Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Private Dick

It happened and we didn't know it. Somewhere, somehow, Dick Grayson became almost irrelevant.

I've been thinking about this so please bear with me.

Recently, DC Comics' Dan Didio made an announcement that Dick Grayson (Nightwing) was to die within Infinite Crisis' pages. The internet clutched its' collective heart and like a pod of Fred Sandfords tried its best to die of proverbial shock. Did DC really want to kill Nightwing for shock value alone or was it something more?

I think Didio realized something we've all known but just ccouldn't admit to ourselves.

The DC Universe, as it stands, really doesn't need Dick Grayson anymore.

It's taken 17 years but Tim Drake, the current Robin (Yes, Tim's been around for SEVENTEEN YEARS!), has eclipsed Dick Grayson in every way, shape and form. Quietly, under the guidance of writer Chuck Dixon, Tim Drake became his own man while simultaneously becoming the ideal partner for Batman. We saw Tim as resourceful, clever. Within the pages of Young Justice and Teen Titans, we saw Tim got to see Tim as a natural born leader. All aspects Dick Grayson once possessed but the writers of The Titans & The Outsiders chose to ignore in the name of "plot development."

Dick Grayson died just that much more, off-panel, during Identity Crisis. During the comics event of 2004, Tim Drake had to helplessly listen to his father die. All Tim could do was collapse, weeping into the waiting arms of Batman... and that sealed the deal right there.

How was Dick ever going to "top" Tim's story.

Tim Drake, through his tragedy, became a character anyone who had suffered any kind of loss could identify with. Through not giving up on himself or those around him despite the crushing deaths, within two years of each other, of his dad, his girlfriend and his best friend, Superboy, Tim Drake became the ultimate Robin.

His reward for walking through hell? Batman immediately did what he could not do for Dick. Batman adopted Robin, giving us what we'd been missing for too long: a Robin who wasn't afraid to smile again. We got a Robin who lives in Wayne Manor, ready to trade quips with Alfred at a moment's notice, a Robin who wants to stand side-by-side with Batman on a Gotham City rooftop. We got a Robin who wants to be a part of a family again.

Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is alone, by himself, in Marvel's New York, being antgsty. That is not Dick Grayson.

Somewhere, along the line Tim Drake became "Dick Grayson" and fulfilled the promise Dick Grayson's writers chose to abandon upon his graduation to Nightwing.

The DCU wants a Dick Grayson but needs a Robin. The public-at-large really doesn't know or care who occupies the costume. They just want to be secure in knowing that there's a Batman & Robin out there for them to rediscover. Unfortunately, somewhere, caught between Batman & Robin is Nightwing. Didio realizes Dick Grayson's dilemma. Hopefully, Marv Wolfman, the upcoming writer of Nightwing and the man who created Tim Drake and Nightwing realizes this and will bring Dick Grayson back to the Batman mythos.

I really, really hope so but I'm not holding out any hope. It's kind of like reading a Nightwing comic all over again.

I thought Nightwing was cool when he was written by Chuck Dixon and that's about it.

When Dixon wrote him, Nightwing was a laughing acrobat (something Tim, as much as I love him, has never really been).

Everyone else, following Wolfman's lead, writes Dick as a whiney angsty Batman wannabe (a.k.a. Daredevil).
I just reread Identity Crisis last night and that is an amazingly well done panel.
I have to admit, I agree with you. Well written article. The Wolfman is taking him over, again? Ugh, he thinks that Nightwing is DC's answer to Captain America, believe it or not. He also regards Nightwing as "his creation" which explains the complete change in personality that the character has experienced. Its been said elsewhere before, but Dick should be kind of like the silver age Batman, a little dark and mysterious but with a sense of humor. He should be more competent than SAB.
Dixon's Nightwing was just Batman Junior. The whole Bludhaven thing was awful. Every writer just wants Dick to follow Batman's career path.

And Wolfman is somewhat right: Dick became Nightwing in order to more effectively lead the Titans, much like Captain America does for the Avengers: a public figure, so to speak.

