New Gotham, new rules… (Sins of the Father)

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My apologies. I somehow just forgot to queue anything yesterday. Here is the post that should have gone up then.

It’s a few minutes later on September 20, 1997, so no significant headlines or changes in the charts.

The phrase “the sins of the father” comes from the biblical Book of Exodus, which declares that children shall be punished for the sins of their parents for generations. Despite centuries of ink spilled in efforts to justify or explain away this decree, it remains at once blatantly unfair and unjust, and obviously true. Children do suffer for the misdeeds and mistakes of their parents, as the less-powerful always suffer for the misdeeds and mistakes of the powerful. Some mistakes and misdeeds can, especially in a cultural milieu that compounds the punishment, echo for generations, as with whatever parental failures led to Stephen Drake being a “hard-luck case” as a child, forcing him into a life of crime just to survive, and thus placing his son Tim in the exact same scenario.

Which in itself is an interesting choice, because this backstory has much more in common with the comics’ second Robin, Jason Todd, than with the comic version of Tim Drake. Later episodes will bring in a little more of the comics’ Tim Drake–particularly his high intelligence and detective skills–but there will always be a significant amount of Jason Todd in him, including a horrific, career-ending encounter with the Joker.

But that is one of the titular sins of the father–not just that Tim Drake’s literal father literally “sinned” in becoming a criminal, forcing Tim to grow up in an environment where he has little choice but to do likewise, but that Tim is overshadowed by his predecessors, his role colored by their fates. Extradiegetically, he is preceded by Jason Todd in the position of being the second Robin, but cannot actually be Jason Todd, who is mostly known as “that Robin who died.” The WB’s censors allow BTAS to get away with a lot, but it seems beyond belief that they would allow a character to be introduced just to die. Instead, Tim Drake absorbs much of Jason Todd’s character, while still not being him, and therefore his death is not a fait accompli.

Diegetically, Tim is overshadowed by Dick Grayson’s status as the original Robin. Even as we are introduced to Tim, the more interesting question–signposted from the moment Tim entered the Batcave–is “What happened to Dick?” That no one seems to want to talk about it except in vague, ominous terms, and the similarity of how the costume is displayed in the Batcave to how Jason Todd’s costume was displayed after his death in the comics, suggests the possibility that Dick died. This is disproven at the end of the episode, but it’s clear something happened–Dick is polite enough, but there is clear hostility in his snide comment about Batman’s “I make the rules.” Something went wrong between them, something which has elevated Batgirl to the status of Batman’s partner and left Dick out in the cold.

(Later revelations raise another question here: Are Bruce and Barbara sleeping together yet? We will discuss this more in later episodes, but the short answer is: probably, I’m afraid.)

Structurally, Tim is overshadowed as well; the fact that the primary story arc of The New Batman Adventures (making it the first season of either BTAS or STAS to have a primary story arc) concerns the relationship between Bruce, Barbara, and Dick, and the latter’s decision to go solo as Nightwing, means that Tim is never really given an opportunity to distinguish himself as a character in his own right. Despite appearing more regularly than Dick Grayson ever did as Robin, Tim remains “that other Robin.” The only real character focus he’ll get in the series is in “Growing Pains” (admittedly one of the best episodes of TNBA).

And yet he is–or will be, years from now–the real Man Who Killed Batman. But that’s a story for another time, and another series.

 


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