A QUESTION OF AGE: TIM DRAKE
So how old are these Modern Age comic book characters supposed to be anyway? Damn, what a question. The one that DC doesn’t want you to ask. But, let’s try to answer it anyway starting with a most annoying conundrum: Figuring out how old Modern Age Tim Drake is.
BUT FIRST, let me say that the DCU doesn’t run on a system which allows for us to give specific ages to these characters. Batman debuted in 1939, then re-debuted in the 60s, then re-debuted in 1985/1986, then re-debuted whenever DC wants to say (1989-ish, 1994-ish, whatever), then re-debuted in 2011. Like the scientific laws of time, the laws of age also act differently in the DCU. The multiverse has its own unique timeline that DC writers and editors follow, one that is distinctively different than mine. Basically, the point I’m trying to stress here is that because my timeline is specific, I’m attempting to give the characters on my timeline specific ages. So, don’t let anyone ever tell you how old Bruce Wayne is, or how old Tim Drake is, or how old Dick Grayson is, or how old Tweedle-Dum is. They will all always have “approximate ages” that rarely change. I’m not trying to tell anyone how old Batman characters are—I’m simply doing what I’ve been doing with this project since day one: Attempting to construct and/or suggest a detailed, unambiguous, and ordered Batman canon. And like I’ve said since day one: This is technically an impossible task. We can’t inject realism (in the form of chronology and age restraints) into a science-fiction unreality that has a seventy-five year history that ignores conventional passage of time. BUT, we sure can have fun trying.
Okay, let’s get back to the “Real Batman Chronology Project” Modern Age version of Tim Drake. I’m specifically examining Tim because he is an excellent case study for the unique durational phenomena that occur in the DCU. To really understand the problem (if it may indeed be referred to as a problem) here, one must be well-versed in the history of the character as originally depicted by DC editors and writers. So here is that history in a nutshell.
We first see Tim Drake chronologically through flashback in Batman #436 where he appears as a three-year-old toddler who witnesses the deaths of the Flying Graysons at the circus. Tim’s next appearance is his debut in Batman #440 where he is 13-years-old. He meets Batman and Nightwing and becomes the new Robin. In Robin #1, a “Knightquest” tie-in, Tim gets his driver’s license early due to the fact that he needs to be able to drive his disabled father around. It’s not long after “Knight’s End” that we are told that Tim is 15-years-old and in the 10th grade. In “Bruce Wayne: Murderer,” Oracle tells us that Tim is 15. Tim celebrates his Sweet 16 in Robin #116. In Identity Crisis and Robin #136, Tim is still 16. 52 takes place and functions as a literal year of time, and after it is over Tim is 17. By the time Tim becomes Red Robin (Bat Year 22) he is still 17. So, everything looks okay, that is, until you factor in everything else that goes on in the DCU.
Let’s compare the Tim Drake rundown we’ve just done to a world that has our undeniable Real Batman Chronology “Bat Years” attached to it. This time I will add in the correct Bat Year numbers to show the actual undeniable passage of time. In doing so, we will see that nothing makes much sense. We first see Tim Drake chronologically through flashback in Batman #436 where he appears as a three-year-old toddler that witnesses the deaths of the Flying Graysons at the circus. (Bat Year 6 on my chronology). Tim’s next appearance is his debut in Batman #440 (Bat Year 13) where he is 13-years-old. He meets Batman and Nightwing and becomes the new Robin. In Robin #1 (Bat Year 14), a “Knightquest” tie-in, Tim gets his driver’s license early due to the fact that he needs to be able to drive his disabled father around. It’s not long after “Knight’s End” that we are told that Tim is 15-years-old and in the 10th grade. In “Bruce Wayne: Murderer?” (Bat Year 17), Oracle tells us that Tim is 15. Tim celebrates his Sweet 16 in Robin #116 (Bat Year 18). In Identity Crisis and Robin #136 (both in Bat Year 19), Tim is still 16. 52 takes place and functions as a literal year of time (passing from Bat Year 20 into Bat Year 21), and after it is over Tim is 17. By the time Tim becomes Red Robin (Bat Year 22) he is still 17. Upon closer examination of this timeline, when combined with the corresponding Bat Year numbers, something fishy happens. We go from Bat Year 13 to Bat Year 22 (9 years), but Tim starts out at 13 and only ages to 17 (4 years). There are five whole years missing there!
Even if my chronology were completely incorrect (which it isn’t), take a look at the fact that DC tells us that Tim is 17-years-old before 52. If 52 is literally one year long, how is it possible that Tim didn’t age a year older during that year!?
Why does this inconsistency exist so blatantly? For one thing, around 2006 DC editors decided that they wanted Tim Drake to remain a “perpetual teenager” who doesn’t really age. Basically, the editors exclaimed, “the hell with continuity, Tim is better as a teen!” Of course, you and I both know this is bullshit. At this point DC editors were fine with keeping Tim 17-years-old with the intention of keeping him that way for as long as possible. In fact, in the entirety of the first volume of Red Robin (2010-2011), Tim is still supposed to be 17. (Basically, DC has it so that Tim never reaches the age of 18 in the Modern Age—by the time Flashpoint happens, he’s still referred to as 17). Essentially, my opinion is that DC really fucks up when it comes to Tim’s age, which is why he was seen in high school well past a time where he should have been and also why he was continually referred to as 17 even in 2011. I’ve also read in the Comic Book Resources forums that DC editors wanted to age certain characters (including Tim) using a rough formula of 4 years of written material equaling 1 actual chronological year. If that was the case then Tim (in mid 2011) would indeed be 17 going on 18 since he turned 16 in Robin #116, which was published in late 2003. However, this formula is completely irrelevant since writers have shown definitively that several “in-story years” have come and gone since 2003. Writers have shown the passage of “in-story time” by scripting holidays, different seasons, topical events, asterisk notation, etc… Since both age and time (duration) use the exact same units of measurement, you really can’t have one formula for age and a different formula for the passage of time. Yet the use of contradicting principles is what ostensibly has occurred in the DCU.
