20 October 2013

More on Nightwing, #93

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the controversy over Nightwing, #93 (published in 2004), and how Wikipedia’s one-sentence description of that comic book’s script was rewritten in 2010 to say the opposite of what it originally said.

Another source in assessing that situation was Birds of Prey scripter Gail Simone’s conversation with Nightwing scripter Devin Grayson in The Pulse website in June 2004, while the storyline was playing out. I found the text of the relevant exchange, copied before the interview disappeared from the web. Here it is for the record:
THE PULSE: Another reason this year has been hard for Nightwing is the breakup of his relationship with a very smart redhead whose book I happen to write [i.e., Barbara Gordon]. Dick’s obviously a physical character, especially lately, and I think you and other writers have clearly established that he’s not a loner. Without giving too much away, the ending of #93 had rather a shocking event in Dick’s love/sex life. Was this a one-time thing, a moment of weakness and disorientation, or is Tarantula something more to Dick?

GRAYSON: That particular moment was actually not consensual. Dick’s body sometimes has a mind and life of its own, and in this case, his heart was very clear (as were his words) about not wanting to be engaged that way at that time. But Catalina [a.k.a. Tarantula] overwhelms him to some extent, both physically and emotionally. He feels responsible now for, essentially, the destruction of her soul, and as of issue 93 (and this continues into 94), he’s not yet sure how to redeem her or himself, so she’s really got an odd kind of control over him while he tries to catch his breath and figure that out. She’s crystal clear about what she wants to be doing and how she wants him to factor into it – utterly undaunted by recent events – and Dick is, at this point, basically being dragged around behind her (this actually becomes literal in 94). Through a combination of shock and moral anguish, Dick has, to some extent, surrendered to her will. And in that particular situation, the sex itself was practically allegorical. I don’t mean it didn’t really happen, but rather that it was a final physical manifestation of an emotional violation that went much deeper.
Two months later Devin Grayson had the Q&A with fans in which she referred back to this conversation: “For the record, I’ve never used the word ‘rape,’ I just said it was nonconsensual (I know, aren’t writers frustrating? *smiles*).”

Curiously, in an exchange on the Legions of Gotham message board dated June 2004 (though at one point I recorded it as having occurred in January 2005), Devin Grayson was explicit:
from aneurysm: Theres been alot of online debate about what actually happened at the end of Nightwing #93. Was Dick raped? Was it consensual? Did they actually do anything other than a bit of dry humping? Everyone seems to be debating this and coming up with crazy explanations (the weirdest I've heard is that Tarantula drugged Dick!).

Devin Grayson: Okay, let’s see if I can clear this up while still retaining some necessary vagueness. The facts: if you’re over seventeen, that was way more than dry-humping. If you’re a younger reader, well, they were just being friendly. ;-) There were no drugs involved beyond the very potent chemical cocktails of pheromones with which we all come naturally equipped. The act was not consensual – Dick did not want to be touched, as he stated, and physical intimacy – especially with Catalina – was the last thing in his head or heart. He was, essentially, raped, though I think in an emotional and spiritual sense even more than in the physical sense. He almost certainly has the power to best Tarantula physically, but she definitely overwhelms him in other ways.
I think it’s significant that Devin Grayson said she had to maintain “some necessary vagueness” and attributed her frustrating coyness in the other Q&A to being a writer. Those phrases are why I read her combination of statements as signs of a storyteller trying to balance between giving readers the information they need to interpret her narrative and not spelling out that story before it concluded (several issues and one Batman crossover later).

The result was clumsy and, especially in combination with the delayed conclusion, frustrating and even infuriating for fans. Devin Grayson herself expressed regrets in a mid-2005 Q&A:
What made you come up with the idea to have Nightwing being raped in Nightwing #93?

What happened between him and Catalina on that rooftop was a physical manifestation of a much deeper marginalization of power. In hindsight, I regret it — not because it was controversial, but because readers have paid more attention to that moment than to the one that truly shattered Dick — the moment when he stood by passively in the face of someone’s murder. That was a far worse subjugation of everything he stands for than the subsequent physical violation.
At that point the story of Dick and Catalina’s relationship had ended—though Dick would continue working out his feelings about the murder in hard-to-follow ways over another year of issues.

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