The Art Of Over Analysis #7: Tim Drake and Obsession


Batman is a cultural icon. Being one of the most visible and popular superheroes in the medium has elevated The Dark Knight, spawning film after film over the past four decades, a best-selling series of video games and a seemingly endless stream of merchandise. Batman and Batman related comics and characters make up for a sizable chunk of DC’s sales in that department, but they also make up for the bulk of their representation of mental illness, arguably none moreso than Batman’s third partner, Red Robin, aka Tim Drake.

Bruce Wayne himself is by no means what one would call “well-adjusted”. For starters, he’s a grown man in at the very least his mid 30s who spends his evenings dressed up as a large bat and trying to solve various crimes. He has a penchant for adopting orphaned children and eventually employing them in his almost ritualistic war on crime in Gotham City, and he spends more time in a cave underneath his family’s large manor as opposed to inside the manor itself. Tim Drake, young as he is, even in his first appearance in 1989, shows that just like his predecessor and mentor, things aren’t as they’re expected to be upstairs. As a child, Tim was able to deduce the secret identities of both Batman and Robin after seeing them on TV, and decided to keep the secret to himself, that is, until the events of A Death in the Family. After the death of Batman’s second Robin, Jason Todd, The Dark Knight begins to slip further and further into madness; he gets sloppy, he gets hit, and he starts to run himself ragged. Tim decides it’s time to step in and seeks out the original kid sidekick, Dick Grayson, in an attempt to get him to don the yellow cape once more and be Robin again, because as far as young Drake is concerned, Batman needs a Robin to stay on top of his game. After Grayson refuses, Tim takes matters into his own hands, assisting in a fight against Two-Face and proclaiming himself the new Robin. This series of events, told over the Batman story A Lonely Place of Dying, is essential to understanding Tim and the way his mind works, more specifically, understanding that Tim Drake is at the very least a candidate for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — and not in that “I have to have everything nice and neat” way that people have been conditioned to think of when they hear someone mention OCD. Robin number 3’s symptoms land him more on the Obsessive end of the spectrum, and his particular obsession is control. Not in a manipulative sense, but in the same way that people push the door close button in elevators, despite the now-common fact that the button doesn’t work anymore. Tim is obsessed with control of a situation as well as control of himself.

Looking at his solo series for evidence, there are two immediate instances that jump to mind, the first of which coming just about halfway through, in issue 87:

Context here is important, so let’s back it up a few years. The blonde is Stephanie Brown, A.K.A. The Spoiler, daughter of the Cluemaster, Robin’s partner and for the past thirty-something issues, his girlfriend. Now, in Stephanie’s first appearance, Robin unmasks her, thinking she’s a criminal, and she later introduces herself to the Dynamic Duo proper, essentially trusting her identity to them. The entire length of time that Tim has known her, he hasn’t returned that favor, not because he doesn’t want to, but because he can’t tell his own secret without giving Batman’s away. He hasn’t told Stephanie, but he also hasn’t told Superboy, Kid Flash or Wonder Girl, his three best friends in the world, for the same reason. So in Robin #87, when Batman tells Stephanie, his anger isn’t at the fact that his girlfriend knows his real name and he can now actually go on actual dates with her — it’s at the fact that he didn’t get to tell her himself, despite wanting to for over a year in comic book time. His secret is one of the things that was his duty to protect, and it’s something he’s never not been able to be in complete control of, even though Nightwing, Batman, and Oracle all know who he is, because he’s always been able to trust that they can keep his secret because of what they have at stake.

The second comes after the events of the Identity Crisis and War Crimesevents, which saw the deaths of Tim’s father, Jack Drake and his classmate Darla Aquista and the later proven to be faked death of Stephanie. Tim packs up and moves to the neighboring city of Bludhaven to help Batgirl fill Nightwing’s spot after he skips town, and to prevent himself from entering the foster system or becoming Bruce’s legal son, he comes up with an elaborate scheme involving paying an actor to pretend to be his uncle, writing a fake will for his dead father and actually creating a fictional person in the legal system to legitimize the whole thing. Tim wants to remain the master of his own life, without Bruce influencing his life outside of being Robin, so he goes to the most extreme absurdity he can manage to ensure that he can do that, because the name of the game is control.

Now, there are other examples of Tim trying to maintain control of a situation in order to sate his obsession with the concept, i.e. poisoning Lady Shiva in the final issue of the series, but the other thing he’s obsessed with, being in control of himself as a person, is just as worthy of spending time discussing. You see, as much as Tim loves being Robin and helping in Batman’s fight against crime, unlike his predecessor, Jason Todd, or his adoptive sister, Cassandra Cain, aka Batgirl, Tim has no desire to replace Batman. Not only is he content with staying the Boy Wonder, he actively resists the idea of one day donning the cape and cowl. In the original run of Young Justice, while his teammates are talking about one day replacing their mentors — Superboy was created to one day replace Superman, Wonder Girl wants to be Wonder Woman, etc — Tim makes himself the odd man out and establishes that he doesn’t want to be Batman, and realistically sees himself being out of the Superhero game in ten years. Later, during a Teen Titans story that sees the Titans fighting evil future versions of themselves, and despite seeing plain as day that he could grow up to be Batman, Tim refuses that possibility. This is explained by Drake himself twice, once in Robin #131:

And again, in Robin #183:

Tim is obsessed with retaining as much of his own personality as possible. He doesn’t want Robin to one day become Batman because he is afraid that one day Tim will become Bruce. He doesn’t want to become so consumed by his sense of duty and commitment to justice that he loses his optimism, or his sens of humor or his ability to just go out and enjoy the day. The problem of course, is that it’s already begun to happen; Tim acts more and more like Batman with each passing issue, resorting to intimidation tactics to deal with his foes more and more as time goes on, something that peaks after he is, for lack of a better term, fired by Dick Grayson after he takes up the mantle from Batman, and adopts the identity of Red Robin. As Red Robin, Tim’s costume looks more like Batman’s, complete with cape and cowl and he himself grows more and more isolated from his family and friends, more and more like Bruce, and the more he becomes like Bruce, the more his obsession grows into as Superboy calls it, a self-punishment. The former Boy Wonder has lost so much control of his life that he has started to grasp at anything he can, leading to his whole quest to prove that Batman was alive after the events of Final Crisis.

Tim Drake, like so many teenage heroes before and after him, existed for younger fans to be able to relate to, and over the course of his twenty plus year lifespan, he has evolved into a character that fans younger and older can relate to, in no small part due to how people with mental illnesses like OCD can see themselves in him, which is rarer than one would think in superhero comics. You can look at him and see those experiences and see what it’s like represented in a positive character, as opposed to the figurative legion of villainous characters that have mental illnesses, be it in comics, video games, or films, and there’s something really refreshing and special about that.

But then again, maybe I’m just over analyzing things.

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