MovieBob - Intermission
Three Reasons for Robin

Bob Chipman | 14 May 2010 12:00
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Three weeks ago, when composing a review for The Losers, I found myself in a critic's conundrum: I had nothing to say. The movie wasn't just bad, it was boring, and I'd exhausted my supply of witty observations only to find myself running a bit short for time and devoid of anything much interesting - at least from my perspective - for the viewer to chew on.

Long story short, I decided to tack a post script relating to the previous week's review of Kick Ass on to the beginning, relating to a contention of mine that the character of Hit-Girl can serve as evidence that kid sidekicks in superhero movies aren't as bad an idea as everyone has been conditioned to accept that they are. Or, in summary, I'd like to see Robin turn up in the next Batman movie. My operating logic was simple: nobody seems to care about The Losers, people do seem to care about the then week-old Kick-Ass, everybody seems to care about the next Batman movie.

That episode drew about 160 comments in the The Escapist Forums. Of that 160, about 130 wanted to talk about the under-one-minute bit about Robin, as opposed to the several minutes devoted to The Losers. Of that 130, I think all of two people didn't think I'd taken leave of my senses. I'd be lying if I said I knew (or even figured) that the response would be any different if I suggested the same in any other context. It's a running theme when it comes to my relationship with the Batman movies: Everyone hates Robin, except me.

Why am I alone on this?

Granted, I'm the guy who wants more color 'n' crazy when it comes to genre film and superheroes in particular. If Warner Bros. handed me $100 million and final cut, the first thing you'd see in a new Superman movie would be Krypto the Superdog (he wouldn't talk, though). But Robin isn't just some random offbeat side character, he's the second most important figure in the Batman mythos! The only fixtures of Batman that have been around longer are Alfred and The Joker.

Well, let it never be said that MovieBob doesn't relish the opportunity to explain himself. Here's what I'll call three good reasons that the Boy Wonder ought to turn up in the next Bat-film, although hopefully they won't call him that.

#1. He Belongs There

To my mind, this is probably the most prominent rationale anyone could make: Robin is one of the key components of the Batman franchise, and has been for about 99% of its existence. Batman is about 70 years old, Robin is about 69. Do the math. You wouldn't make a Sherlock Holmes movie without Watson, right? King Arthur without Merlin? The Lone Ranger without Tonto? And if you did, it would be patently obvious that their absence was temporary or plot-specific - you wouldn't simply leave them out.

And yet this has been the default approach for Batman adaptations in the modern era, mostly owing to the period in which they started up. The original run of big-budget Batman movies ran concurrent with the 90s, the era when comic publishers first fully realized there was a (temporary) goldmine in tailoring the material toward 30-something hardcore fans rather than the younger audience that had typically sustained them. "Grim 'n' Gritty" books doing weak imitations of Watchmen were in, anything that reminded "mature" fans of the material's inherent juvenility were out ... so if you're trying to re-imagine the Caped Crusader as a one-dimensional Ball-Of-Angry, the humanizing element of a teenaged sidekick is the first thing you ditch. (For those keeping track, the Grim 'n' Gritty 90s had the secondary effect of essentially destroying the American comic book industry.)

So, I get it. Thanks to the Burton movies and their subsequent ripple effect, there's basically one or two generations of fans for whom Batman has always been this solitary character while Robin is this other thing that doesn't quite fit, but keeps turning up anyway. I get that, I just don't agree. Batman existed as an on-his-own character for barely a year before the first Robin turned up, and he's been around in some form ever since. Batman and Robin are the franchise, and even in the best of cases (read: The Dark Knight) I can't help but feel like there's an awkward empty spot somewhere to the left of Batman where the Boy Wonder ought to be standing; his absence is as palpable as would be the absence of Alfred or the Bat-Signal.

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