Tim Drake is a complicated character. Not much in terms of continuity, not usually (side eyeing the New 52), but in terms of legacy. While Tim was very much the heir apparent to the Robin mantle after Jason Todd died, he reinvented it and made that name his own. Once Damian Wayne took over the role, Tim has been in a limbo ever since. Coincidentally a number of the best Tim Drake stories interrogate his identity and legacy within the Batman mythos in interesting ways. This list of stories paints a picture of Timothy Jackson Drake and who he is to the Bat-family.
*Light spoilers for discussed comics may follow*
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Tim Drake’s “origin”, so to speak, actually takes a while to get going. Following his first appearance in A Lonely Place of Dying, he would hang around the Batman titles slowly forming into the Robin we all know him to be. After losing his mother and having his father out of commission, we see Tim at a precipice for change in these three issues expertly told by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Steve Mitchell, Adrienne Roy and Todd Klein.
In Identity Crisis (no not that one), Alan Grant puts together an extremely tight story centering around masks, which are memorably designed by Norm Breyfogle, with Scarecrow engineering a plot of random Gotham citizens being spurred into spree killings. While this tangible plot takes care of the action and the mystery, Tim’s emotional crisis centers around identity and finding out who he is, and whether he’s enough to put on the mask. Breyfogle draws some excellent dream sequences that just do not happen anymore in comics.
This story is so great and essential Tim Drake reading because it sets up the core of Tim’s character for years to come. How does this kid fit in with the legacy of Batman and the Bat-Family? Tim had spent his time growing into himself and this story is where it comes to a head. So much of who Tim is exists by the time he finally puts on his costume. If you are looking for the best starting point for Tim Drake, there’s no better place than here.
Nightwing #25 by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, Roberta Tewes, and John Costanza is a great one-off issue to look at to see the relationship between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. “The Boys” (No not that one), also serves as a 90s time capsule for the ongoing stories for the two at the time, in a nice character dive over the duo’s inventive training exercise.
This story really stands out for being such a small, succinct story and giving so much room for really great character bits. There’s a decent exchange that exemplifies Tim’s habit for deducing secret identities and Dick Grayson being one of the DC Universe’s greatest himbos. Dixon’s dialogue is very solid and these characters really bounce off each other well. Scott McDaniel and Karl Story combine to make a stylized approach that add to the levity of this story with Roberya Tewes’ colors give the boys a colorful contrast to the grey murk of Gotham.
This story is another great look into Tim Drake’s ongoing struggle with identity, with Dick and Tim discussing Jason, and how Tim doesn’t see himself being Robin forever. Again this is another layer of Tim Drake that writers will come back to time and time again. Tim’s confidence as Robin also comes through, showing a major amount of growth from the kid in Identity Crisis. There are a number of reasons to not want to read a Chuck Dixon comic, but when discussing 90s Batfamily comics it’s impossible to not bump into him at some point. If forced to read one from his various runs, “Nightwing” #25 is a good read for a “check-in” of this era of Tim Drake.
Teen Titans #17-19: Titans of Tomorrow
Speaking of controversial DC Comics writers that are hard to avoid…Geoff Johns! Titans of Tomorrow by Johns, Mike McKone, Marlo Alquiza, Jeromy Cox and Comicraft is far from a perfect story but it is an essential one in the ongoing exploration of Tim Drake. Tim is much more in his own than the stories we’ve seen before and is the leader of a new group of Teen Titans. This adventure leads them to a dark future with twisted reflections of themselves.
Geoff Johns has a certain comfort with these characters and these three issues are full of interesting ideas and serve as an interesting prelude to Infinite Crisis. McKone and Alquiza’s clean linework and straightforward page layouts makes for a very clear read. The biggest drawback is for readers incredibly familiar with Johns’ writing, these issues fall into his classic dynamic of being critical of gritty comics while continuously giving into them. The mileage on this story as a whole will differ depending on where a reader is in their Geoff Johns fatigue.
However this story is incredibly rewarding for Tim Drake fans as once again it returns to and questions Tim’s place in Batman’s legacy. Tim as the Batman of Tomorrow is a very interesting concept, which arguably is done better in a story later on down this list. However, Tim declaring outright his refusal to be Batman is a contribution to the character that will be built on in years to come.
Sorry! One more Geoff Johns story! Hiding is a single issue story with Tom Grummett, Nelson, Jeromy Cox, and Comicraft following the Identity Crisis (different from Infinite Crisis) where Tim’s father is killed. Again this isn’t a perfect comic but it’s a great one shot for Tim struggling with his father’s passing.
