Red Robin: The Dark Knight Returns, Chapter 1: The New Dynamic Duo

by Ben Sloane

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On a hot July morning, in the vast manor inherited from his mentor, retired lawyer and diplomat Dick Grayson reclined in his favorite Victorian chair, reviewing the file on a recent case. His ward, a dark-haired fourteen-year-old named Jason Todd, sprawled on his stomach on the living room floor, reading the day’s newspaper.

“Did you read this?” Jason yelled. “Here’s another one!”

“Another Batman sighting, young sir?” Alfred Beagle entered the room, carrying a silver teapot on a matching tray. Every bit the English gentleman’s gentleman, Alfred wore his finest butler’s livery, his jacket brushed and his shoes shined.

“Yeah, Alfred,” the boy said. “The Gotham Gazette says that last night, the Coyne gang broke into the Finger F/X Factory. You know, the place where they make all the movie props? Supposedly, Batman and Robin prevented them from looting the payroll safe and nabbed two of the gang. ‘Lucky’ Coyne and a couple of other guys got away.”

“Effective, up to a point,” said Alfred, “but not very thorough, don’t you think, Master Jason?”

I’ll say. What are we going to do about it, Dick?”

“Not a thing,” Dick responded without looking up from his case.

“You mean you don’t want to know who’s running around pretending to be Batman and Robin?”

“I don’t think there is anyone, Jason.”

“Which would explain their poor performance,” Alfred said.

“But what about the sightings?”

“Chalk them up to overactive criminals’ imagination,” Grayson said.

“You think these goons are just seeing things?” Jason said.

“Bruce worked his entire life creating a mythology that would be larger than himself. Even as police commissioner, he used props and whispers to feed criminals’ superstition. Only the Justice Society knew that the Batman had retired from crime-fighting. Even when Bruce died, a lot of Gothamites thought he faked his own death in order to trick the underworld. No one believed he was really gone.”

“The paper says that major crime is down seventeen percent since the first of these recent Batman appearances,” Jason said.

“The Batman is still doing his work.”

“Still, Master Dick,” Alfred said, “it would seem to me that this sudden eruption of Batman sightings bears further investigation.”

“You think so, Alfred?”

“Even before I came into Master Bruce’s service, I fancied myself a student of human behavior. Though I lack your hands-on experience with the criminal underclass, I must say these Batman sightings ring more of truth than nightmare.”

“I have to admit, the details I’ve heard are surprisingly consistent,” Dick said. “The stories don’t sound like urban myths made up by superstitious thugs. They sound almost as though someone was guiding them.”

“And there’s no connection among the crooks who’ve reported seeing Batman?” Jason pitched in.

“Come on, Jason,” Grayson said. “Let’s head down to the Batcave and see if we can find anything to link these Batman stories together. I suspect we’ll find that a bedsheet fell off a laundry line somewhere, and a jittery thug mistook that for Batman’s cape.”

“To the Bat-poles!” yelled Jason.

“I’m not really in the mood for the Bat-po–”

“Bat-poles!” Jason repeated. He then dashed forward and punched his mentor playfully in the stomach. “Tag!” the boy yelled.

The pair ran at full tilt through the staid mansion, past ancient suits of armor and Persian tapestries. Jason reached the door to the study first. As he laughed in victory, Dick barreled into him, pinning him against the door until the boy hollered, “Uncle!”

In the study, Dick Grayson reached for a bust of Shakespeare that sat on his oak desk. He tilted the head back and pressed a red button hidden there. The walls of the study hummed as the bookshelves against the far wall parted, revealing a stone alcove and two fireman’s poles.

“Alfred,” Grayson said to his old friend. “Join us?”

“My sincere apologies, Master Dick,” Alfred replied, “but I believe I will instead take the staircase that Master Bruce so thoughtfully provided.”

Dick winked at Jason.

“Race you?” he said.

The pair dived for the poles.

In the Batcave, nine computer screens blinked on as the intricate Unix-based Bat operating system surged to life.

“See if you can find anything on the cable news while I access the Batman stories in the Gazette database,” Dick said.

While Alfred delivered tea, cakes, and sandwiches to their work area, Dick and Jason cross-indexed the details of recent Batman sightings, including names, locations, dates, and times. Suddenly, Jason turned up the volume on the digital cable.

“Look at this!”

