Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

On Dick Grayson:

From a Newsarama interview:

NRAMA: Okay…he needs help on a big problem...who does he turn to?

FN: Ghostbusters? Seriously, I am of the very firm opinion that if you want anything done right in the DCU, you turn to Nightwing, so... there you go. We did say lots of guest-stars!

I wish that the people who actually wrote his title believed this.

What is Wrong With Dick Grayson... I've said it before, I dislike Nightwing. But I don't want to dislike this character. I *want* to like Dick Grayson. There are some great things at the core of the character, but it's so damned bogged down with the fangirl-bait angst and worse *incompetence*.

Look, I don't mind that Dick will never be the detective Tim and Bruce are. But he has 10-15 years of experience. That experience should show, damnit. He should have some measure of competence. Especially having undergone Batman's training. Hell, he *became* Batman for a little bit and did decently if with a different style than Bruce.

I'd like anyone who's read Nightwing lately to tell me that they seriously believe this man could *ever* have taken over for Batman.

I think I know what the problem is. And it's not any particular writer's fault. It's that from the inception, the Nightwing series was flawed.

I don't mean that a series revolving around Nightwing on his own is necessarily flawed in and of itself. But mistakes were made, irreparably...

See, the problem with giving sidekicks and ex-sidekicks their own comics is that they have to be completely independent and self sufficient, without interference from their mentors. It's why early Robin issues constantly suffered from the "broken communicator" problem. Robin would stumble across the Penguin or the Joker and think, "Oh no, this is too big for me to handle alone." He'd then try to call Batman, but for whatever reason can't get through, so he'd have to solve his problem alone.

Nightwing should have been easier, and was, in a sense. Dick's an adult, and thus relocation is plausible, keeping him from being under Bruce's direct influence. Making him a cop as his day job was an interesting idea as well, a way to explore justice in both a civilian and vigilante direction.

The thing was, the creative team wanted it both ways. They wanted Dick able to act independently from Bruce, but they wanted him near enough to participate in any and all crossover events. Thus Bludhaven, only half an hour away from Gotham, might has well have been the other side of town.

Given that Dick was so close, they'd need to manufacture additional reasons to keep him separate from the others. Which led to constant isolation.

The problem though is that Dick Grayson's strength is in his interactions and bonds with people. But by isolating him, they turned his emotional strength into a crippling weakness. What use is it being the charismatic, diplomatic liaison character when there's nothing to liaise. He was fine on the Titans because he could lead, thus his primary strength remained a strength, but in Nightwing?

On his own, his greatest strength is a weakness. And unless they wanted to go with constant crossovers, they had to play it up. So the Batman/Nightwing relationship ended up constant repetitions of: Misunderstanding->"Bruce doesn't love me!"

So the angst starts piling up. Now, at the risk of being sexist, I think it's fair to say female fans tend to be more attracted to angst than male fans. Soap operas, romance novels, and chick flicks tend to play it up. Not to mention that at his best, Dick is attractive, sexy and charming.

So they play that up too, Dick becomes a giant playboy, with Kory, with Barbara, with other women. Because it's fun. As well, the angst rises too. The relationships by nature can't really work out because pairing off a solo character tends to be tricky. Yeah, they managed with Superman, but that was after how many years? And especially with such a fangirl-bait character. Dick can't marry Barbara because it would mess with both of their solo comic lines. Dick can't marry Kory because, honestly, the relationship tends to lack a lot of the resonance that Dick/Babs has for long term fans. Kory's a great character, but I don't think anyone seriously believed that marriage to work out.

Now, a natural side effect of the conflict keeping him artificially isolated from the rest of the group is that when he *does* show up in crossovers, the Batman/Nightwing conflict starts to dominate. Leading to more "Bruce-doesn't-like-me" woe. It's a vicious cycle.

When the Titans is cancelled with Graduation Day, Dick loses the outlet for his good points. Outsiders was/is fun, but Dick's constant dwelling on Donna's death left him acting like an's depressing that that characterization is still more appealing than what's in Nightwing.

But the downside is that where there had been *one* comic where Nightwing wasn't angsty, and got to show his strength, now none of them do that.

Now Dick Grayson has been made synonymous with gratuitous angst instead of Batman-level competence with a more approachable, cheerful demeanor. And writers like to tear him down even further.

To give Ms. Grayson credit, I believe her tear-down-Nightwing arc was meant to ultimately make a stronger character in the end. The problem is, that kind of long term plan doesn't make sense in a comic format. Because unlike a book, readers have to keep buying issues, and if they're not having fun, they're going to stop. And editorial mandate can interfere, as they probably did here, and leave you with an unsatisfying conclusion.

But what does that leave us with? A character whose *status quo* is his emotional torment and enforced isolation. So naturally to keep the quo, they're going to take more from him, up to and including his natural ability.

