I knew this guy once, back in Gotham, Chad Wallace, who thought it would be cool to have a secret identity. This was right after some reporter caught a fuzzy picture of Batman talking to Commissioner Gordon. The picture wasn't great and Batman was standing so far in the shadow that you could barely see him, but that picture was run on the front of all the newspapers in Gotham. Anyway, this guy, Chad, was sitting in Biology class with the newspaper open in front of him instead of helping to dissect the fetal pig in front of us. None of us in the group really cared. Chad was kind of weird, but he was big on the whole concept of having a secret identity, saying that nobody would ever know who you were, so you could do anything you wanted. The city could be your playground, which brought up all kinds of philosophical questions.
See, we've always been taught that character is determined by what you do when nobody's looking, which is true. But Chad said that it brought up whole new issues, because which is the true self, the public persona or the secret identity? And if Batman is really just some Joe off the street trying to do some good, does that make him better than if he's a cop playing vigilante when he's not walking the beat?
That was one of the prevalent theories, that Batman was a cop, but Chad said that as long as Batman had been in the game, he'd probably lost his former self, thought of himself only in terms of Batman and non-Batman, that he was tired of playing the act of "normal guy" for the sake of society. That was what Chad thought was cool, leaving behind the social preconceptions of what was acceptable, donning a mask, and just being yourself without worrying about judgment because nobody knew it was you. That all those people who kicked you around in school would look up to you as a hero, but you could laugh at them inside, because if they really knew who you were, they'd laugh before ever accepting help.
Chad killed himself not long before I left Gotham. Tied a sheet around his neck like a cape, put a Lone Ranger mask over his eyes, and took a flying leap off one of the taller buildings in the metropolitan area. I guess he was tired of being Chad, thought if he tried hard enough, he could be somebody different. Or maybe for those moments before his death, he wanted to feel like a hero flying over a city that never really knew him.
I think he may have been one of the smartest people I've ever met, just a step below Bruce, but miles above most people. Not because he killed himself, but because he understood more than I did what it meant to wear a mask. He understood that part of it was living and doing, and part of it was hiding; not just from everyone else, but from yourself just a little bit. I mean, could he really have made that jump without the sheet around his neck and the flimsy Halloween mask? He knew he couldn't fly, but I think it gave him courage he wouldn't have had otherwise.
Yeah, courage. You see, unlike most people who judged Chad as being scared or depressed, I saw him on top of that building. He wasn't hard to miss, seeing as there are only a handful of people who spend much time on rooftops, but yeah, I saw him, just too late to realize what was happening and what exactly he was doing. He stepped right up to the edge, spread his arms as if he stood on a diving board, and jumped. I swung down after him, but was astonished to see him tuck himself into a ball and flip his body over. I half thought he'd pull out of it and start to fly up, like a true meta-human. I was still several feet away when he hit the pavement with a sickening crack. I don't remember much what happened next. Just sitting in the Batcave with Alfred handing me a cup of hot tea. Apparently, Batman found me perched on someone's balcony, staring down at the mayhem below.
I still see it, sometimes, when I close my eyes. The blood, the broken body. I still hear him striking the pavement, hearing his skull crack like a melon dropped accidentally. And strangely, I still see him tucking into that ball and flipping over, staring up at me through that plastic mask with that strange smile, like he was really happy for the first time.
My name is Robin, and like Chad, I've stood on the edge of many rooftops in my career as a crimefighter. And like Chad, I've jumped, feeling the rush as I flew through the air without a net, something I hadn't felt since my family died, but I've always had a backup, someone I could rely on. For the longest time, it was Batman. Now, it's the Titans, my friends.
But Chad was right. So long as you're wearing a mask, you're hiding. When you take the mask off, are you the same person?
My name is Robin, and like Chad, I'm standing on the edge of a building, a cape around my neck, a mask on my face. The question is, if I jump, who is flying through the air, Robin, crimefighter? Or Dick Grayson, former circus star turned orphan? Which side of me is jumping and which side of me is shooting out the swing line so I swing instead of fall? Because, God help me, I don't think it's the same side.