Can Nightwing rescue Bludhaven from destruction, one building at a time?
from Wizard Batman Special, 1998
You wouldn’t want to be Nightwing. Over the past 20-something years of his life, it seems he’s seen enough crises and trials to fill 20-something lifetimes, and his life is far from over.
Dick Grayson grew up as an acrobat in the circus, where he saw his parents fall to their deaths, killed by mobsters. He was taken in by Gotham City’s wealthiest citizen, Bruce Wayne, and became Robin, Batman’s cheerful young partner. He led two groups of Teen Titans, allying himself with an array of superheroes, aliens and gods. His wedding to the alien princess Koriand’r, the superheroine Starfire, was disrupted when his former Titan teammate Raven killed the minister. He’s subbed for Batman. And he’s even survived a near-fatal shooting at the hands of the Joker.
None of this fully prepared Nightwing for the utterly corrupt city of Bludhaven, his current base of operations. Out from under Batman’s, er, wing, he’s entirely on his own, with no help from the corrupt local police force. It’s almost like he’s living in Bizarro Gotham.
“It’s been a difficult transition for him,” says Nightwing editor Scott Peterson. “He knew Gotham inside and out. He knew nothing about Bludhaven. In Gotham, while some of the beat cops are corrupt, it’s incorruptible at the top, starting with Jim Gordon. In Bludhaven, the corruption starts at the top with Chief Redhorn and filters down. He’s got no allies in Bludhaven.”
Maybe his life isn’t far from over after all.
Dick ended up in Bludhaven, Gotham’s ugly sister city to the south, after 21 bodies with broken necks turned up in Gotham Harbor. Batman was too busy to investigate, so Nightwing decided to make the trip.. and stay awhile. As a result, Bludhaven has given Dick a fresh start, and an opportunity to make his own mark.
“He’s reached a point in his career where he’s proven himself,” says Nightwing writer Chuck Dixon, “He’s been Batman, he’s been the Teen Titans’ leader. He knows how good he is, and is more at ease with himself. Now he’s trying to find a place for Dick Grayson, to carve out a life for himself, not just as Batman’s ex-partner. That’s why he’s adopted Bludhaven.”
Of course, Bludhaven is an acquired taste. As Dick explained in Nightwing #1, “If it’s too coarse or too vile or too awful for Gotham, it winds up here.”
As written by Dixon and drawn by penciller Scott McDaniel, Bludhaven is more than a setting-it’s become a character in and of itself. Modeled by Dixon after Personville from Dashiel Hammett’s Red Harvest, Bludhaven is an 18th-century Germanic town that fell on hard times when the whaling and asbestos industries died.
“A highway system runs through the city, and Bludhaven grew up around it,” explains McDaniel, who studied turn-of-the-century New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia when designing Bludhaven. “There’s a half-dozen high-rise buildings, with no one dominant style of architecture. I was told to make it look old, rundown and rat-infested. It makes Gotham look good by comparison.”
Despite its less-than-friendly trappings, Dick is trying to make a home in Bludhaven. He’s moved into an apartment, where he regularly flirts with the building’s superintendent, Bridget Clancy. The former millionaire’s ward has also found a day job as a bartender at Hogan’s Alley, a cop bar that allows Dick to secretly gather information.
His nights, however, still belong to Nightwing. And he’s started making his presence felt among the Bludhaven underworld. Nightwing helped weed out Inspector Dudley “Deadly” Soames, the corrupt Bludhaven cop who played him, the police and the rest of Bludhaven’s criminal elements against each other. He also brought down Roland Desmond, a.k.a. Blockbuster, the would-be crime boss of Bludhaven.