WGBS interrupted their morning programming with a live broadcast from the street in front of First Gotham Bank. A net of police officers surrounded a trio of dazed and handcuffed thugs, leading the hoods to waiting patrol cars.

“–live from the steps of First Gotham Bank, where reports indicate that Batman and Robin have thwarted an attempted robbery. Though the seemingly ageless and death-defying Batman has been active in Gotham City for many years, this is the first recorded daytime sighting of the Caped Crusader and his young partner in a decade.”

Dick Grayson smiled, remembering that battle with the Cat-Man and the communist spy Ho Chi Minx in 1975, an adventure which would prove to be the final public appearance of Batman and Robin together in costume. It was only days that case, after Dick left for Madagascar as part of his duties as a U.N. envoy, that Selina Wayne was murdered, and Bruce burned his Batman costume, later becoming the new police commissioner. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “From Each Ending, a Beginning,” DC Super Stars #17 (November-December, 1977).]

The newscast continued. “We’re going to go now to footage from inside the bank. What you are about to see was caught on tape by the bank’s security cameras.”

The newscast cut to a grainy, black and white screen. Dick, Jason, and Alfred could make out the three armed robbers standing over the frightened bank customers. From the right side of the camera view, two costumed figures leaped at the gunmen. A swirling cape obscured the movements of the larger character as he disarmed the first bank robber. A powerful side kick dispatched that criminal.

The second figure was easier to see. He bounced over the head of the second gunman, landing on the third with both feet against the unfortunate criminal’s chest. Although filmed in black and white, the second figure’s costume of swim trunks, tunic, and cape was unmistakable.

In unison, the masked heroes turned and threw two objects at the third gunman, striking him in the forehead and chest. He fell backward as the tape ended. The newscaster returned to the screen.

“Turn it off,” Dick said.

“Wow!” Jason exclaimed. “What are we going to do?”

Dick did not respond.

“Dick? What are we going to do? Are we going to go look for them? Should I get into costume? Dick?”

Alfred placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “In this instance, Master Jason, perhaps immediate action is not called for. I believe Master Dick wishes to first formulate a plan of action.”

Dick swiveled his chair to face his friends. “Indeed, Alfred,” he said. “Indeed.”


That afternoon, Dick Grayson mounted the stairs to Liberty Hall, Gotham’s colonial-era conference center. Just as Gotham’s founders had argued the points of the city’s charter in that same building, three mayoral candidates prepared to debate in front of an audience of reporters, citizens, and fellow politicians. Grayson was glad he’d turned down the opportunity to run for district attorney. Like his mentor, he disliked debate.

Dick entered the meeting hall by a side entrance. The lunchtime event was ready to begin. At three identical podiums stood the candidates: current mayor Hamilton Hill, City Councilwoman Susan Fielding, and Lucius Fox, president of Fox Enterprises, a non-profit foundation developing business opportunities in the inner city. A moderator stood.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. “Welcome to the first mayoral debate of the campaign season. May I present to you…”

Abruptly, the side doors to the hall burst open. A group of six men entered, raised machine guns into the air, and released bursts of gunfire. The leader stepped forward. He wore a judge’s robe and long white wig, and his face was concealed by a domino mask.

The Hanging Judge! Dick thought. Once known as simply the Hangman, the Hanging Judge had taken a new identity and M.O. after one too many circuits through the judicial system.

“Nobody move!” yelled one of the Jury Gang, a man Dick recognized as the Barrister.

“Hamilton Hill!” the Hanging Judge boomed. “Susan Fielding! Lucius Fox! We hereby charge you with assault against the criminal fraternity! You have been found guilty by a jury of our peers and sentenced to death!”

Must get out of here, Dick thought. Change into Red Robin!

“Don’t move!” yelled the gunman closest to Dick. “Or we’ll add your name to the court’s docket!”

Dick reached slowly into his belt for the Justice Society signal device secreted in the buckle. Suddenly, small explosions erupted in the hall in front of and behind Dick. Clouds of smoke billowed around the Hanging Judge and his Jury Gang.

“Don’t shoot!” the Judge yelled. “You’ll hit each other! You’ll hit me!”

Print and television reporters, emboldened by the confusion, crept closer, aiming their cameras into the thick of the smoke. Instinctively, Dick looked up at the ceiling. At that moment, Batman and Robin swung down from the rafters from the exact point Dick believed he and Bruce would have chosen.

