It seems strangely fitting that the sun should set on DC’s Batman being the company’s top dog, at least where the most excited and empassioned debates concerning a live action superhero are concerned. Sure, the news that Matt Reeves is directing Ben Affleck in The Batman is a relief to those fearing the film would be stuck in development Hell… but few could be blamed for immediately shifting their attention to word that a Nightwing film has also been greenlit by WB and DC Films – with The LEGO Batman Movie‘s Chris McKay in talks to direct.
In the days, weeks, and months to come, comic book fans will have ample time to discuss who should play the hero, how it should fit into the existing DC Extended Universe, and how it should differ from The Batman. But amidst all that noise, it’s easy to overlook the fact that plenty of self-professed Batman fans may not know the actual story of Nightwing: Who he is, why he matters, and most of all, why he might represent the biggest change to the DCEU so far.
If you fall into that group, or are simply interested in a refresher before speculating on what a Nightwing movie might entail, we’ve got you covered inWho is Nightwing: A Brief History of Batman’s Best Sidekick.
Dick Grayson, The First Robin
The first chapter of Dick Grayson’s story is likely the best known by casual fans. As the youngest member of the Flying Graysons – a family of circus acrobats – Dick was blessed with above average athleticism, flexibility, and imperviousness to fear or panic. Or, at least he was, until a mobster (typically – this story’s been changed a few times over the years) made sure that the Graysons would be killed in order to gain intimidation money out of the circus management. And just like that, Dick Grayson had been forced to endure the same pain as Bruce Wayne decades before: total loss for no good reason at all.
Those similarities were eventually brought to Bruce Wayne’s attention, at which point he swooped in to pluck Dick from Gotham’s social systems (already overworked) and claim him as his ‘ward’ – a practice that would no longer exist for later Robins, whom Bruce would simply adopt. Unaware that his new guardian was also Gotham’s resident crime-solving crusader, Dick set about solving the murder of his parents on his own time. He got on the right track, but it also brought him face-to-face with Batman… leading Bruce to tell Dick the whole truth.
The canonical story says that Dick Grayson was only 12 at the time, which is an awfully young age to be recruited into a war on crime. But Bruce saw potential in the boy that would prove completely worthwhile, and invited him to channel his passion and longing for justice into a career at Batman’s side. Dick took the name Robin, a red, green, and yellow costume of his own, and the rest was history. Spending his formative years fighting criminals by night clearly took its toll on Dick as much as it would on anyone. But thankfully, for the sake of his future, he had friends his own age to keep him grounded… sort of.
The Teen Titans’ First Leader
As Dick left his childhood behind him for adolescence, the community of young sidekicks and partners (that his introduction in the DC Universe had actually jumpstarted) gathered together into a team of their own. The formation of Dick Grayson, Wally West (Kid Flash), and Garth (Aqualad) was originally in response to some villainous insults from their respective heroes, but when that case was solved, the trio formalized their team-up as the Teen Titans. Before long, more young heroes from around the DC Universe gathered. And, no surprise, the prize pupil of Batman emerged as the one imbued with the clearest leadership skills.
Eventually, the time spent out of Batman’s shadow would play a more unexpected role in Dick Grayson’s growth from boy to young man. As writers of the time attempted to make the most of the complex and unique situation Dick had been thrown into – no superpowers tying him to this life, and never depicted as tormented as Bruce Wayne – his journey to adulthood drifted farther and farther away from Bruce’s influence. To be honest, it was due as much to Bruce’s own harsh exterior as anything else. He was, for all intents and purposes, the only father Dick now had… but Bruce didn’t approve of Dick’s choice of schooling, or a life of his own over their crusade on Gotham’s criminals.
Whether it was a direct order from Batman or simply an acknowledgement on Dick’s part that he was no longer ‘Batman’s sidekick,’ he hung up the Robin name and uniform – for good. While his bond with the Titans would last for the rest of his life, a new mission, and a new identity was needed.
The Birth of Nightwing
Dick Grayson’s return to superheroics came as part of the famous “Judas Contract” story that saw Deathstroke the Terminator become a recurring villain of the team, putting the lives of every active Teen Titan in jeopardy. Dick had no choice but to suit back up and help them, and with little warning or explanation, debuted his new costume and heroic moniker: Nightwing. The visual style of the new identity is inextricably linked to the fashion of the 1980s and 1990s, but when all was said and done, Dick claimed the black bodysuit, sweeping blue ‘V’, and a pair of Eskrima sticks as his trademarks.
Later retcons would offer an explanation for the name, tying all the way back to Superman’s home planet of Krypton. The Man of Steel came to offer support to Dick during his time between leaving Robin behind, and finding a new identity, telling him the story of a similar outcast on Krypton. Determined to prove his worth, he took up a costume and battled evil in secret – becoming a legendary figure in the minds of his society, his people, and his planet. His name was Nightwing, and Dick Grayson never forgot the tale.
Dick and Bruce continued to keep their uneasy distance from eachother, with the former still harboring a grudge for leaving him behind (further aggravated when Batman’s replacement Robin, Jason Todd, was murdered). But Dick had found a calling of his own when he followed a case to the city of Bludhaven, not too far from Gotham City, but plagued with the very same problems. Dick would come to call that city his new home, establishing it as his responsibility.
