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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Unpopular Opinion: Why the Dick/Barbara couple doesn't work for me

You know, it's funny, I've seen a lot of references around to something Dan Didio said at Heroes Con. Basically, when asked if Babs and Dick were ever going to have their relationship develop he answers something like, "Not if I can help it, and guess what, I can."

Anyway, there are people decrying this as bad business sense. When the pairing would unite two fanbases (or something, apparently) and/or he's accused of "hating the fans."

First of all, how would it be good business sense to pair them versus not pair them? I mean, sure, if the story developed that way I can't see the harm that pairing them together would do. (Except possibly for one of them to stop appearing in their own series and end up an adjunct in the other, which would be a mistake, as Birds of Prey definitely shouldn't be collapsed into Nightwing, and Nightwing would end up skewing the dynamics of the Birds if he were there.) But where's the benefit?

Fans of Dick and Babs are reading Nightwing and Birds of Prey regardless of whether the characters got together or not. So there really isn't anything to be gained.

Anyway, on the day this question was asked (Friday), Centurion wanted a picture with him, so while this happened I nervously brought up the topic. (It might shock people, but I'm a little shy in real life. :-) I can only be truly myself on a garish pink blog).

And you know what, he doesn't hate the pairing because he hates a "good business decision", he doesn't hate the pairing because he hates fans, or Babs, or even Dick...wanting to kill him aside, of course.

He doesn't like the pairing because he thinks that ultimately the characters are incompatible. That pairing them together because it's "expected" would be a mistake and that Barbara's characterization in particular would suffer.

Which is a pretty valid reason to not pursue the pairing in my opinion.

Though, I admit, I could be biased. I do not like the Dick/Babs pairing at all.

Honestly for me, it's probably a combination of three factors. 1) I dislike Nightwing. 2) I possibly identify a little much with Babs (though I'm not nearly so smart and am a tech-incompetent) and 3) from what I've seen the relationship reminds me of certain relationships I've had, which ended messily.

Ignoring 1) for the moment as that is completely subjective, the reason I think they're fundamentally incompatible has to do with 2) and 3).

See, Barbara, at least as *I* see her (hence where the over-identification is likely to come in) is a strikingly independent person. She likes having her own space. She seems to avoid a lot of personal ties. She doesn't really even like to have someone help push her chair, preferring to do things under her own power. It's not that she doesn't like people, I think, but she likes to have quiet time. Time to herself, for her own projects, which are probably always going to be just a little more important than interacting with the people around her.

Dick isn't like that. Dick's a character that at heart needs people. He needs interaction. He needs reassurance and emotional support from the people who love him, possibly due to being raised by Mr. Warm and Fuzzy Feelings himself. When he led the Titans, there were very heavy camaraderie and familial bonds (as opposed to Barbara's more hands-off, mastermind approach with the Birds), when in Outsiders, he tried for a more emotionally disconnected, ice-queen approach, it failed miserably. When Dick loves, he certainly seems to go all out.

So you've got a character that prefers independence, distance and space with a character that thrives on emotional bonds and sharing and give and take. And honestly, those two ideals are pretty incompatible, and there really isn't a middle ground. It's either/or here. Everything's going to be either too much or not enough.

There's really only one way this could work realistically, and that's for one personality to subsume their own desires for the sake of their partner. Which already is trouble waiting to happen. Not to mention that both Babs and Dick are very strong personalities. Burying their own desires for the other's needs is not going to happen.

It's really easy for someone to say, oh, they can change. Especially in the case of Barbara, oh, she can put down her computer and spend time with him. But it's really not that simple. Because then it becomes an obligation. A chore to do when she could be doing something else. Dick's a very tactile character, so he's going to be likely for the casual physical touching. Hands on the shoulders. Embracing, that sort of thing. But when you're someone who's more private, these casual touches quickly become invasive and irritating. They're something to be endured. And that's really not a healthy mindset in a relationship. You shouldn't have to endure your partner.