And, unlike some children who grow up to repeat their parents’ mistakes, Dixon adds that Dick’s hardly a carbon copy of his mentor. “Nightwing’s not so grim, and is capable of having a life as Dick Grayson,” he says. “Nightwing became the happy-go-lucky Robin almost in contrast to Batman. It was his way of saying, ‘I don’t want to be like this guy.”‘
“The underworld of Bludhaven knows they have someone just as bad as Batman in their town,” says Dixon, who also writes Robin, Detective Comics and Green Arrow. “But Nightwing knows he’s got to get these guys on a federal case before he can put any of them away.”
The fall-of-Blockbuster storyline also saw a reunion between Nightwing and his former mentor, Batman. The occasion allowed Bruce and Dick to smooth out their sometimes-contentious relationship.
“He and Batman are on good terms,” says Dixon. “Dick’s always imagined that he’s been continually judged by Batman, because Bruce isn’t the type to say ‘Good job.’ After Nightwing#15, Dick knows where he stands with Batman. There’s absolute, mutual respect between the two. That’s not to say they won’t have disagreements in the future. Dick regularly disagrees with things Batman does procedurally.”
Peterson agrees, attributing their occasional squabbles to their parent/child relationship. “Their relationship is very much like a lot of fathers and sons,” says Peterson.
“Even in a good relationship, there’s always some tension there, The son is always thinking, ‘Am I living up to my father’s ideals?’ Bruce is not a demonstrative person, and Dick is always looking for that validation. But things won’t backslide, at least for the foreseeable future,”
One “family” relationship that remains healthy is that between Dick and his successor as Robin, Tim Drake, whom Dick has befriended in almost a brotherly manner. “His relationship with Tim is like older brother and younger brother,” says Dixon. “That was really apparent when Dick filled in as Barman. I really like that relationship,”
From boy wonder to mature adult, and from student to mentor, Dick’s come a long way. And Dixon knows he owes a debt of gratitude to the writers who have helped develop the hero during his nearly 50-year career. “Dick’s evolved to this point,” he says. “I couldn’t write my Dick Grayson without other writers’ Dick Graysons. It’s a logical next step for him to find his own home base,”
And bringing that Dick Grayson to life each month is McDaniel, in his first full-time DC assignment. Besides creating the dark, harsh world of Bludhaven, McDaniel focuses on certain elements when drawing Nightwing.
“Everything Dick does is very graceful, with natural fluidity of movement,” says McDaniel, whose previous stints include Marvel’s Daredevil, Elektra: Root of Evil and Green Goblin. “His fighting style is best described as Jackie Chan-like. I try to get a lot of movement and energy into the fighting sequences. Also, he’s a great-looking guy, so I try to make him look as handsome and yet still manly as possible, since he’s not a pretty boy.”
SHAKING THINGS UP
Nightwing returns to Gotham during the upcoming “Cataclysm” crossover. While working at Hogan’s Alley, he hears about the massive earthquake that hits Gotham City and heads north to help sort out the ensuing chaos in issues #19-#20. As he travels to Wayne Manor, he rescues people trapped in a bus that’s fallen into a closing crevice. When he finally makes it to the mansion, he finds Alfred trapped, with Bruce nowhere to be found.
McDaniel enjoys the chaos, particularly a scene in issue #19 in which not-so-stately Wayne Manor has collapsed into the Batcave, and Robin and Nightwing are standing on the edge of a gaping hole, looking down. “Man, I love to draw destruction,” he says. “I’m having a blast. I’m really jazzed about the upcoming issues.”
McDaniel will get his chance to draw even more devastation in Nightwing #21, when Nightwing returns to BlUdhaven to see what damage the quake has wrought. “Bludhaven is far south of the epicenter, and doesn’t get nearly as much damage,” says Dixon. “But, because of corruption and payoffs, the buildings in BlUdhaven were all built below code, so the quake resulted in more destruction than it should have.” Among those buildings is Dick’s apartment building, which is in danger of collapsing. So, to save his new home, Dick quietly buys the building with money from his trust fund and begins rebuilding it.
