At Last! The Batman and Robin Murder Mystery, Solved!

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

(Previously published in An Alien Darkness.)


This is the official story, first told almost fifty years ago, and gullibly believed by the whole world ever since:

Bruce Wayne was just a ten-year-old boy going to the movies with his wealthy parents. A mugger arrived and shot his parents dead. Even as the murderer fled, young Bruce swore to spend his life warring on criminals. He grew up to become Batman.

Dick Grayson was raised in the circus. His parents, John and Mary, were aerialists, training their son in the family business. Then tragedy struck. A hit man under the employ of “Boss” Zucco, the most powerful gangleader in Gotham City, sabotaged the ropes anchoring their trapeze. The ropes broke immediately after their successful triple somersault, and Dick Grayson saw his parents plunge to their deaths before his very eyes.

Shortly thereafter, Dick was confronted by a big guy in a bat suit. Instead of telling this rather strange person to go away and leave him alone in his misery, Dick begged him to help avenge his parents’ deaths.

The Dark Knight, moved the memory of his own tragedy, assented.

And so billionaire Bruce Wayne adopted a youthful ward named Dick Grayson, and at the same time Batman took on a young partner named Robin.

Or so the story goes.

It’s accurate enough, on the face of it. Certainly, Dick Grayson, who despite his natural enthusiasm for the work never became as brilliant a crime fighter as his elder partner, never once seemed to think that there was anything wrong with it. But if we examine the story closely, using only the evidence Batman creator Bob Kane provided us, then we’re left with the inescapable conclusion that there was something awfully rotten going on in Stately Wayne Manor.

Don’t jump to suggestions. I am not about to suggest, as child psychologist Fredric Wertham did during the 1950s, or as movie director Joel Schumacher implied during the 1990s, that Batman and Robin were homosexuals, either latent or practicing. That would have been their business, of course (at least, once the Boy Wonder reached the age of consent), but still, there’s always been plenty of evidence to the contrary. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson both had girlfriends. Batman enjoyed a nice smoldering romance with a leather-clad beauty known as the Catwoman, and a quick dip into my comic book collection finds Dick Grayson enjoying healthy relationships with women as varied as Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy, Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon, and Princess Koriand’r (Starfire). If the caped crusaders sometimes went a little overboard with the “good work, old chum” routine, it’s because they were unusual people to begin with, not because they were ready to move to Gotham’s equivalent of Greenwich Village.

No. To Dick Grayson, at least, the relationship between Batman and Robin was exactly what it seemed. No more, no less.

More’s the pity.

Because Dick never paused to question why an experienced crime-fighter like Batman would take on a 10-year-old kid, even an accomplished gymnast like the youngest member of the Flying Graysons, as his partner.

Because the kid had just seen his parents killed, the same way Bruce Wayne had seen his own parents killed? Well, yeah…but by the time Batman met Dick he had already been fighting crime for several years, and he must have seen similar tragedies several times before. Why didn’t Batman have an entire troupe of recently orphaned urchins fighting alongside him by that time? Is there any reason why he picked this kid in particular?

Yes, there is. And it changes everything you think you know about Batman.

Think about it. When Bruce Wayne was 10 years old, he swore to spend the rest of his life warring on crime. When he was twenty-something he put on his bat suit and went at it in earnest.

What he did during those missing years has been only sketchily explored. That particular phase of Bruce Wayne’s life is as much an enigma as the lost years of Jesus. What was he up to?

Hmmm. He studied criminology.

He learned the martial arts.

He exercised a lot.

We know all that.

What else did he do?

Well, he became a world-class trapeze artist, capable of swinging from building to building with the greatest of ease.

Now, that’s interesting. Where does somebody go to learn an unusual skill like that? A correspondence school? The local community college? High school gym class?


You have to go to the pros. The ones who do it for a living.

Professional trapeze artists…at a circus.

Clearly, the young Bruce Wayne must have lived with a circus for a while. And since trapeze artistry isn’t a skill you learn overnight, he must have had time to form a pretty close attachment with whoever taught him.

Pretty close? Maybe even extremely close. After all, obsessed avenger or not, Bruce Wayne was also going through puberty at the time.

