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Tim Drake

Tim Drake is the third character in a select group who’ve taken the name of Robin and joined Batman as a crime fighter. Drake has had an illustrious history in the years since his debut in Batman #436 (volume 1, August, 1989). He’s also gone by “Red Robin” and thankfully for only a short while “Drake” and donning a lackluster costume.

Drake’s character appears in the wake of the murder of Jason Todd, the second character to become Robin, by the Joker in the four part A Death in the Family story which was published in 1988. The Drake family goes on an outing to Haley Circus that’s come to town. It’s a happy day and Tim is especially excited to watch the trapeze performance starring the Grayson family. This is the day that trapeze artists John and Mary Grayson, parents to Dick, tragically fall to their deaths during their performance. The crowd is shocked and horrified. The sight of Batman appearing inside the tent swooping down from above to help and comfort Dick changes young Tim’s opinion who before this moment could only conceive Batman as some kind of monster. Going forward from that moment Tim saw Batman as a heroic figure even as the tragedy imprints on Tim’s psyche and causes recurring nightmares about the incident. Years later he’ll confide to Grayson about the nightmares and how Batman and later Robin saved his dream self.

Flash forward in the story. Tim reappears as a 13 year old who attends boarding school year round since his parents are always traveling on business. For some time now he’s believed he’s discovered the secret identities of Batman and Robin and decides to investigate further during a vacation break by traveling to New York City (where the Titans are located), Gotham City, and lastly the latest stop for Haley’s Circus where he crosses paths with Dick Grayson and a conversation and confession forever changes his life and the lives of many Bat related characters by putting him on the course to become Robin.

Enough facts about Tim Drake for the moment. What about his personality? Fellow comics nerd A. M. Diaz offers an excellent summation of Tim Drake spirit in the following two paragraphs:

“With Tim he’s highly intelligent, a natural leader, fixated to the point of being somewhat obsessive, loyal to a fault, pragmatic, self-critical, a massive Bat-fanboy, and guy who believes the most in what Batman and Robin symbolize.

Tim is arguably the best Robin because he understood the most what the mantle meant. He saw how important Robin was to keep Batman a hero, he sought out the role, not out of revenge or loss or seeking out glory, but because being Robin and helping Batman and Gotham was the right thing to do. His motives were altruistic from the start. He also managed to do what Dick and Jason never quite managed to do…make Robin a hero in his own right (even being the only Robin to have an ongoing solo series for years while still in the Robin costume), not just an extension of Batman. Tim wasn’t so much Batman’s sidekick but his true partner. Bruce didn’t feel the need to pull rank on Tim because of the fact Tim was already tactically and emotionally intelligent enough to never take the wrong kind of risks. And Tim is arguably the world’s second greatest detective after Bruce, to the point here where even Ra’s Al Ghul calls him “Detective” which he’s never bestowed on anyone else except of course Bruce.”

About the “elephant in the room”. Writers over the years have written Tim to have romantic interest in women, most notably Stephanie Brown (aka Spoiler and briefly a Robin too), Cassie Sandsmark (aka Wonder Girl), and a Ariana, a classmate whose family emigrated from Russia, who appeared early in the Robin series. Some people who are involved in straight appearing relationships can and do come out later in life as bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, or self identify in some other non heterosexual way. How Tim’s character identifies has yet to be stated officially in black and white terms though much of fandom seems to consider Tim to be bisexual now. This seems a logical assumption to make.

Tim’s bisexuality may only seem to have come out of nowhere to people who weren’t paying attention. As was the case with the other Drake — Bobby, aka Iceman — there was a subtextual reading of Tim and Conner Kent starting back with the 2003 Titans & Young Justice crossover when Tim and Conner began bickering like a married couple Titans/ Young Justice Graduation Day #2). This “married couple” characterization remains consistent over the years and throughout events and resets that separately removed them from continuity and altered their origins.

Conner dies in a fight against a psychopathic Superboy Prime to save the universe in Infinite Crisis. Beginning in Teen Titans #34 Tim channels his grief and profound loss by attempting to clone Conner, not once, twice or even three times but a total of 99 times.

