With Matt Reeves' The Batman movie building up steam, it’s about time Robin was brought back into the DC Extended Universe. The Boy Wonder has been missing in live-action since his last fateful outing with Batman & Robin, and wasn't seen as a viable character for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight saga.
The DCEU is experiencing a period of flux. With new management coming in, familiar names dropping out and more eclectic projects taking center stage, the franchise may finally be finding its feet after a tough couple of years. The planned Batman solo film, The Batman, to be directed by Matt Reeves of War for the Planet of the Apes, is in pre-production and gossip is swirling about the place it will take in the series.
Very little is known about the film, but it presents immense opportunities for DC, the main one being the chance to bring one of Gotham’s most beloved characters back to the big screen. It’s about time Robin got the movie treatment he deserves.
- This Page: Batman Has Been Solo in the Majority of His Movies
- Page 2: Titans Proves Robin Can Work in Live Action
Batman Has Been Solo in the Majority of His Movies
While it’s debatable as to how much of a loner Bruce actually is in the grand scheme of Batman stories, the common audience consensus is that Batman works alone. This offers striking cinematic storytelling opportunities as well as an undisputed leading man at the front and center, and is the pattern the DC movies have taken for the vast majority of their run. The exception is, of course, Joel Schumacher’s entries into the canon: Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. History has not been kind to this duology, with the latter entry widely considered the original nail in the coffin of the franchise. Since then, Bruce Wayne has flown solo, with mentions of Robin being left as backstory or unproduced future installments, like the reveal of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, little more than an Easter egg, in The Dark Knight Rises.
Whether it’s due to the weak performance of Chris O’Donnell in the Schumacher films or the bratty petulance of the character in those stories, Batman on the big-screen has remained Robin-free for over two decades now. The various animated series have included several iterations of the character, but for general audiences who experience Gotham only through the films, it’s clear that a large part of that universe’s mythos has been excluded from the narrative. At best, it’s a missed opportunity, and at worst, it’s unfair to the history of DC Comics.
At its best, the Batman and Robin dynamic is the comic book world’s best father-son story. This is something most of the films have completely shied away from exploring, possibly to keep Batman’s loner status intact. Even the Schumacher films downplayed this element by having a much older actor in the part. Leaving this element of Bruce’s life out of the cinematic canon does a major disservice to the character, as well as starving audiences of one of Gotham’s best heroes.
A Younger Batman is the Perfect Chance to Introduce Robin
Reports have indicated that Matt Reeves’ solo Batman film, currently titled The Batman, will center on a younger Bruce Wayne. It’s not clear whether this will be a prequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or a completely different narrative outside of the DCEU. With rumors of Ben Affleck’s dissatisfaction with the franchise and his desire to leave the role still swirling around Hollywood, gossip has increased on the possibility of this film being the jumping-off point for Bruce to pass down the mantle to a new Batman. Whatever the case, this would be a perfect opportunity to introduce Robin.
This could be done in several ways but there are two clear routes: have a younger Batman as a DCEU prequel that shows Robin’s origins (and maybe his untimely death if this is in the DCEU); or introduce Robin and have him take up the mantle from a retiring Bruce. Both options would be in line with the vast array of Robin stories featured in the comics, from the death of Jason Todd to the evolution of Dick Grayson into Nightwing. Bringing Robin into the fold would also open the field for DC and Warner Bros. to introduce the rest of the Bat-clan. A Batgirl movie and Nightwing movie are already in the works, but there’s plenty of room for characters like Batwoman too.
Page 2 of 2: Titans Proves Robin Can Work in Live Action
Hype for Titans Shows a Demand for the Character
Teen Titans has remained an enduring favorite of DC fans, across the comics and various animated series. Now, Titans is coming to live-action TV through the DC Universe streaming platform, and anticipation is high. Brenton Thwaites will star as Dick Grayson, and the series will feature characters like Starfire and Raven. Curran Walters has also been cast in a guest role as Jason Todd.
The series will follow Dick as he tries to get out of the shadow of Batman, but it’s questionable whether Bruce will appear on the show. That means there will be two continuities in DC live-action entertainment where Bruce and Dick are separate. This feels like a missed opportunity – a Batman with no Robin and vice-versa – but the excitement for Titans at least shows the passion for the Robin character that the films have yet to capitalize on.
It's Important for Continuity - if it's in the DCEU
At some point, the DCEU has to at least acknowledge the presence of Robin beyond the brief scene of his costume on display in the Batcave in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Audiences know that Robin is canon and was killed, most likely by the Joker. This could be covered in a prequel or offer a striking jumping-off point for the franchise to tell the story of the death and resurrection of Jason Todd. However, director Zack Snyder has already hinted on social media that Robin in this iteration may have been Dick Grayson (which could prove tricky for the franchise given the planned Nightwing film), although that's easy enough to retcon since it's not shown on screen. To leave so dramatic and impactful a story to a seldom acknowledged off-screen event feels unfair to fans.
We’ve Never Had a Great Big Screen Robin
One of the big problems the various directors and studio heads taking on the Batman universe have had with the material is dealing with its sillier and more camp elements. Some, like Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, ran as far away from them as possible, while others, like Joel Schumacher, wholeheartedly embraced them right down to the bat nipples. Audiences’ tastes tend to skew more towards the former, and part of the sacrifice made for that depiction seems to have been to exclude Robin, as well as the wider Bat ensemble. After Chris O’Donnell’s depiction of Dick Grayson, a “boy wonder” in his mid-to-late twenties who dries his laundry by spinning it around like nunchucks, audiences soured on the character and he never seemed like a good fit for Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
All of this has been a let-down to the DC fans who love Robin in his various iterations, from Dick Grayson to Jason Todd to Tim Drake to Stephanie Brown to Damian Wayne (with a short stop at Carrie Kelley). Robin acts as a necessary tie to the world for Bruce, especially when he’s at his most morose an isolated, and each version of the sidekick has brought their own charm, motivations and plotlines. There’s myriad stories to be told with both Bruce and Robin, depending on the version chosen. With a Nightwing movie in development, we know the character will be featured eventually. Why not expand on that and bring in Jason Todd, which opens the doors to an Under the Hood or Death in the Family arc? It’s doubtful the franchise plan to bring in Damian Wayne, at least not this early in its life cycle, but there’s certainly some fascinating ground to explore through the second generation of the Wayne clan. DC are making great strides in terms of gender diversity too, so how about having Carrie Kelley or Stephanie Brown be Robin? It doesn’t seem entirely unfeasible for the former to happen, given the obvious Frank Miller influences in the DCEU.
The DCEU still has so much ground to explore in Gotham City, from the eclectic array of villains to the extended Bat-family and the hierarchy of crime that dominates their world. Whatever direction Warner Bros. chooses to take the franchise in, it only feels right that they find room in it for Robin. Whatever capacity Robin fills in the canon, it’s sure to be a thrilling one, but DC already have a great opportunity to bring him into the fold with The Batman. It’s a chance they should take.