In which I explain everything I possibly can about the Boy Wonder. Except the short pants.
Q: So, who is this Robin kid, anyway?
A: Believe it or not, that's actually a loaded question. There have been four "official" robins over the years, and at least two unofficial.
Q: Good God. Is anything about superhero comics not complicated?
Q: Okay, on with it.
A: Well, the Robin you're probably familiar with, and the one with the longest track record, is Dick Grayson.
Q: Burt Ward played him, right?
A: Exactly. Dick was the son of the Flying Graysons, a world-reknowned family of trapeze artists…
Q: Is there such a thing?
A: If you keep interrupting me, we'll never get done.
Q: Sorry. You were saying?
A: Dick's parents worked for the Haley Circus, where they were the star attraction. But the Haleys refused to pay protection money to a thug named Tony Zucco, and as a result, the trapeze act was sabotaged. Dick's parents worked without a net, and, well, I think you can finish the story yourself.
A: Quite. Fortunately, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne was in the audience, and offered to take the boy in. It wasn't long before Dick had stumbled upon his new benefactor's secret, and joined him in his war on crime.
Q: In short pants.
A: We do not discuss the short pants.
Q: So what happened to Dick?
A: Marv Wolfman and George Perez. When those two stalwarts started up The New Teen Titans in the early 80s, Dick was college-aged, and had been operating on his own for a while. They decided it was time to take the next logical step, and so, over the course of several years, they laid the groundwork for Dick to hang up the Robin suit and make his debut as Nightwing.
A: He got the name from Superman's boyhood hero from Kryptonian legend. Long story. Anyway, DC found themselves without a back end to "Batman and…" That simply wouldn't do, so they came up with a new Robin: Jason Todd.
Q: What's his story?
A: Originally, it was Dick's; he was literally a carbon copy character. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, though, writer Max Allan Collins decided that Jason needed to be separated from Dick, so changed his origin. Now, Jason was a street punk Batman caught stealing the hubcaps off of the Batmobile.
Q: No, seriously, what was his origin?
A: That was it. As this inauspicious debut suggested, Jason became quite different from Dick: brash, arrogant, given to disobeying orders. Fans grew not quite fond of him, especially after a storyline in which it was suggested that Jason killed a perp by pushing him off a roof.
Q: Wait, so Robin killed a guy?
A: One of them, maybe. By 1989, readers and editors were fed up with the little twerp, so they made comic history by offing him.
Q: How did it happen?
A: Joker beat him with a crowbar, then blew up the warehouse he was in.
Q: That would do it.
A: One would think, but DC managed to milk the event by running a phone-in promotion. Readers of the issue in which Jason sustained the injuries could dial one of two 900 numbers, depending on whether they wanted him to live or die. By a slim margin, "die" won out.
Q: Dude, that is sick.
A: I know. In any case, the editorial staff realized they were back where they started, so the groundwork had already been laid to introduce the next Robin: Tim Drake. Tim was different from the other Robins in one key element: instead of Batman offering him the job, he presented himself for it.
Q: I am intrigued; go on.
A: Through impressive deductive work and a couple of coincidences, Tim had deduced that Bruce Wayne was Batman, Dick Grayson was Nightwing, and Jason Todd was Robin. When Jason Todd's death was announced (I don't recall what excuse they used), and Robin disappeared from the public limelight, Tim put two and two together. Seeing how Batman was becoming more and more unbalanced and violent, he first tracked down Dick at the Haley Circus, and then Bruce in the Batcave. Proving himself in a series of adventures, Tim eventually earned the right to be the new Robin, albeit in a different costume.
Q: Without the short pants.
A: What did I say?
Q: Sorry. Was Tim an orphan too?
A: Not originally; he had both parents alive when he debuted. The editors killed off his mom rather quickly, but his father remained alive -- but unaware of Tim's activities -- until 2004, when he learned Tim's secret identity, then was quickly killed off.
Q: That ain't right.
A: Don't bitch to me; bitch to Bill Willingham and Brad Meltzer. And that brings us to Robin Four. For a brief time after his dad discovered his secret, Tim quit being Robin, and Batman replaced him with his girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, who until then had been a freelance vigilante called the Spoiler. During the War Games crossover, however, she was fired, Tim returned to active duty, and Black Mask killed her.
Q: That *really* ain't right. So Tim is Robin now?
A: Yes, for the foreseeable future.
Q: What about those unofficial Robins?
A: The first is Carrie Kelly, who was Robin in Frank Miller's dystopian future story, The Dark Knight Returns. The second is, believe it or not, Bruce Wayne. In a small miniseries called Untold Legends of the Batman, John Byrne established that the Pre-Crisis Batman dressed in a Robin uniform during his detective training at the hands of… well, I forget. And it's not important, as it’s never been referred to since, and pretty much no one considers it in continuity.
Q: Who's Robin in the movies/cartoons/etc?
A: Dick Grayson has been Robin in all movies and most cartoon versions of Batman to date, the sole exception being when Tim Drake was introduced into the Dini/Timm animated series when it became The New Batman Adventures. The Robin in the Teen Titans cartoon has never been given a secret identity, but given the show's debt to the Wolfman/Perez Titans, and the episode where Starfire visits the future and meets a grown-up Robin calling himself Nightwing, most consider him to be Dick as well.
Q: So how's Nightwing doing these days?
A: Busy. He just finished an undercover job in Lex Luthor's Society, training Deathstroke's daughter the Ravager, and proposed to longtime ladylove Barbara Gordon. Post OYL, there will be two Nightwings running around, one leading the Outsiders, the other… well, we’re not sure. Odds are heavy on one of them being the recently-returned from the dead Jason Todd, but no one's sure which.
Q: Jason's back? I thought he was beaten to death and blown up.
A: So did I. Judd Winick has promised to reveal all in this year's Batman annual.
Q: Seriously… what was up with the short pants.
A: This FAQ is over.