Episode Number: 32
Original Air Date: February 7, 1993
Directed by: Dick Sebast
Written by: Randy Rogel
First Appearance(s): Tony Zucco, The Flying Graysons
Up until now we’ve seen very little of the sidekick formerly known as The Boy Wonder – Robin. He’s only appeared in a couple of episodes and hasn’t really brought much to the table. For episode 32, we’re going to finally find out how this Robin came to be via the flashback heavy episode – “Robin’s Reckoning.” Fox held onto this one for a long time. It’s production order episode 32, but it’s air date episode 51 and the first episode we’re covering the was held over into 1993. Fox knew it had a pretty good tale on its hands, and since the episode is a bit heavy, the network chose to premier it in prime time on February 7th with Part II following the next week on Valentine’s Day. It would air in reruns during the regular afternoon and Saturday morning time slots so there wasn’t an issue with the content, but of the several episodes of this show to be shown-off in a prime time slot, this one is arguably the most deserving.
The episode opens with Batman and Robin in the midst of a stake-out. Some crooks are expected to show-up at a construction yard where the steel beams of a future skyscraper have already been erected. They’re saboteurs and intend to take the thing down or compromise the building’s integrity through explosive means. When we join in with our heroes we learn through Robin’s complaining that they’ve already been waiting for over four hours. Robin is especially child-like in this brief sequence and let’s out a “wahoo!” when the crooks finally show. For whatever reason, we’re going to see more kid Robin in terms of his behavior during this episode than we’re accustomed to. He’ll even address Alfred as “Man,” injecting a little Bart Simpson into his vernacular. I assume it’s to highlight the difference in character between he and Batman, but it sounds rather forced.
Robin goes in first and Batman follows. They tangle with the crooks, a trio of typical gangster types, that contains some fun action pieces since they’re fighting in a pretty dangerous environment. One guy even gets a hold of a rail gun that nearly takes off Robin’s fingers. Another unfortunate fool ends up dangling from a girder, and when the other two attempt to escape Batman instructs Robin to let them go since Mr. About-To-Fall-To-His-Messy-Death is the only guy they need to find out who’s hiring these guys. In an amusing exchange, the crook refuses to talk so Batman and Robin walk away. He shouts after them that the cops wouldn’t leave him in this state and Batman is quick to remind him that they’re not the cops. I like this ruthless side of Batman and it makes me kind of wish the guy did fall so we could see if Batman truly would have stood aside. My guess is he probably would not, but it’s fun to think he might not have. Anyways, the crook eventually talks and says he’s working for a guy named Billy Marin. As the name is spoken Batman reacts with surprise and the sound of a bell chime can be heard, as in, the name rings a bell. This is easily the most hack thing this show has done and I really wish it wasn’t part of an otherwise excellent episode. It’s literally an audible cue as there is nothing in the scene responsible for the sound – so lame. When Robin pounces on him for info Batman abruptly cuts him off and orders him to get the Batmobile. Confused and hurt, Robin slinks away leaving Batman alone with his prey. He growls about wanting answers and the scene ends.
At the Batcave, Robin is distressed about being brought home suddenly. He apologizes for his behavior at the construction yard, but Batman won’t explain why he’s bringing Robin back. Citing some old rules they apparently agreed to long ago, he justifies his needs for privacy and takes off. Robin has now gone from upset to downright angry. Alfred is there to hear him out, and bring him some supper (it kind of bothers me that Alfred first shows up in his pajamas, then is seen serving Dick in his tux. I’d like to think Alfred doesn’t need to get dressed in the middle of the night just to serve food) while Robin rants about how selfish Batman is. Finally it dawns on him to just look up Billy Marin on Batman’s gigantic computer, and he finds out Marin is an alias for one Tony Zucco. Robin repeats the name menacingly as the screen fades to black – it’s flashback time!
Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson) is apparently a small time extortionist who once tried to get a circus owner to hire him for “protection.” This circus also happened to be the home of The Flying Graysons consisting of young Dick Grayson along with his mother and father. Dick, aged 10, witnessed his boss tossing Zucco out of his trailer ordering him to get lost. Zucco then issued a threat which foolishly included the tired old line of “You’ll remember the name of Tony Zucco!” or something to that effect. The next night, as the Graysons are preparing to take center stage for their trapeze act, Dick witnesses Zucco exiting the tent. He tries to warn his parents, but it’s their cue and they are performers, after all. Dick’s father heads out onto the trapeze rope with Dick to follow. They do their routine before Dick returns to the podium so his mother can take his place. As she swings off Dick notices the rope for the trapeze has been tampered with. We see the silhouette of his parents swinging against the tent backdrop. They swing out of picture, then just the rope swings back into it accompanied by a gasping sound from the audience.
The episode doesn’t linger too long on the actual accident, instead jumping to the aftermath of Dick telling a young Commissioner Gordon what he saw and that he thinks this Zucco character is to blame. Bruce Wayne, who was in attendance, has waited around to ask about the boy since obviously he’s experienced something similar. Gordon mentions he’s worried Zucco might come for him, so Wayne offers to help. The next day, Dick bids a tearful goodbye to his friends at the circus before getting into a car with Gordon who takes him to Wayne Manor. There he’s given a bedroom larger than my house and time to settle in. We get a quick cut back to an angry Robin, before joining Batman in the Batmobile who’s now making it obvious he knows that Billy Marin and Tony Zucco are one in the same and we go back to the flashback (one that’s apparently now more from Batman’s point of view).
