“Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1”
Written by Randy Rogel
Directed by Dick Sebast
Music Composed by Carlos Rodriguez
Animation by Spectrum Animation Studio
Original Airdate – February 7th, 1993
Plot: Batman sends Robin home when he discovers the kingpin they hunt is Tony Zucco, the man who killed Robin’s parents, leading to a flashback of how Dick Grayson came to live with Bruce Wayne.
And so, after only being in 2 (and a half) episodes so far, Robin gets the origin story that Batman never gets.
As the first five minutes of “The Cat and the Claw” perfectly established Batman and Catwoman, “Robin’s Reckoning” wastes no time in telling you exactly how Batman and Robin work together.
Robin is the chatty one, a laughing daredevil that teases crooks into making mistakes, while Batman is the dark nightmare who barks demands at crooks when he’s not looming over them menacingly. Batman’s the senior partner who gives commands, and Robin’s still in school, but Robin is also brash and rebellious and often goes off half-cocked. Importantly, especially after the revelations of “Perchance to Dream,” Robin actually enjoys being a superhero, and his joy helps Batman lighten up, and not fall into a dark hole of despair.
The extended flashback that takes up the majority of this and the next episode, gives the rest of “Robin’s Reckoning” a slow, considered pace, more concerned with the emotional impact of loss than with action or plot. Carlos Rodriguez’s score places Haley’s Circus in a Tim Burton-esque dream land. And after Zucco destroys Dick Grayson’s perfecgt world we are left with long looming shots of Dick alone in the terrifying spaces of Wayne Manor. Alfred reminds Bruce he needs to emotionally support Dick too, and Bruce relates his own pain to the Dick’s pain, which gives all three characters more depth.
Loren Lester does a fine job here as “college age” Robin, who sounds just like a teenager when he demands he be treated as an adult, especially when he pouts “he treats me like a kid” before petulantly kicking a rock off the batcave. Young Joey Simmrin does well with the unenviable job of playing 10 year old Dick Grayson, giving voice to the unimaginable loss of his parents. And Kevin Conroy does another solid performance, displaying his sincere Bruce Wayne voice, as distinct from his flippant Bruce or angry Batman.
But the real surprise/stand out is Thomas Wilson as Tony Zucco. Casting Biff Tannen as Zucco makes the killer of Robin’s parent just another thug. He’s not an untouchable crime boss like Rupert Thorne or a walking nightmare like Clayface. He’s a loser, a bully with surrogate father problems of his own. As soon as he’s in trouble, he runs to his uncle, who promptly kicks him out. Zucco’s not a threat to Batman, or Robin, which makes the point that crimes, most crimes, are not committed by monsters. They are committed by real people who make terrible choices.
The flashback has a lot of nice touches. Lieutenant Gordon still has some color in his hair, Officer Bullock is still in uniform. Batman hasn’t added the yellow oval to his costume. Alfred places Dick in Bruce’s old room, (first seen in “The Underdwellers”) which is guarded by a mural of Robin Hood, an obvious influence on both Batman and Robin. And, in the best bit of continuity, Zucco’s uncle in Stromwell, previously established as the crime boss of Gotham before Thorne.
This is the first two-parter with the same director on both parts, with the result that it’s the first one that feels like one long episode as opposed to two distinct parts. Dick Sebast does another good job throughout, especially the gut punch death of the Grayson’s, going from shot of the trapeze to their shadows to a frayed rope.
The only major difference between the episodes is the quality of animation. Not that Dong Yang does a bad job in part 2—it’s up to the series’s usual high standards— but Spectrum steps up their game with maybe the best animation so far. Every image is bright and clean, the blacks blacker and the colors sharper. The movement is fluid, whether it’s a helpless thug swinging in the breeze or Batman flipping over a car. This is a gorgeous episode.
“Robin’s Reckoning, Part 2”
Written by Randy Rogel
Directed by Dick Sebast
Music Composed by Peter Tomashek
Animation by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate – February 14th 1993
Plot: As the flashback continues, young Dick Grayson searches Gotham for his parents’ killer, while in the present, Robin finally catches the man.
The most important part of “Robin’s Reckoning” is the last three lines, where we learn that Bruce Wayne loves Dick Grayson, and even though Robin is a superhero in his own right, Bruce is still trying to protect him.
ROBIN: You were right, y’know, not bringing me along. You knew I’d take it too personally.
BATMAN: It wasn’t that, Robin. It wasn’t that at all. Zucco’s taken so much, caused you so much pain. I couldn’t stand the thought that he might— take you too.
ROBIN: Come on, partner, it’s been a long night.
“I couldn’t stand the thought that he might take you too” is as close to saying “I love you as my son” as Batman is ever going to get. But Robin’s belief that Batman was afraid Robin would murder the man who murdered his parents makes more sense. Zucco isn’t a threat to Robin at all. He’s barely a threat to Batman when he’s got a tommy gun and all Batman has is a broken leg.
If Batman is afraid that this loser could actually hurt 18 year old Dick Grayson, then on some level Batman doesn’t believe that Robin can take care of himself. Or, more generously, that it isn’t worth risking Robin’s life. Batman still believes, as he did in “Dreams in Darkness,” that he and he alone can truly fight crime. Add in the “Perchance to Dream” revelation that Bruce hates being Batman, and we can see a certain about of self-loathing in Batman. Batman believes only he can fight crime, because he believes Bruce Wayne’s is the only life worth risking.
But if Batman wants to protect Dick Grayson, I hear you asking, why does he dress him in a bright yellow costume and throw him at the Joker? One could argue that training Dick to be Robin is a way of protecting Dick, since Dick is going to go out and fight crime anyway. Without Bruce’s training or resources, Dick was likely to get killed, probably by Zucco. And if Batman couldn’t stop him from being a teen superhero, he might as well train him to be the best, most badass teen superhero ever.
Without any encouragement from Bruce at all, Dick goes out on his own to hunt for Zucco. And what starts as a specific quest—Get Zucco—expands to a more general need to be a protector when tiny badass Dick Grayson saves that hooker from her pimp. (oh, sure, he says she’s a grifter, but she’s dressed like Bettie Page and he’s, well, dressed like a pimp and I can read between the lines.) Mission creep is a real problem in Gotham. As Dick’s quest to avenge his parents turns him into Robin, protector of Gotham, missions to kill Dr. Long, or Harvey Dent, or Rupert Thorne, become entire criminal lifestyles.
These episodes also slide the Batman timeline back a bit more. We had been going under the idea that Bruce has been Batmanning for about five years before “On Leather Wings,” but here, Zucco says it’s been nine years since he left Gotham. Dick was also nine or ten when his parents died and he’s in college now, so that lines up too. Which makes me wonder, what has Batman been doing for a decade? Has it really taken nine years of fighting the Joker, the Penguin, and Stromwell to get Gotham to the state it’s in now? Certainly the flashbacks suggest a pilot for a very difference series, called maybe “Batman: no really this is Year One”, with a young Robin constantly at Batman’s side.
The sliding timeline also suggests a different question, if Dick Grayson is eighteen or nineteen, how old is Bruce Wayne?