Friday, July 15, 2011

Batman Character Spotlight: Dick Grayson

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Sometimes I feel like less of a Batman fan and more of a Dick Grayson fan. As much as I love the Dark Knight, I don't think I would be so heavily endeared to him and his many incarnations if it wasn't for Dick. I fully expect a lot of giggling in the peanut gallery for this post, but sometimes you can't help the unfortunate name you've been given, alright?

As I said before, it's Batman the Animated Series that is my ideal Batman, and so logically, that is where my ideal version of Dick Grayson also resides. And at the age of 13, I fell in love with him hard. His looks, his sense of humor, his abilities, he was the perfect guy as far as I was concerned. I hated Barbara Gorden out of simple and pure jealousy. She couldn't have him, he was mine!

There's no doubt that a large part of what created those passionate feelings for me was the two part origin episode for Dick, "Robin's Reckoning." It is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of what made this show so great. Apparently I am not alone, as it won an Emmy.

The episode begins with classic Batman and Robin - Robin makes jokes to try to keep the stakeout they're on from being too boring, while Batman is all business. When the criminals finally arrive, Robin excitedly springs into action and continues to crack jokes while taking down the foes. The mood changes dramatically, however, when one of the hoodlums mentions a name. It means nothing to Robin, but clearly Batman knows it. He promptly orders Robin to leave, and once the kid is gone, he threatens the hoodlum to tell him everything he wants to know.

Robin is angry and confused by being shut out by Batman, but unlike Jubilee, he's not whining about it. He takes matter into his own hands and uses the detective skills that Batman has taught him to get down to the bottom of it. The name is an alias for Tony Zucco, the man responsible for Dick's parents' death. This segues into a flashback scene where we see exactly how it occurred. The death scene is appropriately heartbreaking and shocking without being graphic, and the pain in young Dick's voice often brings tears to my eyes.

Dick's origin really is perfect for a self insert character. He shares a similar tragic past to Batman, meaning they can have something in common, but he's also got a really cool life. He gets to grow up in the circus, and when that comes to an end he gets to go live in a huge mansion with a rich guy who leads a secret life as Batman. Not a bad consolation prize for being orphaned.

The main storyline of this episode is actually very similar to Robin's story in Batman Forever, and may go a long way in explaining just why I loved that film at the time. Dick wants revenge, but Bruce wants to find Zucco first. We find out through the flashback sequences that Dick once did the very same thing as a kid. In that instance, Bruce had a choice between catching Zucco or saving Dick's life, so Zucco got away. Now that Dick has grown up, he assumes that Bruce is afraid he will go too far and try to kill Zucco - but in reality, Bruce tells him he couldn't bear the thought of losing him, and he kept him home to keep him safe. It is incredibly touching and sweet. The voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester, and Joey Simmrin (who plays young Dick) cannot possibly be understated here. They sell this entire episode and make you feel for these characters.

It's no wonder to me that all this had such a deep effect on me and made me so attached to the character. I also have the novelization of this episode in the form of Shadows of the Past. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's a short quick read, but an excellent adaptation of both this episode and another, "Appointment in Crime Alley," which touches a lot on the death of Bruce Wayne's parents. I used to read it repeatedly.

Coincidentally, the time that I started reading Batman comics was also when the Prodigal storyline happened. That was when Dick Grayson took over as Batman for the first time. In that instance, it was meant to be temporary. I loved this story for two reasons - it was great to see Dick's mindset in being under the cowl and what that meant to him, and it was also great to see him interact with Tim Drake. This interaction remained after Dick returned to being Nightwing in the comics, at least for a little while. I got bored with most of the Batman comics shortly after this storyline ended, but I kept collecting Robin. I don't think I would have accepted Tim Drake half as much as I did if it hadn't been for the solid interaction between the two of them - very similar to a brotherly relationship. I plan to review both the Prodigal storyline as well as some of those Robin comics at a later date.

It's kind of frustrating to me that at the time I was collecting, Nightwing didn't have his own book. He got a one shot where he rescued Alfred and then a mini series, but his ongoing title didn't start until after I had stopped collecting. Being such a huge part of both Batman's universe and even the DC Universe as a whole thanks to his leadership of Teen Titans, it didn't seem fair for him to get pushed aside like that. I collected a few Teen Titans back issues to get my fix, but I wasn't too crazy about a lot of them. His failed wedding to Starfire in particular bothered me, as I felt like I really didn't know the hothead character being shown in that book. He wasn't the Dick Grayson I knew and loved.

