It’s February 7 and 14, 1993, a couple of weeks before “See No Evil” and well after everything else we’ve covered. The top song throughout is Whitney Houston with “I Will Always Love You,” and the top movie is Loaded Weapon the weekend ending the 7th, and Groundhog Day the weekend ending the 14th.
In the news, Belgium became a federal monarchy on the 5th. Janet Reno was nominated as the new U.S. Attorney General on the 11th. On the 17th, a ferry sinks in Haiti, killing over 1,200 people.
In Gotham, we have the Emmy-winning two-parter “Robin’s Reckoning,” which tells two parallel tales. The main story, set in the anachronistic “present” of the series, is about a rift forming between Batman and Robin as a result of Batman’s attempts to keep Robin from finding out that Tony Zucco, the man who killed Robin’s parents, has returned. Meanwhile, the B-story is told through flashbacks which reveal Robin’s and Batman’s memories of how they met and became partners.
The two parts are woven together by the common element of Robin’s fury. As young Dick Grayson, he is first resentful that Bruce Wayne has taken him in only to seemingly abandon him, unaware that Bruce is going out as Batman to hunt Zucco. Bruce eventually, thanks to Alfred, realizes that he ought to be making helping Dick his first priority and catching Zucco second, but then Dick overhears a lead on Zucco’s location and goes after him himself. This lands him in serious peril, but Batman rescues him, at the cost of letting Zucco go.
Between and around these flashbacks, we see adult Robin first learn that the “Billy Marin” Batman has insisted on pursuing alone is really Zucco, which Robin regards as a betrayal by Batman. Robin goes after Zucco himself amidst dark mutterings that suggest this conflict could end the Batman-Robin partnership. Meanwhile, Batman injures his leg pursuing Zucco, and flees into an amusement park, Zucco’s men in pursuit.
The ensuing chase, in which Batman is simultaneously trying to avoid Zucco’s men and pick them off, even as Robin navigates a series of hazards on his motorcycle, racing to their location, is a brilliant construction of dual tensions. On the one hand, we are concerned that Zucco and his men might be too much for the injured Batman to handle, and thus hoping that Robin will arrive in time. On the other, we are concerned about what Robin might do once he gets his hands on Zucco, and thus hoping that Batman takes care of them before Robin gets there. Normally, the tension of any such sequence in a series like this is undercut by the knowledge that it must end well so that there can be a next episode, but here we are torn between wanting two mutually exclusive outcomes, and thus the full tension of the fight comes through.
It is no accident that this story begins (chronologically speaking) at a circus and ends at an amusement park. Both are instances of the carnival, which we have already discussed as a topsy-turvy realm, a place where the normal rules of the social order are inverted. Thus in this story Robin is the vengeful terror who stalks the night for his parents’ killer, while Batman is the restraining influence trying to humanize him. The breakdown of the social order looms large as a menace in this story: the unstated but heavily implied threat is that Robin will kill Zucco. This would be tantamount to destroying the moral universe of Batman: Robin is the archetypal child sidekick, and hence an instance of the Child in the reproductive-futurist sense. The preservation of the Child and the Child’s pristine innocence is, in the regressive worldview of reproductive futurism, the entire purpose of the social order; for Robin to cast it aside and commit murder would be the ultimate defeat, after which Batman may as well give up. (And, of course, The Return of the Joker will depict exactly this eventuality, albeit with a different Robin, as the beginning of the end for the Bat Family.)
At least, this is what Robin believes. He is certain that Batman’s efforts to conceal Zucco from him are evidence that Batman is trying to preserve Robin’s innocence, which is to say treating Robin (who is a college student at this point) as a child. No wonder Robin is furious—from his perspective, Batman is patronizing him and trying to steal his opportunity for revenge and closure on the death of his parents. Who wouldn’t be angry?
Yet our expectations for the way this story is going are belied, because Robin has misinterpreted the situation. In the final confrontation with Zucco, he saves Batman, but then when Batman tries to restrain Robin from murdering Zucco Robin lashes out verbally, saying Batman can’t understand how he feels. That this hurts Batman deeply is immediately obvious from the ensuing awkward silence and Batman’s expression, but truly telling is what Batman tells Robin at the episode’s end: that he wasn’t trying to stop Robin from seeking revenge, but simply afraid of losing Robin. Zucco has “taken so much” from Robin, and Batman fears he might “take you too.”
Consider that. This is Batman, the legendary detective and strategist. He must know that Zucco is far less of a physical threat than some of the other villains. Even with a gun, Zucco lacks the powers of a Clayface or Poison Ivy, or even the unpredictability of the Joker. But because he has caused Robin pain before, Batman fears Zucco may hurt him again, even kill him. This is magical thinking, a child’s logic.
And compare that final fight with Zucco on the pier to the very similar fight in the flashback. There, the three-way fight put young Dick Grayson in danger, and Batman had to give up on catching Zucco to rescue him. Here, the same thing happens, but reversed: Robin hurts Batman, and gives up on revenge against Zucco to help him. The only difference is that this time the police show up, so Zucco is still caught.
But between the childish justification for Batman’s actions and the way the final fight positions him as the equivalent of young Dick, the true meaning of his words becomes clear: he wasn’t fighting to protect Dick’s innocence because the Child Batman seeks to protect isn’t Dick Grayson, Age 12; it’s Bruce Wayne, Age 11.
We have flirted with this concept before, but it’s high time to just state it explicitly: Bruce Wayne is trapped in the moment of his parents’ death. Batman can be an adult, insofar as one can refer to dressing like a bat to punch crime in the face as adult behavior. But Bruce Wayne is a child, trapped in a moment of supreme trauma, forever. No wonder he still summons the Bat to protect him.
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