How Did Carrie Kelley Become Robin In the Epic Series, “The Dark Knight Returns”?

Regardless of some viable predecessors, comic book historians most often agree that the Modern Age of Comic Books, which succeeded the Bronze Age, started in 1986. The Modern Age redefined comics – it made them darker, deeper, and more of an art form than a form of entertainment. The guy we all have to thank for this is called Frank Miller and the comic book that started it all, The Dark Knight Rises, will be the topic of today’s article. 

After being saved by Batman earlier in the comic book, Carrie Kelley, dressed as Robin, saved Batman from the Mutant Leader and then dragged him to the Batmobile. As a token of gratitude and appreciation for her skills, Batman accepted Carrie Kelley as the new Robin. 

In today’s article, I am going to be discussing Carrie Kelley’s journey toward becoming the new Robin. You’re going to find out how exactly all of that happened, how old she was, and what kind of a working relationship she had with Batman. Let us begin, then!

How did Carrie Kelley become Robin in The Dark Knight Returns?

In order to fully comprehend the circumstances of Carrie Kelly becoming the new Robin in a chaotic, dystopian future, I have to give the story some context. 

In 1986, Frank Miller pitched The Dark Knight Returns, arguably the best Batman comic ever written and certainly among the top five American comic books of all time. The story was dark, gritty, violent, and just plain “ugly” in a sense that completely contradicted what comic book fans had been used to up until that point. DC Comics took somewhat of a risk with the comic book, but not only was it a complete success, it also marked the beginning of the Modern Age of Comic Books, setting aesthetical standards that would be followed by almost every serious comic book author after 1986. 

The story itself is set in 1986, but in a dystopian version of Gotham City what was later revealed to be located on Earth-31 of DC’s Multiverse. Bruce Wayne, now 55 years old, has given up the mantle of Batman after Jason Todd’s death. In the meantime, Gotham City has plunged into despair and crime is absolutely flourishing. Still, it’s not the same sophisticated crime as practiced by Batman’s Rogues Gallery, but rather a type of crime that reflects the despair and misery of Gotham’s society. 

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Seeing how a group of street criminals known as The Mutants is causing more and more problems, Batman decides to come out of retirement and bring back justice to Gotham City. 

On his first night, Batman stops multiple assaults and targets the Mutants. Among those he saves that night are two young girls, Carrie Kelley and her friend Michelle. Carrie Kelley had been a long fan of Batman and now that he has saved her life, she decides to do something life-changing – she buys a mock Robin costume and starts patrolling the city in hope of meeting the Dark Knight once again and getting recruited by him. 

She doesn’t seem to have much luck until she tracks Batman to his showdown with the brutal Mutant Leader. Old and out of form, Batman loses the fight and almost dies, but luckily for him, Carrie Kelley intervenes and manages to save Batman by dragging him back to the Batmobile, which in turn drove him to Alfred, who tended to his wounds. 

Traumatized by the experiences with his former proteges, Batman never thought he would take up a new one, but he was quite impressed with Carrie and utterly grateful, so he ultimately decided to take her up as his new protegee and the new Robin. This is how she came to inherit the costume last worn by the late Jason Todd. 

How old was Carrie Kelley when she became Robin in The Dark Knight Returns?

The question of Carrie Kelley’s age has been the subject of much controversy, especially in the context of Fran Miller’s overly dark and dystopian setting. Yet, Frank Miller is exactly that type of author – he’ll write something controversial, but unlike some similar authors, with him, it always has a deep artistic rationale behind it. 

In case you were wondering, Carrie Kelley is 13 in The Dark Knight Returns and she is, by all definitions, still a child and very, very young. Still, in a dystopian setting such as Miller’s 1986 Gotham, maturity is something that is thrust upon you at a very young age and Carrie is – (un)fortunately, depends on how you look at it – very mature for her age and she functions quite well under the trauma-inducing circumstances she operates in. 

Credit DC Comics

Does Carrie Kelley think about accepting the role of Robin?

It might seem strange to pose this question, as all the main universe Robins never really doubted their initial decisions, but Carrie Kelley is specific in so many ways that this question actually makes sense. Let me elaborate on that.  

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Carrie Kelley is 13 and still a child, which is quite a specific age for a girl and especially in the setting of Miller’s comic book. But, I have already explained the age thing, so I won’t be going back to that here. There is another aspect that I deem more important in this context, and that is Carrie’s family. 

Namely, as you probably know quite well, the Robins are (in)famously known for being orphans (okay, not all of them, but the first and three best know ones were orphans), which cannot be said about Carrie Kelley. She has a family or, to be more precise, she has both living parents with who she is living with when the story first takes place. This might, you’d think, inspire her to think about accepting Batman’s offer, but her family life is a bit specific. 

Namely, her parents, albeit alive, don’t really seem to care about their only child. We never actually see them in the comic book and although we are aware of their existence, they actually play absolutely no role in Carrie’s life whatsoever, which is consistent with the social conditions that Miller wants to portray. In fact, during a scene where Carrie witnesses a brutal fight between Batman and the Mutants, one of the parents utters the following words: “Didn’t we have a kid?”

This really portrays the life Carrie Kelley has and the circumstances that influenced her decision. While going over this, you can easily see that Carrie Kelly didn’t really have a life she would want to return to, she didn’t really have anything that would make her think before accepting Batman’s offer and that is why she did not really hesitate and was overjoyed with becoming the new Robin. 

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The two of them had a pretty interesting working relationship, with Batman constantly threatening to fire her and Carrie constantly (and quickly, I might add) adapting to the strenuous working conditions of being a vigilante in Gotham City. 

How long does Carrie Kelley remain in the role of Robin?

Unlike some other characters that have donned the costume of Boy Wonder, for example Dick Grayson or Tim Drake, Carrie Kelley’s tenure as Robin was relatively short. Namely, she was Robin solely during The Dark Knight Returns and as soon as we got a sequel, Carrie Kelley got a new superhero identity.

In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which is set three years after the events of The Dark Knight Returns, we see Carrie Kelley in a new, skin-tight cat costume with a leopard pattern. Not only does she brandish a new look, she also has a new identity – Catgirl. She does remain Batman’s trustworthy second-in-command and she does retain her role, but she has ceased being Robin and now goes by the name Catgirl.

In The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, Carrie Kelley is, initially, seen wearing Batman’s costume; after getting caught, she even suggests that Bruce Wayne is actually dead, which was a lie. She took the Cape and Cowl, but she never became Batman; it was just a trick. At the time, she is still known as Catgirl, but as the story develops, she changes her identity once more.

Once Bruce hands her a “graduation present”, actually a green and purple Batgirl suit, Carrie Kelley stops being Catgirl and now becomes Batgirl. The Master Race takes place three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again, so Carrie Kelley has once again had the Catgirl identity for three years before taking on a new one.

Finally, at the very end of The Master Race, Carrie Kelley once again changes her identity, leaving the Batgirl identity behind her and taking on the identity of Batwoman. This was a more mature step forward for her and we see her as Batwoman in The Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, the fourth chapter set on Frank Miller’s Earth-31.