And it's especially annoying because some of this is *fixable*. The Nightwing portrayals that have been the best thus far, Obsidian Age and Infinite Crisis *also* took steps to help resolve things between Bruce and Dick. Which the Nightwing writers seem to be ignoring.

The Bruce/Dick conflict is *unnecessary*. Bruce trusts Dick enough to do his job, and now he's farther away from Gotham anyway, that interference from the Bat is not an issue. The writers of Robin have figured out that Tim is independent enough to maintain his own adventures with only the occasional appearance from Batman.

And even Batman writers have realized that it was time for a change. He's actually being a *mentor* to Tim, treating him as a very competent young man who still needs some guidance instead of his destined successor to be molded. And he apparently took Tim and Dick to a team building thing in Budapest.

Which means he's *trying*. He's reaching out to Selina and Helena also.

Before OYL both characters made steps. With each other in Infinite Crisis, with others in IC, Dick proposed to Barbara (which I honestly doubted would work given their temperaments...and I don't want to see a great character like Barbara stuck with that wet blanket...she deserves better), and Bruce even ended up reaching a break through with the Birds of Prey.

But where Bruce gets to keep his development and growth OYL, Dick's back to the depressingly repetitive status quo. I have never liked Batman, but now...I'm liking him more than Nightwing. And that's just wrong.

The thing is, Dick Grayson isn't unsalvageable. Yet. But something drastically needs to be done. First, the creative team has to finally let go of the Dick=angst idea. A little angst is fine, but this is ridiculous. They need to finally remember who Dick Grayson is supposed to be. He's more than a grown-up Robin. He's a man with all of the training necessary to be a Batman, but who also knows how to work with people, how to lead and inspire without fear.

Once, Ms. Simone said with regards to Barbara Gordon: Barbara is Batgirl is Oracle is Batgirl. The strength that initially inspired a young librarian to dress up and fight crime in high heels and a mask is always in the character even as she herself has grown into a strong woman.

The same should apply to Dick Grayson. We should be able to say Dick is Robin is Nightwing is Robin. But I think people have forgotten that.

They've forgotten that Dick Grayson is *supposed* to be the strongest of the Batclan, not the weakest. He's the boy that, having experienced the same crushing loss as Bruce, did NOT let it corrupt his indomitable spirit. The first Robin wasn't a flawed and reckless boy killed in the line of duty, nor was he a lonely, brilliant child looking for human connection in the form of a man in a mask.

When Tim Drake became obsessed with the Batclan, it wasn't because of Batman, it was *Robin*. Robin had been his inspiration and his draw. Tim Drake became Robin because "Batman needs a Robin", but his initial idea was to get Dick Grayson to do it again. Because Batman needed *that* Robin. He needed Dick Grayson. He needed *light*.

The Robin is the bird of the morning, the light of hope in the dark Gotham night that things are *going* to get bright again. That day is on its way. And no one embodied that more than Dick Grayson. The strength to see the darkness of the night and yet firmly belong to the day, unwavering and optimistic and bright and beautiful.

And that's what Dixon, Grayson and Jones and their editorial teams have forgotten in all the angst and sex. But just because Dick has grown past Robin, doesn't mean he should lose everything he was. Dick Grayson is light.

Don't let Jason Todd overshadow Dick in his own damn title. Let Dick *be* what he's supposed to be. Bring that light back to the DCU!


  • At April 16, 2006 12:34 AM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Agreed. Right now, I think the OYL arch is the best chance to really turn the comic around with Jason being the catalyst.

    They either pull something out of nowhere and bring Dick out of his self-mire, or let it slip back to what it used to be prior IC...

  • At April 16, 2006 12:38 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    It *should* be. I've had high hopes for this team.

    But they're not doing it. In fact, it's *worse*. Nightwing 118-119 were terrible. Simply terrible.

    I hope Jason gets to be the catalyst, but why couldn't that year in Budapest be the catalyst? Why couldn't Infinite Crisis be the catalyst?

    Why do they insist on making me hate this character that I really really want to love?!

  • At April 16, 2006 12:42 AM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Yeah, all the changes should have occured during 52. The comic OYL should have jumped in with everything "better" than before. We should have been treated to watching glimpses of Dick becoming a changed persona during 52. I'm speaking in past tense, so that may very well occur, or Dick just snaps back to his old habits like a rubber band.

    I think DC just likes to prevent you from liking everyone, making you choose favorites by default.

  • At April 16, 2006 1:24 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Heh, I'll still choose favorites. Dick will never interest me as much as Tim, Sand, Kyle or Guy do.

    But I would buy his book. :-)

  • At April 16, 2006 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I picked up Nightwing's OYL issue out of curiousity and was pretty disappointed. "Robin grown up" is a good concept, I've never cared much for Nightwing. There's a lot of reasons for that, both key and nitpicky. The association with the intensely boring Starfire didn't help much, nor did years of terrible costumes (Cowboy fringe? Mullet? Gold wings?).

