Aug 16 2011 4:01pm

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Nightwing

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: NightwingEach weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: NIGHTWING!

The Concept and Characters: First he was Robin, then he was Nightwing, then he was Batman, now Dick Grayson takes his demotion back to Nightwing and channels it into a solo series where he will “confront friends and enemies from his past as he searches for the source of an even greater evil.”

Nightwing is one of those characters who might seem to have a pretty deep level of cultural penetration — after all, he was Robin for over forty years, before changing his name within the pages of the landmark New Teen Titans series of the 1980s, and he’s since been seen in cartoon shows and action figure aisles all over the world — but he’s surprisingly less well-known than you might first expect. He occupies that strange tier of characters that aren’t exactly major icons, but everyone who has even a passing familiarity with comics knows all about him. Yet, to the public at large, he’s…“Who? Night What? He used to be Robin? But then who’s Robin now? Wait, what?”

I don’t know where you sit on that spectrum of Nightwing-awareness, but my fondest memories of Dick Grayson as Nightwing are bound up in Marv Wolfman/George Perez Teen Titans comics and disco collars and creepy eyes around the waist.

Dick Grayson growing into a role all his own was a big deal at the time, and it’s still a landmark moment in the history of DC Comics. There’s a contingent out there who might even argue — and I would probably not disagree — that Dick Grayson is the heart and soul of the DC Universe. He’s not only one of the characters who has been around from practically the very beginning, first appearing less than a year after Batman debuted, but he has been involved in everything along the way, growing to adulthood as the DC Universe “matured” in the 1980s.

Nightwing is so integral to the DCU that when Editor-in-Chief Dan DiDio wanted Nightwing to die in the climax of Infinite Crisis — a move which would give tragic weight to the story — he faced a near mutiny by his writers, artists, and editors. It seems that everyone but DiDio couldn’t imagine DC Comics without a living Dick Grayson.

Over the years — and it’s been 27 since Grayson first donned the Nightwing threads — Nightwing has primarily played the role of team leader (of the Teen Titans, of the Outsiders, of the grown-up Titans) or, in his long-running solo series, as a supercop. When he officially took over the Batman role after the disappearance and supposed death of Bruce Wayne following Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, he became a bit more solemn and serious, though he was never as tortured as his mentor.

This new Nightwing series puts him back in his old — albeit redesigned — tights, with Bruce Wayne taking back the mantle as the one and only Batman of Gotham City. Apparently, Grayson’s return to his old identity will be addressed within this series, and his recent adventures won’t be ignored by the revamp. But it probably won’t be a lingering concern, since this new series promises new adventures, new villains, and a reader-friendly entry point to the character and his crime-fighting exploits.

The Creative Team: Writer Kyle Higgins will chronicle the new adventures of the former Robin, and I’ve already written about Higgins rapid-rise-to-prominence in my Deathstroke entry. Higgins has publicly stated that Nightwing is his all-time-favorite character, and he’s also young enough that his first exposure to Dick Grayson was long after he had abandoned the sidekick role. His version of Nightwing is the Chuck Dixon-written character of the late 1990s, the supercop of Blüdhaven. Look for Higgins to tell straightforward superhero action stories with a few nods to the character’s past once the series gets rolling.

The artist of the series is Eddy Barrows, recently of the absolutely disastrous “Grounded” arc in Superman, sort-of-written by J. Michael Straczynski.

Barrows was completely the wrong choice for that project, but he wasn’t to blame for the debacle it became. Still, Barrows is at his best when working on teen-centric projects, or at least superheroes who benefit from his slim, sinewy character work. He was a nice match for Teen Titans, for example, but he could never quite capture the heft and gravitas of the Man of Steel. Barrows is a much better fit for Nightwing, who is ever the youthful acrobat, even with his 70+ years of continuity in the DC Universe.

Recommendation: This one straddles the line. I would say Buy It if you’re looking for well-crafted, straightforward superhero stories. This series isn’t likely to revolutionize the character or the milieu, but it will surely provide a nice, reliable monthly dose of entertainment. Better this than, say Mister Terrific, or Justice League International, or Batgirl. But if you’re looking for just the cream of the crop of the DC relaunch, I would recommend you Skip It. This is one of those series that wouldn’t quite crack my New DCU Top 10, but it would be closer to the top than the bottom.

Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

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Mike Perschon
1. Mike_Perschon
Tim, thanks for the heads up. My best Nightwing memories are Perez/Wolfman era as well. That costume is why I got into Teen Titans! It's got to be on a top ten list for costumes that would never cosplay well.
2. Pendard
One of the first stories I read when I was getting into comics as a kid was "A Lonely Place of Dying," a Nightwing-centric story in Batman and New Teen Titans that also introduced Tim Drake. However, throughout the '90s, I felt like Nightwing was superfluous. He seemed like he was just an extra Robin who showed up less frequently. I read Tim Drake's solo series, but never felt the need to read Teen Titans or Nightwing. It wasn't until Grant Morrison turned him into Batman that I've really taken notice of this character. He grew so much during Batman & Robin. I really hope they can keep that feeling going in his new solo series, and that they can preserve his dynamic with Damien. I'm sure he was always intended to go back to being Nightwing eventually, but I hope it isn't a mistake to demote him so soon.
Dave Thompson
3. DKT
I also started reading comics right around the time Burton's first Batman movie came out, and A Lonely Place of the Dying was the first Batman series I remember picking up. I immediately loved Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake.

I also really remember enjoying the other time Grayson put on the Bat-cowl - in a storyline called Prodigal (back when Bruce Wayne was being restored after besting Azrael-as-Batman, and asked Grayson to cover for him). He was cool in the New Titans. But there's definitely something special about his character.

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