Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hero Fashion File - Robin Through The Ages

This is something new. I've kind of done similar stuff in the past, looking at a character's past and showing different costumes and such, but I want to take a purely sartorial approach to various characters' looks over the ages and for whatever reason, Robin has been on my mind lately.

Robin, a.k.a. orphaned circus trapeze artist, Dick Grayson, was taken in by wealthy Bruce Wayne, secretly, crime fighter Batman and became his sidekick-- the first ever!-- Robin the Boy Wonder. What most people don't realize today is that Robin was modeled after Robin Hood, not the bird. (Batman himself was heavily influenced by Zorro.) Knowing this, you can pick out certain medieval influences in Robin's costume, the loose-fitting tunic, the color green and the use of chain mail (on his trunks).

Up to this point, comics, even super hero books, were pretty dark and pulpy. Robin was meant to give kids a character they could project themselves upon and someone who would lighten the dark mood of the book. Comics are a visual medium and super heroes were meant to pop off the page, thus his bold color scheme, red, yellow and green. (Just as a note, Batman's costume was originally conceived of as being black and RED!)

The short pants and pixie boots are dated today, but it was a more innocent time and they were supposed to serve as shorthand to convey his youthful nature.

It's hard to imagine now when super heroes change suits every time they get a new artist and some characters actually wear multiple suits for different occasions, but back in the day, they had one look and they didn't deviate from that! Robin kept the same suit up until the 80s, even after his short shorts became kind of awkward for readers.

I don't think it was ever specified what those notches on his tunic are. I always interpreted them as snaps or buttons, but on the 1960s Batman show, as portrayed by Burt Ward, they were laces. Ward, being an adult, wore white/flash tone tights rather than going bare-legged. The suit pretty much looked exactly as it did in the comics, the only other exception being his shorts were fabric and not chain mail.

Also, interestingly, the shorts of Ward's TV costume are actually part of a leotard with the green sleeves as part of that and the red portion of his tunic as a separate "vest." This was also the way George Perez rendered the costume in The New Teen Titans in the 80s. I'm not sure whether it was Ward who started it or not, but earlier, Robin had worn his hair with two spit curls in the front, but by the late 60s had started parting it to the side, which is how it remained for decades.

In the late 60s, comics were being revitalized with more grounded, gritty, realistic storylines. Wonder Woman lost her powers temporarily and Superman's were significantly reduced. The concept of a teen sidekick, especially in such a vibrant outfit, seemed outdated, so Dick Grayson went off to college and Bruce Wayne moved out of Stately Wayne Manor into an urban penthouse, and the books took on a darker tone. Robin continued operating, either solo or alongside Batgirl or the Teen Titans. However, he was back at Batman's side on the 1973 animated series, Super Friends. The main change that was wrought was switching out his "elf shoes" for a pair of winged boots. I don't really know why this change was made, but it was.
In one Justice League story, it was revealed that on a parallel world, Batman, who'd begun fighting crime in the 30s had since retired and that this world's Robin had taken over as guardian of Gotham City. Although he kept the name Robin, he adopted a very Batman-inspired costume, grey union suit, navy glove, boots and trunks and even the same yellow utility belt. He deviated by wearing a finned version of his domino mask, but no cowl, a yellow-lined cape with flared collar and his logo was a bat-winged R in a circle.

When the "real" Robin's suit was wrecked, this alternate reality Robin gave him a spare costume which... uh, kinda sucked. It more closely resembled the classic Robin suit, with a red form fitting shirt with off-center R logo over his heart, but no buttons/snaps/laces/whatever they were. Also, the shirt is solid red, no green sleeves. Green gloves and more traditional super hero boots and trunks. But yellow TIGHTS? It's just too much! The Earth 2 Robin (the older one) eventually wound up wearing this suit full time and then he died. I think Karl Lagerfeld killed him.

