Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Things go in cycles; in comics, this saying is doubly true. It’s kind of funny when you think about it: on the one hand, part of why we love comic books is because we love to see a certain character grow, change, and evolve. On the other, as soon as we reach a certain threshold where it feels like things have changed just a little too much from the original concept that we loved to begin with, we tend to rebound and want things back to the way they were.

Tim Drake is a good example of this. Jason Todd was dead and Dick Grayson had moved on, but something about Batman without Robin just didn’t feel right. So after a while, everyone just decided what the hell? Give him a kid sidekick. That’s what Robin was always supposed to be right? Of course, this time around, someone seemed to get the ‘kid’ part right. I’m actually a big fan of Tim Drake as a character because he seems like such a reasonable compromise between what we want out of Batman and Robin and the reality that, hey, the Department of Social Services shouldn’t be offended by Batman comic books.

Tim seems like a kid to me and a good one at that. Maybe a little too smart for his own good and with a tendency to get in trouble, but Batman takes training Tim slowly and seriously. He doesn’t just send him out into the street to fight guys with guns. He conveys to him just how serious--and deadly--the work they’re doing is and slowly introduces Tim to the world he lives in.

Tim is a computer genius and pretty spry on his feet, which gives Batman a little something to hang on to when the chips are down. Sort of what a kid sidekick is supposed to be, right? Not the guy who knocks the gun out of an adult’s hand (although truth be told, Tim can do this if needed), but the kid who’s Batman’s ace in the hole, that gives him that little extra edge when he needs it.

What I loved about Tim at first was that, unlike our brooding Bruce Wayne, Tim still had a parent that he held on to. This left him with one foot in the door of a normal life, something that the Batman desperately needed in a partner to keep him grounded. So Tim managed, to me, to be true to all of the sort of classic things about Robin that made the character who he is to begin with.

He was a kid, he seemed like he was Batman’s better half and conscience, he was quick and resourceful and he managed to do all of this while seeming cool instead of lame and cheesy. I suppose you can see my bias here: while Dick Grayson is sort of my favorite hero of the family of Robins, Tim Drake is my favorite character in the role OF Robin (I hope that sentence made sense). Nowadays Tim is an orphan just like Bruce, Dick, Jason and most of the rest of the Batman clan.

The death of Tim’s mother, Jane, is a long story, but the death of his father, Jack, was widely popularized in Identity Crisis, which remains a highly under-rated storyline in my opinion. I found Jack’s death somewhat unnecessary given the number of Robins who have already lived through this traumatic experience. It really helped drive home what Identity Crisis was all about, however, and the whacked-out overlap of an old, out-of-work Flash villain showing up on Jack Drake’s doorstep set the stage for you, the reader, to consider just how much our heroes had to lose if their secret identities became common knowledge and the death of their friends, family and lovers (Sue Dibny) became common place.