Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Brain Invasion of Dick Grayson

So I was doing some anatomy studies of the muscles in the male back -looking particularly at acrobats- and then one of them accidentally turned into Nightwing.  Don't you hate it when that happens!
I'm a comics fan (no surprises there) and although I'm talking about the medium at large, not just the superhero comics that everybody automatically thinks of, there is little spot in my heart for those too. And top of the list of those superheroes is one Nightwing, a.k.a. Dick Grayson.  He actually popped up in one of my first ever posts.  And now I've got him on the brain.

Who is this dude? Why do I like him? I doubt you care, but this is my blog so I'm afraid you're just going to have to deal with it :)
This is what started it.  I was doing anatomy studies of back muscles, so I kept googling gymnasts.  And then this happened.  The screencap on the left is a shot from a 1956 film called 'Trapeze'
Panel by Scott McDaniel
Dick Grayson was Robin, Batman's sidekick. Specifically his first sidekick, as there have been other Robins since. In the comics he grows up running round rooftops in Gotham with Batman, but eventually realises that he's outgrown the role of Robin.  He quits, moves to nearby Bludhaven (nice name!) and sets himself up there as the masked vigilante Nightwing.

Look Ma, No powers!
Nightwing is that rare thing, a superhero with no superpowers. While everybody else in the comics universe is running round with super strength, super speed or even magic, Nightwing has nothing to work with but his brains, a pair of escrima (fighting batons), and his own personal awesomeness... and he keeps up just fine. He's holding his own against super-powered beings using only a pair of sticks, a gadget belt, and a bit of ingenuity. That's flippin' impressive!

Mad skills
To be fair, he is an acrobat. His family were a group trapeze act before they were killed when their equipment was sabotaged as a threat to the debt-ridden circus master. Dick's circus heritage is a big part of his identity, and he doesn't let you forget it either. He's always bringing it up or doing elaborate flips just because he can, and looks awesome doing it.  Gratuitous somersaulting for the win!

Disproving Batman
Everyone knows that the whole point of Batman is to scare the pants off criminals. Due to the shady nature of what he has to do to keep the streets of Gotham safe, Bats has carefully crafted a demeanour similar to that of a boulder. He is hard, cold, ruthless. He shows very little emotion beyond displeasure, and no sentiment at all...

Oh except for this one time when some poor kid lost his parents, reminding him of his own childhood loss almost exactly. And then he took the kid in and made him his ward. And then trained him in crime fighting so that he wouldn't fester in his bitterness and become another tiny Batman. And worried about him constantly. And then adopted him. And then handed him the responsibility of being Batman and caring for his biological son Damian. Occasionally he even speaks about Dick to colleagues and, in a rare moment of unguarded weakness, might mention how proud he is of him. Of course this completely shatters the illusion of the grim emotionless Batman, but it's so adorable that nobody cares.

Nightwing and Robin (Tim Drake)
I don't know what it is about that costume, but everyone loved the blue fingerstripes. How come you changed it, DC?

Batman needs a Robin
Bruce Wayne thinks the world of Dick, and Dick adores Bruce. This is a fact. Since burying himself inside the persona of Batman, having Robin around is one of the last links Bruce has to anything not of the Bat. He's forced to consider the emotions of a 10 year old boy on a regular basis. It keeps him in touch with his humanity when few other things can, and stops him getting lost inside the cape.

After Dick graduates from being Robin and adopts the guise of Nightwing Bruce actually takes on a second Robin, Jason Todd, who is initially caught trying to steal the hubcaps off the Batmobile. Todd is eventually killed by the Joker but when Batman takes the loss hard another potential Robin appears, Tim Drake, and Dick supports the motion. Anyone with half a brain can see that Batman needs a Robin.

There have been five Robins in total, plus a couple of Batgirls and some extras. The Robins, past and present, tend to relate to each other as siblings. The lineage is actually called the Bat-family now, and at least three of them are down on Bruce Wayne's will as heirs or adopted children. So much for the lonesome Dark Knight.

Nightwing has HUGGED BATMAN
Batman gives some rare praise... kinda
Just the once, but he did it. That's basically taking your life in your hands!

