Brainiac On Banjo: The Birds of Clay

A pretty little raven at the bird bandstand taught him how to do the bop and it was grand. They started goin’ steady and bless my soul, he out-bopped the buzzard and the oriole! — Rockin’ Robin, written by Leon René.

Proliferate: increase rapidly in numbers; multiply: the science fiction magazines that proliferated in the 1920s. (Apple Dictionary)

Make Room, Make Room: Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel about the overpopulation of Earth so massive that people had to live in stairwells. The story was set in 1999. The book was made into a movie titled “Soylent Green” after the artificial food substance manufactured to feed the teaming masses. Spoiler Alert: “Soylent Green is people.”

If you chart the growth of Robins in the DC universe, it won’t be long before there are more of those obnoxious little buggers than there are Elvis impersonators. Indeed, the way things have been going lately there will be more Robins on Earth than there are Green Lanterns in the universe.

This is not a good thing.

Mind you, even as a kid long, long ago, I disliked Robin. He was, at best, unnecessary. The idea of a child that young being trained as a superhero was not a good example of child-rearing. I mean, sure, take a kid whose mind and body was not nearly developed, put him barelegged in tight shorts and a yellow cape and toss him into action against The Joker. Hell, at that time I was barely allowed to cross the street. Even Bruce Wayne’s megabucks wouldn’t protect him from Child Protective Services. It barely protected Batman and Robin from Dr. Frederic Wertham.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Nightwing. He’s one of my favorite costumed heroes and I’ve liked him since the day he stopped being Robin. And I like exactly one of the multitude of present-day Robins, Bruce’s natural born son, even though the character ticks off many of the things I dislike about Heroes of Mass Proliferance. Really good writing can do that.

But if, say, The Penguin held an umbrella to my head and ordered me to name and locate every costumed character who is, was, and undoubtedly will again be a Robin, I couldn’t do it. I guess I’d find out if that bumbershoot really is loaded after all.

The fact is, Robin was created to be Batman’s Lois Lane, but instead of falling out of helicopters, Robin repeatedly was thrust into danger by the man charged with raising him and keeping him safe and healthy. Lois is Plucky-on-speed; Robin is just a diversion.

Do we really need a League of Robins so mammoth it encroaches upon The Legion of Super-Heroes?

Of course, imitation is the most sincere form of profit. The motivating factor, in part, is to crowd up the field as the Golden Age characters lapse into public domain. The plethora of Robins is no different than the vast number of Flashes, Spider-Men and Spider-Women, Supermans, and venomous symbiotes. Back when Dick Grayson was reaching puberty there were exactly six ongoing costumed heroes in comics: Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Arrow. Okay, seven. We’ll count Speedy as well, but he was even more useless than Robin.

Superboy doesn’t count, although he was an early expression of superhero redundancy. Robotman, who was not a costumed hero, ended his run in 1953. We could argue as to whether the Martian Manhunter was actually costumed, but he didn’t come along until late 1955, merely months before The Flash was revived and the Silver Age was off and running.

And we wonder why today’s comic book sales are so miniscule. Well, there are a lot of reasons for that and some have more to do with manufacturing buggy whips than they do with character proliferation, but the latter does not help. If you’re a new reader attracted to Robin, where do you jump in? If you’re using the same gas station map as you’d use to figure out how to read The X-Men or the various Wonder Women, you’ve been going to a gas station designed by M.C. Escher. Better you should try to explain 60 years of Doctor Who continuity over an ice cream sundae.

To appreciate a good superhero comic book, you need an active sense of wonder. Stroking that emotion is the best part of reading superhero comics. However, to appreciate a good superhero comic book these days you need a very comfy chair, some strong coffee, and a box of Soylent Green.