Inside DC Comics’ 1990 redesign of Robin
With the 25th anniversary of 1989’s Batman, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the Tim Burton movie. As part of that, James at 1989Batman.com has pulled together some excellent threads examining DC Comics’ 1990 redesign of Robin, a project undertaken at the behest of filmmakers.
Out went the elfish garb of the original as DC searched for something more modern — befitting the time, and also primed to be translated into a future Batman film. To accomplish that task, DC turned to several of its top artists at the time, including Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle, Stephen De Stefano, George Perez and Jim Aparo. DC didn’t tell the artists what it was for; simply, they were asked to redesign the Boy Wonder.
“They wanted me to work on it because the film company was saying they would change it. So I started to submit some designs,” Adams said in an older interview with Comics Bulletin. “The most important thing that I did was realize the character had to remain Robin, but had to be a new Robin, and there were some things that were really wrong. Like his legs were bare, that didn’t make any sense. He wore these little elf boots, that didn’t make any sense. His colors were too bright — yellow and red — and he was going to be out at night, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Adams goes into some detail about the methodology behind his Robin redesign, which is the one DC ultimately chose. The legendary artist said part of the reason his was selected was because he discerned this redesign was in tune with the movie franchise, and was able to aim at that goal. Adams also said he created a “darker” design for Robin that he turned in to DC; however, he recommended they not show it to the Batman producers, because they would like it more and would ruin DC’s franchise.
“Then they asked DC, ‘Could you have your designer go one step further? Have him give Robin a darker costume, closer to Batman’s costume.’ So, I did. I created another Robin costume. Then I had Kris [Adams' daughter] get on the phone with DC Comics and she said to them exactly what I am going to say to you. ‘Neal is going to send over a Robin costume. We recommend that you do not show it to the film company. You will sort of like it. It’s not Robin, it’s a dark costume. They will love it because they want a dark Robin. You have already shown them a successful Robin. If you show them this costume they will buy this costume and you will destroy your licensing for Robin forever. We are going to send it over, but we recommend that you do not show it to them. Make up whatever excuses you can to not show it to them. You can say, “You know, we have gone far enough. We have changed the Robin costume enough. We have cooperated enough. We are not going to go any further we are not going to do any more designs” We recommend you not show it because it looks too good. Do not show it.'”
And while it was Adams’ design that was ultimately chosen, DC did incorporate some elements from the other artist’s designs — the “R” logo and the staff from Breyfogle, and a latter contribution from Tom Lyle of Tim Drake’s spiked hair. DC eventually published some of these designs in the 1995 one-shot Batman: Knight Gallery, with finishes to some of the art provided by Lyle.
Here’s a look at Breyfogle’s main Robin design, including that signature “R” Logo. Headto Batman1989.com to see much more.