty was a Sandra Dee type. When Batman was being revamped in the '60's and brought to television, the sci-fi approach of the '50's was shaken off, and characters like Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Ace, the Bat-Hound weren't used anymore. Alfred had been killed off and Aunt Harriet added to the cast of supporting characters. Later, Dick was paired with the new Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who was somewhere between five to ten years older than him. In the comic books, he was later paired with Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman's teen sidekick. Wonder Girl was an original member of the Teen Titans, a group of young sidekicks. Robin was the unofficial leader of the group. It wasn't until a revival of the group in 1980, that Dick was given a girlfriend, the alien super-heroine, Starfire, also known as Princess Koriand'r.

If Dick Grayson were a character in a novel or a play, his story would have boundaries. His story would have some kind of resolution. It would reach a conclusion or an end. There would be a sense of closure. But since Dick Grayson is a comic book character, and his story has been adapted to television and film, his story is ongoing. In an effort to keep him fresh as a character, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, there are certain compromises that have to be adhered to. The first one is that Robin, like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, can never reach a conclusion. Superman fights a "never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way". Secondly, nothing can be introduced to distract from that never-ending battle. Bruce Wayne can never be seen enjoying any thing else outside of fighting crime as Batman.

Which explains why Dick Grayson has spent all his time in a male-dominant environment, without a girlfriend - or any kind of significant relationship - and the only contact he's had apart from Batman has been either with other sidekicks, or other super-humans. Now, remember, he's the stand-in for you and I in the audience. Dick Grayson, like Jimmy Olsen, represents you and I, that Batman, and Superman would take us on as a friend, confidant and sidekick. The problem is, that as a sidekick, Marvel's Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man is a better representation than Dick Grayson. Peter is more realistic. He's shy, he doesn't know how to talk to girls. Peter is the underdog that Dick - who is a millionaire's ward - could never be. Unless Bruce was given a completely different approach.

Bruce Wayne never officially adopted Dick Grayson. He was his guardian. He was his mentor. He was never officially his parent. That's because adoption requires two parents. A single person is rarely considered able to raise a child. So, the solution would be for Bruce to be in a somewhat stable relationship, like his engagement to actress Julie Madison. In the comic books, Jule broke off their engagement because, even though Bruce was a wealthy millionaire, he didn't actually do anything. He was idle rich. Julie, like any woman, wanted Bruce to accomplish something. As the head of the charitable Wayne Foundation, that would be possible. Bruce would be accomplishing a better Gotham City in both guises. Taking on an orphan, and raising him as a son, could draw Bruce and Julie together. The conflict could still be there in how Bruce handled characters like Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy), Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Talia Head (Ra's Al Ghul's daughter). Any bumps that would come up in Bruce and Julie's relationship would risk Dick's adoption - and risk Batman and Robin's partnership.

The next step would be, where would Dick Grayson go to school and what crowd would he be part of outside of his relationship with Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon. In the comic books, his relationships were with other super-heroes and other teen sidekicks. He was the leader of the Teen Titans.

What would his role be on the 1966 live-action Batman television series?

"Boy, I wonder..."

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