As mentioned before, this issue is not perfect. Grommet and Nelson’s linework is solid but falls into an issue of a lot of 90s artists artwork feeling at odds with the more modern techniques of Jeromy Cox’s colors. The main “action” of the issue is the Titan’s dealing with the Electrocutioner repossessing some of Lex Luthor’s old armor from some goons. It’s small time which works for this small story, but even then it takes a bit too much space and some of the dialogue makes it hard to get a real sense of the tone for this issue.
What makes this story a great Tim Drake issue is to see him deal with trying to be Batman following him becoming an orphan and after his encounter with the Batman of Tomorrow. Tim keeps the death of his father a secret and bottles up his grief and it backfires on him. Tim confessing the truth is a terribly relatable moment of vulnerability and again makes me wish there was more room for it to breathe in this story.
Coming out of the Batman & Robin era of Grant Morrison’s Batman run was a big shift for Tim Drake’s status quo. Christopher Yost was able to tell a great Tim Drake (as Red Robin) story out of it, and the most satisfying chunk is in the title’s final arc Collision. Collison by Yost, Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, Guy Major, and Sal Cipriano with Bryan Q Miller and Talent Caldwell on the Batgirl entry bring Tim Drake back to Gotham following his search for Bruce Wayne abroad, and his reluctant partnership with Ra’s Al Ghul.
Yost returning Tim to Gotham feels like the treat after a nutritious dinner. While the front of this run was full of Tim meeting new characters abroad, it was worth it to see him grow and return as a more mature hero. Tim’s interactions with Superboy, Stephanie Brown, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne feel great and give a sense of the shaky stability of someone who was broken coming back into the fold. Marcus To and Ray McCarthy’s artwork is clean and so memorable.
It’s difficult to convey how impressive a Tim Drake story this is. After years of asking how Tim figures into Batman’s legacy, we get an exploration of what happens when he’s forced out. Red Robin as a whole feels like Tim becoming his own man different than the rest of the Bat family. If only it could have lasted…
So the New 52 happened. Tim Drake as a character did not get through it well, but when all hope was lost, James Tynion IV came to save the Drake. Tynion’s Detective Comics run is one of the more ambitious and top quality comics of DC’s Rebirth line and that’s not even counting the rehabilitation Tynion did with Tim Drake as a character. This opening arc Rise of the Batman brings in Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferraria, Adriano Lucas, Marilyn Patrizio, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson to push a bold new direction for the title; essentially Uncanny X-Men but for Batman.
Tynion’s opening arc hits the ground running with the formation of the “Gotham Knights.” Much like the inspiration in Claremont’s X-Men, Tynion manages to juggle and set up plot threads that makes this title the closest to a Bat-Family soap opera that we can get. The various art teams do an excellent job maintaining a visual style across the bi-monthly schedule with Barrows and Ferraria serving as lovely compliments to Martinez and Fernandez, both aiming for out of the box page layouts that add to a unique quality of this title. Anderson and Lucas’s colors set this version of Gotham apart from all the rest, focusing on reds and emphasizing blinding lights.
As a Tim Drake story, Tynion puts Tim at the core of this team’s formation and once again gives him a new challenge with how he fits into the legacy of Batman, by making him choose between the Knights and Ivy University. All of this is excellent drama and leads to Tynion taking Tim off the board just in time for…
Look I put Geoff on here twice, and this story is so good Tynion has earned it. This is the exact same creative team as before but later on in the Detective Comics run. Tim had been in a prison outside time and space kept by Superman’s dad (yadda yadda comics) and in an escape attempt Tynion brings back the older Tim Drake as the Batman of Tomorrow as a fellow prisoner.
While the whole of Tynion’s Detective run is excellent, this story stands out as specifically focused on Tim, recounting a restored version of his origin that was lost in the New 52. Tynion maintains the stakes, drama, and emotional weight of these issues aided by the art team giving poignancy to these emotional moments throughout.
The best way to describe A Lonely Place of Living is as a Tim Drake focused remix of Geoff’s original Titans of Tomorrow. Tynion takes the bones of what was there and really takes his time in exploring Tim’s trajectory. Johns’ original take on the story very much felt like Johns’ same take on all superhero media: optimism is great, angst is not. Tynion’s story follows the same beats but it’s for Tim specifically. There’s more time to explore the Batfamily in a hypothetical post-Bruce future and how Tim could find himself there as the lone Batman. Tynion takes this story to a beautiful place when he ties the formation of the Gotham Knights to Tim’s original purpose when he was introduced. To prove that Batman is never alone and that he never will be. A Lonely Place of Living is arguably the ultimate Tim Drake story.