Why hasn’t Mego — or any company — given us the grown-up Dick Grayson we’ve wanted for all these years…?
In this great Neo-Golden Age of Mego-style, 8-inch action figures and reproductions, I remain completely baffled that none of the companies that produce such things have released an Earth-Two Robin, whether in gray, blue and gold, or red, green and gold.
It is, as our pal and contributor Chris Franklin said to me, like leaving money on the table. (Or maybe we’re wrong! But I’m betting not.)
Nevertheless, with no official release in sight, Chris has done what countless other Megomaniacs have over the years — he’s customized both versions of the “Ex-Boy Wonder,” with groovy results.
Not just that, I’ve asked Chris to walk us through his method — which he does below — and he’s also added his own personal remembrances of an alternate Robin who remains beloved decades after his demise.
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
Since I first met him at the tender age of 3 in All-Star Comics #74 (Sept/Oct. 1978), I have been fascinated by the Earth-Two Robin. The grown-up Dick Grayson, card-carrying member of the Justice Society of America, who didn’t eschew his Robin identity, but instead embraced it, and made it grow older with him. Of course, the Earth-One Dick Grayson was still a Teen Wonder at this point, and thoughts of Nightwing were nowhere in sight, so that made an adult Robin all the more unique.
I encountered the Earth-Two Robin a few more times over the years: In Adventure Comics, where the JSA strip moved after All-Star’s cancellation, and where the Earth-Two Batman astonishingly had died; a few random appearances in Justice League of America when the JSA stopped by for their annual summer crossover; the Huntress back-up strip in Wonder Woman; and a one-off appearance in Issue #271 of World’s Finest Comics.
One thing I did notice was that his costume subtly changed from issue to issue, and artist to artist. Did he have a traditional domino mask like his Earth-One counterpart? Or did he have a wider mask that wrapped around like a large headband? Or, perhaps even a half-cowl, with only his hair sticking out the top? Did his cape have a collar like the traditional Robin suit, or did it come down to a “V” at his chest? Either way, the stunning combo of the long red sleeves, green trunks and yellow tights remained unchanged, and let you know you were on Earth-Two, every time.
Then I came across a book that would cement my love for the character, and go on to become my single favorite comic of all-time, The Brave and the Bold #182 (July 1983). In this masterful tale by infrequent but excellent comic writer Alan Brennert and B&B legend Jim Aparo, the Earth-One Batman mysteriously finds himself on Earth-Two, forced to team-up with a doppelganger of his junior partner that is in no mood to take orders from him, considering his Batman is long dead.
As much as I had been intrigued by the character before, Jim Aparo’s visual interpretation of what I later learned was a Neal Adams costume design floored me. His Robin was confident and capable, the equal of this younger Batman. Aparo embellished Robin’s greens with heavy shadows, and most importantly, gave him the best mask the character would ever have, in my opinion.
OK, so it doesn’t make any physical, real-world sense the way the mask magically wraps around the hair line from his forehead to the back of his neck. Mister Miracle’s mask doesn’t make any sense either! You’d be hard-pressed to cosplay as this version authentically, but it looked SO cool!
That interpretation stuck with me. As much as I love the work of Jerry Ordway and George Perez, I didn’t like their versions of Robin from Infinity, Inc. or Crisis on Infinite Earths nearly as well. Of course, with Crisis, Robin wasn’t long for this world, or his, as it and his very memory were wiped from continuity. But we remembered.
Around this time, I discovered something I had never known before. The red and green suit wasn’t the first costume change Dick had made after he turned in his green scale-mail shorts! When I picked up Justice League of America #124 (Nov. 1975) out of a back-issue bin, there was the ghostly figure of the Earth-Two Robin on that Ernie Chan cover, pointing a very accusing finger at the Justice Leaguers below.
But what in the heck was he wearing? OK, he was wearing a Batman suit. With an “R” insignia spouting bat wings in the center of his chest, a bat-like domino mask, and a big yellow cape with scalloped bat-collar. I didn’t know what to make of this.
On the one hand, I thought it was hideous. Like Dick literally outgrew his Robin suit one day, and grabbed a spare Batman suit, cobbled a few changes together and said, “OK, this’ll do.” On the other hand, there was something ridiculously appealing about it. Maybe it was a physical manifestation of how Dick struggled whether to remain as Robin, or take over the mantle of the mostly retired Batman.
I later found out this look went all the way back to JLA #55 (Aug. 1967), where Robin made a huge splash on the Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson cover, filling in for the Earth-One Batman who had been dominating the League’s covers during the height of the Batman TV series’ popularity.
Inside, Sekowsky, inker Sid Greene, and whoever colored the issue must have gotten confused by just what Robin was wearing too, as the costume is drawn and colored inconsistently throughout. Does it have long sleeves or short, like Robin’s traditional suit? Does the bottom of the tunic hang down like that suit as well? By the next issue, the design had settled into the cover-featured version, thank goodness.
