From Out of the Shadow of the Bat, Dick Grayson Flies on his Own as Nightwing
An Interview with Chuck Dixon – from Wizard #72, October 1997 – An Article by Scott Brick
Robin is History…
Dick Grayson isn’t The Boy Wonder anymore. He isn’t “Batman’s old sidekick” either or ‘Bruce Wayne’s young ward” or leader of the Teen Titans or any of the stuff he used to be. He’s his own man now, smashing heads in a new town usc down the river from Gotham City. He’s sporting a new name, and finally swring in his own self-titled book-Nightwing.
Nightwing? If the original Robin needed an upgrade to make him a ’90s kinda guy, why not make him Robin, the Post-Adolescent Wonder? The Adult Wonder? Even the Geriatric Wonder? (He is 67, after all. He was 10 when Robin first debuted in 1940, so you do the math.) How did Grayson’s 57-year journey through adoleacence cake him from being Robin to Nightwing? And, more importantly, why give him his own book now?
He was the most popular character in the DC Universe without his own series,” says Chuck Dixon, Nightwing’s writer. “We’d get letters, constantly saying, ‘When is he going to get his own book?’ I think we waited until the proper time, until he was back in the Bat-fold. He’s got a great past and he comes to his own book with all that history.”
As a child, Grayson watched his parents plummet to their deaths, their trapeze act sabotaged by mobsters. Taken in by millionaire Bruce Wayne, who obviously saw his own parents’ murder reflected in the boy’s eyes, Grayson donned the red, yellow and green of Robin, the Boy Wonder.
For 44 years (in our time anyway), Grayson was a constant in Batman’s life, going to school by day, but learning the most valuable information by night-how to throw his shoulder into a punch for maximum effect, how to anticipate the Joker’s next move or how to survive a 10-story drop when his Batrope breaks. While Batman struck terror into the hearts of criminals, Robin scoffed at danger as the laughing, fighting young daredevil.
But the partnership came to a screeching halt when, at 19, Robin was shot by the Joker. Batman overreacted by firing his partner, claiming he could no longer put a child in jeopardy. So Grayson moved out on his own, soon becoming leader of the newest incarnation of the Teen Titans.
Something was wrong, though. Still wearing the Robin costume after splitting with Bat-man, everyone still saw him as a sidekick. So, in 1984, after four decades of wearing green Speedos, Grayson became Nightwing.
Years later, Grayson would try to wed his teammate and longtime girlfriend, the incredibly gorgeous alien Starfire. Shortly after, his leadership of the Teen Titans got yanked away by the government taskforce Checkmate and given to one of his oldest friends, Roy Harper, a.ka. Arsenal (formerly Speedy). To make matters worse, Grayson and Starfire soon broke up. Suddenly, Grayson was all alone, convinced he was a loser. Then, while Wayne was busy healing that little broken back problem of his in 1993’s epic story “Knightfall,” he asked a newcomer named Azrael to substitute for him as Batman. Even after all those years, Grayson still wasn’t Wayne’s first choice – talk about kicking a guy when he’s down.
Realizing his mistake, Wayne kicked Azrael’s butt and asked his former ward to step into the Batboots. During 1994’s “Prodigal” storyline, Grayson finally graduated-the original Boy Wonder became Batman, with the new Robin, Timothy Drake, by his side. “We got to see Dick Grayson as Batman,” says Dixon with infectious enthusiasm, “We got to see that he had the chops. That was no surprise to the readers, though. They knew he could do it.”
Grayson succeeded as a temporary Batman, but afterwards, he was still in Wayne’s enormous shadow. Despite the name and costume change, people still judged him as Batman’s former sidekick. Those who managed to avoid calling him Robin out of habit always threw in a disclaimer. He was Nightwing, Batman’s old partner.
Well, not any more. Since getting his own series Nightwing’s become his own man. Dixon emphasizes, “[Grayson’s] not going to have a Batcave 30 miles out of town. He’s not going to have a Batmobile. He’s going to cry to blend into the city, to camouflage himself more. He takes an entirely different approach. When you read Nightwing, it’s not Batman Junior. This is a completely different guy.”
His ego fueled by his success as Batman, Grayson is now fighting crime in a new city, Bludhaven, a miserable dive just south of Gotham. Why the change? Says artist Scott McDaniel, “You’ve got to get him away from Batman. He’s always going to be in Batman’s shadow if he’s working in Gotham; he won’t get any respect.
To go along with the new city, Nightwing’s got an updated crimefighting style, relying more on Grayson’s circus background than on Batarangs and Batropes. He doesn’t swing down from rooftops anymore, he just ricochets between alley walls until he hits the ground. “To tell the story,” says McDaniel, “you have to remember that the acrobatic part of his background is integral to who he is today. Even the things that don’t call for specific gymnastic maneuvers, he’ll do with incredible grace and fluidity.”
To capture the right mood for Nightwing’s new digs, McDaniel draws from what he calls his Nightwing Folder. This four-inch thick binder, filled with photo references of 1950s New York, serves as inspiration for Bludhaven, a city that visually exudes corruption. “It just looks so old, decrepit and worn out,” says McDaniel. “It just feels like Bludhaven.”
Grayson originally came to Bludhaven to solve the mystery of 21 corpses that floated north into Gotham Harbor, soon realizing he’s completely out of his element. There’s no Batman to rely on here, no Commissioner Gordon, no stoolies for information and no Alfred to bring him milk and cookies. Nightwing couldn’t be happier. Grayson, on the other hand…
“He’s back in fighting trim, he’s pretty confident in what he does, but his personal life is still a mess,” says Dixon. “He doesn’t know who Dick Grayson is anymore.”
