Friday, April 28, 2006

The problem with Nightwing is "Nightwing"

A shout out and thanks to my friends and colleagues Kalinara and Vincent Murphy at Spandex Justice, whose recent discussions about "Nightwing" have inspired me to chime on this multiblog debate, which isn't really something I do often. The reason I want to chime in about Nightwing is that I couldn't be less interested in him.

That's right, I'm not interested in Nightwing at all. More on that later. But first, the passage from Vincent's blog that moved me:

I want to return Nightwing to the original vision, as George Perez outlined back when he and Marv Wolfman created the character:

“I want to make him a swashbuckler, an acrobat, an incredibly good fighter. In many ways, he’s the Titans’ answer to Captain America. I want to make him happy-go-lucky, bring back the enjoyment of adventure that he had. One thing I liked that Marv did in issue #39 was how openly Dick speaks his affection to Koriand’r now, calling her ‘m’Iove’ and everything, making passes at her right in front of everybody with absolutely no worries anymore. The hang-ups are disappearing. He’s not going to be that morose character he had been in trying to find his identity. Now he’s found it. Now we’re going to use Dick Grayson the way we want to use him, utilizing both his detective and acrobatic skills.”

What Perez said just made me laugh, although it should have made me cry. Maybe I haven't read the right stuff, but nothing could be farther from that description than my perception of how "Nightwing" has been portrayed. Happy-go-lucky? No worries? Hang-ups disappearing? Utilizing his detective skills?

That's certainly what I would like to see, but I didn't think there was any of that in the Titans. Happy-go-lucky; Titans. I find it hard to even put them in the same sentence.

Vincent, George, and I appear to want the same thing out of Dick Grayson. I think the reason we haven't seen it is contained in something that Vincent said: "when he and Marv Wolfman created the character."

Ah ha. Perhaps that's the problem: the perception of Nightwing as "a Titans character created by Wolfman and Perez."

Face it: "Titans characters created by Wolfman and Perez" are, by definition, soap opera characters, doomed to self-doubt, personal conflict, emotional monologues. As long as Nightwing is perceived by readers or writers as "a Titans character created by Wolfman and Perez", we're going to be getting, not the external Drama of Starman, but the internal Melodrama of the Avengers. No wonder I'm not interested in "Nightwing".

"Nightwing" is a costume. Dick Grayson was not created by Wolfman and Perez. Dick Grayson was the Sensational Character Find of 1940.

Nightwing, "the Titans' answer to Captain America"? Oh no. No, no, no. I do appreciate what Perez means, but that very way of thinking is the heart of the problem. Dick Grayson doesn't need to be the answer to anybody, folks. He's the original sidekick, that laughing young daredevil.

If writers and readers spent a little more time re-reading some Golden and Silver Age Batman stories, maybe they'd start thinking of Nightwing more as "the man Robin grew up to be" and less "the man who used to be Robin".

A subtle difference? I don't think so. A lot of wild stuff happened in Infinite Crisis, but the "moment" I'll remember longest is when Batman asks Dick Grayson whether he enjoyed his adolescence as Robin. Dick's happy answer, "It was the best!", was the highlight of that issue, perhaps the entire series, because for a brief moment we were allowed to see Nightwing as "the man Robin grew up to be" instead of "the man who used to be Robin". I'll wager most of us liked that moment and that's what we really want to see from "Nightwing".

Batman can do still do most of the stuff he did in Golden and Silver Age stories (except, perhaps, crack wise). Read one of those stories, and (except for the wisecracks) it's easy to picture today's Batman doing the same kinds of things. But read old Robin stories and try to picture Nightwing doing some of the things Robin does. Robin does brilliant detective work. Robin is a master of disguise. Robin speaks rudimentary Inuit. Robin plays the accordion and can sing. Robin acts in school plays. Robin can do a puppet show. Robin can fake death using a golf ball and knows the chemical composition of the average pocketwatch.

