Today, we have a commentary article from Kristen. Kristen is just about to graduate with a doctorate in history and she has an especial love of the medieval ages. She also loves Dicks. By that, I mean she enjoys Richard the Third, Dick Grayson and any other Dick or Richard of cultural significance. She has two great blogs, ThoughtsaboutDickGrayson which has the most in depth and wide breadth analysis of Grayson I have ever seen and includes lots of scans from all generations of Dick Grayson comics. She also runs DIcksIHaveStudied which chronicles all sorts of historical tidbits from pretty much every person ever named Dick. She's a Dick addict.
As such, I figured there was nobody better to bring us some commentary on Dick Grayson today. I think Kristen's article is fantastic, and I agree with just about everything she says.
How the DCNU Screwed Dick Grayson
I don’t like the reboot. For one thing, I dislike change, especially when it is merely change for the sake of change (which is what I think the reboot is). Second, I don’t like what the reboot has done to Dick Grayson. Since Dick Grayson is the only reason I even read comics, this is a huge problem for me.
A part of me realizes that I shouldn’t complain. Dick, after all, has not been Jason Todd-ed. Back in 1985, as part of Crisis on Infinite Earths (the first big reboot), Jason was given a new origin and attitude. While this made him a unique character, rather than a Dick-Grayson clone, it came at the cost of Jason’s popularity. Within a few years, Jason was voted to death. In the New 52 reboot, Tim Drake has been Jason Todd-ed: a likeable character has been revamped as a douche-nozzle no one likes. At least Dick hasn’t suffered THAT fate.
I also admit that Kyle Higgins has been doing a pretty good job. With Nightwing relocating to Chicago, Higgins just might be able to develop a cast of great supporting characters that is wider than Sonia Branch. Sonia has potential, but Dick used to have Bridget Clancy, John Law, Amy Rohrbach, Gannon Malloy, and more. Kyle’s Nightwing definitely compares favorably to some of the rubbish Devin Grayson and Bruce Jones made us suffer through back in the 2000s. To be honest, although I enjoyed the 1996-2009 Nightwing solo series, I have just as many (if not more) “favorite Dick Grayson moments” that come from other books as come from the solo series. Dick was awesome despite some of the crap that happened in his solo series. To a certain extent, I’m damning Higgins with faint praise.
So why am I complaining? Because I don’t think for one second that what I have gained (a decent Nightwing solo series) even remotely compensates for what I have lost.
The World We Have Lost
The most egregious losses are:
-Dick no longer a child sidekick (maybe he’s still the first, but I’m not sure)
-Dick was Robin for a very short time
-Dick not officially Bruce’s ward (this is beyond the pale. To be frank, I try not to think about it because it upsets me so much. Instead, I focus on the positive. Higgins and Synder have definitely made it clear that Bruce and Dick still have a special relationship – see Batman #11 especially – so I focus on that instead.)
-Dick no longer a founder of the Teen Titans
-several of Dick’s friends are non-existent (this is, of course, worse for Wally and Donna who have been snuffed out of existence, but it affects Dick as well. Since Dick exists in the New 52, I’m focusing on that aspect)
-Tim Drake’s origin has changed (and Tim has become a douche).
What Do These Losses Mean?
To be blunt, they mean Dick is a shell of his former self. Dick Grayson was the heart of the DCU. He knew everyone. He was the first kid sidekick, which meant he was the “mascot” for the Justice League. He knew the first generation of other kid sidekicks because those people were his best friends. He knew subsequent generations of sidekicks and young heroes because he mentored them the same way Batman, Superman, etc had mentored him.
Dick being 16 when he became Robin means Dick has much less crime-fighting experience and harms his relationship with Bruce. Dick being 16 is better legally (less child endangerment) and is more believable, but please. DC, I’m reading a serial about a man richer than god who has essentially “risen” from the dead more times than Jesus - we are way past the point of “willing suspension of disbelief.” I’ve already swallowed the very idea of Batman hook, line, and sinker, so I am absolutely gullible enough to think an eight-year-old boy can fight crime dressed like a Christmas elf. (I am also capable of thinking a man in his mid-to-upper forties can still kick ass; it’s okay for Bruce to age, DC).
Dick being older when working with Bruce detracts from their special relationship. How are they so close when they’ve only known each other five years (at most)? Bruce and Dick are more than just student-teacher, mentor-protege, father-son, brothers, best friends, whatever. Non-sexual soul mates? I’m not sure exactly how to classify it, but it’s special. And even when the bond is frayed, they still have it. I, for one, pretty much read the comics for the Dick-Bruce relationship. It’s my favorite. (I also love Dick’s friendships; his romantic relationships are of least interest to me). To put it mildly, I would be devastated if Dick and Bruce no longer had a special bond. That is why the “Dick no longer Bruce’s ward” hurts so much. As I said before, I think Synder is still presenting the relationship as special, but I’m still annoyed at the unnecessary change in Dick’s status.