And for Dick, it's not fair for him to have to restrain himself. Without the emotional support he'd need, it'd all end up very unhealthily one-sided. And he's kind of already got one of those...even if Bruce is *trying* now.

Again, a lot of this is me over-identifying, I'm sure. But having been in more than enough relationships with this sort of dynamic, they're awfully painful for both participants. Unpleasant.

Not that I'd stop reading or anything if they *did* get together, but personally, I'm really glad that they're not.

Besides, Barbara deserves so much better! :-P


  • At July 20, 2006 8:24 AM, Blogger lostinube said…

    Well, with the way Nightwing is being written right now, yeah, Babs deserves MUCH better than Mr. Grayson.
    I personally like the Babs/Dick couple but I think that's more nostalgia talking, reaching back to reading old issues of Batman Family and even then I'm probably misremembering things.

  • At July 20, 2006 8:27 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) I can totally understand the appeal in a theoretical sense.

    And probably if I didn't have my specific over-identification thing going on, I'd like them better too. :-) Especially Dick as he was written way back when.

    Just, right now at least, does nothing for me. And well, hits a few of my sensitive spots. As evidenced. :-)

  • At July 20, 2006 9:07 AM, Blogger lostinube said…

    I understand where you're coming from when you describe the dynamics of their relationship. I've seen it/been there/done that many times too (generally as the needy guy -- ouch!) and it rarely if ever ends up working out.
    I'm not a full-on "WTH! What is Dick doing with that girl? What about Babs!" but they were a nice little couple and it worked when they were operating in different cities and I do kind of think it could still work that way (well, not Gotham/Bludhaven but you know what I mean). I don't know, perhaps I was just happy to see two characters I really liked being with each other.

  • At July 20, 2006 10:12 AM, Blogger googum said…

    Like lostinube said, it could be nostalgia, maybe even just back to the Batman Animated series, but Babs/Dick worked as a couple for me, too. But you're exactly right in breaking them up, too. Guh?

    While they were a good couple, there's only so far that serialized fiction is going to take this: do you really want another wedding issue for Dick? Or to wreck up two perfectly serviceable concepts to follow Barbara and Dick's lovey-dovey adventures? Of course you don't!

    Barbara has too much going on, and is too independent, and the relationship, love notwithstanding, would fall apart. Dick would completely understand, and try to be cool about it, and it would just wreck him. Every out of character thing he does from that point on, and I'm not reading the book, but I believe it includes "underwear model," and "man-slut," can be written off to him being a mess without Barbara.

    Sorry to run off there, and I don't regularly read either book, but unhappiness is the logical choice, for dramatic purposes.

  • At July 20, 2006 11:16 AM, Anonymous Starman Matt Morrison said…

    To be fair, Didio has come out and said he's not a big fan of Nightwing as a concept period. Hell, if it weren't for Geoff Johns, they would have killed him off during Infinite Crisis.

    THAT is why the Nightwing book has sucked eggs so much OYL. They literally threw it together at the last minute.

    THAT is why in the new Outsiders, "Dick" was so out of character (well, as much as anyone ever is in character in a Judd Winick book) - it was supposed to be Jason Todd impersonating Nightwing.

    THAT is why, after months of driving them apart, they had Dick propose to Babs in the last pre-OYL issue of Nightwing - it was meant to make it all the more meaningful when Dick died (And to shut up all the Dick/Babs fans... but they didn't say that part)

    You know who the problem comes down to? Devin Grayson. And not just because she wrote Barbara so badly out of character when she did appear in Nightwing during her run. And not just because she turned Dick from the confident leader he was into the slow-witted Batman wannabe he became.

    No, it's because way back in the day she did a Huntress/Nightwing mini-series where Dick, in a WAY out of character moment, had a one night stand with Huntress.

    When Greg Rucka stared writing comics, that story was, by his own words, the main basis for his characterizaiton of Dick in the later part of OYL. Hence the reason why Dick went from being ready to start a relationship with Babs in his own book to ditching Babs at a party go to play kissy face with Helena at the hospital on New Years Eve.

