When Joseph Gordon-Levitt was first announced as being in Christopher Nolan's third Batman film the rumor mill immediately spouted tails of Gordon-Levitt being the new Robin. It's since been announced that he'll be playing Alberto Falcone, whether this is just a smoke screen or the real deal is yet to be seen. Then Juno Temple was rumored to be a female Robin based on her character description of “a street-smart Gotham girl” reminiscent of Frank Miller's Carrie Kelley in The Dark Knight Returns. Both rumors have been met with mixed reviews. Nolan has been fairly dead set about Robin never being in a Batman film he's directing, and I think the fan community has largely been in support of this.
Few people are willing to say good things about Robin. Even fewer people want to see a modern, realistic Batman standing next to a boy in red and green tights. Why do we resit Robin? Is it just some sort of deep seated homophobic impulse left over from Fredric Wertham? It seems after he mentioned the gay overtones of their relationship that's all we've been able to think about. Are we saying that a man and boy can't sit in a cave together or a roof top together without something inappropriate happening? What does this say about roofers or chimney sweeps?
And because we're so worried about what it would look like and the questions that might arise, we've tried to annex Robin from films and Batman history in general. Tim Burton avoided Robin. Christopher Nolan has vowed against Robin. And, of course, all our worst S&M, rubber nippled Robin nightmares were realized in Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin fiasco. But this isn't how it has to be, there can be a place for Robin in motion pictures. In fact, Robin is integral to the Batman story
Batman needs a Sidekick
Unlike some superheroes, Batman actually needs a sidekick. Flash doesn't need a Kid Flash, Aquaman doesn't need an Aqualad, but Batman needs a Robin. You see Batman doesn't have superpowers—he can't run faster than a speeding bullet or talk to fish—but the world doesn't know he doesn't have superpowers. The average criminal doesn't know that he's just a man, to them he's the GODDAMN BATMAN. To that cowardly lot, he's a supernatural being on par with Superman. And to pull that off Batman needs help. I like to think of Robin as a magician's assistant. Batman needs someone setting booby traps, throwing batarangs, lighting smoke bombs, creating distractions, and generally watching his very mortal back.
The Batman Mythos
Batman debuted in May 1939, Robin made his first appearance in April of 1940... meaning Batman spent 11 months by himself. A Robin has been with Batman for 71 years of storylines, he's been a lone vigilante for 11 months. Robin haters will argue that Batman has always been a lone avenger and him being alone is him getting back to his roots, but he's almost never been alone. This is a story of hero and his sidekick. Batman's mythology doesn't stop at vengeance, vengeance is just the beginning. Batman's tragedy isn't the death of his parents or the life of vengeance he chose, Batman's tragedy is he enlists a partner to keep the cycle alive. His legacy isn't getting revenge for his parents, but the lives of thousands of Boy Wonders who will follow in his footsteps.
Robin keeps Batman grounded, and this actually doesn't help their questionable sexuality. Batman doesn't have an iconic love interest. Oh, he gets a couple of smooches here and there, but there's no Lois Lane waiting for him to come home at night. But let's face it, he's too busy knocking skulls together to ever come home at night. So, Batman doesn't have a typical damsel in distress or someone to champion for. But he does have Robin. Robin is someone for him to care about and to fight for. Fighting for some faceless society or concept is one thing, fighting for a real, live human being is another. Of course, he has Alfred, but do you put up your best fight for an old man with one foot in the grave or a young boy full of life? Without Robin, Batman is a homicidal maniac, with Robin he's a champion for justice. Without Robin, Batman's just The Punisher, and while I like The Punisher, he sure as hell ain't Batman.
Batman is a Symbol
This is probably the most important reason to include Robin in the new Batman films. Nolan's version of Batman keeps coming back to the theme of symbol. Batman is a symbol for justice, Batman is a symbol for Gotham City. As a symbol, as Batman, Bruce Wayne is bigger than a man. Except he's still a man. We know this, and he knows this. A man that could die at any time: shot by any thug, stabbed by any goon, slipped in any shower. To be this powerful, everlasting symbol for Gotham City, Batman cannot die. Which means Bruce needs a backup—a break in case of emergency Batman—he needs someone to take his place should anything happen. He needs Robin.
Are we going to let our own sexual hangups ruin an iconic relationship? Are we so uptight that a man and a nubile young boy cannot dress up in colorful costumes and frolic to all hours of the night? Robin can be more than just a Boy Wonder, but a symbol for tolerance and understanding.
Actually, maybe, Batman and Robin are a little gay.
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