During his career as Nightwing, Dick was also approached by a young man named Tim Drake, who had deduced that Batman was actually Bruce Wayne – and that he had been his former sidekick, Robin. Believing that Batman needed a Robin, Tim urged Dick to return to Gotham. Instead, Dick suggested Tim for the job, even putting in a good word for him with Bruce. Eventually, Tim showed what he was capable of, and joined up as the new and, to many, best Robin yet.
Inheriting Batman’s Cowl
Those same years saw Dick temporarily don the cape and cowl of Batman – particularly in the fallout of the memorable “Knightfall” saga – but when “Batman R.I.P.” saw Bruce Wayne presumed dead (as in he was reduced to a skeleton), the cowl called once again. Dick had still not patched things up with Bruce, so when the Justice League came to inform him that Bruce’s contingency plan included Dick replacing him as Batman… he didn’t jump at the chance. There were plenty of reasons for his hesitance, not least of which was resisting the idea that all this time, Robin or Nightwing had just been titles or missions to keep him busy until his real job began.
After Jason Todd took the role to violent extremes, among other memorable twists in the “Battle For The Cowl,” Dick was forced to realize that like it or not, he truly was the best man for the job. He didn’t agree with Bruce on crime, human temptations, or just about anything else… but nobody ever said he had to be the same Batman when he put on the uniform. The decision to follow Bruce’s wishes and become Batman brought Dick and Alfred closer together, while giving them an opportunity to remember their fallen friend at his best (and make some improvements on the Batsuit).
It was a chapter in Dick’s life that drove home the point that he wasn’t just a different hero from Batman, or even Robin, but a different man. He didn’t pursue the fame or power of the cowl, but used it to keep Bruce’s symbol alive, while bringing Bruce’s son Damian along as his own Robin. Finally shifting from student to master wasn’t easy with a pupil like Damian, but by the time Bruce Wayne finally returned from his presumed death, the results spoke for themselves. And finally, the respect, value, and love Bruce felt for Dick was made clear.
So clear, in fact, that Bruce kept Dick in the cowl even after he returned, making him the central figure in Batman Incorporated, an attempt to turn the idea of the Dark Knight into a network of agents. The launch of Dc’s New 52 changed all that, returning Bruce to the cowl, and sending Dick on an even more unique trajectory – as a secret agent.
Grayson, Agent of Spyral
The New 52 actually brought with it the death of Dick Grayson at the hands of the Crime Syndicate (during the “Forever Evil” event). The parallel world/evil version of the Justice League takes Grayson prisoner, revealing his secret identity to the entire world. To make things worse, they insert him into something called a ‘Murder Machine,’ which he will never be safely removed from while he remains alive. Batman and Lex Luthor try to rescue him, but are forced to accept that the only way forward is to kill Dick Grayson. Once he’s removed, though, they inject him with adrenaline to bring him back to life.
Since the world didn’t see that resuscitation, Bruce hatches a new plan with Dick – one that begins with the world continuing to think that he was killed in front of them. As a blank slate, and with a new identity, Dick can infiltrate the super-secret spy organization Spyral. As Agent 37, recruited by Helena Bertinelli (the future Huntress), Dick takes on the world of clandestine adventuring as only he can. No mask, no fear, and no idea that his recruitment was actually manipulated by both sides.
Unfortunately, Dick’s secret agent career was relatively short-lived, thanks to a life-or-death situation engineered by the Court of Owls. The secret organization controlling Gotham City (and the rest of the world) announces they’ve planted a bomb inside the brain of Damian Wayne – a bomb they won’t detonate if Dick Grayson comes to work for them as Nightwing once more… the career that he was actually bred for by his ancestors. Dick accepts, remaking it clear that he’ll play along only as far as he needs to. Or until a major event comes along to give him an even bigger job…
Finally we arrive at the most recent, ongoing chapter in Dick Grayson’s life. The “Rebirth” event from DC Comics saw a company-wide relaunch: not of continuity, but of creative spark. In practical terms, it amounted to writers and artists being tasked with returning DC’s catalogue of characters to the core of their story… even if it meant the continuity problems had to be massaged, or outright ignored. In Dick’s case, Nightwing: Rebirth saw him work behind the backs of the Court– sorry, Parliament of Owls to remove the bomb from Damian’s brain without anyone knowing the difference. It let him off the hook with the villains pressing him into service… but he wasn’t ready to let them off easy.
While Batman offered Dick a welcome to return to Gotham City (having kept his distance for some time), he explained that a permanent home was never the point – especially not for a child of the circus. He was home free, but determined to make the Parliament pay for opening their doors to him. We would infiltrate, investigate, and bring the entire thing down. And he would do it all as the creation he had built for himself that they tried to steal for their own purposes: Nightwing. And his Rebirth hasn’t disappointed yet.
The early story sees dick team up with another Parliament mercenary named Raptor (with some serious ties to Dick’s family back in the circus days). A reunion of sorts with the pre-New 52 Superman led him back to Bludhaven, and the return of Wally West in DC’s Titans has him back alongside his childhood friends. All the continuity changes, reboots, or identity crises can’t change the fact that the boy who started as Robin the Boy Wonder really did grow up. And in the process, rose to the level of Batman not only as an equal, but as a hero of his own making – and choosing.
Where director Chris McKay, writer Bill Dubuque and the rest of DC Films will choose to take a Nightwing movie is a total mystery, but this brief history should show how wide a variety of stories are possible. Spy adventure, solo thriller, or a role to play in a larger Batman Family drama are all equally likely. So be sure to let us know which part of Dick’s history seems ripest for adaptation in the comics – and stay tuned to Screen Rant for updates as they arrive!