You can take the boy out of the circus, but...
Someone who has just done me a brilliant sketchcard (which you'll see soon enough, believe me it's a thing of utter beauty) mentioned he'd like to see a sample of the "Robin goes back to the circus" stories that we've posted here and on S_D 1.0, so this repost from there is for Sonny, a thoroughly nice guy who I hope will see fit to join us here if he's interested.
I know that when he was in the Titans Dick got used to be carried through the air by Starfire, but honestly....
It's a purely fun blast from the past from DC Comics Presents #31, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez with inks from Dick Giordano (Always a killer combination for classic DC characters) - Where Superman hoists an elephant, Robin battles a half-and-half hermaphrodite and Jimmy and Lois show why Clark really IS the brains of the Daily Planet's star trio.
A few of the scans aren't the greatest quality because it's an old, old comic now!
The cover has to be included just for the sheer crackiness of it. The Man of Steel facing a horde of marauding sideshow acts, with Robin sitting on his shoulders getting a piggy-back ride. I'm not entirely certain why that would ever be advisable, but it does give Superman a plausible-ish non-pervy reason to hold on to Dick's legs. I think Dick is going to regret makign himself dependent on someone else moving if that knife-throwers blades land as close as they look like they might.
Lots of great beefcake shots of our two leads in this issue, saints be praised. And a lot of narrative text boxes and thought bubbles, but I'm old fashioned enough that they never bother me.
Though I am left wondering, it the bat is the PENultimate creature of the night, what the heck is the ultimate create of the night?
Dick honey, I love you in that costume, I really do, but if you think no one on lookout would spot you when you're vaulting over a wall wearing it, well you might want to re-do that colourblind test thing.
Historical monologue to reaffirm who he is? Check. Namecheck of Batman? Check Emphasis on Circus background? Check
Yup, it's a Robin adventure!
So it's not just the gals OR the guys who fancy Robin, it's both! (I think we knew that), but in the same body? And this one has fists and sharp nails! Ouch! And note that s/he appears to have two personalities to boot.
It's typical of this era of both Robin AND Batman that they'd feel bad about punching someone out in that situation, I like it. And again, the fighting moves are probably rubbish martial arts, but they work anyway.
I include this next set of panels for the great "entering the flashback" effect they use, sort of a comic book equivalent of wavy lines,,,,
Ah, Dick when he was a carefree bachelor college student, who could go out on a date on a whim, just because he had an attractive girl to invite. When not every relationship was totally deep, and permanent and important (And I don't mean that disparagingly or suggesting either he or she were acting inappropriately, they're just having fun. And incidentally, boy does Dick look hot?!)
When watching the grand parade around the ring, Dick surprises Angie with his knowledge of circus patter. When assessing the quality of the Sterling Brothers circus he casually uses terms such as "Dog and pony show" to describe it, to the extent she asks if he watched a lot of "Super circus" as a kid, and he embarrassedly mentions he grew up around circuses). It's a nice little moment.
"Good Gravy?" really Dick... at least it wasn't "Holy clownshoes!" I suppose.
This is the introduction of Waldo the Clown to Dick's past. He was a friend of the Grayson's back in the day, and would go on to be quite an important character, when Dick went to "find himself" prior to giving up being Robin, and bridge the gap between the Robin's as he was also a friend of Jason Todd's family, and acted as unofficial godfather to both boys.
Aww..... Dick was so excited and then all woobie.... Door little Dickie... Waldo continuing to wave to the kids, despite just blanking a guy he should have recognised on sight is actually effectively creepy.
We return to the present now.. and I just realise Dick's thought bubbles just rendered my last paragraph more or less redundant. Not to worry though, plenty of ass shots to make up for that...
Inside the tent, the assembled circus community are gathered around a rather macabre activity, as Waldo, for nearly breaking free of the spell he's under, is commanded by The Voice to jump through a burning hoop, something he's certainly not going to get through without injury.
Robin, superhero that he is (and laying any understandble prejudices about clowns in Gotham to one side), intervenes. I think the comment about Dick being clothed even MORE colourfully than a circus clown is perhaps a LITTLE unfair, but then again....
Robin - "You can shout all you like Voice, but you'll never take away my skill with a simile! That used soda can reference was good going for someone under psionic attack!"
Voice - "Yes indeed Robin, but my telepathic command it so powerful it will even change the colour of your tunic for a panel!"
