NOTE: This article contains (minor) SPOILERS for “Nightwing” #1-3
It may be the Batman who claims the spotlight of Gotham City, but make no mistake: his former sidekick has his share of fans, too. As the first sidekick to stand at Batman’s side, Dick Grayson’s place in comic book history was a given. But as his career turned from Robin to the Teen Titans, and later to his very own man under the moniker ‘Nightwing,’ Grayson’s fan base has swelled and swelled. And in the DC Rebirth, things are no different.
DC Comics delivered some truly staggering sales numbers across the board with “Rebirth,” and in a somewhat surprising twist, “Nightwing: Rebirth” and Dick Grayson’s follow-up issue were second only to Batman and the Justice League, drawing more than 100,000 issues each. And for those who aren’t reading already, those numbers may not slip any time soon – not with Grayson’s deadly new mentor forcing him to question the lessons Batman first taught about right and wrong.
Believe us, if you’re a “Nightwing” fan, even this slight tease of his mentor – and the new bond forming – will be enough to get you reading.
What You’ve Missed
Since fans may have taken some time away from the DC Universe prior to the “Rebirth” relaunch (or assuming the massive “Nightwing” sales may have gotten some readers curious), some catching up will be needed to make sense of the current situation Dick has found himself in. Thankfully, we should be able to keep it brief: beginning with the previous DC event revealing the identity of Nightwing a.k.a. Dick Grayson to the world, not long before he… died. Obviously, he got better. But in true Batman fashion, Bruce Wayne suggested that it might be best to let the world think Dick was dead. The reason? A brand new career as a super spy in Dick’s own solo series, “Grayson.”
As an agent of Spyral, Dick showed that his acrobatic upbringing, determination and fighting skills made him a lethal operative in any situation. While getting close to his fellow Spyral spy, Helena Bertinelli (now back on the streets as Huntress in the Birds of Prey), no less. But when the final issue of “Grayson” saw his identity wiped from the world’s mind, he was poised to reclaim his role as Nightwing in his very own “Rebirth” storyline – and his first mission was already laid out in front of him.
The other major story that has led Dick to his prsent predicament is tied in closely with the New 52 “Batman” – specifically, the mysterious Court of Owls. Again, long story short: Dick Grayson was revealed to be a descendant of a Court operative, with his life as a circus acrobat actually training him to become one of the Court’s ‘Talons’ (deadly assassins). Obviously Dick refused that fate, but when he discovered that Gotham’s ‘Court’ was just a small cell of the larger, Greece-based Parliament of Owls, the massive secret organization struck at their planned assassin.
How? By planting an explosive in the head of the new Robin, Damian Wayne, and demanding that ‘Nightwing’ become the face of the Parliament, lending even more recognition in certain circles. The first “Rebirth” issue saw Dick remove the bomb from Damian, allowing him to infiltrate the Parliament and play along as a thief or messenger, but secretly be working to bring the group down for trying to tarnish his own legacy.
And with the Parliament’s mysterious plan building quickly, Dick is sent to meet up with a new hire: a deadly assassin who may have a thing or two to teach.
Enter The Mentor: Raptor
The operative known only as ‘Raptor’ doesn’t take long to get standoffish (and meta), greeting Dick with a punishing assault delivered only to show that it always pays to be on guard. But the unique and comic-relief side of Raptor comes out quickly, as he explains that the fight-before-friendship was intended to relate to Dick’s superhero past, since it’s… well, kind of what all superheroes do when they first meet (true).
But his first words sum up most of Raptor’s mindset, and the direction of the “Better Than Batman” story that follows: that Dick Grayson needs to sit down, shut up, and start paying attention, because he needs a new partner, and a better mentor. And that’s all because “everything Batman taught him is wrong.”
The Lesson: Everything Batman Taught Was Wrong
Raptor is the kind of self-referential character who can actually shine a light on the underlying thinking behind heroes like Batman. For instance: giving Dick a crash course in the “three-headed beast” of branding, marketing, and advertising (explaining Raptor’s bright colors, costume, bird-themes aircraft, etc.). Dick may dismiss the idea that “branding” has any role to play in trying to protect the innocent, but when the bright emblem on his chest identifies him as a “super hero” to a group of foreign refugees, he can’t help but realize that Raptor has a point. And, more importantly, it’s a lesson that Bruce Wayne clearly took to heart in his Bat-themed arsenal – a lesson he never taught to Dick.
Obviously, Raptor isn’t a professional vigilante. Far from it, actually: he’s a thief, first and foremost. But the idea that this makes him distant from Dick starts to dissolve immediately, as he explains his need for a gauntlet that has “whatever I need” since he isn’t much of a planner. He prefers to go with the flow, leaping first and figuring things out on the way down – a way of thinking that Dick, the circus performer, has always shared.
A way of thinking that Batman tried to drill out of him.
New Partner or a Deal With The Devil?
Thinks get complicated, though, when Raptor and Dick prove to be a competent pair, taking down a ship’s security only to discover the refugees on board – refugees that Raptor delivers to the Parliament as planned. While Dick tries to claim moral outrage and flee, Raptor pursues, revealing that he doesn’t just know that business of superheroes, but he knows Dick in particular. Namely, that Dick isn’t angry he let Raptor hand over innocents to an evil cause – he’s angry that he decided himself that saving some, not all, would jeopardize his larger plan. It’s a morally troubling area to walk even in pursuit of victory over the Parliament… but it’s one Raptor reveals he’s walking, too.
Just like Dick, Raptor claims to be “playing the long game,” having what he needs to expose the Parliament once and for all, but knowing that more of these horrible decision lie ahead. Neither Dick nor the reader knows if Raptor is actually telling the truth, but he asks for Dick’s trust based on their similarities. And while Batman – or even Robin – would never make deals with a thieving killer for the chance at a bigger foe, Dick’s fight may be getting personal.
Issue #2 ends with Dick taking a new kind of “leap” into uncertainty, throwing in his lot with Raptor in hopes that it will be worth it in the end, and that there is still more to learn (or perhaps, pull out of his own past and instincts). Issue #3 doubles down on that idea, with Dick Grayson realizing that some other members of the Bat-Family would also disapprove of his actions – but are their objections taking aim at Dick’s judgment, or his own previously-suppressed opinions?
It may be wise for Nightwing to consider just what he’s willing to risk to achieve victory. But at this point, he seems to be so far into this terrible journey, the only way out is through – if there is a way out at all.
Nightwing #1-3 is available now.