Nightwing. You know the book. You know the hero. Dick Grayson, the first Robin, the Boy Wonder. He’s that carefree, acrobatic wunderkind Batman took in way back in Detective Comics #38 in 1940. A hero brighter than his dark, tortured mentor. The butt of decades of jokes for getting kidnapped so often, and homophobic slurs from those assuming a clearly father and son relationship was something cringe behind the scenes. Nonetheless, the character garnered a horde of fans. As Nightwing Vol. 4 celebrates its 100th issue this month, we look back on his adventures and iterations over those years.
Who Is The First Boy Wonder?
Forward, fearless, empathetic. For decades he experienced a character growth few heroes get, becoming Nightwing in Tales of the Teen Titans #44 in 1984. He became a team leader, getting his own city (Bludhaven) to defend, and even being Batman. But mostly, he’s been suffering from feeling he’s stuck in Batman’s shadow—in stories and in how DC handles him. But long ago he was written in a way that went beyond the Bat’s Gothic violence, and elevated him to an urban, unpowered Superman figure. Bright. Relatable. A true leader.
Nightwing Vol. 1 and Vol 2 came and went. Bludhaven rose. Bludhaven got Chemo-bombed. Our hero meandered about, listless. Then the New 52, DC’s grand experimental rewrite of its universe, swept away the lore. Except for Batman. His popular tales were legit, just crushed into five years. Dick had his entire backstory, even his time spent as the Bat. But this new era meant now it was time to go backward. I mean, at least we still got Nightwing adventures, despite what was really a downgrade.
But lo! Behind the scenes, DC publisher Dan Didio felt sidekicks could never elevate out of their mentor’s shadow (arguably true) and so the best thing to do with them was off them. Extreme, yes. But I saw his point. Sort of. Dick should have remained as Batman. DC chickened out. But what’s done was done, there they were, Nightwing’s ‘in the shadows’ rep bothered them so much and so many issues in the ‘Forever Evil’ crossover found Dick kidnapped, his identity exposed, and killed.
Nightwing Vol. 3 in the New 52 reboot ended with issue #30. Then we got Grayson, where Dick lived the undercover life of a posh spy. But he was Nightwing in every way, minus a mask. But a spy. Very good stories by Tim Seeley, but yet another nonsensical hero is revealed/dies/reborn/gets his life back hack. Very played out. I bring this all up in order to illustrate the winding road fans had to travel to get to where we are today.
Out With Grayson, In With…
DC decided that forgetting its Nightwing history might have been a bad idea (thank you fellow fans!) and so began the long, frustrating road to get it back with Rebirth. Rebirth gave most DC titles a new #1, setting a sort of new status quo. And with Dick’s secret identity back to being secret thanks to the fallout in Grayson, our guy chose to be Nightwing again, in the classic blue-and-black costume. And there we were, back with a new series.
What we got was at first more of the same. Due to uncovered familial links, Dick became a pawn of the Court of Owls, teetered back and forth against new villain Raptor, and at long last, returned to Bludhaven. We received new villains like Orca, but something felt off. Bludhaven was less grunge and more Atlantic City, Jersey Shore glam. That still fit the city, but the villains were less than engaging. Even the reintroduction of Blockbuster didn’t really make things any better. For the most part, Dick was passing the time from one Batman crossover to the next.
And then, DC decided Nightwing was once again unworthy, and in issue #55, the KGBeast put a bullet in his brain and Dick died. Then, he rose again as… Ric Grayson. Worst change up, perhaps ever, in comics. And yet, veteran comics writers would come in and try to make it work to no avail. Bludhaven lost its neon boardwalk appeal and returned to its 90s grime and sooty bricks. Ric had a new love interest, Beatrice, who was an amazing addition. He even had people take up the Nightwing mantle, and after regaining his memory, trained them. I wish Bea and the Nightwings had remained. They were good tidings in two years of a messy series.
Re-Re-Birth Nightwing, At Long Last
Twice DC offed Nightwing, only to resurrect the name and carry on. After the tribulations of Ric, Tom Taylor stepped in as the new writer on the series and everything in the book began to shine as brightly as Dick’s optimistic soul. Bludhaven was wretched but neon-colored and kind of pretty. A modern coat of paint over a blighted interior. Nightwing faced off against Blockbuster while new villain, Heartless introduced Bludhaven to his cringey ways. And this new age showed us a Nightwing ready to better the city as a whole, no longer content to just punch faces or run rooftop patrols.
To start, Dick becomes rich thanks to an inheritance left to him by the deceased Alfred Pennyworth. He puts this to epic use with a foundation that, every other issue, makes Dick Grayson as much a hero to Bludhaven as Nightwing. Societal issues such as the plight of the unhoused and private prisons are explored. Oh yes, we even find out the mayor under Blockbuster’s thumb, Melinda Zucco, is none other than Dick’s long-lost half-sister. And finally, the Dick/Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) romance happens! Dick gets a dog. No, really, that’s a highlight. It’s been a stellar run that is finally showing Nightwing not only as a great hero outside the shadow of the Bat, but is even making him the premiere DC superhero, and a good human being. I can’t say enough about it.
This is a 5-star hero who for so long got two-star stories. They tried to get rid of him twice. Now, he’s number one. Let that sink in.
Nightwing Vol. 4 celebrates its 100th issue this month, available now wherever comic books are sold. Get yours.
William J. Jackson is a small town laddie who self publishes books of punk genres, Victorian Age superheroes, rocket ships and human turmoil. He loves him some comic books, Nature, Star Trek and the fine art of the introvert.