Does this mean a new career for Nightwing? Of sorts. As its new owner, Dick becomes the building’s landlord and must contend with a couple of interesting tenants. Among them is the elderly John Law, who was the Golden Age superhero known as The Tarantula. Law’s seen Bludhaven’s steady decline over the past 20 years, and provides Dick with a window into the city’s history. “We’ll see a little bit of John Law’s past, but it’s not an integral part of the book,” says Peterson. Besides being a voice of the past, Law will also provide Dick with faith in the city’s future, a future that’ll grow increasingly complicated.
A new apartment-dweller is Amygdala, the gargantuan, superstrong former Bat-villain and Arkham inmate who possesses the mind of a child and becomes easily, destructively enraged- that is, unless he’s “medicated.” “He has a Norplant-type device, which gives him medicine every six months so he can act like a normal person,” explains Dixon. He’ll stay reformed as long as he gets his medicine, adds Peterson, who says, “He’s mainly there as local color. He’s a complicating factor in Dick’s life, as he may fall in love with Clancy.”
Also, in issue #21, the unstable, would-be vigilante Tad, who’s been waging his own war against Bludhaven’s undesirables, unveils his “hero” costume and goes out on a disastrous first patrol. While inspired by the exploits of his mentor Law, he’s under-prepared and ends up in the hospital. The story arc carries over into issue #22, when a rumor sweeps through Bludhaven that it’s Nightwing who’s in the hospital dying. Dick must then protect the seriously injured Tad from everyone who wants to see Nightwing dead. “That issue will tie up the Tad subplot for now, but it’s ongoing,” says Dixon. “No one’s ever going to see where it’s going if I do it right.”
Nightwing#23 will be the middle book in a five-issue crossover between Nightwing, Green Arrow, Detective Comics and Robin that spotlights the Cult of the Monkey Hand, DC’s top martial-arts organization. Issue #24 takes a break from multi-parters with a story about a cop, a regular at Hogan’s Alley, who’s about to retire after years on the force. He’s got one unsolved case nagging at him, and Nightwing secretly helps him solve it.
Also in the works is a four-issue Nighwing ond Huntress mini-series by Devin Grayson, Greg Land and Bill Sienkiewicz, beginning in March. Set continuity-wise before the quake, it’ll explore the two heroes’ relationship.
“They’re both young, intelligent, driven superheroes,” says Peterson. “Huntress is a darker vigilante than Batman, and is actually more obsessed than he is when it comes to punishing criminals. In the mini-series, while investigating an apparent mob hit, Nightwing and Huntress find an extremely strong attraction brewing between them. But, despite the attraction, the relationship isn’t made to last.”
Nightwing #24-27 will pick up where the mini-series leaves off, when Huntress follows a Mafioso to BlUdhaven and again hooks up with Nightwing The heroes decide they must set their differences aside and work together, despite the lingering tension between them. The reunion also makes Dick reexamine his crimefighting tactics.
“Their relationship makes things more interesting, and leads Dick to question his entire approach and how he views the system,” says Peterson. “He wonders if he’s coming at crimefighting from the right angle, and whether he needs a totally new approach, to battle injustice from another perspective.”
This arc also marks the reemergence of Dudley Soames as a major threat to Bludhaven’s status quo. Although Peterson doesn’t want to reveal too much about upcoming plans for Soames (who survived his head getting twisted backwards by Blockbuster), he says, “He’ll definitely be seeking revenge on Blockbuster, and also will assert his presence in the underworld.”
Nightwing and Robin will reunite in issue #28 when they go out for a night of training, and end up reflecting upon where they are in their lives and their past relationships. And Nightwing #29-#30 closes out the year by introducing two female villains, sisters named Double Dare, who are Nightwing’s acrobatic equals and, hints Dixon, possible romantic interests. “Nightwing won’t exactly welcome their presence, but it won’t be your standard Batman/Joker relationship,” adds Peterson. “They’ll be a permanent member of Nightwing’s rogues gallery/cast of characters.”
