It’s surprising to realize that Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is one of the oldest comic book characters in existence. His first appearance was in 1940, only 11 months after Batman first appeared. He’s been around 70 years and still has so much left to be discovered about him. I would argue that Dick Grayson is one of the greatest comic characters ever created. Doesn’t mean that he is always written well, doesn’t always mean that he is interesting, but what he stands for, what he is as a character, no one can really touch Dick Grayson.
He is the light in the world of Batman’s darkness. He’s the original superhero sidekick. I’d also argue that he is the reason that comics have an “aging” process to them, where the characters slowly grow older because of Grayson’s evolution into the hero Nightwing in the 80s, which established him as 18 years old, when he had appeared in comics originally as a 10 year old boy.
As artist Phill Jimenez said in the “Infinite Crisis” hardcover, “In many ways, even more than Superman or [Bruce Wayne], [Grayson] is the soul, the linchpin, of the DCU. He’s well respected by everyone, known to the [Justice League], the Titans, the Outsiders, Birds of Prey – everyone looks to him for advice, for friendship, for his skills. He’s the natural leader of the DCU.”
And now, he’s Batman. Since last year’s “Battle for the Cowl,” Dick Grayson has taken up the mantle of his fallen mentor, Bruce Wayne and has been featured in all of Batman’s titles (with the exception of “Detective Comics,” which, until recently, has been starring Batwoman since Wayne’s death). But that still gives Grayson three books to really soar: “Batman,” currently being written and drawn by “BftC” creator Tony Daniels; “Batman: Streets of Gotham,” written by Paul Dini and penciled by Dustin Nguyen; and the flagship title, “Batman & Robin,” written by Grant Morrison and drawn by a rotating stable of artists. The last two debuted (as well as the change to Batwoman’s taking over of “Detective”) as part of the banner event, “Batman: Reborn.”
I must be honest, I haven’t checked out “Streets of Gotham.” While I have consistently enjoyed the writing of Dini, it has never peaked my interest beyond the normal curiosity of a new title, but the tone seems to be reaching for a former Batman title, “Gotham Knights” in that it offers a more “street level” view of Gotham City. Once I get a hold of it, I’ll post a review. Mostly, I have focused on the two main Batman titles: “Batman” and “Batman & Robin.”
“Batman” was relaunched with a quick, four issue stint from an amazing team of Judd Winick and Mark Bagley (one of my favorite artists). To me, this was the perfect introduction of Grayson as Batman because Winick just seemed to nail the characterization. Grayson is not the brooding shadow that Bruce Wayne has become. He doesn’t need his parent’s death to fuel him like Wayne does. He comes from a circus, he is a natural acrobat and Winick just understood that. He played this dark knight not as a shadowy black figure, but one who sought out the light and let his acts spread his message, not fear and rumor as Wayne did. The arc mostly seemed concerned with setting up pieces for Daniels to come on, but it stood alone as well, with Two-Face, Grayson’s personal arch-enemy, being convinced that a new Batman was under the cowl and he was unworthy to do so. With Two Face, who has been built in the last 15 years as the main villain in the life of Grayson, appearing in the first arc and setting out to prove the “true” Batman was no longer around, it gave Dick powerful motivation through out the story, not only having to prove to the world around him that he is Batman, but also to himself. And as always, Bagley was firing on all cylinders, proving once again to not only be one of comics most reliable artists, but one of its best period.
And yet, fun arcs like this don’t hold a candle to Morrison’s “Batman & Robin,” currently the best comic to feature Batman and one of the best comics running right now. Morrison was the writer who “killed” Bruce Wayne (it should be noted that through out all this, Bruce Wayne’s body may have been destroyed, but his spirit has been traveling through time. Trust me, it makes sense in context) and as that person, it only makes sense that he would be the person who spearheads the Batman line for the time being since it was his work that led to this overhaul of the characters.
His book is surprisingly fun, given that it is still as gritty and violent as any other Batman book. There is just this breezy tone to the whole book, that seems to make the reader feel that Morrison must have been having the time of his life writing this book. The stand out character is a Morrison original: Damien Wayne, the recently revealed son of Bruce and current Robin, the Boy Wonder. Damien is a really complex character even though he is roughly ten years old. He was raised in a world of assassins and has to come to terms with his father’s legacy of no gun/no killing and that has led to great deal of struggle, but what makes him a deeply intriguing character is that Damien is a genuinely good person. He is truly his father’s son, he just needs to get over the huge chip on his shoulder and the way he was raised. But Morrison has also made him incredibly loyal to Dick Grayson, though they have had several differences over the nine issues of the book. Damien has only really been handled by Morrison (though is featured in the other books) and that has led to some great character moments that could make him a solid DC character for years to come, but only when he is handled by a lesser writer can his value really be seen, so look out for him in the future.
But this fun ride maybe coming to a close soon, as DC is starting “The Return of Bruce Wayne,” which officially kicked off in this month’s “Batman & Robin #10.” Bruce Wayne is coming back and that begs the question of what will happen to Dick Grayson. It’s clear that his bond with Damien is far stronger than the one Damien has with his father, but does that mean that Damien will follow Grayson when he heads out to claim (or reclaim) an identity? Will Grayson even make it out of this alive? Dan DiDio, DC’s Editor-in-Chief, had targeted him for death in “Infinite Crisis,” only to change his mind. The clock is ticking for Grays0n, but where he’ll be at the end is up in the air.
Four people have been Robin, the Boy Wonder since Grayson left the costume in 1984. He has been the character Nightwing for 25 years, but he will always remain Robin in the world’s eyes. He will always be the original sidekick. He may never escape that fate, but right now, he is wearing the Batman cowl with a pride and experience that only comes from surviving 70 years of comic book lore. Dick Grayson: Linchpin of the DCU.
This blog offered some thoughts on Dick Grayson that I think would be interesting (I brought a few of those ideas into this blog post as well)
All images copyright of DC Comics.