Wolfman never wrote Nightwing as a Batman wannabe: in fact, he and Perez did wonders in making Dick unique. Just that everyone since then has destroyed that uniqueness, with Dick being the lone avenger, the leader of the Outsiders, etc. It's like they just can't deal with Dick as Dick Grayson, but just as Batman Junior.
You're totally right. Nightwing's been like this extra bit of fat on the edge of the DCU for a while now.
The same people who were aghast that Didio wanted to kill Nightwing are lining up to have first shot.
Nightwing will always be the first Robin, and no matter how well Tim Drake does, he will always be in Dick's shadow. Dick was the first sidekick, and then became his own man. The only real problem Dick has is lousy writers, like any other character.
Was killing Aquaman the right decision? Will Pfieffer would say otherwise.
Was killing Green Arrow the right decision? Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer would say otherwise.
Was killing Bucky the right decision? Yeah, he was pretty much worthless when they brought back Cap in Avengers.
But that's beside the point. Get Nightwing a fair deal, a good writer who will not make him a whiny b*tch being beat by a second rate sidekick like Jason Todd. And when did Jason become so expert? When he died, he was a headstrong, reckless brute. No finesse, no real skill.
Let Dick Grayson live dammit!
I always liked the older version of Richard Grayson on Earth 2 or in Kingdom Come.

I would also ask why characters need to be relevant or irrelevant as long someone buys their books? It was my understanding that was partly why Blue Beetle got it in the face...no one took him seriously as a character any longer..too difficult to take him seriously.

How is Dick Grayson any more or less relevant than Manhunter? or Green Arrow? Basically just another plain human in a suit and some athletic-level skills, plus gadgets.

I would argue that Nightwing, however you cut it, is Batman's grown up son...Tim Drake IS Robin, no arguments there..but he adds another generation, so maybe Nightwing should join the JSA like his Earth-2 counterpart?
I'm with Hex.* I can't believe that I'm reading some of this stuff, man. You'd think Didio was sending people Internets with subliminal messages or some shit. :)

Nightwing is a great character. He's got all of Batman's skills, but none of the angst or baggage. Indeed, he combines Bats' abilities with Superman's eternal optimism and "glass half full" philosophy. He should be in that new JLA lineup, even more than Roy. Hell, he should be LEADING the JLA.

The problem is that Didio didn't know what to do with him after Geoff Johns balked at killing him, and they couldn't back off Jason Todd after making such a huge deal about bringing him back, so they handed both characters off to Bruce Jones, a hack that makes Chuck Austen look like Alan Moore. Combine that with substandard art, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I don't have hate for the Wolfman like some folks do, so I'm willing to see if he and Jurgens can turn it around. If Mark Gruenwald, God rest him, could recant his "killing off characters" philosophy, everyone can.

* = Obligatory Civil War Joke: I'm actually with THE GODDAMN HEX. :) What, are you retarded? :)
Dick, like all the Batman Family, only works when he has a solid supporting cast around him. He hasn't had a good supporting cast (and at the same time writer) for a while. That'll make any character look irreverent.
I've always felt that the problem with Nightwing, at least as he has been written over the past ten years or so is not so much a problem of character as it is a problem of time.

The original Teen Titans lineup represent the third generation of DC heroes (the Golden Age/JSA being the first, the Silver Age/JLA being the second, and, by extention, the Tim Drake cohort being the fourth). As long as they were teen sidekicks, and even moving into young adulthood (and out of the shadows of their various mentors) they were fine.

As they settle into adulthood, these characters are constrained by always needing to be some number of years younger than their mentors. With Batman written as somewhere loosely in his mid-30s (anyone know the current canon age?), that traps Dick Graysom/Nightwing in his early 20s (although he tends to act older than his years).

Various of the other original Titans have been able to circumvent this dynamic by replacing their dead mentor (KidFlash), getting trapped in another time/dimension and aging into adulthood (Aqualad), having an endlessly variable origin, no part of which makes a damn lick of sense (Wonder Girl), or basically ignoring the connection to the mentor except when absolutely necessary (Speedy).

Meanwhile, Nightwing has Robin (who still has room to age at something like a normal rate -- or at least normal as understood in comic book time -- because adding a couple of years to his age isn't quite as damaging to the age differential as the difference between Bruce and Dick) supplanting him, which leaves him stuck in a strange sort of limbo, unable to become a fully realized character as long as he is so closely tied to Batman, but still seen as essential to the Batman family.

In some ways, the most interesting thing a writer could do with Dick Grayson is have him start all over again. Let him ditch the Nightwing ID and create a new heroic persona. Readers bought Robin becoming Nightwing. Would they not also by Nightwing becoming someone new, someone less connected to the Batman community?
"Readers bought Robin becoming Nightwing. Would they not also by Nightwing becoming someone new, someone less connected to the Batman community?"

I thought that was the point of making him Nightwing to begin with: so that he would NOT be connected to Batman. The name isn't the problem (and it's more connected to Superman than Batman). It's the writers.
Good point, Vincent. I don't think the problem is in the name as much as it is in the baggage associated with the name.