    Future writers wound up taking that mischracterization and used it to turn Dick into the mess he is today. Between Titans, Outsiders and the Batman books - where Dick kept going between confident leader, inconfident leader and incompetent... no wonder the character is a mess. And no wonder most recent comic fans don't like the pairing.

    I think it's pretty telling that the most valuable, in terms of collectibles, issue of Birds of Prey isn't #1. It's #8 - the infamous Dick/Babs date flashback issue. It's a good companion piece to the less popular, but no less powerful Nightwing #38.

    At any rate, I do understand where everyone is coming from. As the characters are right now? Yeah, it wouldn't work because too many writers have screwed the pooch.

    Besides, I can't help but think, cynically, that there's some compontent of editorial that thinks Babs has to be kept as a sexless creature and that a Dick/Babs relationship just creeps them out.

    Besides, they can make more money on Dick/Kory hot alien sex issues over in Outsiders. ;)

  • At July 20, 2006 11:35 AM, Anonymous Vincent J. Murphy said…

    The only time the Babs/Dick relationship worked for me was pre-Crisis, when Robin was a lovesick puppy for Batgirl, and she was the older, wiser, "not getting involved with a kid" person.

    But I agree with Starman Matt, too: all his points are spot on as to Nighwing's characterization (especially recently: the badness of the Nightwing comic and his attitude in the Outsiders do tend to confirm that Nightwing was supposed to die). Note that he doesn't appear on the JLA membership drive cover, either (that I can recall). And in 52, Clark notes that Batman is away with Robin, not even mentioning Nightwing.

    I'd go even further back and bring up some of the initial issues of Justice League Task Force: when Nightwing appears in it, he was treated as a grandstanding publicity hog, rather than as the former leader of the Titans. Even Wally treated him like dirt in that issue.

    DC really just doesn't know what to do with him. He certainly doesn't need romantic entanglements. He needs a decent writer.

  • At July 20, 2006 11:41 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    lostinube: I know the feeling. :-) It's great when the characters work, in this case, I can't really see it long term.

    Could be an interesting trainwreck though...

    googum: I think happy couples can happen in comics (see: Superman and Lois) but they've almost got to be either in one book, or somehow able to be compatible side by side, like Batman and Robin (in a platonic sense).

    For example, I could imagine Bruce and Selina possibly ultimately getting together being workable, (though it'd probably ruin the modern concept of Batman) as her book also takes place in Gotham and thus they could still end up home together at night. With Birds of Prey being in so different a place than Nightwing, it's just not feasible, I think.

    Aside from the other problems.

    starman: I see what you're saying.

    Personally I've always loved Babs's flirtation with Ted Kord. Now that was a couple I could see. Both have common interests, so something to talk about. Ted's not as prone to jealousy. Also he's more laid back. If she needed space, she could have told him to go make a giant robot or play with Booster or something like that and he'd have probably been okay with it.

    Too bad about the whole non-bulletproof cowl thing.

    vincent: Nightwing's portrayal's definitely been incoherent. It makes me sad. My favorite Nightwing portrayals are still Obsidian Age (where he was confident, with a style markedly different from Batman or Superman's but still warranting and getting respect) or even Infinite Crisis.

    I'd really, really like to go back to that.

    Heck, I'd be fine with him being utter rubbish in his personal life as long as he got to be a competent leader and fighter. After all, I *am* a Cyclops fan. Right now though he's just rubbish. Hmph.

  • At July 20, 2006 11:46 AM, Anonymous Dan Coyle said…

    I'm against the Dick/Babs relationship because I like the Dick/Kory relationship, because I know it really annoys the HELL out of certain people.

    I also just think Dick and Kory are funny as a couple. He's Batman's crime fighting protege! She's an exiled Tamaranian princess with fire powers who once fought the entire country of South Africa! They fight crime!

  • At July 20, 2006 12:04 PM, Anonymous SallyP said…

    Have you ever read "Gaudy Night"
    by Dorothy Sayers? In addition to
    being a RIPPING mystery yarn, it goes into this very subject and does it beautifully.
    Oh, and I agree with you on Ted
    Kord and Barbara, I always thought that relationship could have been
    rather sweet. Ted was a whole lot smarter than he ever got credit for, and I miss him.

