There were elements of the story of Tim Harris that Red Robin would not share with Blackwing. There were pieces he had only put together years ago after reading statements made by the troubled Harris after his arrest. He gave the young hero only the facts as they related to Harris and his past actions. He did not share the details of how he had discussed much of the case with Bruce Wayne, the late Batman, or how that case had changed his own life. Still, he recalled the entire situation, and images from the past raced through his mind even as he steered the powerful Red Racer through the streets of Gotham City.
In the year 1957, a semiretired Batman still found time and occasion to slip on his famous costume and bring justice and mercy to the city he loved. On one such occasion, the caped crusader had dropped down of a rooftop in a slum district to face three young robbers. They had emerged from a small grocery store, and their elation at pulling off the small heist filled them with a cocky bravado that faded like their smiles when the shadow of the caped hero fell across their path.
“Oh, man! Not him!” cried the fat boy who led the gang.
Before the three teens in their garish purple jackets could react, Batman had rolled to a perfect landing and had jumped forward to knock the nearest one reeling into a trashcan. “I suppose the local sanitation department will owe me for doing their job and removing the trash!” he said with a smile.
The second punk jumped at Batman even as a crowd gathered from the tenement nearby to watch the champion in action. “You can’t stop us! You’re supposed to be out chasing Penguin and Joker and big names like that!” cried the thug.
Batman sidestepped and looped a rope around his arms as his own momentum drove him forward. “I like to think I’m equally interested in stopping criminal careers early,” he said. “You boys can still turn your lives around after you serve your time.”
Meanwhile, the third punk had drawn a gun and now raised a shaky hand to aim it at Batman’s back. Batman saw his every move reflected in the mirrored display case of a rundown furniture store nearby. He had noticed the reflective surface before he had descended from above, and as always, after twenty years of risking his life for others, he had never been in any danger of being surprised by such a minor threat.
Batman had already started to palm a batarang with which he would disarm the final thug, when a small boy in the crowd yelled, “Watch out behind you, Batman!”
He turned and hurled the projectile with perfect aim. The gun was knocked out of the thug’s hand, and Batman had him down in seconds. He tied him up and turned the threesome over to local police who had arrived on the scene.
“Thanks, Batman! We’ll take them from here,” said an awestruck rookie.
Batman shook his hand and smiled. “Thank you, son. Good to see the commissioner’s force has such capable youngsters ready to protect and serve!”
As the young officer beamed with pleasure, Batman stopped and knelt down to talk to the child in the crowd. “Thank you for the warning, son. You were very brave and helpful. Why, if Robin is not careful, I’ll have to make you my new partner!” he said as he ruffled the child’s hair.
The little boy’s eyes brightened as he gazed up at the hero. He continued staring at him as he walked away. The child was a young Tim Harris. He thought of Batman’s words over and over as he wandered around the neighborhood and passed by the noise of other kids at play. Even though one boy called out to him, Tim ignored him. He could not forget Batman or the way he had spoken to him.
“He said I was brave,” he whispered. “He said I could be his partner! I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be strong and fast like Batman!”
He reached the front of his own basement apartment where he lived with his mother and her sister. He glanced down at the window that was located down from the higher sidewalk above. He saw a heavy man in jeans and a torn shirt hand his mother some money as he stumbled out the door. His mother and sister had a lot of male friends who came and went at all hours. Some were nice to him, and others were scary. One even hit his aunt one night. Tim vowed to become more like Batman; then no one could hurt his mother or his aunt again.
Louisa Harris saw Tim and said, “Timmy, where have you been? I’ve told you not to stay away for so long.” She was a tired woman with a worried manner and little patience or hope about her. Life had beaten her more than any of her male friends.
“Ma, I met Batman! I saved his life! He said I could be like Robin!” gasped the child in eagerness and pleasure.
“You and your crazy dreams!” she said. “Batman! What good is a Batman to us?”
He frowned and said, “I really met him.”
“Certainly,” she said. “If only I had a man around to help me teach you the important things in life. Heroes and daydreams are not for people like us!”
“Have you heard from Pa?” said Tim. “He said he was going to come by today. We’re going bowling!”
She shook her head and said, “He didn’t call. Tim, I want you to know that he may not come. He says things he means at the time, but he forgets to do them later. You are big enough to understand now that your pa is not like other fathers. He is not reliable.”
Tim shook his head. “He will come this time! I know he will. And he’ll believe me about Batman!”
