We were thrilled to see Tim Drake’s iconic bo staff make its debut in the season four premiere of Titans, but if Tim seemed a little extra happy about it to you, that probably has to do with the person who gave it to him—Bernard Fitzmartin.
Played on the series by James Scully, Bernard is a new character to Titans, but he’s certainly not new to fans of Batman’s third Robin. Tim Drake’s history with Bernard—whose name is Bernard Dowd in the comics—began almost twenty years ago, but it was only recently that it truly developed into something worth celebrating. We don’t yet know how the relationship between Tim and Bernard is going to play out on Titans, but let’s see how things have unfolded in the comics for hints as to where things might be headed.
Last year, Tim Drake reunited with his old high school classmate Bernard in Batman: Urban Legends #4-6. After an adventure involving kidnappers and a bit of self-reflection, Tim asked Bernard out on a date, setting the stage for a new era of his life. It wasn’t an immediate yes from Bernard. Like Tim, Bernard also needed some time to come to grips with his sexual identity, and that isn’t too surprising. After all, Bernard Dowd wasn’t originally conceived as a queer character, at least as far as we know, but it’s surprising how much his early appearances laid the groundwork for that revelation.
Before reappearing in Batman: Urban Legends #4, Bernard was a memorable, but underused supporting character in Tim’s life with only six appearances in the DC Universe, the most recent happening in 2005. He was introduced in Robin #121 when Tim Drake began his junior year at Louis E. Grieve High School. Bernard is immediately drawn to Tim and starts sizing him up, trying to figure out where Tim fits in with the high school social structure.
“It’s vital,” he tells Tim. “A place for everyone and everyone in their place. That’s how the world works.”
It sounds a lot like Bernard is trying to fit into a role he thinks society expects him to be in.
As the conversation goes on, Bernard threatens to “punish” Tim (!!) and tells him not to date any girls he has a crush on. At the time, Bernard just seemed like an eccentric best friend, but this scene takes on a whole new context after reading Batman: Urban Legends #6. Things only got more interesting with his next appearance in Robin #122. Tim and Bernard are hanging out at a diner when popular girl Darla Aquista walks in. Bernard tells Tim that he has a crush on Darla, but the popular jocks she hangs around with won’t ever give him room to make his play.
What should we make of Bernard’s confession here? Although we now know Bernard is queer, that doesn’t mean he never had a crush on Darla. The journey to discovering your own sexual identity can be long, and it’s possible Bernard was still working out his feelings. Another interpretation is that Bernard was closeted at the time and pretended to have a crush on Darla in order to assert his heterosexuality. Darla would be the perfect person for this, since her social status makes her unavailable.
Tim calls Bernard’s bluff and convinces the jocks to let Dowd ask Darla out. Bernard is livid and his mood is worsened when Darla expresses a romantic desire for Tim. Reading this in 2004, we’re meant to believe that Bernard is bummed out because he wanted Darla for himself. But filtered through a 2022 lens, we can’t help but wonder if his jealousy came from his feelings for Tim.
The fallout was seen in Robin #123. Tim, who was dating Stephanie Brown at the time, protests to Bernard that he has no designs on Darla, insisting that he already has a girlfriend. Bernard is less than convinced.
“Where is this mysterious Stephanie whatshername?” he asks. “Why have I never met her? If you’ve got something you want to tell me, then speak up. We’re buds. I’ll understand. We’re two modern enlightened men in the third millennium, Drake. No need to make up imaginary girlfriends.”
Wow, where to begin?
Bernard is clearly teasing Tim, but this scene has a deeper meaning in light of recent revelations. Bernard is practically begging Tim to come out of the closet, but he’s doing it in the guise of a joke to save face. Maybe Bernard is using these comments to test the waters, to see how Tim would react. The conversation is meant to send a clear message to Tim—if you’re queer, it’s not a big deal and you could tell me. The scene ends with Bernard warning Tim about the dangers of dating Darla. Interpret what you will from that.
