We end this look at Robins with the one that started it all: Dick Grayson. Brought into the series as a way of lightening up Batman, the way to brighten up a story is to make another child witness his parents’ death then dress him up brightly and let him punch bad guys, naturally. Dick Grayson is pretty well known to the general populace, as long as he’s in red and green, but to comics fans he has a more well known history in blue and black (and more recently red and black), with some time even wearing his mentor’s cowl. Let’s swing into (sorry, too easy to pass up) learning about Dick Grayson.
Born Richard John Grayson to a family of acrobats, Dick Grayson would become one of the greatest acrobats the world had ever seen before reaching the double digits in age. The Flying Graysons were Dick along with his parents, Mary and John, the best acrobats in the world, and they traveled with Haly’s Circus. The Graysons were a happy family until coming to Gotham City with Haly’s Circus, ready to perform. Boss Zucco, a local crime figurehead, had made it clear that if he wasn’t paid protection money by the circus there would be consequences. The owner refused, Grayson watched this in secret, and that night during the Flying Graysons’ performance Mary and John would fall to their deaths due to a broken high wire line. Grayson knew this was because of Zucco’s threat and felt responsible for not warning his parents.
Having seen the whole thing in the audience, Bruce Wayne felt obligated to take the boy in, knowing all too well what it feels like to lose the people you love the most in front of your very eyes. Taking Grayson into his home, Wayne thought Batman could solve the case and give the boy some closure on the murder. Grayson was too restless to find the idle life of the mansion satisfying, so he decided to try and bring Zucco to justice himself. Grayson would meet Batman in his search and the two would work together to bring down Zucco, but the crime boss would die from a heart attack before being brought in. Batman revealed that he was Bruce Wayne to Grayson, and decided that to help the boy further, he’d mentor him in the ways of crime fighting.
Grayson would take on the name Robin, a nickname his mother had for him, and adopted the colors of red, green, and yellow to make him a distraction in aiding Batman. The kid was willing to risk getting shot at more if it meant he was infuriating criminals with his sass mouth and sweet moves to let his boss clock them out if he didn’t do it first. Dick Grayson is awesome. His first meeting with Two-Face stymies his early days of adventure when he tries to save a man, but due to Two-Face’s obsession with the two, there was a back up death trap to kill the man.
Teaming up with fellow sidekicks Aqua Lad and Kid Flash to create the first iteration of the Teen Titans, they’d eventually develop a large roster involving Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Raven, Cyborg, and Starfire, to name a few. When Grayson was shot by the Joker, Batman let him go as a sidekick, fearing he’d be putting Grayson into too much peril. Grayson would move to New York with the Teen Titans, but wonder what to do since he didn’t think Robin was his identity anymore. In Pre-Crisis history Superman inspires him to become Nightwing, in Post-Crisis continuity he is inspired by his dad’s old favorite colors of black and blue to take on the name Nightwing.
Moving to the town of Blüdhaven, he began a new life both in his civilian identity and as Nightwing. Grayson would learn that Zucco hadn’t died when he and Batman had apprehended him; Batman had lied about his death. When spying on the alive and now free from jail Zucco, he’d witness him being assassinated. He and Batman would argue over the decision Batman made in covering this up, Batman claiming to try and keep Grayson away from seeking vengeance, and Grayson telling him that the lie was painful to learn about. Their friendship was at its rockiest around this time.
Tim Drake arrived in Grayson’s life asking him to return to the mantle of Robin since the death of Jason Todd was leaving Batman erratic. Grayson couldn’t go back from his new and own identity, but did aide Drake in becoming the new Robin, and the two would form a great friendship over the years. Meanwhile in the Teen Titans, Dick and Starfire rush to marry but an attack at the ceremony changes everything, and Starfire leaves for her home planet while Dick aids Gotham and Blüdhaven.
When Bane nearly kills Batman, Jean-Paul Valley is chosen to take on the mantle of the Bat since Bruce Wayne thought Nightwing was his own man and didn’t want to interrupt that. This would be the worst idea, and eventually Bruce Wayne, Grayson, Drake, and Catwoman would have to take down Valley. When Wayne returned to Gotham with an active spine again, he realized he still had to recover and asked if Grayson would take on the mantle until he could return. Accepting this and working with Drake, the rift between Grayson and Wayne began to heal.
Grayson eventually re-teamed with his former Teen Titan members to create the Titans, since the group had all aged out of that age bracket. Balancing his Titan responsibilities with his Blüdhaven life and patrol, Dick would have many adventures with the team and fight many new enemies in his city.
During the events of Infinite Crisis, Grayson goes double agent with the villains to gain their trust. During the events of the Crisis, Blüdhaven is destroyed, leaving Grayson devastated. During the end of Crisis he and Superboy fight off Prime, with Superboy sacrificing himself to stop the Crisis, and Grayson is badly injured. Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl and at the time Oracle, helps Grayson recover, and during this time he proposes to her. She accepts, but this engagement is short lived as it becomes clear that Grayson should join Batman and Drake on a one year sabbatical.
Upon returning from a year’s travels, Grayson learns that a new Nightwing has shown up in his absence in New York City. This Nightwing turns out to be Jason Todd, and the two fight then team up (classic comics) to take down a threat to New York City. Taking back NYC from Todd, Grayson continued protecting New York and working with the team called the Outsiders before handing leadership back over to Batman to join the Titans.
Batman is targeted for complete annihilation by an order called the Black Glove, and Grayson leaves his life in New York to come help Gotham, his brother Tim, and Batman. Batman is missing and Grayson ends up drugged and locked in Arkham Asylum under a false name that the Black Glove gave him. This all turns out to be a plan by Batman and Grayson to cause the Black Glove to think they are winning. Batman is believed dead, but in actuality is traveling through time punching his way back to the present (YEP!). Nightwing is aiding Drake in protecting Gotham when a new, more lethal Batman arrives, and it turns out to be Todd and the two are able to stop him with help.
Grayson takes up the mantle of the Bat against Wayne’s request, since Wayne didn’t want to hold back Nightwing. Realizing there needs to be a Batman and Robin, but seeing Drake as an equal, he takes on Damien Wayne, Bruce’s son, to be his Robin. At first their partnership is rough, but Grayson’s upbeat attitude helps Damien mellow out some. The two confront many villains, old and new. Commissioner Gordon tells Grayson that the other cops like his Batman more; he is friendly with the cops and gives them reassurance instead of fear to keep up the good fight.
Bruce Wayne returns to the present and wants Grayson to stay on as Batman with him to help with Batman Incorporated. Grayson agrees, but when the new 52 hits, he “decides” to return to the Nightwing persona. He fights alongside Robin as he dies in their battle with Leviathan. Currently, Grayson is Nightwing again, and wearing a red and black version of his costume. He helped fight off the Court of Owls and survived Joker’s plan to destroy the Bat-family.
That’s where we are, and I feel Grayson has taken a step back since his Batman was a great one. Bruce thought so, too. Grayson was finally living the natural development of his story; in many other dimensions, Grayson will become Batman. I always enjoyed Nightwing, but to return and take on the mantle of his mentor showed a level of maturing and growth that was fascinating to me. He was the “fun Batman” incarnate all the time, that is one of my favorite incarnations, and it was still different from interpretations of Bruce as the “fun Batman.” That’s great and he will be missed as the Bat, but he still makes a wonderful Nightwing.
Detective Comics #38
Batman and Robin