Again, maybe I'm not reading the right stuff, but all I've ever seen Nightwing do is martial arts hoo-ha and lots of somersaults. I certainly find it hard to picture him peering into a microscope, speaking Inuit, or playing the accordion, things that he used to do -- with ease -- when he was Robin. He was the Boy Wonder. He wasn't the best at anything, but he was very good at everything.

If you want Dick Grayson to be great again, ease up on that "Matt Murdock" vibe and give him back some of the "Terry Sloane" mojo he used to have as a boy. Heaven knows, Michael Holt shows no signs of becoming "happy-go-lucky", which was one of the nicest things about the original Mr. Terrific; why not let the adult Robin take on that aspect, as he has every right to?

For that matter, let Nightwing be the happy civic Batman of the 1950s and 1960s. Why not? There's still interest in that kind of hero and Dick Grayson, by his own admission, had a happy childhood with the goddam Batman (except for, you know, watching his parents plummet to their deaths as pulpy bags of broken bones). Give him a platinum police badge encrusted with diamonds and maybe he'll finally get some male readers, too, or (Wertham forbid!) even some kid readers. Wouldn't Nightwing work well as "the Batman safe for kids"?

But, no, someone decided at some point that in order to take Nightwing seriously he had to be even grimmer and grittier than Batman. Absurd. "Bludhaven"; I mean, really. Were "Crimetown" and "Corruption City" already copyrighted elsewhere? Thank goodness "Sin City" was taken ... . I guess it was all for the same reason Wally had to be faster than Barry, Kyle more powerful than Hal, and Connor a better fighter than Ollie.

Here's my two cents. The best thing you do can do for Nightwing is to stop writing him. Write Dick Grayson instead.

42 comments:

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Y'dern tootin'!

Though they should keep him in Bludhaven. Imagine the laughing, brilliant daredevil hero meting out justice and hope in the DC Universe equivalent of Newark. Make him the one man the city can't wear down or defeat.

Plus, any fictional city with the heavy metal umlaut in its name merits preservation. [bangs head]Dood! Rawk![/bangs head]

Chris Fung said...

Hmm you know scip that would work. I like Harvey's idea as well. It'd be neat to see a happy-go-lucky hero who laughs in the face of the gritty, crime riddled society he lives in.

Comics don't have to be all grim and depressing. There's room for a hero who takes his job seriously yet is aware of the absurdities of being a vigilante in spandex.

A return to the light hearted beginnings of Dick Grayson would be a fabulous way attract younger readers and maybe even bringing in some older readers with nostalgia for a time when heroes were proud to do a civic duty.

That's my take at least.

David C said...

IMO, Chuck Dixon's Nightwing was most definitely "the man Robin grew up to be."

Mike Loughlin said...

Why did I drop Nightwing after 3 issues, even though everyone and their brothers liked it? The book was boring. I think you've identified why I never read it for any period of time.

I like Batman. I don't like sort-of Batman, only a little nicer except when he's not. Daredevil, Moon Knight, and a few other characters have some Batman-like qualities, but are different enough to stand out. Nightwing just can't escape Batman's shadow.
It's a shame, because Grown-Up Dick Grayson could be a great read.

Chuck T. said...

Perhaps Nightwing should be a more public face than the "urban legend" of Batman. (I don't buy that aspect of Batman either, he's been seen by the public many, many times!) But I could see Nightwing working in the daytime, or doing charity events for kids, or taking a public stance for superheroes; things that Batman couldn't do (even if the writers are moving the character away from moody asshole.)

kyle said...

To me, Nightwing is always, first and foremost, a Batman-analog who battled crime in the Bottled City of Kandor.

I like the Terry Sloane analogy. Heck, check out the similar color schemes of Robin and the original Mr. Terrific -- can someone get Blockade Boy on a fusion of the two?

Anonymous said...