Plus, that change in status makes no sense. Dick was the first person Bruce really opened up to after his parents died. Bruce taking Dick in opened the door for Bruce to later take in other children. If Bruce didn’t take Dick in, it makes much less sense that he would take in Jason and Tim. Bruce bonded with Dick because they had shared a similar traumatic experience. Caring for little Dick made Bruce a more empathetic person, someone who was then willing to later take in other boys in need. If the Wayne Care Center was good enough for Dick, it would be good enough for Jason and Tim. Bruce took in Jason, and later Tim, because he was repeating a pattern established with Dick. Change Dick’s origins, change the pattern.
With Dick being older, we get a weird reversal in Robin ages. Previously, Dick became Robin at 8, 10, 11, or 12 (take your pick; I’ve seen them all). Jason was 12 or 13; Tim was 13. I thought it made sense for the boys to get older (until Damian came around). As Bruce aged, he presumably became a little wiser and realized eight-year-olds shouldn’t be vigilantes. Plus, Dick being so young gave him that much more experience. It helped make him a better leader. It made him someone worthy of admiration. In the DCU, Tim admired Dick. And it made sense. Dick was worthy of that admiration because he had been a hero from a young age. Dick had proven himself; he had earned respect. Now Dick has barely had time to prove himself, let alone earn respect.
Severing the Connections
With Dick no longer founding the Teen Titans, a huge swath of Dick’s history, growth, and connections have disappeared. Why did Dick become Nightwing? The Teen Titans were involved in that transition. Is Dick a good leader? Without the Teen Titans, we have no idea. Does Dick have superhero friends? Not really. Donna and Wally don’t exist and Roy and Kory are Jason’s friends now. Reboot Dick is incredibly isolated. He is just another member of the Bat-Family. He used to be something much greater than that. He was a Bat, a Titan, an Outsider, a reserve JLA-er, and now he’s just Bruce’s second-in-command (I think). Sure, that’s a great job, but Dick used to have more hero connections and friends than Bruce. Dick used to be somebody. He used to be a contender. Now he’s back in Little League.
And what is up with Tim Drake? Tim’s new origin was Dick-free, which was a huge change. Back in the DCU, Tim was a Dick-fanboy, then a Batman-fanboy. Dick Grayson was an inspiration to Tim and instrumental in Tim’s journey to Robin-hood. That’s gone. With that connection severed, Dick and Tim both suffer. Tim is not a fanboy seeking to connect with his inspiration but a hubristic jerk. Tim was inspired to become Robin; now he thinks he deserves it because he’s so smart. That is such a far cry from the old Tim Drake that it’s criminal.
As for Dick, he’s lost yet another human connection. Since those human connections were such a huge and wonderful part of Dick in the DCU, Dick’s character has been lessened even further. Tim and Dick don’t seem to be especially brotherly, which wipes out twenty years’ worth of character development. We have barely seen Dick in the big-brother-mentor role, which was previously a great (in terms of quantity and quality) aspect of his character. We saw some of this brotherliness with Damian but not enough, and now Damian is dead. Now Dick is “Batman-Lite” in all the wrong ways: not as smart, experienced, awesome as Bruce. He used to be “Batman-Lite” in all the right ways: more nurturing, more people-oriented, more human.
In essence, reboot Dick has less experience, fewer friends and connections (don’t even get me started on what this means for his uncle-nephew relationship with Superman), and a weaker (at least officially) tie to Bruce. That is a complete gutting of a character known for his experience, leadership abilities, connections, and lengthy history with Bruce. Dick was the ultimate DC people person: he knew people, he loved people, and people loved him. Now Dick has no people aside from Bruce, Alfred, and a dead Damian. It’s basically what Dick had in 1943 – except then there were many fewer superheroes around. And Dick was clearly a sidekick then, which made his lesser skills and small social circle more understandable.
So yeah. Unless DC corrects all of these problems, I will never be satisfied with just Higgins’ Nightwing. DC took away my filet mignon and gave me a McDonald’s hamburger. Sure, I don’t mind McDonald’s, but it looks pretty sub-par compared to that steak you just took away.
Don’t Spit on Me and Tell Me It’s Raining!
If I recall correctly, when DC announced the reboot, it indicated that certain franchises would be less affected than others. Batman and Green Lantern were specifically mentioned as getting only a “soft reboot.” Those titles were already financially successful, so DC claimed they were only making minimal changes.
