It’s a lesson Batman refuses to learn, no matter how many times he’s taught: when you bring your kid onto the battlefield against the world’s most murderous monsters, there’s a very good chance they’re gonna get croaked. Sure enough, at some point or another, every single person who’s ever filled out the “and Robin” part of “Batman and Robin” has bit the big one. While these completely avoidable moments of grief and loss seem to hit Batman’s obstinacy like waves breaking on a rocky shore, some have hit closer to home than others. But are we really audacious enough to numerically rank the deaths of children? Hey. It’s Halloween season, baby.
#5: DICK GRAYSON
Time of Death: Forever Evil #6, 2014
When the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 launched the global conquest of Forever Evil, one of the opening volleys in their assault on the world’s greatest Super Heroes was the capture of Nightwing. For almost a year as the event elapsed, the first Boy Wonder’s death was all but assured. And in Forever Evil #6, the Syndicate delivered on their promise: for, like, six seconds, before Batman and Lex Luthor restarted his heart. But as far as the world was concerned, Dick Grayson was dead — all so Batman could use him in Grayson as an undercover mole in the Spyral organization. Okay, it’s a little anticlimactic. But it could be worse. He could have broken his neck on a rock.
#4: JASON TODD
Time of Death: Batman #427, 1988
The one that started it all… and the one which everyone has to top. The problem with setting the bar is that it gives everyone who comes after a goal for clearance. In 1988, DC infamously let readers vote via telephone on whether or not The Joker would successfully kill the second Robin. Over 30 years later, some Jason fans still claim the final results were rigged — but as far as we figure, that’s just what The Joker would have done, anyway. Jason stayed dead the longest of any Robin, not emerging until Superboy-Prime punched him back to life in Infinite Crisis, as discovered in 2006’s Detective Comics Annual #25. (These days, though, we just say Ra’s al Ghul did it. It’s simpler that way.)
#3: STEPHANIE BROWN
Stephanie Brown’s time as Robin was short, brutal, fraught with technicalities, and for a long time afterwards completely ignored. But, darn it all, it MATTERED. When the 2004 “War Games” storyline began, the first canonical female Robin had a lot to prove before she could comfortably stand alongside the valor of her predecessors. All on her own, the neophyte Robin orchestrated a master plan that would cement a new understanding between the gangs of Gotham which would make the city a safer, quieter, and more peaceful place once and for all. The only problem? The entire plan hinged on the appearance of a certain well-connected gangster by the name of “Matches Malone”... who poor Steph had no idea was actually Batman. And what should have been the start of a new Golden Age for Gotham became an all-out gang war — one which ultimately claimed her life, thanks to the sadistic Black Mask. In her final moments, Stephanie had only one request; a plea that would melt even the coldest heart: to know that, however briefly, she was part of the legend of Batman. It was 3 years later in Batman Underground that we would learn Stephanie’s death was faked by Dr. Leslie Thompkins in order to get her out of Batman’s fatal shadow… and that yet another legacy lay before her.
#2: TIM DRAKE
Time of Death: Detective Comics #940, 2016
Here’s the thing about Red Robin’s death scene, as written by Tim Drake super fan James Tynion IV: it respected the reader’s intelligence. In the year 2016, even those who were only paying a modicum of attention all knew there was no way a dead Robin would stay that way. So rather than insulting us with the question of his permanent retirement, the issue’s epilogue immediately set up the circumstances of his return. The reader knew that Tim was alive, but removed from the world as we knew it and in big trouble. The mourning by those closest to Tim really meant something, because we spent most of our time from then on inhabiting their perspective, not knowing what had happened to their beloved friend, brother, son, and soulmate. And the fact that he was never truly dead as far as the omniscient reader knew didn’t make his return to the fold in Detective Comics #965 any less triumphant. The death and return of Tim Drake is a story very much aware of the tropes and history surrounding a Super Hero death sequence, and one which thrives within their structure.
#1: DAMIAN WAYNE
Time of Death: Batman Incorporated #8, 2013
We were all given plenty of warning for this one. No one had an excuse not to see it coming. Grant Morrison began his legendary seven-year Batman run by introducing Bruce’s biological son, and he had loudly announced his intention to pack Damian Wayne back in upon his exit. We were told the date. We were told the issue number. We were shown the cover. And yet, we were unprepared for the moment it happened. Unprepared for the sheer brutality; the visceral image of a Robin who was still just a small child impaled upon a sword. His lifeless body slumped on the ground like laundry. The raw, wordless grief which followed in Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin #18. And unlike the other returns, Damian’s was one which Batman thoroughly earned. From the moment Damian passed from this world, Bruce’s mission was redirected towards a singular purpose: that by magic, or science, or by forces divine or infernal, he would make his son live again. Batman’s journey to reclaim Damian made enemies of allies and vice versa, and took him to Apokolips and back — and at the end of his quest, in “Robin Rises,” he was given an impossible choice. If he could bring anyone back… anyone… undo any death, but only once… who would it be? Before you answer, think about who Batman is. Think about how Batman came to be. And think of what he sacrificed when he chose Damian anyway.
But Damian wasn’t the last Robin to die. And Tim probably won’t be either. All we’re saying is that whoever’s next on the list of Batman’s sidekicks better watch their step.
It don’t look good, Duke. It don’t look good.