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Tim Drake: Celibacy Icon?

In the latest issue of Red Robin, Tim Drake took some time off from orchestrating a shadowy master plan, re-connecting with his old ally Cassandra Cain and hugging his newly-back-from-the-dead adoptive father to make out with a lovely lady on a rooftop. Since the person on the other end of his lips was Lynx, a woman he had just broken out of prison, he seemed justified in ending the make-out session abruptly and telling her that he couldn’t continue with a relationship or other hijinks. She replied that he clearly could, but that he wouldn’t. It’s true, and given the experiences of his friends, Robin’s cold shower thinking probably saved his life.

From relationship to relationship Tim Drake has defied the lady-killing legacy (or downright promiscuity) of his Robin predecessor Dick Grayson and kept his proverbial batarang in his utility belt. So is Tim Drake a icon for those who choose to wait? Or is his self-imposed chastity more a matter of crime-fighting circumstance than simply waiting for the right woman?Tim Drake got his first ongoing series, Robin, in the early ’90s. Surprisingly, this teen series was actually written for an audience the age of the hero. Robin dealt with age-appropriate crime while Tim Drake: Normal Teenage Boy went through a host of normal teenage boy problems. He dealt with bullying, he dealt with snarky friends, and he dealt with his girlfriend changing into a negligee in the middle of their date and asking him to have sex.

At the time they were both fourteen, and the girlfriend was propositioning because of insecurities of her own, so it’s not surprising that nothing sexual happened. Tim talked to her about what was going on, and the whole incident ended in a hug. Then the girl’s family came home, saw what she was wearing and put her in an all-girls school, cooling the couple down for a while.

Tim’s next girlfriend ended up being pregnant by another boy by the time they started going out. Tim helped her deal with the pregnancy, and with the adoption of her child. Although she aggressively pursued the relationship beforehand, the question of sexuality was tabled, and eventually the couple broke up.


(From Robin #58)

Before and since, Tim Drake has been the subject of several female character’s affections, and those affections are often sexual. In Teen Titans a teammate by the name of Rose Wilson, also known as (*sigh*) Ravager, turned up naked in his bed. The latest person with explicit designs on Tim’s virtue is Ra’s Al Ghul, who plans to use him to impregnate yet another one of Ra’s’ daughters.

Through it all, Tim has pulled away from every possible sexual encounter. Within the reality of the series, that was a good idea. At best the women after him were in it for the wrong reasons, at worst they were outright mentally ill. Looking in from outside the series, his choices seem even better one. Comics link sex and death pretty closely. Two of Tim’s friends, Bart Allen and Connor Kent, both died shortly after they had sex with their respective partners.

Or perhaps they had sex shortly before they died. The distinction isn’t just semantics.

It’s true that often comics characters, especially teen characters, have sex shortly before they’re killed off. A case can be made that sexuality spells imminent death. Although comics are most often bought by adults, companies are hesitant to show young characters having sex. When they do have sex, it means they’ve gotten older, ended their tenure as sidekicks and are about to embark into limbo. They’re usually not popular enough to make it alongside adult characters, and they can’t age backwards. That means they’re more useful dead than alive.

I think, though, that most often, it’s the other way around. Once characters are slated for death, they can start expressing more sexuality. In part, it’s because the character will die and the readers won’t be saddled with ten years of a humdrum relationship. More often, though, I think it’s a moral lesson. No, the characters aren’t being ‘punished’ for having sex. I don’t think many people creating comics today think having sex is a bad thing, even when young characters are doing it. I think that creators believe showing teen heroes having lot of sexual partners is a bad thing. I’ve mentioned a few of Tim Drake’s girlfriends or romantic interests. He’s had a lot more. Ten serious love interests is not a lot for a sixteen year long series. For a boy between the ages of 14 and 18, it’s beginning to look a little more crowded, especially considering he did his own stint in a same sex school for a year.


(From Teen Titans Annual #1)

Creators are hesitant to show teenage characters hopping into bed with many different partners, for understandable reasons. Sexuality is complicated, and no one wants to set an example that could end up hurting a young person. And there’s no way to guard against it. If a writer writes their character into bed with another character, even if that character is their longtime girlfriend, another writer can break them up in three months. Tim Drake didn’t accumulate love interests by chance, he did so because a lot of different people were writing his series. Once a character is slated for death, though, their new relationship isn’t something that can be reversed in six months anymore. It’s not a fling. It’s doomed love. That opens up possibilities that an ongoing character wouldn’t have.

I think that Tim Drake got his current chaste status by accident more than design. Never the right girlfriend, never a long enough stint with a certain writer, and too much going on in his corner of the DCU to leave time for a “Very Special” Issue. Still, there may be some use in a male hero who says no for reasons of his own. Sometimes chance creates really interesting characters.

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