In a surprising twist, in 1980, Robin joined the NEW Teen Titans. Over the 70s, Robin had developed into a smart, confident solo hero. Gone was the "laughing boy daredevil" of his early years. In fact, this Robin grappled with frustration at constantly being viewed as Batman's kid sidekick. This led to him adopting his own identity, Nightwing. In a suit designed by George Perez, the new suit was sleek and sexy, in bold two-toned blue with gold "feather" trim. Though dated now, the high collar and V-neck were meant to add sex appeal as Grayson, under Perez's pen, had developed into quite a sex symbol to readers. His mask is now in a scalloped "wing" style and all his gadgets previously stored in his utility belt were now concealed in those two wrist bands.

The V-neck went out of style quickly, so his suit was redesigned. This version eliminated most of the light blue, relegating them to the gloves and boots. The yellow was intensified, with the addition of "glider wings." The previous version professed to keep his various gadgets in his wrist bands, but this suit had a full-on utility belt. Oh PS, he traded V-neck for mullet... so... seriously, DOWNGRADE!

Eventually, he was redesigned again and cut that damn mullet. This new suit ditches the yellow entirely, with a solid navy suit and a stylized light blue chevron design that runs up his arms and forms a jagged V. The utility belt is once again swapped out for compartmentalized wrist and now calf bands.

On Batman: The Animated Series, he wore a variation of this suit, but rather than a nondescript chevron, his suit forms a bird silhouette with notched "feathers" on bottom. Kept that goddamn mullet, though.

For some reason, in DC Universe Online, which is supposed to be based on the comics, they reincorporated the bird motif from the Animated Series, but mashed up with his actual current comic book costume.
Since Dick Grayson became Nightwing, DC wanted a new Robin, so Jason Todd was introduced as his lookalike replacement. He wore Robin's "classic" suit, right down to the spit curls... but not before trying out this hot mess:
Shades of that Earth 2 costume! ACTUALLY, this isn't too far off from the next longest running Robin suit, but I think that silly jagged neckline design just kills it. To differentiate him from Dick Grayson, Jason Todd was given a "hip" streetwise persona... which of course was SUPER annoying, so fans voted that DC kill him off. (Or maybe Karl Lagerfeld came back and polished him off for that second suit.)

Meanwhile in a parallel universe, in what was essentially DC's first Elseworlds tale, in The Dark Knight Returns, a 50+ year-old Batman takes on a new Robin, Carrie Kelly, a spunky and resourceful teen girl. She suits up in the classic Robin suit which remarkably actually works pretty well on a girl! The only real modification was swapping out Dick Grayson's domino mask for green tinted shades, which when you think about it, adds an extra layer of protection to one's eyes, so good idea!

Back in the real DCU, once again, Batman was Robin-less and after Jason Todd had been beaten to death by The Joker, wasn't keen on taking on a new sidekick. Enter child prodigy Tim Drake, who figured out on his own that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Nightwing (and that Grayson was formerly Robin). Tim insisted that Batman needed a Robin, as sans one, he'd become more and more violent and reckless. At first, he tried to convince Dick Grayson to put those tiny green scaled shorts back on... not that I blame him there, wink!

But when that failed, he put the suit on himself. But by this point, everyone agreed that the classic suit was outdated, so he then gained this modern suit, designed by Neal Adams. The red tunic is swapped out for a red leotard over green tights. The loose green sleeves are still there, but now have compartments for various Bat-gizmos, as do his green gloves. Since this suit sports green tights, his practical boots were colored black and originally featured a ninja-style split between the big toe and... the rest of the toes. And in a nice update that stays true to the classic, his cape is still yellow... just on the inside. The outside is black, making for a more practical cloak for covert ops.

Chris O'Donnell wore a pretty full-on adaptation of this suit in Batman Forever. Like Batman in the live-action films, the suit was rendered as more a suit of armor with musculature molded in than a cloth suit. The biggest change, I think was making his suit long-sleeved and giving him black gloves with fins like Batman's.

In his second outing as Robin in Batman & Robin, O'Donnell donned a suit modeled after that worn by Nightwing, a black suit with chevron stripe almost identical to that worn by the adult Dick Grayson in the comics, except rendered in red versus light blue, since the character was still Robin in the movie.

Since this movie was made for the sole purpose of selling toys (I'm. Not. Joking.), they gave each character multiple costumes. As shitty as this movie was, I can't hate much on the costumes, codpieces and nipples aside. I think this black and silver number is pretty snazzy!

