Robin's Reckoning

  Robin's origin in flashback, told as he and Batman track Tony Zucco.
  Original Airdate: February 7 & 8, 1993
  Episode # 32, #37
  Rating: * * 1/2

Credits Cast

Written by Randy Rogel
Directed by Dick Sebast
Music by Carlos Rodriguez (I)
     & Peter Tomashek (II)
Animation by Spectrum (I)
     & Dong Yang (II)

Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Loren Lester as Dick Grayson
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred
Bob Hastings as Gordon
Paul Eiding as Dolan
Linda Gary as Berty
Rebecca Gilchrist as Chi-Chi
Charles Howerton as Lennie

Eugene Roche as Stromwell
Joey Simmrin as Robin (age 10)
Lionel Mark Smith as Bus Driver
Thomas Wilson as Zucco
Additional Voices:
   Ed Gilbert
   Brion James
   Diane Pershing
   Roger Rose

Like the puppy that poops on your least favorite rug—and thereby gives you an excuse to throw it out—sometimes the censors crap on just the right scene. Their fortuitous objections to the Flying Graysons' explicit death pushed the producers into constructing one of the most understated yet powerful scenes in the series. High above the ground, the Graysons swing back and forth on a trapeze. Above them, the rope they dangle from begins to fray. They don't see it, but young Dick does. He calls to them. There's an ominous pause as their silhouettes swing out of the frame. Then a crash of horns as only the broken rope swings back into view. The audience gasps in horror, and a tasteful dissolve takes us to the next scene.

This is the artful way things would have been handled back in the days of the Hays Office, too, when gangster flicks like Public Enemy, The Roaring Twenties and White Heat got by on style rather than overt violence. The virtues of "Robin's Reckoning" are also very old-fashioned. It's full of the same scene-chewing, foot-stomping melodrama that Warner Bros. used to pour out of a dump truck and into its gangster dramas and backstage musicals; when young Dick Grayson takes to the streets in an oversize sweater and floppy cap he looks like he's trying out for a revival production of a Dead End Kids flick. And when he catches up to Tony Zucco you know exactly what is going to happen next because its the kind of thing that always happens in these melodramas: Zucco will corner him, he'll be rescued by Batman, and then he'll do something stupid like fall in the river so Batman will have to let Zucco go in order to save him.

Unfortunately, its weaknesses are also very old-fashioned—it's sometimes very clunky. When everything happens on the surface, like it does here, there's no point in complaining about a lack of attention to psychological detail, but this one seems to miss even obvious opportunities. Case in point: When young Dick first arrives at Wayne Manor, we get a point-of-view shot of its imposing facade receding vertiginously skyward; later, Alfred must intervene to get Bruce to pay attention to his young charge. The implication is that the boy is lost in that empty mansion. And yet the one shot that would have established the point is entirely missed. "This is the room Master Bruce slept in when he was your age," Alfred announces to Dick, and we get a close look at Dick's face as he gazes around. But we don't see what he sees: the vast, cavernous, alien space. That single uninserted shot would have sealed the deal: in one stroke we would have seen the emptiness on his inside dramatized by the emptiness on the outside. And Wayne's tactlessness—what young child was, or could have been, happy in that tomb-like space—would have been on full display and a prime source of tension—can Wayne and Grayson ever truly come to an understanding?—would have been ratched up.

A deeper problem is that of misplaced conflict. Grayson bears a grudge against Zucco and wants to catch up to and punish him. That's a given, but there's nothing in that conflict to develop or complicate, so there's no real point in dwelling on it. Instead it's merely a goal for Robin to reach, and the real conflict is with the person keeping him from that goal: Batman. In counterpoint to this surface conflict is a fascinating subterranean one, only glimpsed here, back in that empty house where Grayson mopes around unhappily. The implication is that, both before and after he takes a direct interest in Dick's happiness, Wayne is an impediment to his natural growth. Before: Wayne abandons Dick to the empty manor, leaving him alone, unloved, and just short of unwanted, in marked contrast to the warm and happy troupe he left behind at the circus. After: Wayne treats Dick as a training partner and then as subordinate crime fighter, with the implicit promise that under his tutelage he will be able to find and capture Zucco, but then denies him the opportunity. In each case, he promises Dick something he needs—a home or a chance at his parents' killer—and then tries to deny it.

Dick correctly sees Batman as the problem, and at the end of Part One threatens to break with him. With this conflict in place, Part Two should have been devoted to the contest of wills between protagonist (Robin) and antagonist (Batman), with the former desperately trying to get at Zucco as the latter just as desperately tries to keep him away. There's some of that here, but our two heroes (cast on opposite sides of the conflict) don't close quarters. The proper climax would have had Robin fighting his way past Batman to get at Zucco, or had Batman explicitly step aside so that Robin could find his own way. But the series was—at this point, at any rate—unwilling to jeopardize their relationship, and so, having kindled a fire between them, hurried to put it out and kick over the traces.

This, it must be said, is very much not an old-fashioned aspect of the story. When Cagney or Bogie or Eddie G. walked into a room for the final confrontation you knew only one person was going to walk out. The sentimental tie that keeps Robin and Batman together here would not have been out of place in those melodramas either; on the contrary, they sharpened their conflict by pitting friend against friend, brother against brother, son against father, so that the final resolution, happily or not, would have maximum impact. It's a pity than in a comic-book melodrama, which has even more room for histrionics, they weren't quite so trusting of the material.

Related Episodes
   * Sins of the Father
   * Old Wounds
   * It's Never Too Late

What Others Are Saying ...
"Probably the most dramatic of any of the episodes, delving into Dick Grayson's past and the tragic events that brought him under the Batman's proverbial wing. . . . [Part One features] the most gorgeous animation and drawing ever!"World's Finest

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