In Robin #126, Bernard is a guest at the Drake household for dinner time, where he spends the entire meal fawning over Tim’s stepmother Dana. Once he and Tim have a moment alone, Bernard begins gushing about how attracted he is to Dana. Yet again, this is a scene that makes more sense if you suspect Bernard is hiding his sexual identity. He’s trying to play the role of a horny heterosexual teenager and he’s seriously overcompensating. As he did with Darla, Bernard has also chosen an unobtainable female to be his object of desire. Tim may have called his bluff with Darla, but Dana is a safe target. There’s no way Tim’s going to encourage his buddy to ask out his stepmom.
Bernard was seen again in Robin #127 hanging out with Tim and Darla. He shared some conspiracy theories about Batman working for a shadowy government, unaware that he was standing next to the Dark Knight’s partner. Unfortunately, this would be the last time Bernard would share a scene with Tim for seventeen years. After the events of “War Games,” Louis E. Grieve High School permanently closed and Tim moved to Blüdhaven. Bernard was seen again in Robin #140 when Darla sought his help in tracking down Tim. Bernard told her that they had lost touch after their school had closed down, but pointed her towards Blüdhaven. Darla continued her quest without Bernard, who wasn’t seen again until 2021’s Batman: Urban Legends #4.
In it, Tim reunites with Bernard for the first time in years, sharing a meal at a fancy restaurant. Unfortunately, their reunion is cut short when Bernard is kidnapped by a cult leader known as the Chaos Monster. Tim’s search for Bernard leads him to the Dowd household, where Tim makes an interesting observation regarding his parents.
“They always wanted everything just so perfectly placed. And Bernard never quite measured up to their standards,” Tim muses.
Remember what Bernard told Tim when they first met about everything having a place? That statement suddenly makes more sense, as does some of Bernard’s old behaviors. Reading between the lines, one could conclude that Bernard was hesitant to confront his own sexuality because of his repressive parents.
When Robin rescues Bernard in Batman: Urban Legends #6, the captive teen tells the Boy Wonder to pass a message to Tim Drake in case they don’t make it out alive: “Tell Tim Drake he helped me realize my true self. Who I am.”
Of course, Robin is an old pro at rescuing people, so Bernard makes it out safely, unaware that his rescuer was none other than Tim Drake. The story concludes with Tim visiting Bernard, who formally asks him out on a date. Tim accepts and fandom rejoiced.
Tim’s journey has been a frequent topic of discussion, but Bernard’s evolution is worth examining as well. Since Bernard is not the protagonist, we don’t have the benefit of getting inside his head the way we do with Tim. However, his words and actions have given us some big pieces of the puzzle, enough to form a picture. Like Tim, Bernard wasn’t sure who he was or where he fit into things. Living under repressive parents, he denied aspects of his own identity. Eager to play the role his parents and society expected of him, Bernard acted like a hormonal high school student and purposely sought out girls who were unobtainable. According to what he told Robin, Tim Drake helped him realize who he truly was.
Of course, Tim and Bernard on Titans are older and seem already comfortable in their sexuality. I don’t believe Tim’s ever come right out and said he’s queer on the HBO Max series—there’s been no need for him to and there likely never will be. But he did acknowledge being interested in Bernard in the season premiere. As for Bernard, we don’t know his sexuality yet, but I seriously doubt they’d show Tim’s interest only to not pay it off (also, that shot of them nearly kissing in the season four trailer kind of gives it away).
Titans’ Bernard and Tim, who’s played by Jay Lycurgo, will have their own unique story and however it plays out, it’s another example of some welcome LGBTQIA+ representation within the Bat-Family and DC Multiverse in general. And in what’s truly a rarity in the superhero world, both versions of the relationship will be defined at the same time. Will Tim and Bernard break up in the TV series and ride off into the sunset in the comics? That could happen, but so could the opposite. Or perhaps they’ll get a happy ending in both. No matter what goes down on Titans and in Tim Drake’s current comic series, Bernard has helped make one thing very clear to Robin #3 and his fans—this is who Tim is.
New episodes of Titans drop Thursdays on HBO Max. For the latest news out of Titans Tower, visit our official Titans series page.
Tim Drake: Robin #1 and #2 by Meghan Fitzmartin, Riley Rossmo and Lee Loughridge are now available in print and as digital comic books.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.