Dick Grayson is the third member of the World's Finest Team. This seems to me to say it all. I guess I get making him confused and moody in his 20's, I appreciate that if he wants to get out of his mentor's shadow, part of that is making mistakes and taking responsibility for them. I even appreciate the idea that "he has become his father in spite of himself," but for god's sake, move on. This has been going on for 20 years. He's not a developing character anymore. He has developed.

In all fairness, there is a problem with writing him the way we all agree he should be written. The greater Nightwing looks, the worse Tim Drake looks by comparison. The Batman family dynamic isn't a duo anymore. They have to parcel out who gets to be good at what, now.

Steven said...

I agree with Harvey that the laughing daredevil in a gritty city is a good way to go with the characters, and I agree with David C. that the Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel Nightwing run was everything I wanted from the character. Crazy, acrobatic action sequences (the helocopter theft of a bank was a highlight), surreal villains (Torque was ridiculous, but not moreso than Two-Face) and one of the most trippy encounters with Scarecrow I've ever read. It wasn't as much fun after McDaniel went to Batman (to draw the first appearence of ORCA!), and Grayson's "let's drag Dick through the ringer" approach, um, dragged. I'd love it if Dixon came back, or DC grabbed Kirkman, or someone else who can write over-the-top action with a lot of humor.

So in conclusion, Dick, lighten up already. So what if you got raped and your city got nuked? Walk it off! You kicked Alex Luthor in the face! You go boy!

Jeff R. said...

As far as I'm concerned, the only problem with Nightwing is that he doesn't have a partner named Flamebird.

(Well, that and the very idea of him getting jiggy with Babs Gordon, who's practically his sister. Ew....I mean, c'mon. Eeeew.)

Other than that, he can be as emo as he likes.

travis said...

Scip, Darling, you're the smartest kid in comics!

Anonymous said...

This is not the thread, but I was reading an old issue of X-Men (ew, Marvel!) and realized there's another character that just begs to be donated to DC: Jubliee. She shoots FIREWORKS out of her HANDS. If that doesn't sound like DC goofiness, I don't know what does.

kalinara said...

Fantastic post, Scipio! I agree completely. It's like they've completely forgotten that Dick as a character predates the Nightwing idea for a good forty-three years. Which sucks, because he's still that kid deep down, or at least he should be.
--
The greater Nightwing looks, the worse Tim Drake looks by comparison. The Batman family dynamic isn't a duo anymore. They have to parcel out who gets to be good at what, now

I don't think that's the case really. I mean, Tim will always be the better detective in the sense that he has the "I figured out Batman and Robin's ID at the age of nine" thing going on. Tim also seems to have a bit more academic knowledge, being more prone to study, and has better tech skills.

Dick *should* be quicker on his feet, he's got many more years of experience after all. A smoother talker. More cheerful and dynamic in personality. And of course, the better fighter/acrobat. But even if Dick is the detective he *should* be, Tim wouldn't lose anything. Besides, even if he did look a little worse than Dick, it's forgiveable. He's a *kid*.
--

gorjus said...

(clapping)--nothing to add, fantastic commentary per usual. I love the Nightwing name, by the way, and would love to have a "comfortable detective" hero.

Bludhaven = dumbest. Name. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Bludhaven name would work better if it had vampires in it? Prolly not.

It would be great to see something like Dick Grayson again--and if they aren't going to team him up with the Bette Kane Flamebird, how about Jimmy Olsen as Nightwing's sidekick? It's not like they've done anything with him in the Superman books in ages...

-Mindbender

Anonymous said...

It's spelled "probably."

Cshiana said...

Devon Grayson ruined Nightwing. It really ticks me off that EVERY OTHER WRITER in DC can write Dick Grayson, but his own writer makes him out to be some pansy-ass, wishy washy, broken guy. I wish Chuck Dixon would write Nightwing again. And for heaven's sake - is waiting for Dick and Babs to get together going to be like waiting for Lois and Clark?? According to all the Infinate Crisis stuff, Nightwing is THE MAN, and yet his own comic fails to support this. Even Batman realizes Nightwing is everything it means to be a superhero as seen in Infinite Crisis #3 (which I can't find at the moment to quote /sigh) in his conversation with Earth2 Superman. If only they'd find a good writer for him. I will now go burn Devon Grayson's Nightwing comics.