That was ostensibly part of the reason for the Robin to Nightwing ID change: to show Dick Grayson moving out of Batman's shadow (although of course having Jason Todd in the Robin costume played a role as well).

If Dick evolved once, why not let him evolve a second time? It's not unprecedented (creating Red Robin in Kingdom Come or that throwaway ID for Villains United or whatever). It could also be similar to the way Arsenal has evolved over the past 10-15 years, with a different look every time a different artist takes over.

Not suggesting Dick Grayson should become quite that much of a slave to shifting artistic and editorial winds, but then, that's more or less what he's become. He's a grim loner! No wait, he has Father Issues! No, wait, he's the heart of a whole generation of heroes! No, wait, he's a semi-willing pawn in whatever Batman-centric crossover happens to derail his ongoing storyline! No, wait, he's an ineptly written noir cliche! No, wait...

You can fix these things without changing the costume, but it's possible to write the costume change as the motivation for a new direction, which would a) unshackle Nightwing from Gotham for some amount of time; b) tie off and cauterize the bloody, gangrenous stump of his relationship with Starfire once and for all, and; c) let the guy fill the laughing daredevil niche left open when they killed off Blue Beetle.

In the end, it all comes down to writing. That's how you "fix" Nightwing. In my fantasy world where Dan Didio calls me up and tells me "Here you go, AFOB, you think you're so smart, YOU fix him!" this is where I'd want to start...

Verification word: tgulkvh, the stunned, guttural Jerry Lewis-esque gulping sound I'd make if Dan Didio made such a call...
I still think it's a little stunning that DC was this close to killing off Dick Grayson, despite whatever relevance-deficit the character was experiencing. As one of DC's oldest continuing characters (one of the four superhero characters to have been published continuously since the early 40's), that fact alone should have made it unthinkable to kill him off.

Are there problems with the character? Definitely. Does the character need a big change? Probably, yes. However, what's missing in today's "creator class" that brings them to the "let's just kill him" so quickly? Is it a lack of creativity? Is it laziness? Desperation? A reflex?

Whatever it is, it's a little alarming when one of the company's oldest characters, the original ROBIN, for Pete's sake, is in the crosshairs.

I say let Dick and Babs get married, then run their own little covert network and live happily ever after. That would give some sort of change to Dick's status quo by allowing him to gain the married life Bruce Wayne never had (or can never have).
Once again, I jump to Dick's defense...

I think the problem with Dick in specific is that DC seems unwilling to accept that he's the long-sought synergy of Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman. His good humor, acrobatics, and (from Dixon) hard-luck secret-ID riff on Peter Parker. His earnest optimism and inspirational leadership (from Wolfman) are Superman hallmarks. And his training, detective skills, solo work, setting, professional skepticism, and tactical leadership all come from Bruce. Martin is exactly right when he says Dick should be leading the JLA. He's exactly what DC has been looking for ever since Stan Lee stole their thunder.

Except DC won't capitalize on it. For years, they knew Wolfman had created a great teammate, if only they could figure out some way to make a solo title work...and then Dixon comes in (yes, he tweaked Dick a little, but I think it was necessary for Dick to carry his own book, and none of it took away from his wider potential). Popular character in charge of a popular team, now with his own popular book...so of course DC spends the next five years making sure he becomes a hated character in a hated team (which he hates) with his own hated book.

For them to throw Tim's recent changes in the mix is even worse. It hurts both characters. Tim had two unique characteristics (neither of which seemed a liability to his fans, but whatever): he was still living with his Normal Joe biological father (even Peter Parker lives with his aunt), and he was driven to heroism not out of personal tragedy, but because of the tragedy he saw in another hero. He became Robin because he knew that the world needed a Batman and that Batman needed a Robin.

In many ways, Tim allowed Dick to become a fully-actualized Nightwing. Because Tim's Robin was so different from Dick's, Dick didn't become sidelined as "that guy who used to be Robin but got old and isn't as 'holy catnip, Batman!' as the new kid." And because Tim never really took over as Bruce's son, the Bruce/Dick father/son love/hate relationship didn't disappear. Essentially, Dick could retain much of his iconic personality and relationships without giving it up to a "reimagined" version of himself as Robin (as Jason was). Honestly, I can't think of any other iconic pop character who has ever been replaced where both the secret ID and the mask GAINED popularity from it, as Dick and Tim did.