The Dynamic Duo leaped to the fray, landing squarely among the Jury Gang. The force of their fall knocked half the gunmen to the ground. In the smoke, Dick could see the swirling cape of the new Batman and a bounding ball of yellow and red energy, but little else. The sounds of fighting told him nothing about which way the battle went.

Two of the jury ran through the smoke toward two different exits. Dick barreled forward and launched himself at the closest, knocking him down with a flying tackle. A quick punch to the jaw ended that gunman’s flight.

Dick heard a familiar sound — the release of two bat-grappling guns, two thin fiber ropes whistling in the wind. He looked up in time to see Batman and Robin flying upward, back to the rafters and the rooftop. As the smoke dissipated, Dick saw the Hanging Judge and the three remaining gunmen unconscious and handcuffed on the floor of the hall. Nearly three dozen police swarmed the hall. Dick brushed dust off his pants and observed them at their work.


That evening in the Batcave, Dick and Jason watched news of the latest adventure of Batman and Robin. Just hours after fighting the Hanging Judge, Batman and Robin thwarted a kidnapping attempt on the Madison quintuplets, heirs to the vast railroad fortune of their great aunt, Princess Portia of Moldacia, the former actress once known as Portia Storme, who had been born as Julie Madison.

For the first time, Batman and Robin lingered after the end of the battle, time enough for news crews to catch another glimpse of the revived caped crusaders. Dick noticed the detail on the Batman’s costume, accurate down to the scalloped edges of his cape and the vials in his utility belt. The costume worn by Robin could have come off Dick’s own youthful back. One glaring detail separated these costumes from the original Batman and Robin outfits: the large Roman numeral two sewn into the tunics of both.

“That is so corny,” Jason said.

Dick grunted.

“Aren’t you mad that someone else is Batman?” Jason asked.

“No,” Dick replied, sharply. “There is no other Batman.”

“But what if it’s not a trick?” Jason asked. “What if this new Batman is really on our side?”

“There was only one Batman,” Dick said. “When Bruce died, my first thought was to take on the costume, to try to fill his shoes. Helena convinced me of the foolishness of that idea. No one could ever fill that cowl.”

“You could,” Jason said.

Dick smiled, humbled by the compliment paid by his young partner. “Maybe I should have carried on the name,” he said. “No one on Earth could understand the legacy the way I do. I was there from the beginning, almost.”

Pacing the cave, Dick paused in front of a glass case that housed the remnants of the first Batman’s cape and cowl. “Or maybe I should be glad that we’re not alone in our war on crime. Bruce would be honored to know that his name and legacy have inspired others to take up the cause.”

Dick turned to Jason. “As long as this new Batman and Robin operate on the side of the law and cooperate with the Gotham police, they have as much right as anyone to fight crime in this city.”

“So we’re not going to get involved?” Jason asked. “We’re not going to crack their secret identities and make them stop using the Batman name?”

“I didn’t say that,” said Dick, grinning. “I’m still not convinced these two are on the up-and-up. I’m just willing to keep an open mind either way.”

“Good!” Jason smacked his fist into his open palm. “Gosh, Dick, we haven’t cracked a secret identity in weeks!”

“So what do we know about these guys?” Dick said as he booted up the laptop access to the Bat-computer.

“They’re athletic, that’s for sure,” Jason said. “They don’t have our moves, but they’ve put away some tough customers.”

“Good, Jason. What else?”

“They work as a team. Their movements were in sync. That means they’ve been training together for a while. Nobody’s that good right off the bat. Pardon the expression.”

“The boy looks about your age, maybe a little younger. Not many young people have the discipline or the opportunity to become so skilled. What about their methods?”

“We don’t know anything about their methods,” Jason said. “I wish we did. Maybe then we could have stopped this crime wave instead of these copy cats.”

“That does seem odd, doesn’t it?” Dick asked. “That we didn’t hear anything about any of these crimes?”

“Our pipelines must be clogged,” Jason said. “We didn’t hear about any plans for First Gotham Bank or the hit on the mayor or any threat to the Madison babies.”

“But they must have,” Dick said. “There’s no way they could have been in place to stop the Hanging Judge unless they had time to prepare.”

“And the bank and the kidnapping?” Jason said. “They must have had some information, because I can’t see what the bank, three politicians, and five babies have in common.”

Dick paused a long moment before speaking. “You just gave me an idea, Jason,” he said. “Let’s suit up. I think I know where this new Batman and Robin will appear next.”

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