The story bible for Batman: The Animated Series stresses in the supporting cast section that they don’t want to pad out the stories with unnecessary characters, but even though they wanted all of the focus on Batman they understood the importance of the supporting cast. Robin would go on to share billing with his partner while Alfred may be at his best here. (Alfred from The Batman is a good second in my opinion because it uses so much of what Efrem Zimbalist Jr. brought to the character.)
The Dark Knight without the Boy Wonder doesn’t feel right and thanks to this show Alfred’s absence is even worse. So what were the intentions for the characters compared to what we ended up with?
Dick Grayson was born into a circus family. As part of the “Flying Graysons”, he excelled early on at all forms of acrobatics. When his parents were murdered by a gangster trying to extort money from the circus, Dick was adopted by Bruce Wayne. Having lost his own parents to crime, Wayne felt a kinship with the young orphan, and trained him to be his assistant and partner, Robin.
So far, that’s accurate to Robin’s origin in the show. Obviously the tale had yet to be fleshed out as it would later on.
In our series, Dick Grayson will be older than the “classic” depictions of Robin, and he will not be Batman’s full-time partner. Our Robin will be about twenty, and he’ll operate pretty much as a solo adventurer and crime fighter. Of course, he will still have very close ties to Batman and Bruce Wayne, and Batman will call him in on cases from time to time.
I still say we should have seen some of Robin’s solo adventures or had Robin call Batman in on a case he was working on. It would have shown that Dick actually was doing things other than schooling when he was away from the Batcave. I do like that we got an older Robin, who would get to be Nightwing in the Kids WB show. In the era I first read Batman comics Robin had gone to college but Bruce had moved operations into Gotham City, so it feels close to what was going on when I first got in. Of course, their reasoning was to keep Batman as solo as possible.
As Robin, Dick possesses keen reflexes, acrobatic skill and strength and endurance that makes him second only to Batman. He’s also much more verbal than Batman, and will occasionally taunt criminals while he’s fighting them. (NOTE: Robin will not engage the hoods with witty repartee and puns; he’s actually kind of a smart-ass, egging them to take their best shots and then decking them.)
Well, we don’t want to turn him into Spider-Man, right? It works for Robin. They’re underestimating him because he’s not Batman and he’s in bright colors. The taunts make them made and Robin takes advantage of that. It’s a good strategy for him.
Robin enjoys the thrill of crime-fighting, and Batman sometimes has to restrain him from charging into action without considering every deductive angle first. This is indicative of their relationship as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as well. Though Dick also lost his parents to crime, he is not driven by Batman’s same demons. Batman may use the Bruce Wayne persona as a cover, but Dick Grayson and Robin are pretty much the same young man.
That doesn’t put Dick in a good light, does it? Maybe because it doesn’t address any good that Robin does for Batman. There’s a theory about why Robin handles his parents’ murder better than Batman did his that I haven’t seen anyone bring up before. The Graysons were a trapeze act that didn’t use a safety net, so watching his parents fall to their death is something any trapeze performer is probably prepared for as a way to keep themselves from taking unnecessary risks. Also, Bruce made it a mission that Dick wouldn’t turn into him, but would have a proper way to channel his anger at criminals in a way Bruce himself couldn’t.
By day, Dick will attend college at Gotham State where he majors in criminology. He’ll live at the campus dormitory, but will make periodic visits to Wayne Manor to help Batman on a case or to check up on his friend’s well being. Dick knows that Batman’s war on crime brings him close to the edge, and makes it part of his job to lighten things up when things get too intense.
And that’s why Batman needs Robin, as Tim Drake once pointed out in the comics. I want to end Robins section by discussing the character model included, because he has a rather different look. Considering the fact that he is supposed to be twenty year old in this version, this doesn’t look right.
Click for the full-size version. He looks closer to the teenage he’s always depicted as whenever Robin shows up in a new continuity, barring the recent direct-to-video movies where he’s Nightwing already. This is one of the first designs changed by his first show appearance. It kind of reminds me of the more recent Robin figure from the current Batman line (the toyline that the Batman Unlimited movies comes from), only with short sleeves. There is a picture that looks more like the design they went with.
He looks older and his hair isn’t standing up.
Finally for this installment we come to Alfred, the loyal butler. Originally that’s all he was, Bruce and Dick’s butler, and comic relief. Over time he’s become an ex-government agent who took over for this father as the Wayne family butler. Now he’s supposed to be ex-military and one of Bruce’s trainers if you follow Beware The Batman or Gotham. How did he start out in the series?
Other than Robin, Wayne Manor’s trusted butler Alfred is the only person to know Bruce Wayne’s secret identity. A long time friend to Bruce’s father, Alfred understands Wayne’s grief and his desire to fight crime. Although concerned with Wayne’s safety, he realizes that risks must be taken and considers himself part of the Batman’s operation.
And he very well is. He runs the computer when Batman is investigating elsewhere, calls Robin in when Batman needs it, and maintains the equipment.
Alfred knows that his master is often uncomfortable with the boorish Bruce Wayne persona, and Alfred’s wicked dry wit is obvious in the easing of this tension through his orchestration of the Wayne charade. He controls Wayne’s daily routine with upmost attention to detail, often going so far as to select Wayne’s wardrobe and oversee his social calendar.
Not mentioned is that Alfred also kind of hopes Bruce will give up the cowl and try to have a normal life. He looks at Bruce like a son (which the bible also says is the relationship between Dick and Alfred when Bruce isn’t around) and doesn’t want to see him hurt. This will lead to a few arguments when the series and Mask Of The Phantasm movie is over. He isn’t the doting butler and will challenge Bruce if he gets too close to crossing a line, even ones Bruce himself created.
Alfred’s humor is priceless to The Batman, who sometimes admits his own tendency toward being too serious. Alfred often needles Batman about a “hero’s work” never being done and the obvious humor behind his beloved frier dressing up as a Bat is not lost on Alfred. But with or without the jokes, Alfred is firmly committed to the Batman and his mission and the men are deeply bonded by this shared goal.
I tried finding footage of my favorite Alfred line but I couldn’t. It’s in Mask Of The Phantasm where someone on the news was questioning Batman’s sanity. Alfred’s response (paraphrasing): “Rubbish, sir. You’re the picture of mental health. By the way I’ve cleaned your capes and dusted off your bombs.” The proper version is funnier I promise you. In that same movie he helped Bruce during a personal crisis with Andrea, the only thing that could have kept Bruce from fully becoming Batman. It’s my favorite Batman movie.
The section on Alfred ends with noting how important he is to maintaining his identity, even from his other allies. We’ll meet the Gotham PD in our next installment.