I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Favorite DC: Nightwing

Very soon, very, very soon, the epic sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum titled Batman: Arkham City will be released, and earlier today there was a press release which featured a picture of Nightwing, one of three new playable characters (Catwoman and Robin are the other two) who will be accessible via an upcoming DLC pack. Coincidentally, I was reading through my blog notes and the next project that I was planning on writing about was how much I love the character of Dick Grayson, once Nightwing, once Batman, best known as Nightwing, and always fantastic.

On a road trip to Detroit, I mentioned to my girlfriend Amy that most of my friends have three superheroes or superhero teams that they are thoroughly committed to. Mine are the X-Men, Batman and Green Lantern. My friend Josh's are Spider-man, Superman and Green Lantern. My friend Chad's are Green Lantern, Hulk and Flash. My friend Zac's are X-Men, Daredevil and Flash. But who were Amy's favorite? The first was obvious: Amy loves Batman probably more than anyone else. She generated her second favorite pretty quickly, though it was kind of surprising to me. Amy really likes Captain America. We thought for a minute about who would complete her trinity, but the answer was obvious: Nightwing.

But in order to understand why Nightwing is fantastic, you have to begin by flashing back to his origins. As Robin, Dick Grayson provided a little bit of light in the world of Bruce Wayne / Batman, and this balance of light and darkness has been an essential part of Batman's success ever since. When Joker killed the second Robin, Jason Todd, that darkness was blotted out. Batman fell down a disturbing rabbit hole, became reckless and nearly killed himself. Years later, though he had a third Robin by then, it could be said that the destruction of Bruce Wayne that lead to his defeat at the hands of Bane was still connected to Todd's death. But Bruce Wayne would never have chosen to take on bright souls such as the various sidekicks that he's worked with if not for the tragic murder of Dick Grayson's parents. When the Flying Graysons were gunned down right before Dick (and right before Bruce, for that matter), Bruce Wayne saw two things: 1. someone he could finally relate to after all of those years, and 2. someone he could divert from becoming a dark creature of the night like himself.

I think one of the greatest questions one has to ask is how Bruce Wayne became a haunted beast of the night and Dick Grayson became a symbol of hope and happiness and mental health. I think that a lot of people would credit Bruce Wayne for being there for Dick Grayson. This is certainly part of the issue. But Bruce always had Alfred there for him. Sure, Alfred didn't go through the same difficulties that Bruce went through, but he has always been a positive, guiding force for the young man. Others might simply suggest that Grayson has always been more of a happy-go-lucky kid, whereas Bruce, even before his parents died, must have had some darkness in him. This is also possibly true. The story I go with revolves around when each learned to fly and what circumstances brought them there. Bruce Wayne experienced the death of his parents, had difficulty making right what went wrong, and as a result, punishing himself for surviving, he traveled the world in order to learn how to avenge, how to serve justice. When Bruce Wayne learned how to fly from one building to another, it was of necessity: he simply had to be the good that the city of Gotham needed. Dick Grayson learned how to fly from trapeze to trapeze long before his parents were murdered. Why is Dick Grayson a brighter soul than Bruce Wayne? Because Grayson's every-day antics as Robin / Nightwing remind him, perhaps simply through muscle memory, of a good time when he had the time of his life surrounded by friends and family. When Bruce Wayne does the same he can only remember the assignment he gave himself after his parents died.

When Dick Grayson became a man of his own right, he moved out of Gotham and donned the costume of Nightwing. On his own, he was based in the city of Bludhaven, that is, until Bludhaven got completely destroyed by Chemo. As the leader of the Teen Titans, he operated out of New York City. Nightwing was to Bludhaven what Batman was to Gotham, and this is essentially the first bit of evidence that Grant Morrison's concept of a Batman, Inc. would work out. If Nightwing could be the Batman for another city, why couldn't you have a Batman for every city, state, nation and continent? Why couldn't you have a Batman for another planet? Where Nightwing really distinguished himself as his own hero, not merely mimicking Batman, was when he was with the Teen Titans. As leader of the Teen Titans, Grayson evolved Bruce Wayne's detective training into a kind of military leadership. His intelligence told him where every member of the team could be best used and his bright personality inspired morale and motivated those around him to do what needed to be done. In this way, he was to the Teen Titans what both Batman and Superman, and to some degree Green Lantern are to the Justice League.

Some years later, Dick Grayson won the battle for the cowl and became Batman while Bruce Wayne was presumed dead. With Damian Wayne as his Robin, Grayson turned the dynamic of the Dynamic Duo on its head. For the first time, there was a hopeful Batman and a haunted Robin. Bruce Wayne has returned to the role of Batman and he certainly has his hands full with his own son as Robin, and in the meanwhile Nightwing has returned to Gotham City in order to fight crime. I've read the stories of Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne in the new 52 reboot of the DC universe, and I feel that the success of most, if not all, of the bat-books is directly related to the influence of Dick Grayson.

Nightwing can stand on his own. Let's just hope that when he does he's not played by Chris O'Donnell.

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