Even later, I learned of the transition between these two looks, and how the elder Earth-Two Dick Grayson had gifted the red-and-green updated suit to his Earth-One twin in JLA #92 (Sept. 1971). At the end of the Mike Friedrich/Dick Dillin/Joe Giella story, editor Julius Schwartz asks readers if they’d like to see young Robin keep his new costume. I bet most of them did, but no doubt licensing reared its ugly head, and the then-Teen Wonder kept his shorty-shorts for another decade-plus.
Later, when the JSA’s home title All-Star Comics was revived with #58 (Jan/Feb. 1976), Earth-Two Dick adopted the very costume he had offered his younger self. (Hey, if he wasn’t going to wear it…!)
Fast-forward to my adult years, and I’m still a fan of the mostly forgotten Earth-Two Robin, and also a fan of a toy company gone, but definitely NOT forgotten: Mego. The undisputed king of action figures for the bulk of the ’70s, Mego – which has made a comeback over the last several years — captivated children of the era with their many toy lines based on licensed properties. But their crown jewel was their 8-inch World’s Greatest Super-Heroes line. With the advent of the internet, I learned not only were there thousands of Mego fans like me out there, a good chunk of them were customizing characters Mego never dreamed of making.
So, despite my skills not being quite up to the level of many of the fine folks who showed their creative wares over at the Mego Museum forums, I began to dabble in Mego customs, on occasion. And of course, one of the first characters I thought of was Earth-Two Robin. But, despite my preference for the adult red and green costume, that Batman-number would be much easier to pull off. So I set about to make BOTH costumes. I’m no seamstress, but luckily there are talented folks out there who already know what costumes fans may want, and have them at the ready. Like Brian Leitner, a master of recreating the Mego aesthetic in modern textiles.
Brian had the red/green/yellow suit and cape, so he did the heavy lifting for me. A bit of shopping over at Paul Clarke’s Dr. Mego store provided me some reproduction boots, just like Green Arrow came with. Paul now works hand-in-hand with Mego president Marty Abrams in the revived company.
But what to do about the utility belt? Brian’s suit came with a vinyl band of material for the belt, but I always liked this Robin’s buckle-less design. I noticed a ring on the cap of an orange juice container we had at home had the right look… but how to attach it, with no buckle? I will admit I used a method Mego would NEVER use, because it wouldn’t hold up to any amount of play, but I simply connected both ends of the ring with a piece of fishing line, leaving the comic-accurate gap in the middle.
But the real problem for any Mego customizer is always: Where do you get the head? Now, I could have used Mego’s Robin head. But the 8-inch Robin was based on the younger Boy Wonder with the double curls. Not really befitting an “Ex-Boy Wonder.” Industrious folks had done recasts or shrinks of the larger 9 1/2-inch and 12 1/2-inch Mego Robin figures, which featured an older visage but I was really wanting to capture that Jim Aparo look.
Luckily, in my travels, I happened upon a knock-off Mego ninja figure from the ’80s. These figures used the same body and head sculpts as the S.W.A.T. line from Mego’s competitor LJN. The parted wavy black hair was perfect for Robin, even if his nose was a bit too big. All I needed to finish this figure up was some green acrylic craft paint on his hands, and on his face to make his mask. I made sure to give the mask a slight raised look by painting it a big thicker over his cheeks. One last piece was a reproduction Mego Robin “R” insignia, and voila — my favorite version of Robin was in 8-inch figure form!
But what about that OTHER costume? Well, it wasn’t hard at all. Vintage Batman boots, with a reproduction pair of patent Mego oven-mitt gloves, a utility belt, and a gray bodysuit and black shorts, all courtesy again of Doctor Mego. I also gave him a reproduction Shazam! (Captain Marvel) cape. I created my own “R” with bat wings insignia, and printed it on decal paper.
Yet what about the head on this one? Well, it turns out I had the perfect head in mind for some time. I really liked the wavy parted hair both Ernie Chan and Dick Dillin had given Robin in JLA #124, where I first met him in this suit. In my Mego parts box, I had the head of Luke Duke from Mego’s Dukes of Hazzard line, which happened to have that same hairstyle, in the right hue. A simple dash of black acrylic craft paint for the Nightwing-precursor mask, and now I had BOTH classic looks for the adult, Earth-Two Robin.
Many, MANY other customizers have done their own versions of these figures, and many of them are no doubt better executed than my own. But these figures just make me smile. Creating them was a lot of fun, because it recalled that unique connection I had with THIS version of Robin.
As a kid, I kind of felt like I was probably his biggest fan, not knowing anyone else who even knew who he was! I later learned there are a whole slew of folks who love this character, enough to warrant a wonderful Facebook group even! But these figures will always remind me of that time when I could occasionally pop into the parallel world of Earth-Two, where anything could happen, and where anyone could be the kind of hero they wanted to be, and wear whatever they wanted!
— 13 GREAT ILLUSTRATIONS: The Groovy Glory of EARTH-TWO ROBIN. Click here.
— The TOP 13 ROBIN COSTUMES Ever — RANKED. Click here.
13th Dimension contributor Chris Franklin co-hosts several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including JLUCast, which he produces with his wife Cindy. He also contributed essays to Jim Beard’s Subterranean Blue Grotto Guides to Batman ’66 – Seasons One, Two and Three.