That’s as far as Nightwing’s engraved in stone, although Peterson hints that Dick may be looking to change jobs in the near future. And don’t be surprised if Nightwing’s old “buddy” Azrael comes to Bludhaven for a visit. Scheduled for early in year three, the reunion could mark a reconciliation of sorts.
“Things aren’t particularly good between them, but it’s not as bad as other people perceive it,” explains Peterson. “They’re not best friends. But Nightwing accepts that his problem was with Bruce, not Jean Paul. He realizes Jean Paul has made some serious mistakes, but that he’s made up for them, in Dick’s view.”
With all this keeping him busy, Dick’s slowly learning that, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. He’s even beginning to get his finger on the pulse of Bludhaven, as much as anyone can. “He’s finally learning to understand Bludhaven’s rules, which is to expect the unexpected,” says Dixon.
And most importantly, according to Peterson, he’s making a difference on his own.
“He’s starting to understand the political structure, says Peterson. “He’s gone from being completely in the dark to being known and feared by the underworld. He’s gotten out of Batman’s shadow as much as it’s possible to.”
Chuck Dixon tells us what Nightwing thinks of his fellow Batcast…
[Wizard Batman Special, 1998]
BATMAN: “He’s the father figure to Dick, who is still a little awestruck by him, and has all the respect in the world for him.”
ROBIN: “He’s like a little brother to him. Dick worries about him because he’s going through the part of life Dick’s already been through.”
AZRAEL: “Of all the Bat characters, Dick has the harshest view of him. Dick thinks he’s a nutcase, and that Batman should never have gotten involved with him.”
CATWOMAN: “He’s attracted to dangerous women, and Catwoman definitely is that, so he tries to keep her at arm’s length.”
INSPECTOR SOAMES: “Dick sees him as a parasite. More than anyone else, he represents everything that’s wrong with Bludhaven.”
COMMISSIONER GORDON: “He’s the second toughest guy in Gotham. Nightwing has the utmost respect for him, and wishes there were someone like him in Bludhaven.”
[Wizard Batman Special, 1998]
As a possible romance with Huntress awaits, it’s hard to believe that Dick Grayson’s only been involved with a handful of women over the years. They include:
1. BRIDGET CLANCY: Dick’s landlord in Bludhaven, Bridget’s a Hong Kong native who speaks with an Irish brogue. She’s been putting the moves on Dick for some time. However, the two haven’t had a proper date yet. It seems Dick’s had his hands full playing bartender and saving the city every night.
2. EMILY WASHBURN: Suspected of being a black widow murderess, Dick married Emily to learn the truth.. and fell in love. He soon discovered her innocence and told her the marriage wasn’t legal. When Dick wanted to continue the relationship, she rejected him, believing he didn’t really love her.
3. MIGGIE WEBSTER: Dick and Miggie met when Nighiwing saved her from kidnappers. The ensuing romance was cut short, however, when it became clear Miggie hired the kidnappers to get her abusive father’s attention, and just wanted to hang at Dick’s place to avoid going home to mean old dad.
4. STARFIRE: Dick and Starfire met in the New Teen Titans, where they fell in love and enjoyed a long-running relationship. They almost married, but the ceremony was disrupted when Raven’s evil soulself attacked. Soon after, Dick quit the Titans. Traumatized, Starfire returned to her home planet Tamaran, and they haven’t reunited since.
5. DONNA TROY: In a recent issue of Nightwing, Dick appears to be married to Donna! However, it was only a Scarecrow toxin-induced hallucination. Although a possible romance has been hinted at for a long time, they’re both recovering from traumatic breakups and continue to remain close friends.
6. BARBARA GORDON: Dick and Babs have always been attracted to each other, but never really dated. The two continue to collaborate as the now-crippled Barbara frequently uses her computer skills to get information for Nightwing. They also flirt shamelessly, leaving the door open for a possible romance in the future.
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.