Race in Grayson #15
I’ve been enjoying Grayson overall but I need to call attention to this issue’s handling of race, especially in context of policing.
As the second part of DC Comic‘s “Robin War” storyline, the issue begins with a grid of the faces of 16 young Gothamites of various races, subcultures and levels of costuming all saying “I am Robin,” claiming a mantle and identity for themselves that empowers them to fight for justice. It is also a statement of solidarity between youth.
Cut to a page of three white dudes and one light brown kid (I think, it’s hard to tell and Damian shouldn’t be white but he’s usually drawn that way) telling the young Gothamites “no you’re not”. Dick then modifies that statement to be “at least not yet”.
Then Grayson, Red Hood, Red Robin and Damian Wayne go to teach the kids what it means to be Robin.
What ensues should be a cool training sequence but each of Batman’s former sidekicks are written as the most cartoonish versions of themselves. Each of their personalities polished down to almost a catchphrase. I sympathize with the writer Tim Seeley here– he’s been tasked with showing the difference between the four former or current Batman-approved sidekicks and he ties each to a particular lesson. It’s a sensible approach and I don’t know what I’d suggest he do otherwise. But it just comes off as trope-y and cliche.
Dick takes Duke Thomas on a training run– I enjoy their interactions here a lot. But here’s where the record skips; In Dick’s attempt to protect the We are Robin army of self-appointed Robins, Dick leads them all into a trap to be arrested. He explains “I control the arrests, make sure they’re safe….Make sure they’re all safe and all ready to break out, when I figure this out.” Excuse me, but you cannot ensure the safety of black or brown people while they are being arrested or incarcerated (or lgbtq people or, or, or).
Dick’s actions are disastrous and a massive display of the character’s privilege (I can’t tell if new 52 Dick is supposed to be Romani or not so I’m not going to say white privilege in this case because who knows…)
People of color are regularly hurt and even killed in the process of being arrested. Remember Sandra Bland? Eric Garner? Being arrested while brown is not at all the same as being arrested while white, especially given the long term consequences of having an arrest on your record. Even if Grayson breaks them out and wipes their records clean they have still been forced into trauma by his actions.
The image of Grayson and Duke (who’s black) perched on a gargoyle with their backs to the wall, a GCPD spotlight focused on them while the cops shout “Hands! Hands! Now!” is incredibly disturbing, especially in light of Michael Brown’s murder by the police while his hands were raised. Perhaps this disturbing image is on purpose? I hope so. It’s the most effective page in the issue.
Dick then gracefully dives off the side of the skyscraper, balletic and free while leaving Duke in the clutches of the police. Quite the metaphor for #CrimingWhileWhite.
While I’m sure that other characters in the story are going to debate over whether or not Dick was wrong to get the Robins arrested, it is crucial for the racial implications of Dick’s actions to be addressed in this specific series.
I’m going to keep reading this series in the hope that the racial implications in this issue are explicitly addressed. I hear that in other “Robin War” crossover comics the police are cruising around profiling kids on whether or not they might be a Robin and arresting them for it. That would certainly work as a metaphor for certain kinds of police profiling.
This isn’t the only time lately that Dick has behaved imperiously in ways that hurt others. The fact that the creative team introduced Helena Bertinelli as a biracial woman and that Damian looks like he’s MAYBE supposed to be a person of color gives me hope here. If the next steps in the story address the racial implications of Dick’s actions I’ll be ecstatic. It would be worthy of Snyder’s breakthrough work writing about structural racism in Batman #44. I’m waiting….