It's interesting to me because Dick has grown up in the same house as Bruce (not the Batman, but Bruce Wayne), to the point where he becomes a surrogate father. By the time Dick reaches his majority he's learned well enough how to see through the mask of Batman.
He totally respects the role of the Bat and his loyalty to it is faultless, but at the same time he's seen Bruce Wayne in bed, with a cold, in pyjamas. I repeat, he's seen Batman in pyjamas!
He won't take any of Bruce's stone-walling, he's not fazed by his grim silence, he complains about Batman's attitude and argues with him, he'll call Bruce on emotional decisions, and he's not scared by the Bat-voice. What other people, even other superheroes, see as intimidating and ferocious, Dick has learned to love and feel safe with.

When Bruce's son Damian becomes the Robin to Dick's Batman the same rule applies. Damian is a vicious, arrogant little beast (and he only partially takes after his his father!) but Dick isn't impressed by any of his posturing and treats him as he would any other ten-year-old Robin... albeit one raised by terrorist assassins.

He's funny
“I'm chatty. It's part of my charm.” Even back in the Silver Age, Dick was always the one with the mouth. He'd make cheesy puns and quips, and yell things like “Holy Haberdashery, Batman!” in the middle of fights. He makes jokes about villains (often to their faces), he makes jokes about other heroes, he makes jokes about stake-outs, he makes jokes about Batman to Batman and doesn't get beaten to a pulp for it. For Bats the world of crime-fighting is deadly serious. For Dick, it's also fun.

I mean, come on. This is the crime-fighter who, when he hears that Batman is battling a villain on the roof but he and Robin don't have their costumes to hand, suggests they go and enjoy the show. And ACTUALLY BRINGS POPCORN.

Most superheroes take on crime fighting in their late teens or adulthood, often out of a sense of guilt, duty, or personal loss. There's a certain gravity to the decision. Conversely the Robins, starting with Dick, all take up the role as children and are supported (more or less) through it by Bruce and Alfred. While being a Robin is a role demanding complete dedication, they are also actively encouraged to be the children they are during down-time. They grow alongside their crime-fighting roles and so seem to sustain their more outgoing and childish qualities a bit more easily.

Dang it, he's just such a nice guy!
Despite having had several major relationships, although none of them have worked out long-term so far, Dick has managed to remain good friends with every single one of his ex's. When he takes over as Batman the local police actually prefer him to his mentor, as he often stops to ask after their partners and kids. When he's not working – and sometimes when he is- he catches up with his friends or the incumbent Robins, who he refers to as 'little brothers'. He ruffles Damian's hair (see 'Hugging Batman') When standing in as Batman he reassures members of the public with a casual “Nah, you won't get hurt. We're here!” Since when does Batman say 'Nah'?  Every senior member of the Justice League has known him since he was a kid and seen him grow up. He is basically a child of the superhero system, knows the whole thing inside out, and there isn't a member who would hesitate to rely on him.

I prefer the DC universe to Marvel (although I defy anybody to produce a better superhero movie than Avengers Assemble), and I prefer Batman to Superman. I like my heroes to be a bit ambiguous, to struggle with their choices and develop as people, rather than just seeing them flawlessly do the right thing over and over. This is probably part of why I like Nightwing so much – I like him in contrast to Batman, and as an evolution of him.

Bats is a tortured soul with a tragic past and always will be, but somehow that darkness managed to produce Nightwing. Dick Grayson steps out from the shadow of the Bat-cape and is perhaps what Batman could and should have been if his early days hadn't been so lonely. They have the same backstory after all, parents tragically killed over something petty and pointless, but Dick had one advantage that Bruce didn't – he had Batman for a dad.


  1. <3!! I just wanted to look at one of the pictures and it led me to this site. It's good to know that there is another Nightwing fan out there. I thought I was all by myself. You've mentioned all the points on why he is my favorite hero (of course, I love Batman too). Anything Batman, really. Even Jason Todd, now that I've read more about him, is starting to be interesting. But, Nightwing forever will be my fav.

    1. Hooray, another fan! I'm high-fiving you across the internet :)