Monday 20 April 2020

Robin 80th Anniversary: Counting Down The Original Earth-2 Dick Grayson's Greatest Hits

The year 2020 has been a big anniversary year for some of DC's greatest superheroes. DC celebrated Wonder Woman's 80th anniversary in January, the Flash in February, Robin in March, and originally Catwoman was supposed to have hers celebrated in April. Alas, however, that's been put on hold due to the COVID19 pandemic that put us all in quarantine indefinitely, and as of today, no new DC comics will be out until the last week of April at the earliest.

Originally, this was going to be posted in March to coincide with the actual Robin anniversary celebration that month, but given that COVID19 caused major disruptions to my personal life, you're getting it now in April. I can probably be forgiven for my tardiness given that we're probably going to end up celebrating Catwoman's 80th Anniversary in May since the whole world is currently on standstill. I suppose we can extend Robin's celebration a little bit longer. So how about we get to that, yes?

It's perhaps no secret that out of all the Robins, the original Boy Wonder himself, Dick Grayson, is my favourite one. The way his character evolved organically from kid sidekick to an adult superhero as Nightwing is one of the best coming-of-age stories in the history of comics. But that's the storyline for the pre-Crisis Earth-1 version of the character, who continued to live on in the post-Crisis DC Universe, and is currently existing in the post-Flashpoint Universe as Ric Grayson. But what about the original Golden Age version of the character who debuted in Detective Comics #38 in 1940 and later reappeared as an Earth-2 character in Justice League of America #55 in 1967?

While Dick Grayson as Nightwing will always be my favourite take on the character, I do have a special place in my heart for his older Earth-2 counterpart who continued operating as Robin well into his adulthood. From World War 2 era Boy Wonder to second generation member of the Justice Society of America, here are Earth-2 Dick Grayson's Top 10 greatest moments in comics from 1940 to 1985!

10. Becoming Robin (Detective Comics #38)

We can never begin any discussion about the Golden Age Robin without first discussing his origin story. Born to John and Mary Grayson, Dick started his early life as a circus performer, and his show with his parents—The Flying Graysons—was one of the main attractions of the Haly Circus. One day that he was performing with his parents, Dick witnessed a local crime boss—Boss Zucco—attempting to blackmail the circus owner into paying protection money. When he refused, Zucco murdered Dick's parents in retaliation.

Bruce Wayne—who happened to be at the circus the same day Dick's parents died—took the young boy under his wing and mentored him into becoming his junior crimefighter. In the same story, we got to witness some of Dick's iconic traits, such as his gymnastics and acrobatic skills, his acting talents when he posed as a newsboy to get information, and his penchant for using specialised weapons to assist him on his cases. In this particular story, Dick used a slingshot as his tool of trade, but he'll go on to use other tools such as batarangs when he's older.

9. Undercover Grayson (Batman #1)

By the launch of Batman #1 in 1940, Dick and Bruce had become inseparable as a father-and-son style dynamic duo. For their first three stories in their first official magazine, Batman and Robin encountered the first incarnations of Batman's two iconic antagonists: the Joker and Catwoman.

Though Dick continued to add a fun dynamic to Bruce's lead throughout the first issue of Batman, the story where he truly took centre stage was in the story that introduced Catwoman (then known as 'The Cat'). In the story, Dick posed as a steward on Mrs. Travers' yacht to not only serve as Batman's eyes and ears, but to also keep the passengers safe from any potential robbers. While undercover, Dick got to exercise his detective skills without the guiding hand of Batman, and even got to assess situations and take action all on his own when trouble arose.

As soon as the moment was right, he changed into his Robin outfit and assisted Batman in capturing the Catwoman who was disguised as an elderly passenger! When the time came to arrest the Catwoman, Batman's attraction to the clever femme fatale did not go unnoticed by the 8-year-old Boy Wonder!

