If you or the Batman fan in your life screamed in excitement today, it's probably because not only did Matt Reeves officially sign on to direct The Batman starring Ben Affleck after a week of "will he or won't he?" suspense, but that, in a surprise move, DC Films and Warner Bros. announced a new movie joining the DC Extended Universe: Nightwing!
To be directed by Chris McKay, whose The LEGO Batman Movie has dominated the last few weeks of the box office, and written by Bill Dubuque (The Accountant), Nightwing expands the Gotham side of the DCEU. The Batman and Gotham City Sirens starring Margot Robbie returning as Harley Quinn are also in active development.
With The Flash movie in creative limbo without a director and with fingers crossed on director Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman being a success this June, the DCEU is starting to look extremely Batman-centric. It seems the braintrust at DC Films and Warner Bros. are hedging their bets on the popularity of The Dark Knight and his cast of heroes and villains in case the Justice League side of the DCEU doesn't go according to plan. Nightwing, however, is an interesting and exciting choice to build a feature film around.
Though best known by general audiences as Batman's crime fighting partner, Dick Grayson in the comics has long since moved on and become his own man. Grayson has forged his own heroic path both in and out of costume and mostly out of the confines of Gotham and Batman's long shadow. He's been a solo adventurer as Nightwing, he's led the New Teen Titans, he's been part of the Justice League, he's been a cop and a spy, and he's also donned Batman's cape and cowl when necessary, serving as mentor to a new Robin, Bruce's son Damian Wayne.
Just as the lightness of Robin has long offered a balancing counterpoint to the grimness of Batman, Nightwing offers the DCEU an opportunity to deliver a totally different kind of superhero movie from The Batman and the tone we've seen thus far from director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Here are several ways Nightwing can and should differentiate itself from The Batman, and be a better movie for it:
A Lighter Tone
While no one expects (or would necessarily want) Nightwing to be the kind of kid-friendly joke-a-thon The LEGO Batman Movie is, Dick Grayson is not the brooding, angry soul his mentor Bruce Wayne is. While a serious-minded detective when on a mission, Grayson isn't driven by the dark demons Batman is, nor did he pledge a sacred vow to war against all criminals for the rest of his life. Grayson is considerably more even tempered and approachable than Bruce, in and out of costume. He also has a history of surrounding himself with other heroes and being a leader without being a domineering and off-putting hardliner. Compare any comic book where Grayson leads the Teen Titans versus any comic book where Batman lead the Justice League to see the difference in their leadership styles and general personalities.
Robin is classically known for puns that start with "Holy!", which is not particularly something most fans want to hear coming from his mouth in this new movie. However, that doesn't mean Nightwing can't have more humor than The Batman. Nor is Nightwing known for being an ultra-violent vigilante. He's especially not a superhero who indulges in the kind of wanton brutality where he brands criminals with his symbol and even kills them in car chases like someone we could mention. A more fun and adventurous tone not dripping with anger and the drive for revenge like Batman V Superman had would suit Nightwing just fine.
It is not yet known how old Dick Grayson will be in Nightwing -- whoever gets cast as Grayson will be the first clue as to how youthful a direction the movie will go in -- but a couple of things can be extrapolated from clues found in Batman V Superman. Bruce is well into his 40s and is very much alone, save for Alfred. We know a different Robin is dead at the hands of the Joker and Harley Quinn, but it definitely isn't Dick Grayson, who must have preceded this deceased Boy Wonder. It's likely Grayson will be in his 20s or at the youngest his late teens, and he will have long since parted ways with Bruce by the time Nightwing hits theaters.
A movie about a more youthful Nightwing will be rather novel for the DCEU, especially if it beats The Flash and Cyborg to theaters, which now seems likely. The Justice League actually skews rather... old. Superman was in his 30s, Batman is in his 40s, and Aquaman is at least in that age range, if he isn't even older. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is actually hundreds of years old. (The Marvel Cinematic Universe had a similar age problem, featuring mostly adult heroes; Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first MCU movie about a teenage superhero.)
