Forever Evil is just around the corner, and with another new event comes new rumors of Nightwing’s death. What is Nightwing’s place in the DC Universe? Should he have been killed in Infinite Crisis? And how can he become a unique character again?
Nightwing is a character that has been teetering on the edge of relevancy for over a decade now. That battle to find Dick Grayson’s place in modern DC nearly came to a head in 2006, when it was decided that he would be killed at the end of Infinite Crisis.
Dan DiDio felt that the character had come to a point of no return. There was already a Batman and he had been replaced as Robin long ago. Nightwing read like both of those characters, yet was neither. Never far enough away, but also not able to claim either identity.
Dick avoided death when longtime DC fans and writers (including Geoff Johns and Mark Waid) argued in favor of the character and instead offered up Superboy as an acceptable alternative sacrifice for the all-demanding Event Death.
Much of the argument in favor of Dick centered on the fact that he had such a long history in the DC Universe. Not only has he been in comic books for nearly 75 years, but he is a hero that acts as a heart to the DCU. Everyone from Superman to Wonder Woman knows and loves Dick Grayson, whether from his early years as Robin or his years leading the Titans and Outsiders.
But is that enough reason to keep a character around?
As currently constituted, I would say no. For much of the New 52, Nightwing has played a very similar role to Batman. Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins has taken steps to rectify this by moving Dick out of Gotham, and giving him a new home in Chicago. In this way, Nightwing is able to step out from Batman’s shadow, and try to clean up a city of his own.
But that’s not a far enough move to differentiate Nightwing from his former mentor. Both characters operate in a similar darkness, with similar tactics, against similar foes. Dick gets to have more of a personal life than Bruce, but that is the biggest difference in how a Nightwing series reads from a Batman series.
As DC teases a large role for Nightwing in Forever Evil fans have speculated on what “unthinkable” change could be coming to the hero. DC has stated on several occasions that he won’t die in this series. That leaves several possibilities, the most commonly speculated being that he will somehow be forced to give up superheroing (doubtful with a decently selling ongoing series) or become a bad guy.
I don’t really care to touch on the speculation, other than to say that I’m not really in favor of either of those things happening. Nor am I actually in favor of Nightwing dying.
What I am for is Nightwing changing enough that he can become his own character.
Writing Nightwing as Batman-lite, putting him in Batman-like situations, and forcing him into all of the countless Batman crossovers has really hurt a character that was able to find a unique spot for himself in the greater DC Universe in 1980s.
One of my favorite things about Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Teen Titans books, was how they took Dick Grayson from Batman’s sidekick to a superheroic leader. They built the character into someone could eventually stand next to Superman, Flash, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League as an equal. The problem was that after Nightwing was done with the Titans, he never got his chance to “graduate” to the Justice League in any meaningful way.
To me, the Justice League version of Batman is Nightwing. When you think about who Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson truly are, Dick is a much more believable Justice League leader.
Bruce is a loner. Obsessive. Deeply mentally disturbed.
Dick is everyone’s friend. He’s fun-loving, but also has Batman’s training.
Obviously Batman sells more books than Nightwing does, which is why Batman continues to be a part of every Justice League team, but I think the Justice League is exactly where Nightwing belongs.
The best way to differentiate Batman from Nightwing, is to first split the two parts of Batman that don’t logically make sense together. In his own books, Batman is a vigilante, the lone detective. In team books he becomes a superhero.
The biggest difference I see between Bruce and Dick is that Batman is the vigilante, Nightwing is the superhero. If the folks at DC really want to make Nightwing succeed, that’s how I would suggest they do it.
Keep Batman in Gotham, sure he can and should play a role when the entire universe is at stake in the year’s big event, but Batman isn’t the type to show up every time the Justice League is needed. He’s smart enough to know that Superman and Wonder Woman can probably handle things without him.
Meanwhile, take advantage of the fact that Nightwing has years of continuity and history with almost every single big hero in the DCU. Allow Nightwing to be the Justice League leader, or at least a prominent team member.
And in his own book, allow him to team up with more heroes. Or to face unconventional villains.
Put him in wackier adventures than you would allow sulking, dark Batman to go on.
Allow him to be the superhero that Bruce can’t be.