Anonymous said...

I think that Dick Grayson is completely unique in comics inasmuch as he has almost never not been part of a team. And I mean ever. Since the character was old enough to stand, he has been trained to swing on a bar and let go, flying through space and trusting that someone would be there to catch him. Then Batman, then the Teen Titans, Justice League, even (shudder) the Outsiders. Captain America may be a good leader, Batman may be a good tactician, but neither of them know what teamwork means the way this guy does.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable entry. I'm always impressed by how you articulate thoughts I didn't even know I had.

So, what's preventing DC from producing lighter/less gritty work? (I know there's some definite counter-instances, but the point is clear.) Maybe it's not a good audience sample, but the blogosphere suggests that there's enough of an audience for it. As does the success of All Star Superman. So what's holding them back? I would check out some Johnny DC titles but I can't get into the artwork.
The Sensational Character Find of 1940 just seems so much more inspiring and exciting than Nightwing. Why go with a rotten apple when you can go with the platonic ideal? -Alex P

Anonymous said...

You know who should have gone to Opal City?

Dick Grayson. It was just about the right place for him: quirky, in some ways more upbeat, more of a sense of fun, until Robinson got to his Grand Guignol storyline.

That's what the character needs: a place where carnival is the mood of life.

Lovely piece. Can you write the book, please?

Anonymous said...

I dunno. Like you stated at the beginning of this post I too have no interest in Nightwing. I think the problem with writing Nightwing is that he's always going to be a subsidiary character. He's never his own, seperate character, really, he's just an extension of the Batman mythos. That's a problem. I think he'd be good as a supporting character but that's about it.

plok said...

Scipio, nail on the head as always...and Harvey, you're a genius, I can't think of a better way of flipping the bird to grim and gritty stuff than to have the happy Nightwing/ridiculous Bludhaven setup...

In fact, that scenario is so good that I could even imagine it with Nighthawk getting (doubtless unwillingly at first) a kid sidekick, if that makes any sense...someone a bit cynical, who's astonished at Dick's can-do attitude, not sure if that makes him crazy or not. Done right, it could be a perfect inversion of Frank Miller, an antidote if you will. But on the other hand, maybe that dynamic already exists perfectly well with Tim Drake: if Dick Grayson proves anything, it's that only Batman has to be Batman. Everybody else can be something different if they want to.

One thing no one can deny is that the whole Batman Dynastic thing already has some really impressive elements in it already. It could work just as well now as it ever did, without changing much at all. Because it's all already ready to go! And I guess a good proof of this, for me anyway, is that anytime there's been a comic where Dick and Tim are hanging around together, I've been right there, really interested. Because that relationship is potentially fascinating.

Of course, it's also potentially really easy for someone to screw up, I guess.

Bill Meisel said...

Wait -- Robin is getting it on with Batgirl -- but -- BATMAN FAMILY sort of established a brother/sister sort of vibe. Where has this been happening? Did I miss it?

I also like the Mr. Terrific analogy. One of the nice things about the original Mr. Terrific stories is that they take the idea that he is the "man of 1000 talents" and RUN WITH IT. Mr. Terrific needs to be able to make really detailed replicas of boats? Terry Sloane is your man!

Having said that, I sort of thought (back in the 80s) that Starfire was Dick's reward for all the crap he went through in his life as Robin (and it appealed to me that the "sexiest" of the female titans picked him over the other choices).

(I mean -- who wants Raven as a girlfriend? Talk about high maintenance...)

Guildenstern said...