Those were lies. Okay, maybe compared to other properties Batman has suffered relatively few changes (I don’t read any comics that don’t involve Dick Grayson), but the Batman Family has changed. Personally, all of those changes have been for the worse. Five-year timeline? Ridiculous. Barbara back as Batgirl? Even in the DCU Barbara was more awesome as Oracle than she was as Batgirl; that’s definitely true now. Babs went from her unique niche (a very necessary computer-and-information guru who was an inspirational symbol for the differently-abled) to just another cape who has to bear the indignity of being a twenty-something woman still going by “girl.” Tim Drake is way worse in the reboot. Alfred and Bruce seem pretty similar to their old selves, but Bruce has always been a much more static character than any of his associates. And Alfred? Well, I guess I’m just waiting for DC to screw-up the fail-proof formula of “awesome, resourceful, British gentleman.” I suppose Jason has gained (he’s definitely gained some friends), but that’s not enough for me – especially since Jason’s gain came at Dick’s expense.
So DC lied and rebooted more than they implied they would. Fine. Consumers are lied to all the time. But I think this lie has put the Bat-Family in the worst possible position: not entirely old, not entirely new, and succeeding at neither.
Wasn’t the reboot done to attract new readers and simplify continuity? If so, fail. Maybe DC is making a bit more money than before, but I doubt it’s enough to truly justify the risk. Most of the uptick was interest in the novelty, and it quickly wore off.
I will use myself as an example. I’m a twenty-something with expendable income; DC should be trying to take my money – especially since I am a woman. I’m told that the majority of comic-book buyers are men. Well, women are half the population, so getting our money, too, would really increase DC’s profits.
To a certain extent, I’m a “new reader.” My dad loves Batman so I grew up imbibing the Batman mythos, but I didn’t read the comics until about three years ago. Luckily for me, my dad collects comics, so I had twenty years’ worth of stuff in the attic. I got caught up pretty quickly. Was I sometimes confused? Heck yes! What did I do? I looked online. It’s as though DC forgot about that great resource called the internet. There is so much out there about comic books it’s mind numbing. The Wikipedia page on Dick Grayson is longer than the Wikipedia pages of many historical figures (who were real!). I was able to fill in the gaps, and figure out what books I wanted to get (for instance, my dad didn’t have New Teen Titans, so I started collecting that).
When the New 52 started, I was apprehensive, but I gave it a shot. My dad was still buying the comics, so I read his. Then I moved across the country for college. I certainly could have swung the ten bucks a month for Nightwing, Batman, and Batman and Robin, but I didn’t love it enough to bother. Why buy the cow when I can get the curdled milk for free whenever I visit my parents?
DC is getting my money, but I only purchase old stuff (DCU). I don’t like the new stuff enough to purchase it, and I can’t be the only one.
As for “simplifying continuity?” You have got to be kidding me! The reboot just opens up about a thousand questions I didn’t have before. How many Robins in 5 years?! How was the possible? How is Damian possible? How many adventures have you had before? What is canon?
That’s the real crux of the matter: what is canon. In doing a “soft reboot,” DC has muddied the waters in the worst possible way. We know we’re not starting with a clean slate, but we don’t know what has and hasn’t been erased. Should we assume everything is intact until we hear it has changed? Should we assume nothing is intact until we hear it is? DC has been giving us mixed signals (Tim was a Robin; no, he was never Robin), so it’s hard to tell. That’s very frustrating.
If Wishes Were Horses...
I think that if DC really wanted to reboot and make things easy for new readers, they should have truly started over. Don’t give me year one in flashbacks: give me year one in year one. Bruce does the solo thing as Batman. Dick is introduced as Robin in year three. Time passes, and we have Jason. And so on and so forth.
I can suggest this, of course, because I am first and foremost a Dick Grayson fan. My Robin would be along in a year or two. A full reboot would not be as fun for a Damian fan because you would have to wait a few years (DC would, of course, speed the timeline up and no longer allow ten years to equal one college semester – I’m looking at you 1970s). But things would happen in order, and I wouldn’t have four rebooted origins thrown at me at once.
DC would never have done this because they make too much money off having a zillion characters. Fair enough. Why not just simultaneously publish a line for new readers? DC already publishes archive collections and such, but those are expensive. Why not reprint old issues each month and charge $2.99 for those? You wouldn’t need to reprint all of them, just the ones containing relevant history. Plus, Detective Comics used to contain way more than just Batman. Modern reprints of the Batman stories from ‘TEC could include more than one “historically important” story. Within a few years, people could be caught up. Plus, many more experienced readers would probably jump at a chance to buy reprinted issues of these turning points (Jason’s origin stories are kind of expensive to buy). Furthermore, many older Batman comics are more child-friendly. So reprinting old issues would simultaneously expand DC’s offerings for children (who could then become lifetime customers), give new readers an entrance that is dated but digestible, and allow old customers to purchase reprints of significant comics.
As it now stands, I’m confused and each new editorial decision seems to make things worse rather than better. One benefit is that I now have a cut-off point for “comics I care about,” but that’s actually kind of sad. Sometimes I try to console myself by thinking, “Dick Grayson is so awesome that DC had to reboot their entire universe in order to make him Nightwing again.” Given the stripped-down character that is currently supposed to pass for Dick Grayson, I realize it was an exceedingly hollow victory.