In the next couple of panels try to work out why Dick, in that position, and staring at what he appears to be staring at, is as quick to identify Superman as he is... because YES! Charles Atlas is indeed Superman! A Superman missing his pupils, but Superman nevertheless!
Robin and Superman engage in a brief duel of clenched teeth and manly jawlines, but Superman wins that one easily thanks to years of experience. No wonder Robin finally collapses.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Garcia-Lopez and Giordano make great anatomy look breathtakingly effortless. (I wonder how many poor artists have gone into the business assuming that it IS easy and then finding out it's not... Yes, I'm looking, reluctantly, at you Liefeld)
"The queue for half hour sessions in "The Conditioning Tent" (and I don't think it's a hairdressers) will be forming shortly. Bring your own context."
We cut to the next day where the circus has now upped sticks and moved on to Metropolis. Amongst the mingling crowds are a couple of familiar faces from the Daily Planet.
"Why include this scene?" you ask. Can you say "Chekhov's Gun"? I knew you could. (Don't worry, I'll explain later if that's a new term to you)
I include the panel at top right here solely because it looks so odd, almost like it's a tracing from a photo. I don't know if it's the colouring, but it's strange to see Jimmy look like that.
Heh, if ANY superhero were to act like Burt Lancaster it'd be Dick Grayson, though perhaps more as in "The Crimson Pirate" than "Trapeze".
We don't know the extent of The Voice's power here, so is it coincidence that it turns mind-controlled Robin here into a trapeze artist? I suppose it's not the first time he's performed on the trapeze as Robin at a circus, so maybe the voice remembered that. I also like that Robin has a fake ID, but it's not perfect as Jimmy points out he hasn't been referred to as "The Boy Wonder" in ages.
Lois is unimpressed, but is eyeing up the strong man. Ostensibly because his act, hoisting an elephant into the air bare handed would be much harder to fake than trapeze acts., but U think she just likes looking at muscle men in spandex. Her ennui here is a tad OOC I think, but I suppose she IS having a day off, or possibly just an off day.
Aww... he's not even in a tent any more, they've locked poor Robin in a cage... I bet they don't let him play any reindeer games either...
Be warned though, borderline Superdickery is about to be revealed.
So you let the psionic Voice of unknown power casually mess around with the mind of a hero who idolises you because you "weren't sure of things". Instead of, I dunno, using super ventriloquism to quietly fill him in on the situation when he was there in the afternoon. and that "I calculated that the power's Voice hadn't taken a firm hold" bit is seriously iffy. If I were Robin I'd be hunting around for glowing green rocks to throw at the self-righeous Kryptonian pillock.
I like the exchange about the Ringmaster NOT being the guy in charge, sometimes the cliché's need to be ruled out too. Turns out the lions are supercharged by the Voice's control with full viciousness and adrenaline, so Superman does have his work cut out for him.
Again, if you're looking for a hero with experience of punching clowns, there's only one guy better and he's still in Gotham.
Smart move there Dick! A touch of deductive genius to close the case! So the villain of the piece really isn't anyone important, just one of the clowns who discovered, by accident, that they had newly developed a psionic talent and used it to persecute those he felt were persecuting him.
It ends with both Superman and Robin agreeing that the guy is kind of pathetic and, soft hearted souls that they are, since he didn't actually use his thralls to do anything like commit robberies or worse, but simply bully and threaten them to make himself feel important, they'll see if they can put a good word for him with the authorities (Though I think that Waldo will be less forgiving, as will anyone else he humiliated. As Superman flies off to deliver the dwarf to custody, Robin hopes to finally catch up with Waldo "on behalf of a guy names Dick Grayson".
Awww, sweet....though you might want to change clothes at some point Robin, otherwise he's going to twig pretty fast
"Say, remember that time when I was three and I scraped my knee on the lion enclosure"
"Why no Robin I don't recall that, but I do recall a kid called Dick Grayson doing that an... wait a minute."
So, there we are then, no serious plot for conquest, no grand plan, just a literally small man, with a small and somewhat twisted view of the world. Does this seem like a let down? No it really doesn't, not to me at least. Not every story can (or should) be Ra's Al Ghul threatening the Earth, or Brainiac wiping planets clean. And Robin and Superman work in those stories too, but they also work here, as their grounding as "people" allows them to relate to more ordinary workaday bad guys too.
Hope you enjoyed!
Not so much "Not Dial-up friendly" but "Actively dial-up hostile".