I reviewed Dick Grayson’s new origin. I reviewed Jason Todd’s. So of course, I have to do Tim Drake’s now too. I was hugely impressed with the zero issue for Nightwing, and I was not exactly impressed with Red Hood and the Outlaw’s. How does Teen Titans rate? Somewhere in the middle of the two. There are some changes to the origin that really work. But like the case with Jason Todd, there are some odd changes that frankly seem to miss the point. And also like Jason Todd’s new origin, this is written by Scott Lobdell.
Some of the core of Tim’s origin remain the same in the New 52. He’s damn smart for his age and intent on investigating Batman’s true identity. This has always been a defining aspect of Tim’s character. He’s the cerebral one. He’s the detective. That’s the facet of Batman he emphasizes the most, so it’s a good thing that Lobdell keeps that up here.
What’s less good is that Lobdell really oversells Tim in general. I mean, the kid is a prepackaged Robin. How boring is that? He’s a genius, detective gymanst from the start. Was this how Tim’s original origin went too? I’ll be honest. I don’t remember that part. But either way, it’s poor storytelling. It’s poor character work. It’s just way too convenient, especially for a teen hero. There’s no growing into his role. He just is his role from conception. I guess this helps in regard to the mess that is Batman’s New 52 timeline. Hey, you don’t need to account for months of Tim’s training. He’s ready to go from day one!
This issue has an all new premise for the fate of Tim’s parents. And you know what? It’s much better. Lobdell does not go the dead parents route. I never liked Tim as an orphan, because another part of his uniqueness as a Robin is that he had parents. Or at least, a father. Now, he has a father and a monther, from whom he is separated due to witness protection. I actually really like this. It’s clever. It has a lot of potential.
The only problem with this is that Lobdell doesn’t pull it off very well. Seriously, Tim’s parents are more props than people. There is nothing remotely believable about their behavior. Really? They’re more than happy to run off to their false lives and leave Tim behind with Batman? You’ve got to be kidding me. There is almost no personality or life to these parental mannequins. The circumstances of their situation don’t really even make much sense. More thought should have gone into how they get on the Penguin's bad side. I do like that it’s something that is the fault of Tim’s hubris, but the details really fail it. Thinking about why the parents have to hide and Tim gets to say for even a second breaks the whole thing. I know Tim doesn't come off as a particularly great son here, but you'd think his parents wouldn't be so quick to get rid of him.
Oh, there’s also this whole thing about Tim Drake not being his real name due to the whole witness protection factor. All things considered, this hardly seems like a big deal and definitely not a negative. Like I’ve said, the witness protection angle is an interesting inclusion into his origin. This plays into that in a reasonable way.
Then, there are the two big problems with Tim’s new origin.
First, Lobdell does it again. I criticized his new take on Jason Todd’s origin for getting rid of the key, iconic factor of that origin. This is Jason being brash enough to try to steal from the Batmobile. That doesn’t happen anymore. Lobdell essentially does the same thing here. What is Tim’s big iconic thing supposed to be? He figured out who Batman was! Well, not anymore. In the new origin, he only tries really hard to do so but ultimately gets led along by false leads and fails. Why would DC do that? As much as this story already oversells the shinyness of Tim Drake, are you telling me they thought it was too much for him to figure out Batman’s identity on his own? That is just misguided.
Then, there’s the Red Robin business. To be brutally honest, it’s just dumb and pointless. I really don’t get what Lobdell or DC is trying to accomplish with this. For starters, it does nothing to sidestep the problem of Batman having so many Robins in so few years. Tim is still taking up a chunk of the timeline whatever his name is. Lobdell has said his intent is to make Tim more unique, but that reasoning is equally lost on me. How does this do that? Hell, some characters aren’t supposed to be wholly unique anyway. Tim? He’s one of them. He was made more interesting by being a member of the Robin legacy. But anyway, there’s nothing at all unique about Red Robin. There never has been. It has never been a good identity for Tim. It’s a Robin spinoff identity. That diminishes TIm even though there is no substantial difference in his original role. He’s still Batman’s partner. He still wears his former Robin costume. But he’s not Robin? Way to convolute the brand.
The New 52 has not been a good thing for Tim Drake. This is a character who is supposed to be Robin, but more and more, he’s not being allowed to be. Red Robin, which should have been a temporary time-killer while Damian Wayne played Robin for Dick Grayson, has become a sort of character limbo for Tim. He’s a Robin but not a Robin. He’s a member of the Bat family but off on his own. He’s a former partner of Batman but not a grown up one like Dick or Jason. He’s... Red Robin. Whatever that’s supposed to be.
Teen Titans has some good ideas for Tim Drake’s new origin, but it’s an ultimately misguided take. Red Robin only diminishes Tim’s role in the Batman mythology. It doesn’t enhance it or make Tim a more unique character. The rather shallow portrayal of characters like Tim’s parents hurt what is otherwise a smart way of transitioning them out of his daily life. And there are just no words for getting rid of the most iconic part of Tim’s origin by not allowing him to figure out Bruce Wayne is Batman.