  • At July 20, 2006 1:17 PM, Blogger The Fortress Keeper said…

    I never considered Dick and Babs a real item, even back when I read Batman Family in the Bronze Age.

    For one thing, there were all those years where Batman and Robin tried to talk Barbara into retiring from super-heroics...

    Secondly, she always seemed to be the "senior" member of the Batgirl-Robin team and only regarded Dick as a little brother

    Third, I grew up reading New Teen Titans and got used to Nightwing pairing off with Kory (sorry bat-fans!) Hey, it's even that way in the Teen Titans cartoon!

    And, ultimately, Nightwing and Barbara can never have a happy ending because, like all soap operas, there's no story without conflict and/or desire.

    So, gotta say I'm in the same camp as Kalinara.

  • At July 20, 2006 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In theory, I love the Dick/Babs couple. I think a lot of it might be my being sentimental and nostalgic, and a part of it is probably me identifying with Babs, and wanting to be more like Dick - to find that middle ground between Dick's ultra-needyness, and Babs's ultra-fierce independance.

    They can't ever actually work as a couple again in the comics. They've got far too many issues, and have grown too far apart. When they are together, it's obcenely easy for them to critically injure the other emotionally. I've said it before, and I'll stand by it - that they could get into a knife fight and injure each other less than if they were having a quiet conversation.

    Besides, Babs deserves far, far better than the monstrosity currently calling itself Dick Grayson. I don't know who I'd like to pair them up with (I'm hearing rumours about Nightwing/Supergirl, and just... No), but even as a fan of the couple, I think it's time to move on.


  • At July 20, 2006 2:07 PM, Blogger The Dane said…

    "Because then it becomes an obligation. A chore to do when she could be doing something else." Wait, so what you're saying is that you support a Batman/Barbara pairing? I suppose that would be perfect. They could both be cold, distant, in love, and fighting crime like crazed weasels.

  • At July 20, 2006 2:49 PM, Blogger Jeff R. said…

    I've always thought that the Batman family was too much like, well, a family to make a Dick/Babs relationship anything other than really creepy.

    Plus, yeah, Dick+Kory 4EVAH.

  • At July 20, 2006 3:22 PM, Blogger Zaratustra said…

    Oh, we all know Babs is totally going to get it on with Jaime.

  • At July 20, 2006 4:38 PM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    My one issue with the statement is that it doesn't seem like the kind of thing an EIC should enforce a stance on. Whether a character lives or dies, sure, a character leaving or joining the JLA or the Titans, sure, which
    'ship goes forward- I dunno.

  • At July 20, 2006 5:37 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    I'm not too up on current Babs & Dick continuity. I probably remember their B:TAS incarnations better than I know Nightwing and Oracle these days.

    That said, it seems to me that Babs / Oracle behaves a lot more like Batman these days than Dick does: more aloof, hands-off, controlling, analytical. The wizard behind the curtain calling the shots; or the voice inside the speakerbox, ordering around the Angels - err, Birds. She reminds me of old Bruce in Batman Beyond, actually. And I think she shares a flaw with Bruce: there's being self-reliant and then there's keeping people at arm's length; and she seems to stray into the latter. She's less emotionally dependent on others than Dick; but the tradeoff is she seems to cut herself off from other people more than he does and that's not necessarily healthy either.

    Dick just seems like much more of a people person than Babs, for both good and ill. On a good day, he's warm, sympathetic, and compassionate, concerned about the well-being of his friends and teammates: good qualities for a team leader - and frankly he's better suited to the role than Batman. On a bad day, though, he's whiny, brooding, insecure, and clingy, forever stuck in the shadow of a father / mentor figure he can never equal. [You'd think after a while he'd finally realize he's got different strengths than Bruce, so he should stop trying to be Bruce - but then what would he angst about?] And it sounds like Nightwing's had an awful lot of bad days in recent years.

