A Robin Retcon Done Right

The other day, I was grousing about a comic retcon where it’s going to be revealed that Wolverine put together a team of mutants long before Charles Xavier even cared. That Wolverine formed the ‘First X-Men’. I called this a “stupid retcon”, and my opinion has not changed. It is very stupid, and the worst sort of comic book tampering that’s done to history and continuity.

But this is not to say that all retcons are bad. In fact, I’d like to share with you a retcon that DC Comics is right in the middle of that is actually kind of cool. And it’s a retcon involving one of my absolute favorite characters of all time: Robin!

Well, Nightwing, but same difference

You know I’d be extra pissed if they messed up Robin. In actuality, however, this Court of Owls retcon is kind of badass, and adds to Robin’s history, rather than detracts. Join me after the jump to learn what they’ve changed, and why this is a much better retcon than First X-Men.

First, a definition.

‘Retcon’ stands for ‘retroactive continuity’, in which a writer looks back on a character’s history and decides to change something from the past to suit a story told today.

Some horrible examples include revealing that Gwen Stacy lost her virginity to the Green Goblin; that Nightcrawler is literally the son of a demon, and doesn’t just look demonic; that Wolverine comes from an ancient race of evolved wolves; or that Spider-Man gets his powers from a totemic spider-god.

Some good retcons include the idea that Green Lanterns are actually part of a larger emotional spectrum of different colored Lanterns; that Iron Fist comes from a long line of Iron Fist warriors; or that the Flash’s super-speed comes from the extradimensional Speed Force, and not just from him running really fast.

So retcons come in all shapes in sizes. The good ones add to a character’s history, perhaps giving them new insights into themselves or their motivations, while furthering future stories. Most often, the hero doesn’t know about this changed history, and learns the truth alongside the reader. Bad retcons take something away from the character in the name of shock value, and sometimes include something that the characters ‘knew’ all along but simply haven’t mentioned it until now.

This new retcon involving Robin is one of the good ones.

This is now in continuity!

The retcon actually involves two retcons. The first is the Court of Owls, the current ongoing storyline in the Batman books at DC Comics. Writer Scott Snyder has created the idea of a secret society of elite that has existed in the shadows of Gotham City so long, and with such skill, that not even Batman knew they were real. They hid in plain sight, as the subject of a childhood nursery rhyme. Granted, there have probably been a million secret societies in Gotham City over the decades of comics, but this story is written well and it’s exciting. It’s plausible that all of this Court of Owls secrecy could have been going on without Batman knowing.

Like I said, Batman didn’t know about them, and arguably nobody knew about them as anything more than an old legend. So it wasn’t a case of one of the regular characters knowing about the Court and simply not bothering to mention them. This retcon has also explored Batman’s character in a new and unique way. He’s always been so sure of himself and his guardianship of Gotham City. Well now the rug has been pulled out from under him in a way that doesn’t happen often to Batman. It’s taking the character to new and exciting mindsets.

The Court of Owls is a good retcon.

And a creepy retcon

Which finally brings us to what the Court of Owls has to do with Robin – or more specifically, with Dick Grayson, the first Robin.

The retcon is that Haley’s Circus, where Dick was an acrobat alongside his parents, was connected to the Court of Owls. The Circus was a recruitment center for able-bodied and skilled men and women who would be offered to the Court of Owls to become their champion assassins, known as Talons. Throughout the secret centuries of the Court, when Haley’s Circus would visit Gotham City, they would offer up a new Talon recruit.

And Dick Grayson, a strapping and talented young lad, was next in line to be offered to the Court of Owls when he came of age.

Dick Grayson was going to become a Talon.

He had the tooth implant and everything!

Or at least that would have been the case had some criminal scum in Gotham City not sabotaged the trapeze and gotten his parents killed. Dick was adopted by Bruce Wayne, and taken away from Haley’s Circus and away from the Court of Owls. Dick was then trained as Robin, joining Batman’s side.

Neither Batman nor Robin knew about the Court of Owls or Dick’s averted destiny until just recently.

We also learn that Dick Grayson’s great grandfather, William Cobb, was a Talon before him. And one of Dick’s childhood friends at the circus was taken as a Talon instead once Dick was out of the picture.

A friend who, admittedly, was retconned into existence for this story

So that’s the retcon. Haley’s Circle was a recruiting ground for Court of Owls, and that Dick Grayson was on the list to become the next Talon. It works as a retcon because nobody knew about it, and it doesn’t change anything that happened in the past. It shines a dark light on Haley’s Circus, but it’s not like Haley’s Circus has done anything lately. This secret was now always there in the background, but it doesn’t change the character or his history in any way that disrupts continuity. Dick Grayson wasn’t keeping this secret. He had no clue.

Plus it reinforces the bond between Batman and Robin. Batman saved Dick from the horrible fate of becoming a Talon, and Dick is a better person because of it.

The revelation that he should have been a Talon has also allowed Dick to grow as a character and reveal new personal parts of himself. Whereas the Court of Owls have shaken Batman to his core, revealing that his city doesn’t belong to him anymore.

This is how Dick reacts to finding out he was going to be a Talon.

Robins beat Owls any day of the week!

Dick Grayson isn’t shaken to his core, he isn’t bothered by this at all. Because that’s who Dick Grayson is as a man. He’s squarely on the side of the Bat, and on Bruce’s side against whatever foes might strike.

Which is reinforced soon after, when all of the old Talons are resurrected (it’s what they do), and Dick’s great-grandfather comes after him to kill him. The ‘Night of the Owls’ storyline is all about the various Talons from throughout the centuries being sent out into Gotham to kill the mayor and other VIPs, while Batman and the Bat-family fight back. Nightwing has a particularly vicious battle with his great-grandfather, who mocks Dick for not living up to his full potential. Dick could have been amazing as a Talon, according to his great-grandfather, but instead he’s just a knock-off Batman.

Dick responds by turning the tables on the Talon and kicking his ass.

Robin: 1, Owl: 0

So to summarize how a good retcon works: We’ve learned a cool, fascinating new bit of backstory from Dick Grayson’s life. Dark sinister forces from when he was a child had wanted to turn him into the ultimate villain. But instead, Dick joined Batman and became Robin. He became a hero. This secret stayed a secret throughout his life, and neither Dick or anyone close to him had any idea. So none of our familiar characters were keeping this a secret from him.

Now that the secret is out, Dick Grayson is given the chance to reject those sinister forces himself. He has chosen his life. He was raised by a good man, and is not going to let some stupid secret society change his outlook. It doesn’t matter what other people had wanted Dick to become. All that matters is what he became, and that’s a hero.

So let’s all cheer as Robin kicks the Court of Owls’ collective asses!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on May 22, 2012, in Batman, Comics, DC, Robin and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. morcegoraposa

    I’m absolutely loving the ‘Court of Owls’, and one of the main reasons for that is the development of Dick Grayson during it. The revelations about his past doesn’t seem ‘forced’ just to fit in the storyline. Nightwing is my favorite character of all, and it’s such a joy for a fan like me to see this character not only grow in status though the years, but also become an essential part of the Bat-Universe as well.

    • I definitely agree at the use of Nightwing in this story, he has been fantastic. Nightwing has been consistently good ever since the New 52 relaunch, and it’s good to see him on such a strong working relationship with Batman again. He’s going to put the Court of Owls in their place.

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