Batman has so many allies, buddies and young charges that keeping track of them can be a fool’s errand. Despite the countless options to choose from, most of these costumed young people never get the chance to be the center of attention. However, thanks to the controversial upcoming DC Comics show, one of these figures is finally getting his way.
With one of the most publicly criticized trailers in recent history, the CW recently announced Gotham Knights. Not to be confused with the upcoming game of the same name, the series depicts the new adopted son of Bruce Wayne, who was joined by several children of villains. Completing the team is an experienced figure who describes herself as the “eyes and ears” of a Bat and calls herself Carrie Kelly.
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Carrie Kelly was created by Frank Miller for his famous 1986 TV series The Return of the Dark Knight. Comic book legend John Byrne reportedly came up with the idea of a female Robin to soften the edge of an older and darker view of the Bat. “The Return of the Dark Knight” is an important moment for the character and a turning point for DC comics in general. Those who are fed up with the comically sharp, brooding Batman monster should largely thank Miller for this trend. As with Alan Moore’s The Guardians, the impact of the series has done more harm than good, regardless of its original quality. Those who only know the name or the iconic footage of Batman beating Superman, or those who only know it as the source material for Batman vs. Superman, may be surprised to see Robin appear in the series.
Caroline Keen Kelly was born in Frank Miller’s nightmarish Gotham City dystopia. The school system has failed, the government is corrupt and incompetent, and the streets are flooded with dangerous criminals. For his part, Bruce Wayne gave up the cape and hood when Carrie was three years old, after the death of former Robin Jason Todd. When a youth gang called “Mutants” takes to the streets, Batman decides to use advanced technology to return to the battlefield, despite his advanced age and a decade of inactivity. On his first night, he saved Carrie Kelly and her friend from a mutant attack.
In love with the hero who saved her life, Carrie spent money on lunch to buy Robin’s contraband outfit the next day and announced herself as the Bat’s new girlfriend. She armed herself with a slingshot and a set of fireworks and began hunting for petty criminals. Soon after, Carrie discovered that Batman was in conflict with another group of mutants. After effectively eliminating most of the criminals with the help of their high-tech gadgets, the leader of the group managed to provoke Batman into a melee. The bat, softened by age and inactivity, is defeated and almost killed by her enemy, but Carrie intervenes. Using her explosives, Carrie can distract attention, allowing them both to slip away. After saving his life, Batman agrees to officially name Carrie Kelly the new Robin.
Compared to other Robins, Carrie is optimistic, resourceful, rebellious and good-natured. She’s the perfect opposite of Miller’s pathetic Batman. Bat constantly threatens to fire her, but she is too good at her job and influences him too well for him to really let her go. She is a trained acrobat and a great fighter, just like any other Robin. She helps Batman track down the Joker and helps deal with the clown’s allies and traps while old enemies are fighting. Carrie even helps slow down Superman before he challenges Batman. After Batman and Green Arrow defeated Superman, Carrie played an important role in Bruce’s fake demise. It is Carrie who pulls Batman out of the grave and starts working on their new plan to fight even more supervillains. Later versions of the character gave her roles beyond her original position.
Kelly progressed from Robin to “Girl Cat”, but grew from that level to eventually become a crusader in the cloak of her universe. There are several sequels to The Return of the Dark Knight, often with a difference of many years. The most recent one was released in 2019 with The Return of the Dark Knight: The Golden Child. In this mini-series, Kelly is the Batwoman of the universe, and she is dynamite in this role. Miller has changed dramatically as a writer, both in technique and in the transmission of messages. There is no real way to express this other than to state bluntly that his politics seem to have turned 180 degrees. The female Robin was a progressive move when Miller did it in 1986, but the character Miller came up with was more than a cheap ploy.
Of all that the future creators of Batman took from The Return of the Dark Knight, too much was left without attention of his best character. Carrie Kelly is finally coming to the screen live, but the dubious quality of the series calls into question even this achievement. Let’s hope that the fans and creators will see what they were missing with Carrie Kelly and bring her to the big leagues, because she deserves so much more.