Dick: “It doesn’t have to be like this. He doesn’t need to be so alone.”
Alfred: “Sir, you know better than anyone the horrible experience he went through.”
Dick: “Yes. I do know.”
When I was a young girl watching Batman: The Animated Series on Fox Kids, I found myself drawn to episodes that centered on Dick Grayson. “Robin’s Reckoning” was and remains my favorite story that the series had to tell. Even then, I think I found Bruce and Dick more compelling without their masks. I was desperate to understand why their relationship was so tense, why Dick never called Bruce “Dad”, why Bruce treated Dick so coldly when flashbacks showed our hero comforting the crying boy who eagerly fell into his guardian’s waiting arms.
Bruce didn’t adopt Dick out of pure altruism. He saw an opportunity for vicarious vengeance through an eight-year-old that suffered the same tragedy as he did. The circumstances were different, but to Bruce, it was an old scene repeated before his eyes. He couldn’t fathom that Dick could feel any differently than he did. The killer of Dick’s parents had to be brought to justice: nothing else mattered. “I’m doing this for him,” Bruce tells Alfred in the aforementioned episode when the elder chastises him for not giving Dick any attention. Why could Alfred— why could Dick, a traumatized child— not understand this? What better salve for the boy’s emotional wounds than to know his parents had been avenged?
Bruce is not a bad person. I’m certain he believed what he said: he thought he was doing what was best for Dick even though he was really doing what would be best for himself. Emotional support doesn’t provide the relief Bruce needs, and it’s difficult for him to understand that others need it from him. Nonetheless, he finds his young ward upstairs and coaxes him into talking, opens up to him about his own pain, and their bond is formed. He hugs the boy even if he can’t relate to the comfort it might provide.
Dick’s childhood is difficult in many ways, surely. He suffers the burden of being the only one who can truly understand how Bruce felt the night his parents died. He also has the audacity to not allow himself to be consumed by that grief, and as he heals, the distance between student and mentor grows. Their tactics vary. Their philosophies diverge. But at the end of the day, Dick is still the only one that knows.
Dick: “He lost his entire family once. But he has another one now. And he doesn’t need to lose this one. When a tree loses a branch, it doesn’t have to die. Not if the roots are strong enough.”
There are fans who would write Dick and all of the subsequent Robins out of continuity. Batman should be a loner, they say. Batman is hard, is grim, is a symbol of dark terror that’s undermined by a quippy child in a colorful costume. But having a partner, a child, a son, forces Bruce to look beyond the concept of justice, an abstract idea that’s become a ruling force in his life, and realize that people are at the heart of it. The initial inclusion of Dick reveals how broken and childlike Bruce is himself, but the boy’s continued presence in Bruce’s life forces the Dark Knight to step outside of his grim persona, if only for fleeting moments. The little boy he needs also needs him— not his detective skills or fighting ability or dramatic flair, but him, Bruce Wayne, the man and not the mask.
This is my 100th post, and I wanted it to be special. I wanted to explain why I find myself drawn to these characters enough to devote a blog to their family dynamic. The pages here, from Gotham Adventures #60, illustrate the father-son relationship that I find so compelling. We see the familiar scene of Bruce crying as a child on one page, and we see that image mirrored in the adult face of an unmasked Batman in the next. It’s strange to see Bruce crying openly, uncomfortable even. He’s Batman. But it’s a blunt reminder that while Bruce may be the eldest, the reluctant father, Dick is just as often the one guiding him.
And then: PANCAKES. And we all laugh again, because come on, they are still freakin’ adorable even with all their issues.
(I’m sorry this is so long. I JUST HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS.)