The success of Suicide Squad is something Nightwing may want to emulate, in terms of the audience it is aiming for. Suicide Squad found the most acceptance among a younger demographic, and its in-your-face marketing effectively reached moviegoers in their teens and 20s. The hit soundtrack with artists like Skrillex and Twenty One Pilots certainly helped the film's popularity. It could be argued that a younger demographic is less demanding than older audiences, just going by the reception Batman V Superman received (audiences under 18 rated BvS A- versus the B- score audiences over 18 gave it). This could indicate a direction the studio may wish to go with for Nightwing.
Nightwing Gets The Girls
Youth appeal isn't the only form of appeal Nightwing can boast about. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Nightwing is considered a sex symbol among superheroes. Tim Seeley, who wrote about Dick Grayson's adventures in the recent Grayson comic book series, says, "Dick Grayson is one of the only heartthrob heroes for women and gay guys. He’s a charming, flirty and good-looking guy, with a legendary good-looking butt.” It's no secret that another reason Suicide Squad was a box office success was because of Margot Robbie's brazen sex appeal as Harley Quinn. Nightwing is more or less Harley Quinn's equivalent in that regard.
Dick Grayson also has had some famous relationships with other superheroes in the comics, most notably Starfire from the New Teen Titans and Batgirl herself Barbara Gordon. The Nightwing movie could be a prime opportunity to introduce either one or both to the DCEU and open the door to a New Titans movie or a Batgirl standalone feature film.
Dick Grayson grew up in a circus and was already a world-class acrobat even before Batman trained him to become a crime fighter. This creates a great opportunity for director McKay to develop a different kind of acrobatic fighting style for Nightwing and present a new kind of superhero action we haven't seen before in a DECU film.
Ben Affleck's Batman is a musclebound bruiser in a bulky costume. Nightwing however traditionally wears a sleek, skintight uniform that accentuates his athleticism. Nightwing fights differently than Batman, utilizing his speed and acrobatics, as well as a quick wit. Nightwing also is less reliant on gadgets, though he's famous for using escrima sticks.
An Officer And A Spy
When Dick left Gotham to make it on his own, he relocated to nearby Blüdhaven and for a time became a police officer. That's already a scenario very different from Batman's preferred modus operandi of billionaire playboy by day, crime fighter at night. If Nightwing is set in Blüdhaven -- and it really should be -- it's a great chance to not just create another distinctive location but make the city a character of its own in the DCEU. If Nightwing pursues the creative direction where Dick Grayson becomes a cop, the movie could tread new ground by exploring the moral and ethical quandries of Grayson trying to operate within the boundries of the law by day and breaking those same boundries as a vigilante at night.
However, there's an even cooler direction Nightwing can go in: Dick Grayson was also a secret agent. He was a member of an organization called Spyral, and he participated in a series of dangerous globe-hopping adventures. Whether they use Spyral or simply use ARGUS, which is the government organization already in the DCEU that Amanda Waller runs and which spawned the Suicide Squad, Nightwing could be a new and exciting kind of superhero movie: a Jason Bourne-meets-superheroics type of adventure. If Nightwing ends up in league with ARGUS, that also easily leaves the door open for guest appearances from the Worst Heroes Ever, the Suicide Squad.
Whatever Chris McKay and his team come up with, Nightwing has the potential to become a movie from the DCEU that we've never quite seen before. As a superhero property, Nightwing offers deep ties to not just Batman -- the most successful DC movie property of all -- but to the wider DC Universe. Dick Grayson is a much more open and relatable character than Bruce Wayne, and as Nightwing, he comes ready-made with his own established set of comic book adventures to draw from that are less reliant on the trope of waging a one-man nocturnal war to save one city. Hopefully, Nightwing takes advantage of everything the Nightwing character and his history have to offer, and we don't get a movie that's basically just The Batman-lite.