From Robin to Nightwing to Batman, we take a look at the many alter-egos of Bruce Wayne’s ward.
If they called a vote for “the sidekick most likely to succeed”, Dick Grayson would win hands down. While most sidekicks are there to complement the hero and provide support, dynamism and even comic relief in the partnership, being the perfect sidekick can also be a career-limiting move.
Case in point, Falcon (Captain America), Speedy (Green Arrow), Aqualad (Aquaman, duh), and the “eternal sidekick” – Rick Jones, who has been a pillar for the Hulk, a body double for Bucky, and a host-body for Captain Marvell!
Sadly, most sidekicks never live up to their true potential, and often struggle to carve a niche of their own.
This brings us back to Dick, whose career development is presently undergoing yet another upheaval, post-Forever Evil. Despite being the original Robin, ex-leader and co-founder of the Teen Titans, and even taking over the Bat-mantle once, he still seems to be considered “expendable” by the powers-that-be at DC.
The recent publication of Grayson #1 (reviewed elsewhere on this page) marks another change in the character’s status quo – instead of a superhero, he is now a superspy working for secret spy organisation Spyral!
Personally, Dick Grayson’s transition from superhero to superspy feels like a demotion of sorts for the character. To highlight why we think he deserves a better future, here is a look at his glorious past.
The original Robin
Richard John “Dick” Grayson made his debut in the pages of Detective Comics #38 back in April 1940, the youngest member of The Flying Graysons, a family of circus acrobats. Dick’s parents were killed after their trapeze snapped (the result of sabotage by gangsters led by one Tony Zucco). Bruce Wayne, taking pity on the young orphan, took him in as his legal ward and gave him a new lease of life as Robin, the Boy Wonder.
Ignoring the fact that Batman pretty much placed the 11-year-old’s (later ret-conned to 16) life in danger by dressing him up like a colourful human target, Robin’s presence was meant to inject some life into Gotham’s dark and gritty environment. As Robin, he helped to soften the Batman’s stone-faced façade, thus putting the, er, “man” in “Batman”. Apart from humanising Batman, Robin was also an attempt by Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger to make their comic appeal more to the younger generation.
For more than three decades, the Dynamic Duo not only made Gotham a safer place to visit, but were also instrumental in saving the world numerous times. There were even a number of occasions when Robin managed to out-think, outsmart and even out-play his mentor – which proved his potential to ascend to a bigger leadership role.
Leader of Titans
Initially conceived as a clubhouse for sidekicks to earn their stripes while their mentors save the world, the Teen Titans gradually evolved into a force to be reckoned with. Having continuously featured alongside Batman in the 1940s and 1950s, Robin’s escapades took a new twist in 1964’s The Brave And The Bold #54, as he led a “JLA Junior” team (with Aqualad and Kid Flash) against villain Mr Twister. The team was further reinforced with the additions of Speedy and Wonder Girl – the team’s first breakthrough coming in a mission where they freed their mind-controlled mentors.
The Teen Titans really came into their own in the 1980s, via Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s groundbreaking New Teen Titans run. Instead of merely supporting their mentors, the Titans found themselves in the big leagues, saving the world from the likes of Trigon, and even taking time off to address social issues such as homelessness and runaways.
It was here that Dick Grayson’s ascension from sidekick to leader took place. During the Teen Titans/Batman & The Outsiders crossover (New Teen Titans #37 and Batman & The Outsiders #5), the Boy Wonder proved beyond doubt that he’s his own man. Having grown older and wiser thanks to his time leading the Titans, Dick eventually had a falling out with Bruce, which eventually led to him retiring as Robin and taking up a new persona ... Nightwing!
New Teen Titans #39 will always be remembered as the issue where Dick Grayson shed his worn, colourful Robin suit. Leaving the team together with Kid Flash, Dick expresses his desire to “grow up a bit”, and gave up the Robin mantle. He later rejoins the team, and makes his debut as Nightwing in Tales Of The Teen Titans #44, naming himself after a Kandorian hero of the same name.
As Nightwing, Dick continued to lead the Titans, but suffered a major setback when his relationship with Starfire hit the rocks. While that didn’t spell the end of his association with the Titans, it was the first in a string of incidents (including Bane crippling Batman) that gradually prepared him to step up.
In 1995, Nightwing finally went solo via the spin-off Nightwing: Alfred’s Return, which was followed by another four-part miniseries. Both comics generated positive response, kick-starting a monthly solo series that also gave Nightwing a new playground, Bludhaven (Gotham’s neighbouring municipality).
For more than 150 issues, Nightwing proved that he was more than capable of protecting his turf and holding his own. Then, came the day that Batman “died”.
Becoming the Bat
After Bruce Wayne caught a seemingly fatal Omega Beam at the end of Final Crisis, there was a huge Batman-shaped hole in the DC Universe for a while. In the Battle Of The Cowl miniseries, Dick initially refused to take up the cowl, but after fighting and defeating an impostor Batman (who turned out to be another former Robin, Jason Todd), he finally accepted the role.
Having previously stood in for the Dark Knight in the Prodigal story arc, Dick fitted into the Dark Knight role perfectly. He had to also mentor a new Boy Wonder, Damian Wayne – Bruce’s son with Talia Al’ Ghul.
Having graduated from Bruce’s school of hard knocks himself, Dick applied the opposite approach towards Damian. With the lad having trained with the League of Assassins, Dick had to adopt a lighter and more humane method in nurturing the new Robin’s potential. As a result, we had a cooler and calmer Dark Knight, paired with a cruel and merciless Boy Wonder.
During his stint as Batman, Dick displayed a different sort of leadership – that of a parent. In fact, Bruce should feel indebted to his ward, as it was Dick who succeeded in sowing the seeds of humanity in Damian, eventually eradicating the mean streak in his behaviour.
Eventually, Bruce did return to the cowl (he was only lost in time, not dead – how convenient), and Dick went back to being Nightwing, even when DC rebooted their entire universe with the New 52.
Surviving the New 52
With the creation of the New 52, Nightwing (albeit a younger 21-year-old version, not the late-20s version in the old universe) was given a new direction as well as a new supporting cast. Among the new additions were blasts from the past. Dick not only inherited the deed to Haley’s Circus (which the Flying Graysons worked for), but also rekindled his childhood romance with fellow acrobat Raya Vestri.
Dick’s back-story gained even more depth during the Court Of Owls crossover event involving all the Bat-books. There, he found out that the current Talon (undead assassins employed by the ruthless Court of Owls) was none other than his great-grandfather William Cobb, and that Dick himself was once earmarked as a potential Talon.
The most notable blast from the past, however, was the return of Tony Zucco, the mobster who killed Dick’s parents, and the introduction of Zucco’s daughter Sonia, which added more venom to his development.
Of course, all of that counts for nothing in the aftermath of the Forever Evil event, in which Dick was captured and tortured by the Crime Syndicate, had his secret identity revealed to the world, and during the event’s finale, was literally killed, then brought back to life by Lex Luthor.
With Dick’s cover blown and the guy presumed dead, Batman gave him a new assignment – infiltrate the secret spy organisation called Spyral!
One thing’s for sure – the sight of a mask-less Nightwing will take some getting used to. Also, judging from the bleak track record of past DC covert organisations (Checkmate, Cadmus, etc), I’m optimistic that “Grayson” will be back in the Bat family sooner rather than later.