The boys were reunited after events in Final Crisis return Conner to life. During a fight scene in Teen Titans #92 (cover dated April, 2011) Tim and Conner banter between them as the other Titans including Damian (Robin) Wayne. Conner to Tim: “I don’t care what costume you or him wears. As far as I’m concerned, you’re my Robin. Always will be.” Emphasis on “my” from the comic. Tim replies: “And you’ll always be my clone boy.”

But the continuity gods at DC are fickle. Conner once again was removed from comics in DC’s line wide Rebirth continuity reset. They were brought together again by Brian Michael Bendis in his Young Justice series.

In researching Tim/ Robin I stumbled across two curious moments. The first is this three panel sequence below from Batman #441 from the A Lonely Place of Dying story. It caught my attention because of Tim’s appreciation for and knowledge of Erte, the Russian French artist credited as the father of the Art Deco movement. Erte did not hide his homosexuality and lived openly with his partner Nicolas Ouroussoff, a Russian prince, and they were given deluxe treatment by MGM studio exec Louis B Mayer when Mayer contracted Erte to be a costume and set designer. All the more remarkable considering Mayer held a fairly intolerant view of gay men. In his 1975 autobiography Erte talked about his relationships with men. Now I’m not saying that in 1989 Wolfman planted a subtle clue about Drake’s sexuality but it does pique my curiosity that Wolfman chose to have a precocious 13 year old male character recognize and talk about a piece of art made by a living and openly gay artist.

The next is panel of art from Robin #11 (cover dated November 1994) written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Phil Jimenez. Kon-El/ Conner Kent debuted in The Adventures of Superman #500 (June 1193). To put the panel into context, Tim has been under a lot of stress and having nightmares, one of which he’s just woken from. In light of all the subtext, Tim wearing an S symbol t-shirt to bed stood out. Certainly Dixon didn’t intend to link Tim and Conner in a romantic way for reasons mentioned below and Jimenez may have decided to have a bit of artistic fun or he may have had some personal subtext he wanted to put on the page.

Tim’s bisexual subtext is discussed at greater length and far more eloquently in this article.

Beginning in 1991, Drake as Robin had three successful mini series followed by an ongoing series which ran for 185 issues. Conservative Chuck Dixon was the writer for the minis and for a good portion of the ongoing. Dixon went on to write the Green Arrow series in the mid to late 1990s when Green Arrow’s multi racial son Conner Hawke took over the title. Some readers thought Hawke could be gay since a romantic interest in women was never written for the character. This speculation upset Dixon to the point that he wrote a story in which Conner had sex with a “ghost” named Lady Ren in the two part The Lotus Seed story from Green Arrow #112 and #113. To quote Dixon: “We needed a scene in which Connor undeniably had sex with a female so we could stop the assumptions that Connor was gay.” In the early 2000s Dixon voiced his opposition to the Rawhide Kid Slap Leather mini series starring a gay Rawhide Kid and insisted that Marvel must have duped veteran comics artist John Severin into drawing the mini series. Dixon seems silent on this development with a character once strongly associated with his work and, honestly, it doesn’t matter.

Drake is a skilled fighter in his own right. He also possesses a keen intellect, detective prowess along with coding and hacking skills perhaps second only to Batman and Barbara Gordon (Oracle/ Batgirl) respectively. He’s also led incarnations of the Teen Titans and Young Justice.

Drake first appeared in cameo as a young boy in Batman #436 and next appeared prominently in Batman #440 – 442 and New Titans #60 and 61. He’s first seen as Robin in Batman #457. The story in which Tim told Bernard, his high school friend, he’d like to go on a date ran in Batman: Urban Legends #4 – 6.

Read Bernard Dowd’s profile!

Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick created Tim Drake with significant contributions by George Perez and Jim Aparo.

Art by Belen Ortega and Alejandro Sanchez from Batman: Urban Legends #4 (first image), by Phil Jimenez, Ray Kryssing, and Adrienne Roy from Robin #11 (second image), and Jim Aparo from Batman #441 (third image).

All rights reserved DC Comics

Many thanks to A. M. Diaz for permission to use his descriptive analysis of Tim Drake. Diaz can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

September 7, 2021
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