20 April 2014

Reworked Robins

This month DC unveiled its plans for the character of Dick Grayson after Forever Evil and Nightwing end. He’ll become a secret spy, out of contact with everyone but Bruce Wayne (and presumably not much in contact with him, either).

Of course, Agent Grayson will wear his initial in an emblem on his chest. These are still superhero comics, after all.

DC made that announcement with art of Dick looking remarkably like Tom Cruise in the first Mission: Impossible movie. Mikel Janin’s image will appear on the first issue of the new Grayson magazine, arriving this fall.

Grumpy Old Fan Tom Bondurant wrote:
DC has already undercut Dick’s grounding by fiddling with its overall superhero timeline [in the “New 52” continuity]. By pruning his Robin career (and the corresponding emotional attachment) dramatically, and possibly throwing out all of his Titans adventures, DC has left Dick with a set of skills and not a lot more. No wonder he’s turning to espionage.
DC had some professional spies in its previous continuities, some even created back in the 1950s when superhero stories had stalled out. But that’s an unclaimed area now, so it makes some sense to fill that narrative space with a character who brings his own following.

Only some sense, though. As fans immediately noted, the sight of Dick Grayson pointing a gun at the viewer on the cover of Grayson, #1, contradicts Batman’s anti-gun lessons; the fatal side of black-ops would make more sense for Jason Todd. And the surveillance-and-secrecy side would be a better fit for Tim Drake. Nevertheless, the plans have been established.

And remade. In January writer James Tynion IV revealed that he was working on Nightwing, #30, the last issue of the current volume of that magazine and (presumably) the transition to what comes next. But now the creative team on that issue will be the same who are working on Grayson: Tim Seeley and Tom King. Before previews and internet discussions, no one outside the publisher would have known anything about this. Now, of course, it’s a mini-scandal.

Bondurant also wrote that DC now “arguably has too many Robins.” As powerful as the story of a dead Robin has been, the company may be bringing all ex-Robins back. Peter J. Tomasi’s miniseries Robin Rises: Omega will grow out of Batman’s search for Damian. Meanwhile, Steve Snyder and his team are introducing a new roster of young assistants for Batman in Batman Eternal, including Blue Bird and Spoiler. Plus, Grant Morrison is working on a story crossing alternative universes. How long can that situation last?


Richard Bensam said...

I have a bit more fondness than most older comics readers do for the uncostumed and unpowered Emma Peel-inspired issues of Wonder Woman. Part of that is due to simple nostalgia and a greater part is due to the work of Mike Sekowsky. But I don't think anyone would argue those issues were a creative or commercial success, or that this was the best use for one of DC's most iconic properties. Frankly, I don't foresee the "Grayson" era lasting as long as the "Diana Prince" interval. It's more likely to be abandoned and forgotten as quickly as the "Dick Grayson as Batman" idea spearheaded by Grant Morrison.

What's really been bugging me since this was announced is: how can DC invent a series in which the former Robin is detecting things and then give it the name Grayson, knowing full well that the only word this will make people think of is "Dick"?

J. L. Bell said...

I, too, suspect that this phase in Dick Grayson's career will be a phase. I think Dan DiDio has long been looking for a way to make the character generate stories that don't feel like "Batman lite" to him, and the new writers are promising a different sort of story and a new nemesis. But the most appealing parts of Dick Grayson—his showmanship, his connections, his scruples—all work against this milieu. That could be part of the narrative tension for a while, but that conflict can't sustain for very long.

As for "Dick," I'm not sure DC sees that as a liability. Tomasi tried to emphasize "RIchard" in his run, but the new writers are talking about Dick Grayson as a sex symbol for female readers. As to whether they understand what female readers like about him, time will tell.

Richard Bensam said...

I was unclear: I didn't mean the name "Dick" is a liability. My thought was that if the premise is Dick Grayson as a non-costumed investigator of things, why not make him an international detective and actually call the book Dick for the sake of the obvious pun?

(N.B.: speaking as a lifelong Richard, I once had a conversation with Dick Ayers about the shift in popularity from "Dick" to "Richard." We agreed the decline of "Dick" seems to coincide with the downfall of President Nixon, while "Richard" lost some of its effete milquetoast connotation during the time Richard Burton became famous as an actor. Not claiming cause and effect, but you can observe the shift in the way both gentlemen were referred to at the time.)

J. L. Bell said...

Okay, I gotcha.

I'm not sure DC really wants to hold the copyright to Dick magazine. Even if it has lots of pictures of the company's sexiest male character. That pun might become a little too obvious.

The company's writers do, however, seem enamored of the "gray son" pun, the son (of Batman, of the circus) who has to operate in gray areas. That might get a workout as he enters the espionage world.

Lots more "Rick" and "Rich" and their diminutives since the 1970s as well, I think. Interesting point.