8. Impersonating Emperor Taro to Stop Nazis (Batman #19)

During America's war with Germany in 1943, American naval ships were being sunk by German U-Boats in the Caribbean, but neither the American military nor government were able to locate the German base facilitating the attacks. Upon learning about the German attacks on the US Navy, Dick asked Bruce that they go conduct their own investigation and help find the secret German base. Bruce obliged, and together as Batman and Robin, they searched the Atlantic Ocean in the Batplane.

After hours of searching the Atlantic for clues on the location of the secret German base, Batman and Robin found and rescued a stranded mariner. They soon after got caught in a massive whirlpool that brought them all down to the Lost City of Atlantis where its emperor and empress have formed an alliance with Nazi Germany. While there, they quickly learned the Atlantean rulers were nothing more than a young brother and sister who were close to Dick's age, which gave Dick an idea for how to quickly dissolve the alliance between Atlantis and the Nazis.

As the Atlanteans prepared to execute both Batman and the mariner they rescued, Dick took advantage of his strong resemblance to Emperor Taro to escape the Atlantean guards and pose as the emperor himself in order to dissuade the guards from moving forward with the executions. This in turn helped expose the Nazis' true intentions when they threatened his life as a way of coercing the Atlanteans into completing the executions of their enemies. The Atlanteans' loyalty to their emperor, however, caused them to dissolve their alliance with the Nazis, who were then subdued by Batman and Robin, all thanks to Dick's strategic skills.

7. Robin, Knight in Shining Armour (Batman #23)

While Earth-2 Dick's first crush was Empress Lanya (Emperor Taro's sister from the previous story), the first crush he actually asked out on a date was a classmate from his school: Marjory Davenport. Smitten by her beauty and intelligence, Dick would carry her books and walk her home after school. He would even try to impress her with his unique talents without giving away the fact that he's Robin.

When he finally asked Marjory out to a movie, his date plans were promptly disrupted when both she and her father (who is a medical doctor) were abducted by a local mobster to treat his wounds. When Marjory was held captive to force her father's compliance, Dick naturally had to respond. After decoding her father's prescription written in Latin, Dick devised his own rescue plan in which he would allow Marjory's captors to capture him as Robin in order to give Batman a head start on the gang.

Things did not go as planned and Robin was forced to improvise. Having prepared for the worst, Dick had purchased a piece of hacksaw at a hardware store earlier and hid it in his glove to be able to cut himself free from his restraints. His backup plan worked as he was able to prevent both his mentor's murder and that of Marjory and her father. Unfortunately for Dick, his plan also backfired in that Marjory became romantically interested in Robin instead of himself and made a date with Robin a condition for her friendship!

6. Dick Grayson, Comic Book Writer (Batman #35)

While there's no denying Earth-2 Dick Grayson has had plenty of opportunities to showcase his intelligence, his detective skills, and athletic prowess as Batman's junior crime-fighting partner, there was one challenge he faced in his youth that could not be solved with any of these skill sets: writing an actual comic book for a major publisher! (Oh yes! This DID happen!)

One day that Dick was actually enjoying some degree of normalcy in his life, he found himself reading a comic magazine from Bruce's library in which he was not impressed with some of the storytelling. In true comic book nerd fashion, Dick did what every other comic book fan before and after him has done at least once in their lives: he complained to the editor about the atrocious storytelling, and how the writing just didn't feel real for any of the characters involved.

Luckily for Dick, he got the opportunity to pitch and write his own comic story to an editor at a major publisher. Dick naturally accepted the challenge, believing he could write a better story than most of the writers working for the publisher. Needless to say, he learned the hard way just how much work actually went into developing a 12-page story for a comic magazine. In addition to needing to know how to outline the plot for a story, he also needed to research his subject matter, and be able to translate all of that into a compelling story with believable characters.

Dick pulled it off eventually to his editor's satisfaction, but not without acquiring a newfound respect for comic book writers and the work that they do! (I lowkey would pay BIG money to get an Earth-2 Dick Grayson review of Tom King's entire Batman run!)

