BATMAN FAMILY ALBUM: The Ballad of Babs and Dick

Writer/editor Bob Rozakis on the love that was never meant to be.

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Welcome to the second installment of BATMAN FAMILY ALBUM, a recurring look at the late, lamented Bronze Age title Batman Family, accompanied by interviews with Bob Rozakis, arguably the dominant creative force over the book’s 20 issues. (Check out Part 1 here.)

As it happens, Batgirl Annual #3 is out now (it was our Batbook of the Week, doncha know) and once again the whole Barbara Gordon-Dick Grayson love affair was front and center. So it seemed like the perfect time to go back to the very beginning, when the seeds of that relationship were sown, lo those many retcons ago.

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In my adolescence, Bruce Wayne was the ideal adult, the man I could aspire to be: Driven by his demons but not consumed by them.

Dick Grayson, on the other hand, was someone I could more directly relate to. His problems were more accessible. He went out and fought bad guys, sure, but he also had to do homework.

Then there were the girls. Bruce had Silver St. Cloud and Selina Kyle. Thing is, I wasn’t likely to start dating a cosmopolitan career woman or a reformed super-criminal any time soon. Dick had a girlfriend named Lori Elton at Hudson University, but she seemed so … average. Relatable, sure. But not terribly exciting.

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Enter Barbara Gordon, the perfect objet du crush: Unattainable, yet … maybe not.

See, now, in the days of Batman Family, which launched in 1975, Dick was toiling at Hudson while Babs was a congresswoman representing Gotham. He was 19, 20 at best. She was, what, 28? 30?

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An unlikely match-up, to be sure.

But there she was, like that senior girl who was just close enough to make a freshman boy wonder “… Do I have a chance? Nah…. Unless… “

The powers that be at DC decided that the crux of the mag was going to be the Batgirl-Robin partnership, the ostensibly platonic Dynamite Duo. But right off in that first issue, Elliot S! Maggin threw in that sexual tension at the end of their debut story, helped in no small part by Mike Grell‘s alluring artwork.

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That was followed up by the all-reprint Issue #2, which spotlighted this Freudian concept first published in Detective #369.

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An issue also notable because this cover is how I learned what “astonishing” meant.

So by Issue #3, when Dick and Barbara established that they’d figured out each other’s identities, all the cards were there to play.

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Except for that pesky age difference.

Batgirl and Robin‘s will-they-or-won’t-they, um, dynamic became the underpinning of the title — and arguments on the letters pages. These stories so influenced the decades that followed that eventually both were made the same age and their bat-crossed love became a crucial part of their backstory. (Just ask Scott Beatty, co-writer of the also-retconned Robin: Year One and Batgirl: Year One. He talks all about it here.)

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When I talked to Rozakis about Batman Family, this was something very much on my mind. But from his perspective, Dick and Barbara were never meant to be:

Dan Greenfield: One of the things that was controversial at the time, and yet it was also one of the big parts of the book, was the budding romance between Robin and Batgirl, which is now canonical. When you were writing them, she was a congresswoman and he was a college student so, you know, it was such a scandal that this older woman might possibly maybe have a relationship with this younger guy. I remember the debate going on in the letter columns.

Now, of course, they’ve retconned it several times over, where they’re the same age. But that all really grew out of what you were doing. What went into that? How much of it was fan-driven?

There was that one episode—one issue in particular—where she’s sleeping on the couch and he’s declaring his love for her. Tell us a little bit about that. Because that’s also something that has now—30-40 years later, become very much a part of their connection.

From Batman Family #13, by Rozakis and artist Don Newton

From Batman Family #13, by Rozakis and artist Don Newton

Bob Rozakis: I always looked at it more as almost a schoolboy crush, you know? I mean, Barbara was a hot, sexy woman and at the time had to be at least 5-7 years older than Dick. Here they were palling around as two superheroes. They were contemporaries in that respect. But I think he had a crush on her and it was, like, you know, a fantasy: Maybe I could have her as a girlfriend — but in reality, I think he recognized that this is not gonna happen.

It heated up. He heated up! He cooled down. I don’t think there was ever anything that I did that ever had it coming from the other direction. That Babs never had anything more than a big, sisterly feeling towards him.

Yeah, it was always more one-sided. She would tease him a little bit but it would never seem to be part and parcel like it is now where they’re sort of, like, considered star-crossed lovers.

And I never would have taken it in that direction! I preferred the whole idea of basically, you know, the high-school student who’s got the crush on his math teacher kind of scenario, rather than that anything was ever actually going to come to fruition. Just his interpretation of things would be different from what they really were because, “Gee, is she saying that because, you know, she really does have feelings for me?” and just kind of interpreting things that weren’t really there.

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That brings me to one of my all-time favorite covers for Batman Family which (laughs) on this same topic, is the wedding cover, with his red-and-yellow tuxedo with the green gloves and she’s got her… she’s still in white but she’s got the bat thing on her chest, she’s got the veil as the cowl. I have to know: It’s a Jim Aparo cover and the scene appears inside — at least in a fantasy sequence if not actually in the story itself — whose idea was that? Even today, it’s very funny and a very, very amusing cover.

We had been getting letters saying, “What are you gonna do about the romance between the two of them?” So we were talking about, “Well, why don’t we have them get married?” So then it became, OK, why would they get married?

And then, of course, just the whole idea of showing the wedding on the cover. This is gonna bring in the fans! And then just coming up with the gimmick of the whole thing, the gangland plot!

Do you remember what the response was to that cover…or to that whole story?

Oh, I think overall they found it enjoyable, and we got letters saying things like, “Well, you addressed something that we kind of hoped would happen and you did it in an interesting way and we’re thankful that they really didn’t get married.”

Author: Dan Greenfield

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