I know shortly after I stopped they did in fact give him his own ongoing title which lasted for quite a while. I've read a few spare issues here and there, but am otherwise largely unaware of how good or bad they are.

I have been enjoying Dick's recent return to playing Batman though, especially his relationship with Damien. It doesn't seem right to demote him back to Nightwing like they plan to do in the upcoming reboot, but at least he'll still have his own title.

6 comments:

  1. An interesting entry. Like you, I became interested in Nightwing thanks to Batman cartoon - though for me, it was the New Animated Series. I was intrigued that the character who was friendly with Batman when he was Robin was so upset with him that he became Nightwing and went out of his way to disassociate with him. It was an interesting dynamic I haven't really seen in a cartoon before, and I wanted to learn more.

    Like you, I was introduced to the comics version of Dick Grayson thanks to Prodigal storyline (though I picked it up several years after the issues were originally released when I found the trade at my local library). I liked it for the same reasons you did - but unlike you, I followed up with the Nightwing solo series (which was also available in trades at my local library - my library is exceptionally well-stocked).

    I think much of Nightwing's appeal comes from the fact that he's simply more dynamic character than Batman. Batman can't really stray too far from the basic archetype, while Dick Grayson changed a great deal since he debuted in Detective Comics in 1941. And while he still has connections to the Batman "family," he isn't dependent on them - he works in greater DCU just fine.

    That's why I would disagree with you about one thing - I don't think Dick going back to being Nightwing as a demotion. As Nightwing, Dick Grayson was forging his own legacy and making his own way. As Batman, he was pretty much sublimating his personality to the Batman legacy, which constrained the character.

    But that's just me.

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  2. It's entirely possible that if I had read more of his solo adventures, I would feel totally different. It's mostly that, when you talk about a possible successor for Bruce Wayne, to me there is no other answer besides Dick, or at least, Dick goes first, and eventually Tim would take over from him, etc. So I suppose that since Bruce is now back, it would make sense for him to be the only Batman. I just wish they had made the storyline last a little longer.

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  3. Yeah, it's definitely a shame that the Batman franchise is getting a reboot. I mean, a lot of the DC universe needed a kick in the pants (here's looking at you, Wonder Woman) but Batman was not one of those properties. Having not been particularly pro or anti-dick (OK, I think I just made myself giggle with that one), I don't have a problem with Bruce going back into the Bat-suit. But it does feel like a devolution of the Batman archetype.

    Finally, we get something different from the gritty Batman of the '80s. Not only is he fighting wackier villains, he's a completely different person! I'm worried the reboot is going to lose that sense of iconoclasm that's made Batman so great, as of late.

    But yeah, can I assume you'll be reading the new Nightwing series?

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  4. I haven't been to an actual comic shop in ages, so it may take me a little bit, but I'll definitely be checking out the first few issues to give it a shot.

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  5. +JMJ+

    I meant to comment on this days ago.

    You weren't the only one with a childhood crush on Dick Grayson. There was never a time I preferred Batman to him. Robin just seemed more human. (And of the two, he was closer to my age! =P)

    I didn't like it when he stopped being Robin--although now that I'm older, I understand his choices better. Yes, it was time to strike out and forge his own identity--or more accurately, his own destiny. How ironic, then, that he should take up the cowl later one, too . . .

    Unfortunately, I had stopped following his story by the time he became the next Batman. I think I would have really enjoyed that storyline, although I've never made peace with any of the other Robins.

    A couple of years ago, I tried watching Teen Titans on Cartoon Network. At the time, it seemed like a good way to catch up stuff I had missed without actually buying new comics. Now I wish someone had told me that it didn't care about continuity at all. =/ I guess not every cartoon can be Batman the Animated Series, aye?

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  6. I was actually able to get a copy of Dick's first appearance as Nightwing, where he decides to take on the role. I really liked that issue, and it definitely helped to explain his reasoning quite a bit.

    I think with Teen Titans, they got stuck. The Batman was active at the same time, and as such they weren't allowed to really say which Robin it was. Though the fact that he and Starfire were flirting and in one episode we see him as Nightwing in the future, it's pretty obvious who he really was. :)

    I technically haven't read Battle for the Cowl either, I just picked up the trade paperbacks of Batman & Robin. I found the transition smooth enough that I didn't need to know anything that came before it - just that Dick was Batman now and Damien was the son of Bruce and Talia. That's the helpful thing about having seen BtAS, it gave me just enough Batman lore to crossover without any confusion.

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