During this flashback we see how Batman made it a mission of his own to find Zucco to make him pay for what he did to Dick’s family. This includes a younger Batman (in a costume that reminds me of Year One and a bit of The Dark Knight Returns with a softer blue and a fat, all black logo and a belt with many pouches) going undercover to dig up dirt on Zucco, finding out he’s hiding out with his uncle Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). We first met a current version of Stromwell in the episode “It’s Never Too Late” and now we get to see him as a slightly younger version of himself living the good life. Batman pays him a threatening kind of visit, in which Stromwell claims to not know the whereabouts of his bum nephew. Batman leaves, but not before tapping the residence which allows him to listen in on Zucco congratulating his uncle for getting ride of “The Bat.” Stromwell, on the other hand, is not in a congratulatory mood and kicks his nephew out of the family for bringing Batman upon his empire. The episode says little about Stromwell, but we know from his other appearance that his empire is built on illegal drugs. Zucco is able to make an escape, but it leaves Batman feeling like he’s close. Upon returning home though, Alfred reminds him that he really needs to take the time to mentor Dick and help him through what he’s dealing with. At first, Bruce is taken aback by Alfred’s comments pointing out what he’s doing is all for Dick, but quickly realizes that justice isn’t exactly what Dick needs right in this moment and he elects to spend more time with him. We get a nice scene where Bruce tries to cheer up Dick, and in doing so lets him know that he went through something similar. The hurt won’t go away, but it will get better.
The episode jumps back to the present with Robin scolding Batman over the radio for not letting him be a part of this. Batman won’t budge though and shuts down communication. Robin doesn’t respond in the way Batman probably hoped he would as he angrily jumps onto a Batcycle vowing to not sit this one out and even slipping in some ominous threats for the future about no longer staying on the sidelines (something this series will never readdress but its sequel series will). Alfred can only watch as Robin speeds off out of the Batcave leaving us, the viewers, to wait until next week to see how this all gets sorted out.
Really, aside from that one really lame sound cue, this episode is exceptional story-telling for a children’s program. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not intended to be. Children’s shows have to work around emotion sometimes. People can get mad, but they can only do so much to show it. They can also be sad, but rarely are they allowed to grieve for something as long-lasting and impactful as the murder of one’s parents. This episode does a great job of artfully telling its story in a way that pleased the censors. The death of the Graysons was especially artful with everything happening offscreen without just doing a “yada yada” thing. It’s there, and we experience it in the moment, we just don’t actually see the pair fall to their untimely deaths. And I also appreciate the small moments. The episode doesn’t put the camera on Young Dick for any real length of time to focus on his grief, but it illustrates his grief in smaller ways. When Bruce walks in on him at the end of the episode we see him wiping tears from his eyes letting us know that he’s probably just been sitting around in a state of distress. It’s possible he’s spent every day since the incident doing just that. We get enough of his sorrow to feel it without letting it become the focus of the episode.
What is kind of lost is the the focus of the episode is an opening of an old wound for our present day Robin and the potential start of a rift between he and Batman. Director Dick Sebast does as well as he can with the 22 minute runtime to balance things out between flashback and the present day anger of Robin. While his boyish antics early in the episode aren’t very convincing, his anger is. Voice actor Loren Lester does a great job in making us believe angry Robin is a force to be reckoned with. His anger at Zucco for what he did years ago and his anger directed at Batman for keeping vengeance from him is palpable. It’s a good a setup for Part II. The only other victim of the short runtime is perhaps Alfred. I get the sense the episode wants us to feel as if Alfred is being put in the middle, and he’s supposed to be a stand-in for the audience as well. We want to like and root for both Batman and Robin, as Alfred obviously does as well. We understand Robin’s anger, but we also know that Batman is only looking out for him. At least, that’s the understanding I have in regards to Batman’s motives, but that may be because he better explains that in the follow-up and I’m inadvertently recalling that tidbit of information as I watch this episode again. As a kid, there’s a good chance I felt Batman was being a jerk.
“Robin’s Reckoning” is justifiably a favorite episode of many and I’m happy to say it holds up well. I love Robin’s origin because it both ties him to Batman in their shared tragedy and because it provides a plausible reason for why Robin is so agile and graceful as an adult able to keep up with Batman. In re-watching it now I do see how the show really relies on the audience having an established relationship with the Robin character since this is only his third appearance and we’re kind of asked to take his side in his conflict with Batman, the character we’ve been spending every week day with. I suppose it’s simply an advantage to working with iconic characters like Batman and Robin who really need no introduction, though still a little surprising since how small a role Robin had played in the film franchise. I’ve always been on the fence about Robin as a character, the fact that Batman would let a kid play super hero is rather absurd. And I have a cynical opinion of him that he’s just around to give kids someone to relate to, which they really don’t need. Kids aren’t that dumb. This episode does help to justify his existence and thankfully it’s not the start of Batman no longer being a mostly solo hero.