    All of it makes for an interesting contrast in personalities, but is also why I think you're right about them not being couple material.

  • At July 20, 2006 6:20 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    dan: I like Barbara more than Kory, but I like the Dick/Kory relationship better. There are the cultural obstacles of course, but in the end, I think Kory's more able to give Dick what he needs emotionally.

    sallyp: I haven't read it! I'll check it out!

    fortress keeper: I admit my perspective's completely post-Crisis, I've never read much pre-Crisis Batman. I'm going to have to one of these days. :-)

    papervolcano: Nightwing/Supergirl scares me too, hopefully they're smart enough to keep his attitude from the Outsiders-crossover issue. "She's fifteen!"

    Dick and Babs are one of those couples, I think, that look really nice on paper...the empathetic, emotional warm guy reaching out to the closed off girl. But in practice, I don't think it works.

    the dane: Hmm, see, I think they're *too* alike. My vote still goes for a character like Ted Kord. Warm and funny, but able to give her space.

    jeff: Babs never struck me as quite as much a part of the surrogate family as some, more of the childhood next door neighbor, than a sister. But I can definitely see where some might find it creepy.

    zaratustra: Ew. :-)

    evan: Hmm, I see what your saying. But on the other hand, shouldn't it be the job of the EIC to make sure that the crux of the characters are kept in tact?

    It's not Didio saying he doesn't like the 'ship, as the reason for blocking it. He doesn't like it, it seems, but his reason actually has to do with weakening Barbara as a character, which is something he doesn't want to do.

    Given that his reason seems legitimately based on characterization and portrayal, whether one agrees or not, I think it's fair for him to make the call.

    Of course, I agree with him and that helps. :-P

    ferrous: There are a lot of similarities between Babs and Beyond's Bruce I think. (He's saner than comics' Bruce after all. :-)) Barbara's cutting herself off probably isn't healthy, but that's why Dinah and to a lesser extent Ted are so important as characters.

    Both Dinah and Ted are (well...were) characters that are emotionally open and approachable, reaching out to her, but are also independent enough themselves that her rejection or ill-temperedness won't really bother them. They like being with her, but they don't *need* her. And I think that helps.

    I do like seeing Babs and Dick interact. Just...not as much when they're a couple.

  • At July 20, 2006 7:12 PM, Blogger The Dane said…

    Maybe I missed something, but Ted Kord isn't that warm is he? And I s'pose it depends on your definition of "funny"...

    Or wait, did I miss something? Is he alive again? Freakin' comics.

  • At July 20, 2006 8:00 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Well, I meant when he was alive.

    But what do *you* have against zombies? *honestly*!

  • At July 20, 2006 10:09 PM, Blogger notintheface said…

    Hopefully you (and we) will like Nightwing more as a character after Mr. Wolfman stars writing the book.

  • At July 20, 2006 10:11 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Here's hoping. I really hope the character is salvageable. I don't *want* to hate Dick! :-(

  • At July 20, 2006 10:40 PM, Blogger The Dane said…

    Well, if you do. There's always Batwoman. From what I hear...

  • At July 20, 2006 10:51 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I was waiting for *someone* to make that crack, man. :-)

  • At July 21, 2006 6:03 AM, Blogger Doc Hall said…

    I can't say I ever went in for the Dick/Babs thing myself, either.

    It's always felt like something that was done because it was expected, to me. There's just too much Bat-Baggage hanging about in the background for it to feel natural.

  • At July 21, 2006 6:24 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    *nod* The bat-baggage seems insurmountable to me, but what do I know, really. :-)

  • At July 21, 2006 12:12 PM, Anonymous Ununnilium said…

    Speaking of, why not Babs/Dinah? ``

  • At July 21, 2006 4:15 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Well it'd be a pretty couple certainly. :-)

  • At July 21, 2006 6:29 PM, Blogger Maddy said…

    See, myself, I'm not really a fan of Dick/Babs, but it was the way Didio *said* it that bugged me. Very much a smug "I don't like it, and I'm in charge! Nyah-nyah!"


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