    The big problem is that when Batman devolved into an emotionally-crippled psychopath, he dragged his adopted son with him. We all know Dick became Nightwing because a conflict with Batman. Why did they have a conflict? Because of editorial decree. They needed SOME reason for Dick to change his name and start wearing pants, after all. It was a rift without character motivation, and so was flat, boring, and in need of resolution.

    Somehow, though, being pissed at Batman became the center of Nightwing's character. As Batman became darker and jerkier, a stupid plot point was allowed to linger on and on, keeping Nightwing from growing and moving on. Unmotivated frustration and depression is angst, possibly the least interesting of all the negative emotions.

    The multiple rapes didn't help either.

    I thought OYL might be preparing to fixing the constant parade of depression that had become Dick Grayson's life. He was a major player in IC, and had made up with Batman (with a chance of it sticking this time). Things looked bright.

    And One Year Later, Nightwing has somehow gotten worse. He's gone from endlessly mooning over Barbara/Starfire to having sex with anonymous redheads -- anonymous redhead celebrity fashion designers with energy powers. Winick's favorite Gary Stu is running around being obnoxious (plus Jason's in Africa at the same time). Violence towards women? There's only two in the comic, and both get grabbed, choked, or slapped.

    So yeah. Guess I go back to not caring about Nightwing.

  • At April 16, 2006 2:08 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I think there's only really been the one actual rape. But yeah. He needs the chance to grow/recover. Make the Batman thing a part of his character, not the crux of it.

    It's sad, because eventually, he's *going* to pass the point of no return. And then he'll be unsalvageable.

  • At April 16, 2006 3:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think you just have touched on one important point;Could they/we be changing the character too much for no real reason at all?

  • At April 16, 2006 4:09 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Basically, that's what I think happened. It was gradual, not instantaneous, but little by little, they completely forgot who Dick Grayson is supposed to be. Change and growth is good, but not when what the character is intrinsically gets lost in all of this other stuff.

    And now they seem to be afraid of changing him further, of letting him get past this shit and move on. So he's stuck in a morass of depression and he's barely competent, nothing like what he should be with Batman's training and 10-15 years of experience.

    (For a comparison, look at Sand of the JSA. Especially in the earlier issues, when he had more focus. He is calm, confident and competent. He comes across as a very young man who's been doing this for many years, long before developing his powers. And his training with Wesley was probably nowhere near as intense as Dick's with Bruce.

    I'm not saying Dick should be just like Sand, they're very different personalities. But I think some of that feeling of experience should be there. Right now, Kyle Rayner, the eternal newbie, comes across as having more experience and being more capable than Dick. And that's not right.)

    I get that he can't go back to being Robin, I don't want him to. I like Tim. But I'd kind of like to see him go back to being *Nightwing*. Dorky costume aside.

  • At April 16, 2006 4:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Awesome post, you should right for Nightwing ;)

    I think they should take Dick out of any city resembling Bluudhaven (ie: NYC) - maybe something like Keystone? He doesn't really work in a dark, gritty city.

  • At April 16, 2006 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    *write, haha, I can't spell. I guess I should make this post useful...Nightwing was super-fun in Robin's series, acting as Robin's snarky older brother. Like, in issue 74, after he got in HUGE trouble for being in NML the first page has them on some water-ski-thing, with Tim's narration: "I almost didn't go out tonight. But the former boy wonder called me a wimp." Hee.

  • At April 16, 2006 4:30 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    He *could* work in a gritty city I think, and in fact, I think he probably should, but not in a clone of Gotham. And not when he's getting sucked in with all this angst. He's supposed to be the bringer of hope of the Batclan, which means, he's supposed to bring the city *up*, not be dragged down with it.

    And Dick tends to be pretty cool in his appearances in Robin, because then they let him be strong. He was good in the entire Contagion storyline. I tend to like him when they let him play big brother, because then he gets to be the strong, dependable one. And he's *good* at it. But it tends to seem like that Dick is a different character (the one in IC or Obsidian Age) than the one in his own title.

  • At April 16, 2006 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm counting the thing with the shapeshifter (Mirage, IIRC), as no consent was given.

    And yes, Dick should be FAR more capable than he is today. He's the Sensational Character Find of 1940, for god's sake - he should have learned something in that time.

  • At April 16, 2006 10:12 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hmm, I can see your point. It's like mind-altering characters, especially if they're women, they tend not to be considered even if their actions are tantamount to non-consentual.

    It's so depressing that there is nothing nearly so sensational about him now. there should be.

  • At July 29, 2010 1:17 AM, Anonymous Dave said…

    The big problem is that when Batman devolved into an emotionally-crippled psychopath, he dragged his adopted son with him. We all know Dick became Nightwing because a conflict with Batman. Why did they have a conflict? Because of editorial decree. They needed SOME reason for Dick to change his name and start wearing pants, after all. It was a rift without character motivation, and so was flat, boring, and in need of resolution.


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