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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Prompted by an Oz and Ends reader, I plan to devote the next few installments of the weekly Robin to explore the legalities of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and between Bruce and his subsequent crime-fighting partners.

Even people who’ve never read Batman comics have heard that Dick Grayson is Bruce Wayne’s ward. I suspect that label was reinforced in our minds by the iconic performance of Burt Ward. But I digress.

When did the comics establish that relationship? It took a few months. Detective Comics, #38, which introduced the Sensational Character Find of 1940, referred to Robin as Batman’s “ally” and “aid” [sic].

That story famously showed the Dynamic Duo swearing an “undying oath” to fight crime together, and it stated that “months” of training followed. But there were no scenes of Dick leaving the circus, nothing about any surviving family, and no sight of the child-welfare authorities. Simpler times, at least in pulp fiction.

Batman, #1, featured Robin in three of its four stories, and also used the term “aid.” The magazine makes clear that Dick Grayson lives in Bruce Wayne’s home, and will continue to be Batman’s partner past the Zucco case, but offers no formal explanation.

Detective, #39, started spelling the word for Robin’s role “aide.” Detective, #40, included a scene featuring Dick, Bruce, and Bruce’s fiancée Julie, so it’s clear that people know that a teenager is living in Bruce’s home.

But not until Detective, #41, did anyone refer to Dick as Bruce’s “ward.” The term appeared in that issue because in its story Bruce enrolls Dick at a fancy boys’ school so he can investigate crime there. For the first time, Bruce acts in loco parentis, requiring a legal relationship (or at least the disguise of one).

The word “aide” returned in Batman, #2 (which also offered “protege”) and #3, and in Detective Comics, #43. All of the Batman stories of this time (including World’s Fair Comics 1940) provided new readers with at least a quick introduction of the main characters, but none explained why Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne live together. Not until the last story in Batman, #3, did the narration once again speak of “an idle playboy and his ward.”

COMING UP: Exploring the ramifications of Dick Grayson’s legal status.

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