So who is Grayson? With a childhood so similar to Bruce’s, you’d think he’d would be more like Batman, but he’s not. “He grew up seeing this brooding, self-tormented guy all the time,” says Dixon. “Sometimes you see things your parents did and you go, ‘I’m not going to be like that.’ I think Dick made a conscious effort to say, ‘I’m not going to let it eat me alive the way Bruce has.’ He’s not as uncomfortable being Dick Grayson as Batman is being Bruce Wayne.
“Dick Grayson is not that much of a masquerade,” continues Dixon, “whereas Bruce Wayne is a complete sham. Dick Grayson can let off steam. He can lighten up a little bit. Dick knows that you gotta take the costume off once in a while and just go to a movie.”
While the distance between Grayson and Wayne has grown in terms of miles, it’s dwindled emotionally. Grayson is now a trusted soldier in Wayne’s fight against the enemy army; whenever Batman needs him, Nightwing is there. Recently they even managed to admit they love one another like father and son. Even though, in all their bitterness and angst, all they could manage to tall it was “the L-word.”
“I think their relationship is like a lot of parent/child relationships where Bruce just feels Dick is stronger than that,” says Dixon, “that he didn’t need those kind of reassurances, when every child does. Bruce always thinks he’s going to insult Dick by saying things like that,”
Moving to Bludhaven has done wonders for Nightwing, surprising when you consider just how diseased a place it is. Chief Redhorn rules the police force with a well-greased palm. His right-hand man, Dudley Soames, plays several sides against the middle, doing the Chiefs dirty work, but also working for super-strong genius Blockbuster, an old Batman villain vying to take over as Bludhaven’s new crime boss. Whatever happens with Blockbuster, it seems likely Soames will land on his feet. “Soames is evolving into a major villain,” says Dixon. “He’ll come out of his cocoon into something completely different.”
So what’s to keep Grayson from heading back upriver when the Bludhaven mystery gets solved? Well, there’s his landlord, Bridget Clancy, who seems likely to cake over as his lady love. But the challenge of being the Batman of a different city also appeals to Grayson. Says Dixon, “He sees this town is rotten to the core, and has no one to protect it.
Everybody in Bludhaven is a predator. There’s no one there to protect the innocents. There’s no Commissioner Gordon or Harvey Bullock or Huntress or Robin. He’s alone, and if he leaves, he’s left the town worse than when he arrived.” Nightwing will also have his very own rogues gallery soon. Says Dixon, “There’s a pair of twin female acrobats called Double Dare who will give Nightwing a run for his money in more departments than one. We’ve got Man-Bat showing up, just because I like Man-Bat and I can’t wait to see Scott McDaniel draw him. Along with Man-Bat comes Deathstroke The Terminator, and a housing project cop named Cisco Blaine. The readers are going to have so make up their minds about him.”
There will also be key appearances by some of Grayson’s old friends, and possibly lovers as well. “We’ll see a lot of [the Teen Titans] show up in Nightwing,” says Dixon. “But pretty much, we wanted to establish him in his own continuity, his own book, his own setting, and not coo many ties to the past. Starting off fresh.”
Batman will ultimately come down to Bludhaven and discover the city’s in good hands. Says Dixon, “Nightwing thinks, ‘Batman thinks I’m screwing up and he’s here to back me up.’ Nightwing resents it, but that really isn’t why Batman’s there at all. We work through all those issues, and he comes out of that story feeling a lot better about himself and his relationship with Batman and Bruce Wayne. He wants Bludhaven to be his own town, and he proves so Batman that Bludhaven isn’t Gocham. It’s a whole different thing and he has a handle on it, as much as you can have a handle on a town like Bludhaven.”
So if Nightwing isn’t Robin, and he isn’t Batman Jr., then what is he? According to Dixon, he’s a Prince Regent assigned by the king (Batman) to rule an outlaw province. “I don’t know where that reference came from, but it works,” he says. “I just began to think of Dick as a Prince. After all, he’s heir so the throne.”
A Tale of Two Cities
Nightwing may’ve been Batman’s partner in the past, but he’s since gone his own way, moving to Bludhaven. Located down river from Gotham City, Bludhaven is just as seedy, if not seedier. So Wizard decided to put the two cities on the block and compare ’em. Where’d we rather live? Let’s just say Metropolis is looking real good right about now.
GOTHAM CITY: A Gothic nightmare. Long shadows, no matter the time of day.
BLUDHAVEN: Gotham’s ugly sister city. Children’s cries go ignored.
GOTHAM CITY: Relatively safe in daytime. Crime rules the streets at night. Avoid alleyways.
BLUDHAVEN: Pray your car doesn’t break down. Police get a percentage of every heist.
GOTHAM CITY: Batman is Commissioner Gordon’s oldest friend.
BLUDHAVEN: Chief Redhorn ordered Nightwing’s death.
GOTHAM CITY: Founded by Solomon Wayne. A financial community rivaling New York and Metropolis.
BLUDHAVEN: Originally a whaling town. Later became Asbestos Town, U.S.A.
GOTHAM CITY: Designed by architect Cyrus Pinkaey. A living entity to repel evil. Gargoyles frighten people onto paths of righteousness. Rounded edges confuse malevolent beings. Windowless facades lock in virtue.
BLUDHAVEN: Nothing built to last. Too much sand mixed into the cement. Neighborhoods shadowed by massive highways – a reminder to get out of town.
Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since.