And this was…when? About a decade before Batman first met the 10-year-old Robin?

Hmmm. A pattern is forming.

Take any picture of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. The resemblance is there. They have the same chins and the same color hair. The resemblance existed even when Dick was a 10-year-old kid; it became downright spooky after the character aged and went from teen to young adult.

Looks like young Bruce did more than train.

Reconstruct the chronology. Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered. He vows to become the world’s greatest crime fighter. He starts picking up the skills he needs. He joins the circus. Meets Dick Grayson’s mother, who was probably also a young teenager at the time. And she teaches him how to swing, in more ways than one.

Then, driven by his obsessions, he goes off to complete his apprenticeship as a crime-fighter…and three trimesters later, Dick Grayson is born.

Father and son never meet until Dick Grayson’s parents — that is, his mother, and the man Dick only believes to be his father — are murdered by Boss Zucco. Then Bruce Wayne re-enters the picture, dressed like a giant bat, and takes his son home.

Only he never lets the kid know that he’s his real father. He never adopts Dick Grayson; he just takes him on as a ward.

Didn’t that ever bother you? The relationship looked rather permanent. Why wouldn’t a smart guy like Bruce Wayne make it legal with an actual adoption?

Well, what’s the difference between a ward and an adopted son? A ward can be incontestably cut out of a will. That would be more difficult in the case of a son, whether blood relation or adopted child. Dick Grayson never once worried about this — he must have been either incredibly trusting or incredibly apathetic about money. But the longer he remained a ward (while helping Bruce dodge bullets at night), the more suspicious this circumstance became. Why did Bruce Wayne want to hold such a powerful trump card against a partner he nightly entrusted with his life?

Because he was afraid that Dick would find out something.

Something that would shatter Dick Grayson’s respect for Bruce Wayne, that would make him a dangerous enemy of Bruce Wayne.

What could it be?

Consider: When Dick Grayson’s parents died, Batman showed up within minutes. Isn’t that too big a coincidence to be believed?

I don’t think so. Bruce Wayne twisted his entire life around because somebody had stolen his parents. How upset must he have been when he found out that somebody else had stolen his son?

Upset enough to kill two people and frame a known criminal for the deed?

Enough to sabotage the trapeze of the Flying Graysons, which was up near the top of the tent where most normal murderers could not be expected to go?

Enough to become the very kind of criminal he despised?

Dick Grayson was never the brilliant detective his mentor was. He never put the clues together. He just thought Bruce Wayne was his good chum, his crimefighting partner, Batman. And so he spent his youth never once realizing that he was helping one of Gotham City’s most twisted criminals quite literally get away with murder.

  1. Daria says:

    Nope. Sorry, but your very premise is faulty. Almost all retellings of the tale of the Flying Graysons included the notion that Bruce Wayne was already present at the circus, since the Wayne Foundation was hosting a charity function that evening. Of course Batman showed up quickly: He’d had a front row seat for the Grayson’s murder. Next, it would be truly doubtful that he’d previously met Mary Grayson OR that she’d taught him to be an expert aerialist because she was very late to the field herself. The former Mary Chilvers, daughter of a prominent dentist, only became an aerialist after she’d fallen in love with John, having attended one of his performances and become so starstrick with him that she left her home and family for him. (Her elder sister Harriett and their well-to-do parents then cast her from the family for marrying a performer of Romany blood). If she’d only been an aerialist approximately one or two years at best prior to (per your timeline) Bruce Wayne’s training, he’d never have learned such expert moves from her. The scenario here reminds me of the punch-line of “Batman Beyond,” providing an unnecessary biological link between two people who prided each other on their brains, natural pluck and skills above all.

    As for Dick’s prowess in his chosen field, his Teen Titans pals didn’t call Dick “Genius” for nothing. He was every bit the well-trained detective as his mentor and every bit the skilled tactician. More importantly, while Batman may have saved Gotham endlessly, Nightwing led successive Titans teams and save the planet (and several others) numerous times. He’s a top-flight hero–always was, always will be (and way more fun than Batman)!

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