I don't know the most about the DCU, but if it's not still currently filled, couldn't someone step into the role of Flamebird and partner with Dick? He couldn't always be brooding with a partner around...wasn't that the idea that made him the 'sensational character find of 1940'? To avoid repeating too much of the Batman mythos, it needn't be a kid. I mean, who wouldn't want to buy "The Adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird"?

Opal City sounds good too. Maybe the Chemo-bomb was a perfect opportunity, only he went to the wrong city.

Gokitalo said...

Scipio's hit the Hal Jordan on the head. I think there was this issue of the Batman Adventures where Nightwing had moved to Bludhaven, but unlike the comics, Bludhaven was a bit sunnier than Gotham. Plus, Nightwing was more hands on with the police than Batman usually is, and he didn't shy away from public as much as Bats does either. I haven't read the issue yet, but there's a nice summary and pictures here:

http://www.worldsfinestonline.com/WF/batribute/reviews/12.php

Now for the other stuff. Putting Dick in Opal City is a novel idea; I agree that it could work quite well. And you know, if Babs didn't get crippled by the Joker, it might've been cool seeing her as Flamebird. She and Nightwing could've been their own Dynamic Duo, fighting crime while dealing with those romantic feelings for each other that crop up now and then. Although they wouldn't need to be dating (at least, not all the time), there aren't too many crimefighting couples these days.

Anonymous said...

>>Although they wouldn't need to be dating (at least, not all the time), there aren't too many crimefighting couples these days.<<

Whatever happened to Sue Dibney? I always thought she and Ralph had a great 'Thin Man' quality to them. Seems like a shame not to use such a great character.

Sarah said...

Give him a platinum police badge encrusted with diamonds and maybe he'll finally get some male readers, too

Oh, Scipio, my friend. Why do you hurt me?

(Imagine deliberately retooling an important character so that he would get *female* readers.)

Athelind said...

Oh, anonymous, you SO do not want to know what happened to Sue Dibny. I certainly wish *I* didn't know.

And I've said it elsewhere, I'll say it here:

What killed "Nightwing" was when the Post-Crisis retcon, when "Nightwing" stopped being "The Role Dick Grayson Grew Up Into" and became "The Costume Dick Grayson Put On After Batman Fired Him."

Roel said...

Get Mike Allred to write Nightwing. That would fix everything.

Azrael said...

Know that you are spot on, Scipio. It's guys like me who should be moody and pathetic. Not the "Sensational Character Find of 1940."

Raz said...

Mike Allred writing Nightwing...man, that would be fun! :)

I don't know why everybody who READS comics seems to get the kind of character that Dick should be, but nobody ever actually WRITES him like that...seriously, I've not seen anyone on the net or in real life ever defend the grim and moody Nightwing as a character.

And now they have him overseeing torture sessions in Outsiders....meh :\

Scipio said...

"
Whatever happened to Sue Dibney?"

In short, Sue was unintentionally killed by another supporting character as part of an elaborate plot.

For the full story, get the trade paperback "Identity Crisis". While the central mystery of Sue's death is a very poor one, the real story is its larger implications, which serve as background for DC's current big event, Infinite Crisis.

Chance said...

Man, that's... that's very well said. Hear hear!

(On the other hand, let's not go all the way to the zany Silver-Age end of the dial, either.)

Anonymous said...

The problem with Nightwing is... Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Robin--and Batman--we all know and love was the Silver Age version which ended in 1986. These characters became so dark they no longer have a heart or personality.

Take a look at the cover of the Tales of the Demon TPB, which has the DC Limited Edition cover of Batman having an extreme emotional response to the unmoving body of Robin. That cover would be impossible, or at least incongruent, with the post-Crisis (modern) version of these characters. Today's Batman is an emotional cripple, whose emotional range extends from brooding to pouting.

Anonymous said...

And Nightwing is just a lukewarm version of Batman.

Julio Oliveira said...

On another hand, "EMOtional Cripple" would be a awesome emo band name.

Cove West said...