The boy ran into a room and slammed the door behind him. Hours passed, and he heard the arrival of other men, but his father did not show up. He cried and rested on the rug. Finally, he smiled as a new idea came to him. “Batman’s the kind of father I want. I’m going to work and become tough and smart and become his new Robin!”
Over the years, Tim Harris never lost his obsession. Even as he matured, he remembered Batman and the promise of a better future the hero embodied. Tim grew up without a father in his life. His own dad seldom showed up, and his mother’s lifestyle left much to be desired. He retreated into himself and a world of fantasy. He did become a tall and powerful youth. He used the local YMCA to work out, and he learned martial arts from a school teacher who had a thing for his aunt.
Finally, by the fall of 1975, he felt that he was ready. Oddly enough, his new life began with a sudden death when his aunt was killed by a hit-and-run driver. He vowed to make her loss be more than one more tragedy. He vowed to become a hero and keep other people safe from the criminals and the dangers of urban life. He had worked cleaning the neighborhood YMCA, and with his salary he put together a costume like the one worn by the adult Robin.
The grown-up Boy Wonder was seen far more around Gotham City now, since Batman had apparently retired. Still, Tim held on to his dream of meeting the heroes and becoming their partner. He knew as an adult that they had to have money to equip themselves so well, and now he hoped that as their ally he could also receive financial help for his mother.
Who needs college or a factory job when I can become a super-hero? he thought as he slipped on the bat-shaped mask and yellow cape. I can move Ma out of this slum and become a real partner to Batman and Robin. Robin can’t be everywhere at once, but I can wear this costume and be there for him. We’ll eventually meet, and he’ll make me one of Batman’s partners. I got to build a reputation first!
Doctors would say that Tim’s fantasy had become a mania. He had become lost in delusion, and reality could only cause him added pain. He wore the costume and waited for days without having any adventure. Finally, one night he saw members of a local gang following a couple who had become lost. “Muggers. I’ll take them down and begin my career as a Scourge on crime!” he said.
He followed silently and with agility. He had truly picked up the physique of an athlete over the years of relentless physical training. Now he dropped down and confronted the gang.
“Robin!” gasped one member as Tim crashed into him and pounded him to the ground.
He elbowed another punk in the face and blocked the efforts of the third to help his friend. He said nothing, since he felt silence was a good tool with which he could menace his foes. He kicked back the final thug and turned to face the couple. “Are you folks OK? They won’t hurt you now. Not while I’m on patrol!” he said.
The woman screamed as one of the thugs pulled out a gun, and Tim kicked him in the chest. The gun fired wildly and hit her husband. He fell to the pavement, and she wept over his still form.
Tim gasped in shock and horror. He had knocked the gun away, but it had gone off and killed one of the very victims he had tried to save. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it to happen!” he said as he pleaded with the grief-stricken woman.
“You are as much to blame as those animals! You caused this!” she shrieked as tears streamed down her face.
Tim rushed away into the night. His heart raced, and he struggled to make some logical justification for what had occurred. “I was soft. I didn’t kill those goons. If I had just killed them, that man would be alive. That’s what I got to do. I have to kill scum like that. Batman’s city will be safe when I kill all the criminals! He’ll have to see that I did what his code prevented him from doing. He’ll make me his partner.”
For the next few weeks, Tim hunted the streets of Gotham City and killed several people. He had stopped some of them during crimes and others had merely been guilty of planning crimes. It didn’t matter, since in the long run he would be saving Robin from having to deal with them later. The media soon ran with the sensational scenario of the killer in Robin’s costume. Still, the real Robin was not appearing to resolve the crisis.
Finally, Gotham Airport was the scene of a reunion between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne.
“Bruce!” said the lawyer. “I didn’t expect to receive a personal reception like this! I figured your many civic charities would keep you too tied up to even welcome me home from my trip with those U.N. officials. I think I’m going to like becoming involved with that organization.”
Bruce clasped his arm and led him to a waiting limo. As they closed the doors and drove off toward Wayne Manor, Bruce explained the situation. “I’m sad to say that bad news brings me here, old chum. During your time away and my own vacation to see old friends out west, our city has become the haunt of a killer who happens to be wearing a version of your costume!”
“You’re kidding!” said Dick. “I wondered why you were back here so soon. I remembered you had plans to stop over at Harvard and see Helena, too. Who is this nut?”