The design of this suit is pretty close to the black and red one, but whereas the first suit is all black with just the red chevron, there's a lot more silver on this one. Ahem, what was I saying about codpieces?

On the Teen Titans cartoon, Robin appeared in what is basically Tim Drake's suit, but minus the shorts and more hardware on his boots. His belt is also more detailed.

The role of Robin in the comics was briefly filled by Stephanie Brown, formerly known as The Spoiler. Her suit's was virtually identical to Tim Drakes, but with a skirt instead of trunks and the addition of a red headband. Currently, Stephanie maintains a role in the Batverse as the newest Batgirl.

On Batman: The Animated Series, they used Dick Grayson as Robin, but dressed him in Tim Drake's costume. Toward the end of the series, Dick became Nightwing and Tim Drake was brought in as the new Robin, but the producers felt the need to give him a new costume to differentiate him from Dick. With its black and red color scheme, this suit seems to be more based on the bird robin than Robin Hood.

There really is NO reference to Robin Hood... in a bold move, they've removed all the green from his costume and it is pretty much form-fitting, so no loose tunic. No chain mail, either.
And DC always makes their comic book characters dress like they do on whatever cartoon version of them is airing at the time, so Tim Drake in the comics quickly adopted this look in the books. The only real difference is it's more detailed, especially the pouches on his belt and the Batman fins on the gloves.
On the current Young Justice cartoon, Dick Grayson appears as Robin, returning to his "laughing boy daredevil" persona. His suit resembles this Tim Drake costume, but like Teen Titans, they've added a lot of detailing and hardware. Rather than wearing trunks, like in the comics, they've added two red strips on his thighs that resemble the flaps of the classic Robin tunic.

In his legendary miniseries Kingdom Come, painter Alex Ross depicted a dystopian futuristic version of the DC Universe. In this future, Dick Grayson had reverted to his Robin identity with a tweak, he was now Red Robin. His suit was heavily based on the movie version of Batman's, especially with the molded cowl and I think the boots are identical. He retains a bit of his Robin-ness, though with the return of a red tunic (no green, still). In addition to his utility belt, he's added two bandoleers that converge in a new Robin logo featuring a bird silhouette.

In the comics, Tim Drake has since adopted the name and costume Red Robin. Even though his lover best friend Superboy says he's "not a cowl guy."

When Bruce Wayne was believed to be dead, Dick Grayson took on the role of Batman, donning a slightly modified version of the suit, with a more stylized belt and sturdier wrist gauntlets. He took on Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son Damian as his Robin. Damian's Robin suit features a black bodysuit, with the red tunic over it. No green sleeves, but green gloves, like Batman's featuring sturdy wrist gauntlets and green Doc Martens with red laces. His belt is black with a yellow buckle and his short two-tone cape features a hood.

That brings us up to date on the comic looks of Robin, but I wanted to add one more that was featured in a recent art book released featuring the work of Alex Ross. This is an update he envisioned for Robin that DC (wisely in my opinion) passed on. He returns the green chain mail armor from the original trunks, but this time makes it more like a full-on suit of medieval armor, definitely bringing to mind Robin Hood instead of the bird. Whereas other revamps have ditched the green in favor of black, Ross has done the opposite, making the suit almost entirely green. His cloak is described as being made of a fabric that sort of changes tones depending on lighting, so it can look green sometimes and yellow at others. The boots are a nice homage to the character's original pixie boots. But overall, I just plain don't like this suit. The green is a sickly pea tone and it's overwhelming! And how acrobatic is he supposed to be in chail mail from the neck down? And honestly, it comes across as VERY old-fashioned. So like I said, DC was probably wise to pass on it.

So there we have it, a look at Robin(s) through the ages!


  1. This was a really good post.

  2. Really good. I'd love it if you'd put on some kind of time-line. Louise

  3. i love the Young Justice Robin, and just picked up the DC Direct Arkham City Robin today, which is dark in tone as well- a GREAT character with so many possibilities

  4. I bought the Arkham City Robin too, even though I don't play video games. I really dig that design!