I'm probably a bit biased, as Dick became my favorite DC character because of Dixon's run, but I like the Bludhaven setup for Nightwing, for two reasons:

1) Twentysomething semi-single guy in a big(ish) city, slightly-below-average apartment, weird neighbors, crummy job he struggles to do well despite his nightly adventures, a gruff if forgiving boss...Dick was the post-college Peter Parker. It's the holy grail of untapped superhero archetypes.

2) Bludhaven was perfect for Dick. It's not that it complemented him, but instead it contrasted him. A mini-Gotham, less lethal but more rotten. It allowed Dick the opportunity to apply everything Batman taught him as a crime-fighter, yet also the chance to apply everything he is as Dick Grayson as a force for change. "World's most hopeful hero, meet the world's most rotten city!" or somesuch.

I'd have a catch here, however. This is for the Nightwing title only! When it comes to any appearances in the greater DCU, like Batman, he turns it up a notch. Except up-a-notch-Nightwing is so much greater than up-a-notch-Batman.

Why?

Dick is the philosophical child of Batman and Superman. Batman taught him the determination, dedication, and skill to become a crime-fighter, as well as the mental toughness it takes to fight the likes of the Joker. But in being a hero, Dick takes after Big Blue. He's hopeful. Dick may be suspicious of certain people, but he always believes that people are naturally good. And from Superman, he also learned how to be a symbol, to lead not just by his mind but his heart.

If Superman died (again) tomorrow, his replacement in the superhero community would be Nightwing. EVERYONE listens to Dick. He's the Superman, J'onn, and Batman of the next generation all in one person. Next to Superman, he's the one person the DCU would go postal over if he was killed.

Steven said...

Dick is the philosophical child of Batman and Superman.

That? That right there? That's hitting the nail on the head. Nightwing as the shining leader of the next generation.

I also like the suggestion that he play two different roles in his own book and in others. In the same way Batman goes from street level vigilante in his own books to scary competent ninja scientist in JLA, Nightwing should probably play Peter Parker at home and Captain America out in the world.

And Bludhaven-- dumb, sure. But is it dumber than Smallville? Or Metropolis? Or Hell's Kitchen? Or Istanbul (which translated I believe means "The City"?)

Scipio said...

"And Bludhaven-- dumb, sure. But is it dumber than Smallville? Or Metropolis? Or Hell's Kitchen? Or Istanbul (which translated I believe means "The City"?)"

Yes, actually, it is.

Bill Reed said...

Dick's happy answer, "It was the best!", was the highlight of that issue, perhaps the entire series

I abhor that moment. I thought it was extremely creepy and confirmed all those rumors. Also, I think Geoff Johns sucks at dialogue. But that's me.

I have no interest in Dick Grayson. Really, Tim Drake is twice the Robin he ever was, and now he's a whiny bitch. I can't remember the last time he's been written well. "Nightwing" is a stupid name which doesn't mean anything. Costume's kinda nice, but it isn't iconic. I don't get why he's so damn respected and liked when he's never DONE anything. I could go on.

The only times I really liked him were, um, in the cartoon, or in the movies. Am I evil?

Poison Ivory said...

Nightwing as the shining leader of the next generation.

That idea terrified me until I reminded myself to switch "Nightwing" to "Grown-Up Robin." Suddenly I had much more confidence in the fate of the next generation.

In other words, I agree wholeheartedly with this post.

Vincent J. Murphy said...

As usual, Scipio, I agree totally with you. I think you crystalized the essence of the problem and the perfect solution. If only DC had someone who could write Dick Grayson...

Definitely not Dixon, Grayson or Jones.

Nathan said...

I have no interest in Dick Grayson. Really, Tim Drake is twice the Robin he ever was, and now he's a whiny bitch. I can't remember the last time he's been written well. "Nightwing" is a stupid name which doesn't mean anything. Costume's kinda nice, but it isn't iconic. I don't get why he's so damn respected and liked when he's never DONE anything. I could go on.