“The commissioner immediately issued a statement I sent him as Batman saying that we had no connection to this deranged man, and that you would bring him in. That’s one reason I wanted to bring you up to date as soon as possible. We’ve built a reputation that even such a maniac can’t damage easily. However, I think it’s important that you are the one who brings him down. The tabloid press is sensationalizing him and flashing pictures of your costume all over their pages! See for yourself.”
Dick scanned a magazine and crumpled it up in disgust. He nodded grimly. “I agree. I don’t want to see anyone else suffer. I’ll get this guy. Still, I don’t understand something. People have impersonated you before, but the media didn’t go crazy like they have this time!”
“Son, I think part of the problem is that no matter how many charity benefits we attend or how often our deeds are reported on TV or in the papers, most ordinary people still think of us as we were when we first started our careers as a team,” said Bruce. “Thanks to Ian Karkull’s chronal energies, we’ve aged slower than normal. That makes our images remain in the public mind as they were and not as we are now.”
Dick shrugged. “Tell me about it! I was still being called the Boy Wonder when I was in my late twenties. I simply looked young, appearing to be eighteen or nineteen well into my adult life. I had not reached maturity when we absorbed that chronal energy that slowed our aging, and that made me seem young to most people. That was why I gave up my original costume and made the current one when I joined the JSA.”
“Right,” said Bruce. “I know you wanted to present a more adult image in order to be accepted as a peer by Hawkman and the others. Plus, I was flattered that you wanted to mimic my costume in tribute, too. Still, even though you’ve now worn that gray costume for years, I think most people still think of Robin as a youngster in that red and green costume. What I’m trying to say is that your current costume still lacks the resonance that the original has. It has been easier for people to associate this one with the impostor and his violent murders than it has been for them to separate the current crimes from your own heroic career.”
“And adopting the new look didn’t do wonders for my career,” said Dick. “Remember how I didn’t return to action with the JSA for a while after my first case, since I didn’t feel they saw me as a true equal. I told the young Robin of Earth-One how Hawkman had refused to even team up with me, since he couldn’t see me as more than a kid sidekick regardless of my age or my new costume. (*) Clearly, the suit didn’t make the hero!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Solomon Grundy, the One and Only,” Justice League of America #92 (September, 1971).]
“They do accept you now,” said Bruce. “You’ve worked with them more. Hawkman has always had a problem with seeing the younger generation of heroes as being worthy of the first generation of mystery-men. Superman, Mister Terrific, and Green Lantern have all helped the team see your value.”
“I know,” said Dick. “Still, I haven’t been as active with them as I’d liked because of feeling unworthy.”
“What I was leading up to is this,” began Bruce. “You’ve been creating feelings of self-doubt since you started wearing the costume that looked like mine. You are putting these fruitless feelings of doubt in your mind, because I think that costume makes you feel like a lesser Batman. That’s why I’m prepared to offer you the real costume now. Would you like to become Batman?”
Dick smiled and said, “Bruce, I know you haven’t been active very often in years, but are you sure? I mean, I know we’ve talked about my carrying on your role, but I guess I never really seriously considered it, since I didn’t want to think about your giving up the role. I can’t tell you how much that offer means to me, but I honestly don’t feel right about it. Not yet.”
“Frankly, I thought you’d say that,” said Bruce. “Then I have another suggestion for you. As proud as I am of you in any costume, you know you have created a powerful legend of your own with the original Robin identity. That name and costume have a real history that people can’t forget. You’ve earned the trust of the citizens of Gotham City with that look and name, and I think the best way to stop the negative press this pretender has caused, and perhaps to rid you of any suppressed self-doubts you might have had because you wrongly felt you could not be a pseudo-Batman in that gray costume, is for you to return to the image and role you play better than any man alive. Be Robin in costume as well as in name!” He reached into a suitcase and held up a long-sleeved red shirt.
“I think I see your point,” said Dick. “That’s the more mature costume an artist named Neal Adams gave me that still was entirely true to the original Robin costume. I think I’m going to use it and bring in this fraud. Any leads on how to find him?”
Bruce smiled. “Yes. I think we should set a trap for him. He seems to be killing criminals and those he suspects might be criminals. That’s what we’ve gathered from witness reports of what he’s said and done. Why not lure him to us?”
Dick smiled at his mentor as their car reached the suburban comfort of Wayne Manor. “To the Batcave!” he said.