5. Dick Decodes Batman's Posthumous Diary (America vs the JSA #4)

As fun as it would be to continue documenting 8-year-old Dick Grayson's greatest hits (and trust me, there are tonnes more, I've barely scratched the surface with this list), we now need to show what his greatest exploits were as an adult. Sadly, with the introduction of Helena Wayne as the Huntress in 1977 and the popularity of his Earth-1 counterpart in The New Teen Titans during the 1980s, Earth-2 Dick got sidelined apart from a few appearances in Justice Society and Huntress stories. Still, he did get a few moments to shine, beginning with his final story just before he was written out of continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I admit, America vs the Justice Society of America is perhaps not the story that showcases Earth-2 Dick at his finest, but it is the story that depicts him at his most complex. Prior to this story, we never really saw Dick in a position where he had to seriously challenge everything he knew and loved about his father figure and mentor, Bruce Wayne. For most of his life, Bruce was the beacon that guided Dick through the tragic loss of his own parents and helped him forge a new path in live. From Dick's perspective, Bruce could do no wrong. That was until a secret diary Bruce wrote surfaced where he accused the Justice Society of America of assisting Nazi Germany during World War 2—an era Dick was actually alive for.

The Batman diary caused all kinds of problems for the Justice Society heroes, and especially put a wedge between Dick and Bruce's daughter, Helena Wayne. Helena believed the entire diary was fabricated in an attempt to resolve a case her father couldn't solve prior to his death, and Dick believed that Bruce wouldn't have written that diary in the first place if there wasn't any truth to any of the exploits detailed there. It wasn't until Dick put all the pieces together from the testimonies provided that he realised what Bruce was really accomplishing with the false diary.

Bruce had learned of Per Degaton's latest plot while he was still in prison, but wouldn't live to stop him from fulfilling it. As such, he wrote the diary to publicly expose Per Degaton, by making the Justice Society's true history during World War 2 public knowledge, including the history of their villains. Without any cards left to play, Per Degaton opted to end his own life rather than return to prison.

4. Robin Gives Huntress Relationship Advice (Wonder Woman #285)

Before the whole kerfuffle with the false Batman diary in America vs the Justice Society, Dick actually had a very strong relationship going with Helena Wayne. While his diplomatic work in South Africa often kept him out of Gotham, Helena did cherish the few visits that he made. During one major case they worked on together involving their boss—Arthur Cranston—Helena disclosed the relationship problems she was having with her boyfriend—District Attorney Harry Sims—to Dick.

In the course of conversation, Dick revealed that prior to marrying her mother—Selina Kyle—Bruce also struggled to maintain relationships with women who did not share his lifestyle, including former fiancĂ©es like Julie Madison and Linda Page. The loss of the last relationship in particular made Bruce question the lifestyle choices he made, and ultimately led him to move on from his need of Batman. Since Selina Kyle (the Catwoman) was the only woman who truly got to know Bruce in both of his identities, Bruce chose to start a new life with her, knowing she wanted the same things he wanted.

Dick ultimately concluded that Helena's situation with Harry was no different from Bruce's situation with both Julie and Linda. While Harry did have the privilege to know about Helena's exploits as the Huntress, it was also her superhero lifestyle that was putting him off from pursuing things further with her. He especially couldn't reconcile why a talented lawyer such as Helena would even contemplate this lifestyle in the first place, and Helena wasn't exactly in a position to reveal those details to him. Dick then advised that if Helena was serious about pursuing a romantic relationship, she needed to do so with someone who could either share her lifestyle, or be 100% on board with it.

3. Dick Decides to Become the Next Batman (Adventure Comics #462)

One of the most defining moments in Earth-2 Dick Grayson's later years was the death of Bruce Wayne in 1979. Prior to his death, Bruce had become more withdrawn with the death of his wife in 1976, and had become borderline suicidal in his remaining years. He was also emotionally vulnerable, which facilitated the Psycho-Pirate to manipulate him into creating legal problems for the Justice Society of America.

