03 November 2013

Dick Grayson and Redheads

A few weeks back I had a Twitter conversation about the idea that Dick Grayson is attracted to red-haired women. Where did this idea come from, and who promulgated it?

Dick’s two longest and deepest relationships in the comic books have been with Koriand’r (Starfire) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl, Oracle). And both those female superheroes are redheads. But otherwise they’re very different characters.

DC Comics introduced Barbara to prepare the way for Batgirl in the Batman television show. She was already at work in a library while Dick was in high school. Later she served in the House of Representatives when he was in college. In the late 1970s the Batman Family magazine raised the possibility of a relationship between them, only to bat it down.

In 1980 Marv Wolfman and George Pérez created Koriand’r in New Teen Titans to become Robin’s love interest. That was obvious from their first storyline. Together Dick and Kory led DC into exploring relationships that involved sex, as I discussed back here. Their pairing was a mainstay of the Titans comics for more than a decade, until the mid-1990s when they broke up.

The first Nightwing miniseries; Nightwing Annual, #1; and the Nightwing-Huntress miniseries showed Dick Grayson exploring the possibilities of other relationships. But it was apparent—especially in the last—that the company was moving him back toward Barbara Gordon. That partnership finally took hold during the No Man’s Land crossover.

In most ways Kory and Barbara were symbolic opposites. The first was an extraterrestrial princess descended from cats who had spent her adolescence in slavery. The second was the daughter (or niece and/or adopted daughter) of Gotham police commissioner James Gordon who had spent her adolescence earning a library science degree. Kory was emotionally open and naïve about life on Earth; Barbara was all about knowledge. Kory was a towering, buxom, barely-dressed supermodel who represented physical power and pleasure. Barbara at that point was paralyzed from the waist down and represented intellectual power and pleasure.

But of course both had red hair. Was that why Dick Grayson was attracted to them? I don’t like to think so, for two reasons. In the first place, that would make Dick rather shallow, driven by one physical trait rather than his deep emotional connections to people. I interpret his character as drawn to strong and strong-willed women who nonetheless seemed to need rescuing, as both Kory and Barbara did at times.

The second reason is all those other women DC’s creators showed Dick attracted to over the years, at least for a while:
  • Mary Wills in Star-Spangled Comics, #103 (1950), redhead.
  • figure skater Vera Lovely (1957), blonde.
  • tennis star and occasional crime-fighter Betty Kane/Bat-Girl (1960-64), blonde.
  • college student Lori Elton (1975), blonde.
  • damsel in distress Miggie Webster (1995), dark hair.
  • murder suspect Emily Washburn (1997), blonde.
  • landlady Bridget Clancy (1997), black straight hair—she being Eurasian.
  • fellow vigilante Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (1998), black hair.
  • fellow Titan Jesse Chambers/Jesse Quick (2000), blonde.
  • first kiss Wily Wendi (2002), black curly hair—since she’s African-American.
  • fellow vigilante Catalina Flores/Tarantula (2003-04), black hair.
In sum, DC Comics didn’t depict Dick Grayson as having a physical “type” at all.

Nevertheless, the idea that Dick likes red hair took hold. The earliest exemplar of that statement I could find is a fanfiction request dated 20 July 2004 which says: “Dick had a definite thing for redheads - Barbara, Wally, Kory, Roy.” That offered two more data points not from the comic books but from slash fanfiction—which DC was still running away from at the time. The Titans comic books don’t really show Dick in love with Wally West (Kid Flash, Flash) and Roy Harper (Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow, Arsenal,…); some fans just like that idea.

Only after the redhead meme became popular among fans did DC’s writers adopt it, in a way. The collectively written magazine 52, #30 (Nov 2006), showed him saying to Kate Kane/Batwoman, “I’ve got a thing for redheads.” Kate’s type is policewomen, so the creative team knew that wasn’t going to work out—it was just a wink to Nightwing fans.
Since then, however, the comics have shown Dick in a series of other relationships with a variety of women—brunettes, blondes, and, it appears, a somewhat higher fraction of red-haired women. What started as a cheeky fan observation has apparently become part of the mythos.

1 comment:

Thoughts About Dick Grayson said...

Maybe this is something for the book! : )