DC Comics has made headlines with the reveal that Tim Drake, the third hero to fight with Batman as Robin, is bisexual. This happened in Batman: Urban Legends #6, in a story by creators Meghan Fitzmartin and Belén Ortega called “Sum of Our Parts.” The story shows Tim rescuing an old friend of his, Bernard, from a cult. One that’s been kidnapping teenagers all over Gotham City. At the end of the story, Bernard asks Tim on a date. An offer to which Tim says yes. He also implies he’s had feelings for Bernard for quite some time, and merely compartmentalized this aspect of his personality.
The Clues Were Always There
In the comics, Tim’s longest-running relationship was with another hero, Stephanie Brown. Known alternately as Spoiler and Batgirl, Tim Drake has been in an on-again/off-again relationship with Steph ever since she was first introduced over 25 years ago in the comics. But his other most intense relationship is with his Teen Titans and Young Justice teammate Superboy. This would be the Conner Kent version, a young clone of Superman.
Most fans would consider his relationship with Conner a typical “bromance” between two straight friends. But fans raised their eyebrows when Conner died in the event series Infinite Crisis. For the following year, Tim mourned Conner in a way that suggested there was more to it than friendship. He obsessively tried to bring him back to life and suggested to friends he couldn’t live without his best friend. The emotions seemed a lot more intimate than those of a platonic friendship. So this new reveal does not surprise a lot of longtime fans. In a meta sense, Tim’s constant change in identities is another telling clue. Going from Robin to Red Robin to Drake, then back to Robin, is very telling. A young person constantly in search of who he is.
Seduction of the Innocent
But Tim Drake being queer is important for other, outside the narrative reasons. For decades, Batman and Robin as a concept have been the subject of hateful jokes and homophobic innuendo. This goes all the way back to 1954, when a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent. His book claimed comic books were perverting the minds of their young readers. Comics made children violent and antisocial, in his view. And characters like Batman and Robin got the most damning read from Wertham. He stated their relationship, which was always painted as paternal, was “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”
Conservative 1950s parents freaked out, and sales of comic books tanked. The entire industry came this close to the brink of ruin, all over one man’s opinion. DC survived the comics purge, but they made changes to appease the homophobia of suburban American parents. The creation of Batwoman as a potential girlfriend for Batman was part of this. Her civilian name was Kathy Kane, and she also had a niece name Betty, who became Bat-Girl. She was, of course, also a girlfriend for Robin. This would put the minds of parents at ease, making sure that the comics wouldn’t turn their children into “deviants.”
Turning Hateful Bigotry into a Positive Portrayal
Eventually, the fervor died down. Batwoman and Bat-Girl went away, and by the time the Batman television series aired, they were erased from continuity. But gay jokes and innuendo persisted about Robin, so DC turns Dick Grayson into a ladies’ man on the level of Bruce Wayne. Just so there would be no question about his sexuality among the (mostly male) readership. He dated Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), and then the alien princess Starfire. Once he grew up and became Nightwing, his relationships expanded to characters like Huntress and many other badass women.
By making Tim Drake canonically queer, DC has decided to take all those “Boy Wonder” queer associations and turn them into a positive and not a negative. Instead of something to fight against, Robin’s queerness is now something to embrace and celebrate. In a sense, by making Tim Drake bisexual, it’s an inversion of the homophobic panic that forced DC to make the original Robin “extra straight” as a response.
This is all similar to turning a negative response into a positive action, which is what DC did with Batwoman in 2006. The editors at DC Comics created Kathy Kane to make Batman appear hetero to readers in the ’50s. When Kate Kane hit the scene in a rebooted version, DC deliberately made her a lesbian as a statement against the homophobia that precipitated her creation in the first place. Tim Drake is now following in the very same tradition.
Robin’s Reveal Can’t Be Trivial
What hopefully DC does now is to not make this a one-off story. Tim can’t date Bernard for two issues, then never mention being a bisexual man ever again. There simply aren’t enough bisexual male superheroes to shrug this one off after one story, all as a way of checking a diversity box. On the flip side, my fellow queer readers need to understand that if Robin dates women again, it is not a betrayal of his queerness. If Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy can have relationships with both men and women, then so can Robin.
DC also needs to be careful to not fall into the trap of making this aspect of Tim’s personality the impetus of all the stories surrounding him. Tim has always struggled with a bit of “forgotten Robin” syndrome. And that despite being the first Robin to get his own monthly comic book and being, canonically, the smartest Robin. Dick Grayson is forever the “first Robin,” while Jason Todd is always “the one who died.” Carrie Kelley is the female Robin, while Damian Wayne is the Robin who is Batman’s biological son.
I hope they make well-rounded Tim Drake stories that involve his queer identity going forward. And without making his whole identity just as “the queer Robin.” I trust DC’s current creators to do the right thing. Because of course, there’s much more to Tim as a character. But they can’t turn the clock back now on his sexuality either, and must fully embrace all aspects of the character. Just as they would do for any cisgender hetero hero. Robin deserves nothing more.