NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Nightwing #19
Dr. Hurt targets Dick Grayson in Nightwing #19, written by Tim Seeley with art by Javier Fernandez. It’s an exciting time to be a Nightwing fan. With news of a live action Nightwing film directed by Chris McKay in production, Dick Grayson’s spotlight has never burned brighter. The movie comes at a time when the Nightwing title, written by former Grayson scribe Seeley, has shaken up the former Robin’s status quo by making him a father-to-be and bringing back the controversial Batman villain Dr. Simon Hurt as his new archenemy.
Dr. Hurt hasn’t been seen since his apparent death in Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin series in 2011. Dr. Hurt attacked the Joker, only to fall into the Clown Prince’s trap: Hurt slipped on a banana peel (no, really) and cracked his skull on Wayne Manor’s steps. Joker then dosed him with laughing toxin and buried him. While Dr. Hurt did make a cameo in DC’s Convergence series, his role was a small one and was not necessarily attached to ongoing continuity.
Today’s Nightwing #19 reveals that Dr. Hurt’s soul literally crawled its way out of hell and back into his body. For the last several months he has been manipulating recent events in Grayson’s life and has targeted Nightwing. Dr. Hurt’s actions force Dick Grayson to face the worst parts of himself in order to make it to the villain’s lair, only to find he has already murdered Robin and sends Nightwing to hell.
This has been a part of Seeley’s intense “Nightwing Must Die” arc that will conclude in next month’s Nightwing #20. The official synopsis puts over just how dangerous Dr. Hurt is:
“NIGHTWING MUST DIE” finale! Very few villains have ever broken Batman—but the man who’s been tormenting Nightwing is one of them! Why has he chosen Nightwing, and not Batman, to serve him in the dark new world he sees coming?
Simon Hurt’s backstory is a complicated one. He was a minor Silver Age villain revitalized by Grant Morrison for his Batman RIP arc in 2008. He is obsessed with trauma and degradation and enjoys turning noble spirits into dark or broken husks. The Return of Bruce Wayne miniseries reveals that Dr. Hurt was an ancestor of Bruce Wayne who was obsessed with the occult and used black magic and Fourth World technology to extend his life.
While Dr. Hurt doesn’t represent a physical threat like Bane or Ra’s al Ghul do, the effect he has on his targets is psychological. He out-thinks his enemies while also providing enough confusion and nightmarish scenarios to keep them off balance. He is one of the few villains to outsmart and defeat Batman. By bringing him into the Nightwing title, Seeley has given Grayson a worthy archenemy with a built-in personal animosity. Dr. Hurt once shot Batman (Dick Grayson) in the head, and in turn, Grayson ruined his plans to destroy Gotham and achieve immortality.
It’s unknown if Simon Hurt will be a mainstay villain in the Nightwing series. For right now, however, his inclusion shows that DC Comics is getting behind the Nightwing brand more than ever before. After all, to save the day, Grayson’s going to have to beat the man who beat Batman, which harkens back to Seeley’s opening arc - to prove that Nightwing was better than Batman (something that we and Grayson co-writer Tom King agree with).
Nightwing #20 is the final act of "Nightwing Must Die" and will be released on May 3.