So yeah, turn Tim into Dick or Jason, Dick into Roy, and Bruce into some sort of freakish bowel obstruction. Didio can kill these weirdos anytime he wants. Just as long as Superboy Prime is still around and punch-happy.
Even if Dick's character has become unusable I still don't agree with Dixon deciding to kill him off. He's too deeply rooted in the DCU, the knock-on effect would have been huge. Let him stand down from Nightwing, become a background character, take up an apprenticeship with Lucius Fox - someone's going to need to take over Wayne Enterprises from Bruce just as much as someone's going to need to take over the Batman mantle, after all.
Here's a theory - not sure if it makes sense, or is just my "never cared about the Teen Titans" bias showing:

There's always been some natural tension between "Gotham City Batman" and "Justice League Batman." The guy who spends most of his time fighting non-powered crooks in Gotham also fights alien invasions and supervillains with raw power to rival Superman's? But most of the time it works, because one of Batman's defining characteristics is that his smarts and sneakiness are more or less superpowers when he's in a JLA-type setting.

But there's more of a tension between "Gotham City Dick Grayson" and "Titans Dick Grayson," because Dick *isn't* defined as "best at everything," because his mentor has that distinction.

So the difference between the two "settings" for Nightwing is more striking and noticeable?

Personally, my favorite approach to the character is Chuck Dixon's, who pretty much ignored the Titans angle. He also *didn't* write him as "Batman Junior," IMO, and the series was all about him growing into his own man, one who *isn't* Bruce Wayne. For instance, at the end of Dixon's run, Dick Grayson seemed to be heading toward the idea that maybe he could do more good as a police officer than as Nightwing. Or that Nightwing would increasingly be a secondary identity? Cool idea, I thought.
Heheh... pod of Fred Sanfords. Another tiny little gem.
Man, I thought killing off Tim's Dad was a horrible idea. I thought the fact that he had parent(s)(didn't his Dad remarry at one point?)living was a great attribute that could make for lots of story potential. Too bad. Other than that I've always hated the Tim Drake character and found him deeply dull and annoying, although from what I can tell I'm the only reader who holds this opinion. I've never found Tim to be as interesting as either Dick or Jason.

I kinda wish they'd kill Tim off rather than Dick.
Jonah -- Dude, whatever gave you the idea that we were aghast? I figured his death would have made a better story! And Kalinara's been thirsting for his blood for a while yet...
I don't understand why it would have made any difference if they killed him or not, dead superheroes come back from the dead all the time. If they killed Dick Grayson then changed their mind, you just bring him back. It's not a big deal.

Superman was dead. Green Arrow was dead. Hal Jordan was dead. In JLA #1, they even hammer home the point of how many times Red Tornado has died. And the second Robin, Jason Todd, died due to public demand. He's come back -- and he was never even as popular or significant as Dick Grayson. That's just the DC universe. Over at Marvel, you should ask how Bucky is feeling these days...

So debates over comic book characters dying is a little silly. It's not like they stay dead. Seriously, they don't.

Relax, everyone. Precedent says that a dead Dick Grayson would have been a momentary plot point, changed in the blink of an eye.
Very well written but, just for the record, Bruce adopted Dick as well, in a storyline back around 2000. I'd argue that he'll never truly become irrelevant, especially in the annals of the DCU. His time as Robin is possibly the one last reminder of a fairly carefree period, something DC has tried to distance itself from in recent years.

It was expressed best in Infinite Crisis, where Batman asks Nightwing whether the early years were "good". He responds, "The Best!".

Then, from a marketing standpoint, he's DC's third most recognizable character in the mainstream eye. So while others may temporarily take up the Robin mantle, Dick Grayson will never become irrelevant.
Truthfully, killing off Dick Grayson wouldn't do much to the DCU as of yet. He's become a pretty redundant character. I felt for him while his duration with the new Teen Titans but after going solo...he's become somewhat two dimensional.

I find myself feeling apathetic towards him. And marrying him off to his "sister" Babs would only take him back into his shell. Besides, I always preferred him with Starfire. At least she had an ounce of warmth, unlike that of frigid bitch Babs.

Dixon couldn't fix him, Devin shredded him and Jones butchered him. Best bet would be to let him go into that merry light in the sky...
Honestly, I think the problem isn't Dick, it's the writers, they didn't let him be a kid, or at least wrote it well. What I'm hoping for is a rewrite of the ORIGINAL Batman Comics from Detective Comics or the 1940 Batman. He never got a proper chance to grow up. Bruce made it too difficult. Along with Jason being an arrogant brat saying he was replacing him, he was just the Batman sidekick, Dickie is the only real Robin. What people don't understand is the fact that Dick named Robin, Robin because it was PERSONAL, so some random other kids can't just swoop in and pretend to replace him.
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