With a Nightwing solo film announced as in development, possibly directed by Chris McKay of the delightful The LEGO Batman Movie (if all negotiations go well), it’s time to turn our attention to that guy in the black-and-blue (or red after The New 52) tights. Although there have been a number of different Nightwings over the years, for most fans there’s really only one, and he has a history that technically stretches all the way back to April 1940 and Detective Comics #38!
So let’s breakdown the history of Nightwing, a.k.a. Robin, a.k.a. Dick Grayson…
Most dedicated comics fans know that this guy was once the original Robin, sidekick to the Dark Knight Detective himself, Batman! Dick Grayson — created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane way back when — was a circus performer in a family of acrobats, and when his entire family was killed, he found himself an orphan with a need for vengeance. Fortunately, there was someone who knew exactly how that felt, and before too long Grayson was wearing a modified version of his circus costume as Batman’s trusty chum, Robin.
But the years wore on, and eventually Grayson just wasn’t going to be able to pull off the green underpants for much longer. It was time for this Robin to take wing, and so he left Batman’s side to forge an independent identity as a crime-fighter in his own right. And although we’re concerned with his Nightwing career here, it’s worth noting that Grayson also took on the Batman mantle itself for a while (beginning in Robin #0 in 1994), and he also operated as Agent 37 in the Spyral organization from 2014-2016. This guy gets around! But back to the subject at hand…
If you’re familiar with Grayson’s long tenure as Robin, you pretty much have a handle on his abilities. An expert aerialist and gymnast with a vast knowledge of hand-to-hand combat and martial arts techniques, Nightwing also picked up a thing or two from that detective he hung around with for so long.
Skilled at deduction and investigation as well as the use of a wide variety of crime-fighting technologies, Nightwing has worn a tricked-out costume with a bewildering number of pockets and compartments — and at times a variation on the trusty ol’ utility belt — containing everything from darts and smoke bombs to a tiny computer, twin clubs that can be paired into a single staff, and assorted first-aid equipment; the entire suit also has a sort of failsafe electrical blast to prevent tampering, so don’t go giving Nightwing the bad touch.
Long before Grayson took on the name, there was a Nightwing in DC’s past… and it was none other than Superman, when he was temporarily trapped in the bottle city of Kandor and forced to operate, powerless, like an alien Batman alongside Jimmy Olsen as his Robin-esque Flamebird (see Superman 158 from 1963)!
Pre-Crisis, Grayson was inspired by this persona in particular, although post-Crisis it became an old Kryptonian legend and not just Superman changing outfits to play dress-up with Jimmy. But either way, and although others have occasionally tried the identity on for size — including fellow Robin Jason Todd, Cheyenne Freemont, Chris Kent, and a couple others — Dick Grayson is most closely associated with the name Nightwing, beginning with Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (1984). As conceived by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez in that issue, Grayson’s Nightwing quickly became a fixture of the DC Universe, patrolling Blüdhaven near Gotham, killing the Joker (although the Clown Prince of Crime got better as he often tends to do since his very first appearance), battling the ruthless mob boss Blockbuster, going undercover as the villainous Renegade, and often leading the Titans as well as belonging to other groups like the Outsiders and even the Justice League itself.
Nightwing turned up in the superb DC Animated Universe starting in The New Batman Adventures, played by Loren Lester, and later non-DCAU animated series as well as features have also included versions of the character (one of them was even voiced by living legend Neil Patrick Harris!).
He’s popped up in his share of video games, and if you visited Six Flags New England between 2000-2008, you could even ride Nightwing… well, ahem, a “Fly Away” called Nightwing anyway. Chris O’Donnell even wore a Nightwing-inspired costume in Batman & Robin… although he was still called Robin.
As for the DCEU version, if a Nightwing film does well, does this mean we’ll see this incarnation of the character share screen real estate with the likes of Henry Cavill’s Superman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg in future Justice League installments? What am I, a fortune teller? At this point, the DCEU needs all the help it can get, and if they can score a hit with a Nightwing film, one thing is certain — we will be seeing a lot more of him in future productions.
Find Arnold T. Blumberg on Twitter at @DoctoroftheDead.