Black History Month ’09 #24: Ready for Whatever

February 24th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve always liked Robbie Robertson. He’s both reminiscent of my grandfather and basically the prototype for a successful black supporting character, for good or for ill.

Robbie is, at his heart, a surrogate father figure. He was the only kind man who worked at the Bugle for ages, and served as both a confidante and a source of advice for Peter Parker. In essence, he was the conscience of the Daily Bugle and, to a certain extent, the Spider-Man comics themselves.

The thing about Spider-Man is that he’s extraordinarily self-absorbed, even by superhero standards. That’s the thing that made One More Day work as an idea (not as a story) for me. Peter takes everything personally, and what he can’t take personally he takes on his shoulders. Robbie is there to be that voice of reason that Peter so desperately needs. He provides perspective to a guy who clearly has no sense of it.

Robbie’s got a kind of soft-spoken intelligence that isn’t all that common in comics. Reading between the lines makes it clear that he knows that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same, but he never brings it up or calls in a favor. He just understands that Peter is fundamentally a good kid at heart and wouldn’t do it without a good reason.

At the same time, he provides a valuable check against J Jonah Jameson’s worst excesses. He’s there to tell him when he goes to far, and he’s there when Jonah has a rare moment of vulnerability. He’s a mentor to most of the Daily Bugle’s staff, as he’s a veteran news man who knows his way around both the business and ethics.

Deep down, though, there is steel. His hard line on ethics is due to a failure early in life, when he squashed a story after a beating by Lonnie “Tombstone” Lincoln. He’s encountered him a few times since, and stood up straight. He used to race cars as a child, too, showing him to be a bit more street smart than you’d expect. He seems like a gentle professor or a grandfather, but everyone was a kid once, and kids get into trouble.

I know a lot of people think of J Jonah Jameson as being the best supporting Spider-Man character, but really, Robbie is where it’s at. Jonah’s got one note and very little range. Robbie has range. For my money, Robbie is the best supporting character, with Mary Jane close behind him. Robbie’s a rock for anyone who needs it.

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6 comments to “Black History Month ’09 #24: Ready for Whatever”

  1. “Robbie is there to be that voice of reason that Peter so desperately needs. He provides perspective to a guy who clearly has no sense of it.”

    Which is, of course, why he gets about three panels of Brand New Day and then disappears, replaced by the only other voices of reason: Aunt May the worrying, nagging busybody, Vin Gonzales the corrupt cop, and Ben Urich, who despite having written an entire book on why the Green Goblin was Norman and Harry Osborn, remains as the EiC of an obscure independent paper.

    We need a book with Robbie & Tombstone in it. Stat.

  2. It’s telling that when Marvel asked a bunch of it’s writers who was their favorite black character, Robbie’s name came up almost as much as T’Challa.

  3. @Salieri: Ben’s had less panel time than Robbie has, Aunt May is probably on par with Robbie at this point, and Ben Urich was discredited because of that book years ago.

    @Pedro Tejeda: I really liked JRjr’s bit about how Robbie felt like JRsr to him.

  4. The long sequence in Spectacular with Robbie coming to grips with his lifelong fear of Tombstone, then going to jail and being pardoned, is one of my favorite Spider-Man stories, but I hadn’t thought about it in a long time.

    Tombstone is a really underutilized villain, too.

  5. Yeah, Spidey has more than a few hidden gems in his rogue’s gallery. Tombstone is one of the great street level guys, and one flexible enough to exist in Spidey, DD, and Luke Cage’s New York City without coming off weird.

  6. Robbie’s always been a great character and I don’t understand why the current writers for the comic feel that Spider-Man, of all people, needs a bigger supporting cast. Use what you have!