How can this be reconciled? An easy retcon would be to make it so that Tim became Robin at age 8 instead of 13. Here’s the obvious problem with that: I can believe in the existence of a 10-year-old Robin (albeit one that has been genetically engineered since birth to be a super-warrior) since it’s been shown to me in the form of Damian Wayne. However, I have serious trouble believing in the existence of a normal, non-genetically-engineered 8-year-old child as Batman’s sidekick. Plus, if you do make Tim’s Robin debut at age 8 that completely erases the fact that he watched the Flying Graysons die. I guess, an easy additional retcon would be to throw out that little tidbit entirely. Another retcon is to toss the idea of a chronology all together and (similarly to what I’ve already said above) ignore that seasons change, holidays come and go, and time literally is shown passing over the years. In this retcon you would more or less assume that from the time Tim arrived on the scene as Robin all the way up to the 2011 Red Robin storylines and Flashpoint, only 4 years have passed. Put another way: The Death and Return of Superman, Knightfall, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Countdown, Batman RIP, Final Crisis, 52, Battle for the Cowl, every single Morrison and post-Morrison JLA story, and a nearly uncountable number of other tales all take place in a mere 4 years. Maybe this is kosher in the New 52 since these stories become mere references, but in the Modern Age this idea is ludicrous to a point where I needn’t even comment!
So, what can be done? Let me show you. The “Real Batman Chronology Project” has retconned things so that Tim becomes Robin a month or two before he turns 11-years-old (in Bat Year 13). This allows for Tim’s 16th birthday to still take place where it originally was meant to (in Robin #116, July, Bat Year 18), thus eliminating most inconsistencies regarding his age up to that point. After that, very minor inconsistencies are sparsely peppered throughout the comics compared to what my chronology says. This eliminates most of the huge problems. Even in the Red Robin series where Tim is referred to as a minor, this is totally legitimate if we think of the term “minor” to mean “under 21.” Tim, in the Red Robin series, should be 20-years-old (with his 21st b-day happening in July of 2011). Thus, by the time we reach Flashpoint, Tim has turned 21-years-old. FINALLY.
Another great reference to comic book character ages is Chris Miller’s Table of Birthdates. (Chris lists Tim’s age in 2011 at 22 because he has kept Tim’s Robin debut at age 13, hence the two year age difference compared to our chronology.)
In writing above about formulaic consistency, the ontology of my own personal “age theory” and “age retcons” must be applied not only to Tim, but to other characters as well. Bruce Wayne, for example, is actually less of a problem than Tim due to the fact that DC has always been very vague regarding his actual age. But, just to be thorough, we’ll tackle him next to round out the full argument and analysis.
- COLLIN COLSHER: A footnote from YEAR ONE, but worth repeating. As already eloquently stated above, depending on which chronology you subscribe to, the ages of DC’s characters will fluctuate and don’t hold fast to an exact mathematical science, especially since there are so many contradictory references and time gets retconned so much in the comics. According to the Real Batman Chronology Project, the Modern Age birth-years of major players are as follows:
Bruce Wayne – born in 1963
Dick Grayson – born in 1981
Jason Todd – born in 1985
Cassandra Cain – born in 1987
Tim Drake – born in 1990
Damian Wayne – born in 1999
Discrepancies between my site and others not only stem from personal headcanon retconning, but also from continuity errors within the comics. Let’s use Damian as an example. Batman & Robin #2, which takes place in the same year as Damian’s debut, tells us he is specifically ten-years-old. This means Damian is ten when he debuts in “Batman and Son.” Most sources, including mine, will list “Batman and Son” as occurring in 2009. Therefore, in order to be ten-years-old in 2009, Damian would have to have been born in 1999 (where I have his birth). Unfortunately, most sources (both external chronologies and in-comic references) tell us that Bruce lost his parents when he was around eight-years-old. In “Batman and Son,” Bruce says that he was “not much older than Damian when his own parents died,” which suggests the boy is eight at that point. A contradiction! See what I mean? These comic book ages are fairly fluid. With that being said, depending on what references you take as gospel, there is a slight range of birth-years that could be appropriate for Bat Family characters:
Bruce Wayne – born in 1963
Dick Grayson – born in 1979 to 1981 range
Jason Todd – born in 1985 to 1986 range
Cassandra Cain – born in 1987 to 1988 range
Tim Drake – born in 1989 to 1990 range
Damian Wayne – born in 1999 to 2000 range
To reiterate, character birthdates and ages depend solely on where you initially start and what you choose to take as gospel. Other chronologies might use different references. The Real Batman Chronology specifically retcons Cassie, Tim, Jason, and Dick’s initial sidekick-starting ages to be a bit younger than most other chronologies, hence the differences there. Taking such liberties with the Robin boys (and Cassie) might seem blasphemous, but it actually makes continuity work out better in the end.↩