It wasn't until a new criminal—Bill Jensen—started attacking Gotham that he made one final stand as Batman, resulting in both his own death and the death of said criminal. In the aftermath at Bruce's funeral, Dick began thinking about how to best honour his mentor's memory. He decided becoming the next Batman would be the best way to do it, however, Helena objected to the idea. She strongly felt only her father could be Batman and that only legends could live forever, not the men who made them. She then decided that they would continue his work as both Robin and Huntress.

Despite Helena's wishes, Dick did at one point put on the Batsuit, at least long enough to distract the Joker while the Huntress apprehended him and sent him back to prison. At some point during the events of Convergence (which chronologically takes place at the start of Crisis on Infinite Earths), Helena changed her mind about letting Dick become the next Batman. At the conclusion of that event, he took up the cape and cowl for good.

2. Robin and Wildcat, the New Dynamic Duo (Justice League of America #55)

While Earth-2 Dick had a few good stories during the Bronze Age, it was actually in the Silver Age where he truly thrived. Having officially joined the Justice Society in Justice League of America #55 in 1967, Dick got his chance to branch out of Batman's shadow and be a part of a larger, legendary team. As the adult Robin, Dick had nearly three decades of crime-fighting experience under his belt and got an opportunity to showcase it to his new teammates. He even acquired a new costume design that was largely inspired by his mentor's Batman suit and even acquired a new Batplane with a Robin logo on it.

For his first mission as an official Justice Society member, Dick teamed up with Wildcat to investigate mysterious black spheres from space that were capable of possessing human bodies and making those individuals act out their darkest impulses. They took on a former athlete possessed by one of these spheres and coordinated their attacks together. Alongside Wildcat, Dick continued to showcase the skills he had already possessed from a young age, but also got the opportunity to learn new skills from a new partner who wasn't Batman, even if that new partner was the type to throw a punch first and ask questions later. (As Oscar Wilde once said, every experience is of value.)

1. Robin Comforts His Younger Earth-1 Counterpart (Justice League of America #92)

During his time with the Justice Society, I would say Earth-2 Dick Grayson's #1 best moment happened during a Justice League and Justice Society crossover. The story itself centred on an alien child named A-Rym and his pet Teppy who—along with his brother and one other—decided to travel to the 'blind spot' between dimensions just for fun. In the process, A-Rym and Teppy got sucked into the void, and warp energy severed their life line sending the two aliens into different dimensions: Teppy to Earth-1 and A-Rym to Earth-2.

With both aliens wreaking havoc on both Earths in desperate need to reunite, they naturally attracted the attention of both the Justice League and Justice Society who then decided to work together to try and figure out what the aliens needed and how to best help them. Along for the ride was the adult Dick Grayson from Earth-2 who was already on the case with the Justice Society. Joining the Justice League for the first time was the teenage Dick Grayson from Earth-1, though the latter didn't exactly leave a good impression on his respective team.

Impulsive as he is bright, the Earth-1 Dick Grayson decided to confront a very scared A-Rym who then perceived him as a threat and proceeded to attack the teenaged hero. Deciding Earth-1 Dick could potentially complicate the situation further, Earth-1's Green Lantern—Hal Jordan—decided to send his world's Robin to the Earth-2 Batcave, along with his Earth-2 counterpart to keep an eye on him. This did not sit too well with Earth-2 Dick.

While the two waited in the Batcave, Earth-1 Dick confided to his older Earth-2 counterpart that he didn't feel respected by the Justice League, and even less so with the blunder he had made earlier. Earth-2 Dick actually sympathised with him, expressing similar thoughts about the Justice Society. Despite having decades of crime-fighting experience and being chosen by Batman himself to represent him as a member of the Justice Society, the team still did not feel like he was at their level. He found himself needing to prove himself to the team.

Realising they were both in the same position, they decided to prove their worth to both teams once and for all by teaming up and truly showing how two highly skilled Robins could help solve a crisis. This led Earth-2 Dick to lend one of his costumes to his Earth-1 counterpart, and together the two Robins rejoined the fight, this time using strategy to help subdue the situation. This afforded the pair newfound respect by their Justice League and Justice Society colleagues.

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