Robin Proudly Comes Out Into The 21st Century
Last week, at the end of DC's Batman: Urban Legends No. 6, Tim Drake, the third Robin, asked a male friend out on a date. It’s 2021 outside so this isn’t that shocking. Queer people exist and they aren't always ancillary characters. Sensible people took the news well, while the usual whiny brats complained about wokeness gone wild. There’s apparently no room for queerness in stories where costumed men with tight muscles wrestle each other for the fate of the world.
The New York Post broke the news with a tweet stating: “Holy coming out, Batman: Robin is bisexual, new comic confirms.” See, Robin often exclaimed, “Holy (Something)” on the 1960s “Batman" TV series and assorted cartoons from the 1970s. It was an unfortunate nervous tic for which he should’ve sought treatment.
Before you make any silly jokes about how Robin’s classic costume was an obvious hint about his sexuality, that’s actually Dick Grayson, the first Robin. (There’s been at least a half a dozen, which is annoying but that’s another post.) Dick — seriously, I said no silly jokes — was comfortable enough in his sexuality to fight crime without pants. Yes, Wonder Woman and Supergirl also wore similarly revealing costumes, but one is an Amazon and the other is from Krypton. Robin has no super powers, so he’s running around with bare legs in an upper Northeast climate.
Tim Drake, introduced in 1990, was the first Robin who had the sense to wear a costume with pants. You knew he took the job seriously because he’d studied weather patterns in Gotham City and concluded that he didn’t live in Florida. He was already on track to become the world’s greatest detective.
Tim Drake comes out as bisexual!🏳️🌈 #Robin [Batman: Urban Legends #6] https://t.co/bAc6wbrhlW— Best of DC Comics (@Best of DC Comics)1628645698.0
The Best of DC Comics Twitter account tweeted photos of the moment when Tim Drake "comes out as bisexual.” Not sure I’d call this a “coming out” scene, as Tim doesn’t know the rest of the world can see him ask out another guy. He isn’t aware he’s in a comic book. He’s not Deadpool. But quibbles aside, this is a significant step forward in how bisexuals are presented in mainstream media.
Bisexuality is too often coded “unconventional" at best and sinister at worst. There was also the bi-erasure on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Willow (Alyson Hannigan) was depicted as strictly a lesbian once she fell in love with Tara (Amber Benson), despite having had a serious relationship with a man (Seth Green’s Oz).
A bisexual male who isn’t the devil himself is also incredibly progressive, especially because Tim’s bisexuality isn’t shorthand for promiscuity. He’s possibly falling in love with another boy, who is his age and not his father. Unfortunately, some folks have taken this opportunity to dredge up the old, misguided rumors about Batman and Robin’s personal relationship.
Take 1942's Batman No. 13 for example. In it, Bruce Wayne and his young companion, Dick Grayson (the original Robin), relax together in a rowboat, on a pond, in the evening, just the two of them. "This is the life," sighs the young Robin as Batman paddles him around. Readers, as they would grow used to having to do, were left to interpret exactly what was going on between these two men.
Nothing was going on between Batman and Robin, who wasn’t a man in 1942 but a child. Bruce Wayne was Dick Grayson’s parental guardian. Their relationship wasn’t sexual. It was an idealized father and son relationship. Who doesn’t want to drive around in cool car with your dad and
play with cool toys use sophisticated crimefighting technology to defeat bad guys?
Something’s seriously wrong with anyone who reads those innocent (though often racist) comics and comes away thinking Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. Robin was often jealous of women who crushed on Batman (Catwoman and a non-lesbian Batwoman) but that jealousy wasn’t romantic. It was like any small boy who didn’t want an “icky girl” entering his all boy’s club.
Tim's bisexuality isn't technically retroactive continuity. He's dated girls in the past and might date girls again. He's still at his core the same character most Gen-X fans grew up reading.
In a 1979 issue of Uncanny X-Men, Spider-Man couldn’t even directly ask if Iron First was dating a Black woman. He stammered around the topic: “They still ... uh ... you know?” When told that the couple's interracial relationship was as passionate as ever, Spider-Man responded, “Far out!” Because in 1979, people still said “far out” (at least in comic books) and two people of different races in a romantic relationship still qualified as “far out.”
Robin is dating another boy, and it’s not “far out” or something to be discussed in hushed tones. It’s, well, normal.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."