29 January 2012

Three Dick Graysons and the Representation of Change

Reviewing the Robin news this week, I was struck by a statement in Vaneta Rogers’s interview at Newsarama with current Nightwing scripter Kyle Higgins:
Nightwing is one of those few characters that is actually defined and built on a core of change, which is very weird in an industry and a medium that relies on the illusion of change. Dick Grayson is one of the few characters that are built around the idea of growing up.
Dick started out serving Reason for Robin, #9: Robin is still a kid. He represented potential. He was learning, making mistakes, but held the promise of being better. For almost thirty years he barely changed, but he always represented the possibilities of change in the future.

When Dick Grayson became Nightwing in the 1980s, he gained a new symbolic significance. He had been a kid; now he was a young man. But he was still younger than Batman, Superman, and the other heroes he’d looked up to. As Higgins says, his growth now defined his role in the DC Universe saga. He was a twentysomething looking for his place in the world. Would he ever match up to his mentor, or had he unknowingly already done so?

Grant Morrison’s proposal to make Dick Grayson into Batman brought that grand storyline to a close. Dick stepped into his mentor’s boots, and successfully. There was no place new for him to go, or grow. DC Comics would almost certainly have made him Nightwing again, to preserve the trademark if for no other reason, but the company never came up with a satisfactory way for Dick to make that choice which would imbue his character with significance again.

Instead, for a variety of commercial, legal, and creative reasons, the publisher rebooted its entire universe. That change let the editors put Dick into a new Nightwing costume, a few years younger than before. We never saw his choice to step away from being Batman; characters seem to treat his time in the cape as a job everyone knew would be temporary, as in Batman: Prodigy. Once again Nightwing is a young man looking for his place in the world. Higgins’s first story even took him back to his roots at the Haly Circus.

I view the current Dick Grayson character as separate from the character of 1964 through 2011, just as that was a different character from the Dick Grayson of 1940 through 1964 and beyond on Earth-2. The original Dick Grayson came of age as an adult Robin. The second came of age as Nightwing and took over as Batman when almost everyone thought Bruce Wayne was dead. Now we have a third Dick Grayson, also Nightwing. What will his future hold? The possibilities are open once again; all we know is that he still symbolizes growth and change.

In other Robin news, Bleeding Cool reported a rumor that Jeff Lemire would write an adventure for the present DC Universe’s four former and current Robins. But can we trust a gossip website that can’t even spell Damian Wayne‘s name right?

Probably so, for two reasons. Once ideas leak, it appears they’ve been approved. Furthermore, this idea is a no-brainer in terms of serving fans’ wishes. Of course, the potential for disappointment is very high since no actual all-Robins adventure comic could satisfy everyone’s hopes. There’s too much nostalgia to compete with.

Finally, Bully had the Dynamic Duo meet the Infinite Canvas of Scott McCloud. Even more impressive, the little stuffed bull got that scene to work within the confines of a Blogger template!


LC Douglass said...

This is a problem DC has with all its classic Titans, not just Dick Grayson. They all grew up, some of them stepping into their mentors' shoes, like Wally West.

But surely the whole point to the Titans was that they could grow up and not just become their mentors. The fact that DC seemed to think that that was the only place the older Titans could go - straight into the JLA shows their spectacular lack of imagination. Turning Dick into Batman was not a triumph on Morrison's part. It was a regression for Dick. He was better off as a separate hero, who had grown out of Gotham and out of the Batverse, who had built the Titans as his own, separate legacy. There's zero chance of DC's powers that be seeing the Titans that way right now though.

ericshanower said...

I can't agree with Higgins's statement that comics is a medium that relies on an illusion of change. In the industry, well, there's plenty of evidence for that, from The Katzenjammer Kids to Captain America--but not the medium itself.

J. L. Bell said...

I agree that Higgins confused the comics medium and the superhero comics genre.