Tim Drake is the Robin who isn’t really sure how to be Robin anymore — but in this week’s Batman: Urban Legends, he’s figured at least one thing out. A nice boy asked him out on a date, and Tim said yes.
That makes him the first new LGBTQ member of Batman’s immediate family in 15 years, since Batwoman herself.
Batman: Urban Legends is one of DC’s new anthology series. In each issue, multiple creative teams share an episode of various ongoing stories starring characters under the Gotham City umbrella. Over several issues, Writer Meghan Fitzmartin (DC Superhero Girls, Future State: Robin Eternal) and artist Belén Ortega (Sensational Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel) have crafted “Sum of Our Parts,” a story in which Tim Drake tries to defeat a mysterious new villain who captured his old friend Bernard.
In “Sum of Our Parts,” Tim wrestles with uncertainty in a way that has become core to his character over the last decade. He feels as though he doesn’t know what he wants, until Bernard — not knowing that Robin and Tim are the same person — wistfully refers to their interrupted dinner as a “date,” and Tim has “a lightbulb moment.”
At the end of this episode of the story, Bernard asks Tim out on a real date, and Tim happily accepts.
“When Dave [Wielgosz] (my editor for Batman: Urban Legends) reached out about doing another Tim story, I was thrilled,” Fitzmartin told Polygon via email. “We talked about where Tim Drake has been vs where he was at the time and came to the conclusion that it needed to be a story about identity and discovery. What was next for Boy Wonder?”
She says she spent days thinking it over before emailing back to say “Look, I don’t know if this is something that can happen, but this is the story, because it’s the only story it can be.”
Even after she got the go-ahead, Fitzmartin says it took some time to absorb the idea that she was going to create a coming out story for a Robin — and a very established version of Robin at that. “I fully sat on the floor of my apartment for a solid two minutes in happiness as it sunk in. Ultimately, this wouldn’t have happened without champions at DC, like Dave and James Tynion IV, and I hope it is as meaningful for others as it has been for me.”
Kate Kane is the most prominent canonically queer member of the sprawling Bat-family. She debuted as Batwoman in 2006 in the company’s year-long weekly-TV style series 52, and immediately garnered shock headlines — even though she ultimately had a fairly minor role. Gotham City has slowly become a much queerer place since her introduction, but mostly with villains and secondary characters. The subtext of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy was finally allowed to be text in the early 2010s. Before she (nearly) married Batman, Catwoman briefly had a girlfriend. Midnighter became a recurring supporting character in Nightwing stories. Police detectives Renee Montoya and Maggie Sawyer and the young vigilante Bluebird/Harper Row flitted in and out of continuity.
At the same time, Tim Drake was struggling to find a new editorial niche in Batman stories. From his creation in 1989 until the late ’00s, Tim’s place was easy to explain. Dick Grayson was the original Robin. Jason Todd was the Robin who died. And Tim was the youngest Robin, Batman’s partner. More independent than Dick and more empathetic than Jason, Tim simply was Robin for two decades of readers, as well as the enormous audience of Batman: The Animated Series.
That changed with the introduction of Damian Wayne in 2006, created by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert, who was immediately installed in Tim’s place as Robin. No longer “the youngest Robin” or even Batman’s main partner, DC has seemed to struggle to find Tim’s new niche. 2009 saw him adopt the identity of Red Robin — you know, like the burger chain? — 2011’s New 52 reboot tried a drastic revamp of his origin story, but 2016’s Rebirth relaunch restored the original one. Most recently, in the pages of Young Justice, Tim said he was gonna start going by the codename “Drake” instead of Red Robin ... but it seems that Infinite Frontier’s changes have included forgetting that that ever happened and just calling him Robin again.
After 15 years of flux, Tim’s clearest niche is that he’s the Robin who doesn’t quite know where he fits in the Bat-family, a character who is consistently put in the position of interrogating his own identity, but who has never found a lasting resolution. That alone could be enough to make him a point of identification for queer fans. But Tim has a long history of being read as not-completely-straight thanks to a fandom affection for pairing him up with fellow Teen Titan (and easily queered character) Connor Kent, the Superboy of the 1990s.
“The greatest thing about working with an established IP,” Fitzmartin told Polygon, “is that there are so many story decisions for characters that have already been made for you (often by people much smarter than you). [“Sum of Our Parts”] happened because this is who Tim is. I love this character very much, and as I went back to reread as much as I could to do Robin justice, it became clear this is the story Tim needed to tell.”
And for those itching to update various fan-wikis and lists, Fitzmartin says that Tim hasn’t put a label on himself yet — nor does this story delegitimize his decades-long off-again-on-again relationship with fellow teen superhero Stephanie Brown/Spoiler.
“I wanted to pay tribute to the fact that sexuality is a journey,” Fitzmartin told Polygon. “To be clear, his feelings for Stephanie have been/are 100% real, as are his feelings for Bernard. However, Tim is still figuring himself out. I don’t think he has the language for it all... yet.”