Dec 19 2011

Redesigning Robin

Published by at 10:40 pm under Art,Character Design,Guest Articles

B. Mac likes to pick on Robin in 9 Easy-to-Fix Problems with Superhero Design. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a Robin fan, so let’s take a closer look at the Boy Wonder himself to see what went wrong and how effective changes to a character’s costume can create an entirely new visual story of a character.

 

Artists have changed Robin’s visual aesthetics many times over the years and few characters needed the changes as badly as he did. By comparing two different costumes, one of his early ones from the 1940s, to his appearance in the recent Young Justice cartoon, we can see that no character is beyond redemption with some changes to his costume. Both designs are of the same hero, using some of the same costume elements; however each costume tells a very different story about the character.

 

Classic Robin Costume Elements

Pretend that you have never seen Robin before and look at this image of his classic look from the early days of the character’s conception.

Dick Grayson as Robin

 

  • Muscular body
  • Bright green, red, and yellow color scheme
  • Bland figure 8 mask
  • No pants
  • Elf boots
  • Fluttering cape

 

What Went Wrong with Robin?

This combination of visual elements turns Robin into a visual train wreck. His muscular body brings forth a highly masculine appearance, yet the bright green, red, and yellow, which are all equally prominent in his outfit, have a very childish, nursery rhyme appeal to them. Is he a man with super strength who can go toe to toe with Superman, or is he a child playing in the backyard? It’s difficult to tell with this image.

 

His mask lacks defining shape, hindering any real means of expression on his face and looks more like an afterthought than an element woven into the construction of his costume.  An absence of pants adds further confusion by bringing too much focus to his legs and giving the impression that he’s an Olympic swimmer, rather than a superhero. His elf-esque boots look unrestrained and ready to flop off at any moment, while the cape fluttering behind him has a bolder look than Robin himself.  Robin looks so confused that it’s unclear whether he’s going to enter a strong man contest, play with some action figures, go for a swim, make toys for Santa Claus, or get sucked away by his cape.

 

New Robin Costume Elements

Now compare that to a new redesign for Robin’s look from the Young Justice cartoon.

Dick Grayson in Young Justice

  • Athletic body
  • Dark red and black dominant colors with yellow accent
  • Face-shaping eye mask
  • Pants
  • Functional looking boots and accessories
  • Dormant cape

 

What Changes Made Robin Look Different?

You’ll notice that this Robin keeps some of the same elements and seems to have a more cartoonish shape, yet the tone creates a more serious appearance. So, what happened? First, Robin’s body shape has changed. He has an athletic, slender appearance that gives him the look of an agile gymnast, rather than that of a bodybuilder. Robin keeps the red color scheme, but darkening the shade makes a world of difference and black replaces the green, which meshes with the red, rather than creating conflict. All of which consolidates his age and abilities. He’s a teenager. He doesn’t have super strength and he’s probably pretty nimble.

 

The eye mask has been reshaped to frame and fit Robin’s face. Notice the use of pointed edges on the bottom, which encourage eye movement to the rest of the face. The white parts of the eyes also compose a larger portion of the mask, giving him a more expressive face. His skin-tight pants draw no attention to his legs and his boots have a secure and realistic appearance. Tiny details to his accessories, like the addition of small pouches to his belt and cosmetic changes to his gloves, all combine together to give his costume a functional look. His cape no longer pulls attention away from the rest of the costume and resigns itself to a supportive role in his outfit.

 

This illustration of change shows that a hero can present a much different image to people by reconstructing the visuals of his costume. Remember that a hero is the conduit through which the story is told and your audience needs to get pulled into the message of the story in a glance. Using a distracting costume can confuse your audience about your hero before they’ve given your character a chance, but by reshaping the outfit to fit the story you want to tell, even a mess like Robin can be changed!

 

This article is by Ryan Heuer of BuySuperheroCostumes.com, a place where men and women can find great superhero costumes, from Robin to Rorschach.  

 

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Redesigning Robin”

  1. B. McKenzieon 19 Dec 2011 at 10:44 pm

    One other minor change: the modern Robin has slicker, heavily-moussed hair. I think it looks better than the original’s, although they could have really toned down the amount of mousse.

    Also, they redid the collar, which I only notice because I sell ties.

  2. Grenacon 19 Dec 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I saw YJ Robin and I flipped. I LOVE Young Justice. I like that all the character’s costumes reflect that darker, more serious image than the whimsically bright designs of the past. It modernizes their looks without going overboard (Read: Harley’s new design)

  3. Marquison 20 Dec 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I think the only look I didn’t like was Jokers new look in YJ just didn’t seem to fit him at all

  4. Mynaon 21 Dec 2011 at 8:50 am

    I’m a whacko Robin fan, but I can’t stand his old costumes, especially the no-pants version or the one where his pants had those scale things on ’em. I’m glad YJ does him justice. xD One can learn a lot about superhero costumes from Robin… thanks for this article!

