***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***
TITLES: Nightwing #1–4
AUTHOR: Denny O’Neil
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Mike Sellers & Nick Napolitano (Inkers), Cathi Bertrand (Colorist), John Costanza
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE: $2.25 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED: 1995
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN: Nightwing, Vol. 1: Bludhaven
By Rob Siebert
Dick Grayson officially adopted the mantle of Nightwing in mid-1984 in the pages of Tales of the Teen Titans #44. The move was meant to remove Dick from Batman’s shadow and make him more of his own man. That’s why it’s so surprising in retrospect that the character didn’t get his own solo series until 1996, 12 years later.
Granted, there were one-off issues where Dick would get the spotlight. For a short time in the mid-’90s, he even stood in for Bruce Wayne as Batman. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Nightwing got his own book, and even his own city to protect. After more than 40 years as Robin, and over a decade as Nightwing, Dick was finally spinning off into his own adventures.
DC Comics would test the waters, and ultimately set the stage for a Nightwing ongoing series with a four issue mini published in 1995. Written by legendary Batman scribe Denny O’Neil, the story sees Dick revisit his past while preparing for his future. He also gets a new costume in the process.
Dick starts the story by doing something you probably don’t want to do before you start your own solo series – He quits. Handing his costume over to Batman, saying he’s realized “I’m not you. I was never you. I don’t want to be you.”
And what does Dick want Batman to do with the costume? He has some ideas…
“Put it in a trophy case. Give it to the Salvation Army. Burn it.”
Indeed, Dick Grayson is giving up on superheroics, opting to live a more normal life. A little abrupt? Sure. But I like this idea for Dick. He was and is the most outgoing among Batman’s surrogate family, which makes him the most naturally likable. So as readers, we want to see him happy and fulfilled.
Of course, it can’t last. The poor guy barely makes it to the next morning before he finds an old letter to his parents, threatening them for something they apparently saw in the despotic nation of Kravia. Naturally, he has to investigate.
Our penciller is Greg Land, who’s faced a lot of criticism over the course of his career for his use, and perhaps abuse, of photo reference. He’s been accused of lifting, and even flat-out tracing, images from sources as lewd as hardcore pornography. As far as I know, this Nightwing story pre-dates those allegations. I don’t see anything that stands out as blatantly lifted from somewhere else. Though there are a few images that are a little suspect. Case in point, an image in issue #1 of a briefs-clad Dick Grayson on a bed. I can’t bring myself to complain about that from a sexualization standpoint, given how female characters are often drawn to this day. But it makes you wonder.
There’s also the image above, where Dick, posed like a catalog model, is standing in what has the distinction of being the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen in a comic book. He unfortunately wears that for much of the second issue.
While he’s unquestionably one of the all-time greats, this is hardly Denny O’Neil’s best work. He has to inject a decent amount of narrative convenience into things to get the story going and to fit it into four issues. The despot in Kravia just happens to remember who Dick is. The assassin he then sends to kill Dick is able to find him very quickly, which provides our hero with a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to the villain. Makes me wonder why they didn’t keep things a little more simple than a story about whether a dictator was involved in the plot to kill Dick’s parents…
On the upside, this mini is where we see Nightwing’s black and blue costume (shown below) for the first time. His original suit, affectionately called the “disco suit,” worked for a colorful superhero team book in the ’80s. It was later changed to the sleeker, darker-yet-somehow-also-brighter outfit shown above. It was changed again here, presumably because tonally Nightwing was moving into territory closer to Batman. Dark, avenging hero of the night, and all that.
This is the look that practically all subsequent takes on the Nightwing outfit were based on. With Dick’s previous two outfits, especially the first, it feels like there might have been pressure to give the character something with a grandeur befitting his legacy. As it turned out, they were better off keeping it simple. Black with a touch of blue. It’s almost a minimalist’s superhero costume. The black costume also gave Nightwing a certain cool factor he maintains to this day.
At face value, this Nightwing mini isn’t much to write home about. The story is overdone, the villain is generic and forgettable, and by the end the whole thing seems all for naught. But it nevertheless holds an important place in the character’s history as the tale that gave him his new costume, and set him down a path to solo stardom. For that alone, it’s worth a look.
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