  5. Damzoon 21 Dec 2011 at 10:30 am

    Yeah, I like the tone of YJ, serious but not gritty. Although Joker’s voice is pretty annoying.

  6. Grenacon 21 Dec 2011 at 11:50 am

    I didn’t mind the Joker’s voice. It needed work though, because sometimes it sounded really forced or didn’t fit the mood, but it wasn’t too bad in my opinion. As for his look, eh, it could’ve been better. All in all, I was pretty ‘meh’ about the Joker in YJ.

  7. Tony Frazieron 23 Dec 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Well, to be fair, you’re mixing up a few elements here. The image you use for the old Robin costume is the Golden Age costume, but it’s not the Golden Age Robin. It’s the 70’s-80’s Robin, when the character had evolved into an older teen/20-something. The Robin of the 40’s was a kid whose costume emphasized that fact (in a day when short pants=kid). The mismatch between the muscular body and the costume is not the fault of the costume; it’s the fault of the character evolving while the costume did not.

    And in its day, the Robin costume was a successful design. The laced tunic and green booties were designed to evoke Robin Hood (explicitly mentioned in Robin’s origin story), while the red color was meant to evoke a red-breasted Robin. So the costume related to the character’s name in two different ways. The bright colors that look garish today were designed for 40’s comics printed simply on cheap paper.

    On the other hand, the modernized design wouldn’t have worked at all in the 40’s. The tunic is still red with yellow laces, but the swashbuckling Robin Hood feel is gone. And all that black would have looked hideous when printed on 1940’s presses. The modern take on the costume is an improvement in today’s terms, but I wouldn’t say the Golden Age costume was a failure at what it was designed to do.

  8. B. McKenzieon 24 Dec 2011 at 9:10 am

    “And in its day, the Robin costume was a successful design.” The Batman-Robin relationship contributed to the Seduction of the Innocent/Comics Code debacle. Maybe if Robin had been wearing pants, it might have seemed less weird?

    PS: Every version of Robin Hood I’ve seen wears pants (given that he lived in a forest, anything else would have been impractical). If they had been going for a design that was reminiscent of RH, why not use pants or at least shorts? It seems like a very curious stylistic choice–I’m not familiar with any other kid characters from the 1940s, 50s, 60s or 70s that wear Speedo-style shorts rather than pants or actual shorts.

  9. Indigoon 25 Dec 2011 at 12:02 am

    I agree, people who don’t wear pants are just awkward in general.

  10. Tony Frazieron 25 Dec 2011 at 12:23 am

    I think you may be misremembering. Looking back at stories from the 40’s and 50’s. Robin’s shorts are usually drawn almost straight across, about the same length as Batman’s over the tights. Or put another way, about the same length as the shorts he wore as a circus acrobat in his origin story, not unlike shorts you can see in some photos of circus acrobats and strongmen from the 30’s. Again, Robin’s bare legs contrasted his youth against his older partner’s maturity. You see the same style of shorts with bare legs on kid sidekicks like The Human Torch’s Toro and Aqualad (where both the adults’ legs are covered).

    Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood from 1938 (the one most familiar to audiences of the day) wore a tunic similar to Robin’s over tight leggings. Of course, he also wore real boots, but booties like Robin wore have also been associated with the character; Disney’s Robin Hood from the 70’s had to come up with the idea from somewhere.

    I’m not saying that Robin’s design was perfect. But it was good for the character at the time. The elements of its design fit the medium at the time and had elements that the readers could recognize and understand. The costume doesn’t work now because the medium, the character and the audience have all changed.

  11. B. McKenzieon 25 Dec 2011 at 12:53 am

    I think there were many ways to accentuate his youth without making him wear a Speedo. For example, he already had brighter colors and more unrestrained hair going and could also have had shorts.


    Also, also you noted above, Errol Flynn wore actual boots and pants/leggings as Robin Hood. I think DC made a questionable stylistic choice abandoning those in favor of Speedo-style shorts. In addition to the troubling implications of a grown man giving a boy those clothes to wear, it looks awful now (and maybe then as well)–in contrast, the much better-designed Batman costume has held up remarkably well. Bucky’s 1940s uniform–which has brightly-colored pants–holds up much better today than Robin’s original uniform did.



    IF I were editing a series and an artist had tried to sell me on those booties as a homage to Robin Hood, I probably would have pushed him to try some OTHER homage to Robin Hood, like the boots he wore in the Errol Flynn movie. Granted, my tastes run conventional/classic and sometimes banal, but I find that it results in fewer WTF moments and congressional hearings a few years down the road.



    As a point of comparison, could you give me an example of a 1940s or 1950s protagonist (preferably a young one) that looks worse than Robin?

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