I read comic books when I was a kid, and around the age of eight or so moved on from Archie to DC Comics and their pantheon of super-heroes. I did watch the Batman television show when it aired when I was even younger; it was a lot of fun to watch–silly and campy (even though I was too young to even slightly understand what camp was or have any idea that it was even a thing; I just knew I liked it). I’ve dipped my toes back into the world of comics from time to time over the decades as I’ve gotten older. I don’t know a whole lot about comics–enough to know that I don’t know much, but just enough to be able to participate in a conversation about them for a little while before getting lost. I never followed writers or artists, I followed the characters–but have always had an appreciation for the art, both in story, drawing, and colorization–that make the books what they are.
I’ve always loved Nightwing since he was introduced, and that’s an abiding fandom that has flickered, off and on, over the years. (If ever asked who my favorite comics character is, I always unhesitatingly reply “Nightwing.”) It was this fandom that actually led me to the Titans television show, which I enjoy, and recently, a friend on Twitter was recommending a graphic novel that combined the first six issues of a new Nightwing story arc, the issues collected into a book called Nightwing: Leaping into the Light.
I also had to examine, for the first time, the questions why does Nightwing resonate so much with me? Why do I connect so much with this comic book superhero?
Which leads to the character of Dick Grayson.
The great irony of my connection to Nightwing is that I absolutely hated Dick Grayson as Robin. The only time I ever really liked Dick-as-Robin was on the Batman television show, as played by Burt Ward. But the costume, the weird subjugation of his personality as anything other than a pale reflection of Bruce Wayne/Batman never really connected with me, yet at the same time I felt like I should connect with him, as he was closer to me in age than Batman or any of the super-folk I followed. I mean, I liked Jimmy Olsen’s identity as it was established in his own spin-off series, so why didn’t I like Robin? I think it was because of that subjugation, that strong willingness to be just like Bruce without questioning it; there was an unflinching eagerness to please the older male/father figure that probably reminded me, harshly, of my own failures to meet up to the societal and parental expectations for a male child–because I resisted strongly against conforming to those expectations because they weren’t who I was. My childhood, therefore, was a long period of resisting what everyone was trying to turn me into.
Dick Grayson not only didn’t resist, he eagerly embraced the role his father figure expected from him. And so, I couldn’t relate to him.
I didn’t connect with him until he rebelled and became Nightwing; struck out on his own and grew up, determined to find himself and who he actually is rather than trying to fit into the mold his father figure created for him.
And that was when I connected with him–because I could identify with that entire internal struggle between who people expect you to be, and who you really are; as well as how hard it can be to find yourself when you’ve been relentlessly trained and told who you are.
So, in some ways, Nightwing’s hero’s journey emulated that of so many gay men; he had to find himself rather than fit into the mold he was also told he was made from and the fulfill the role that was expected of him.
And maybe it’s not just gay men–it’s any man, really, who have been raised to emulate their father (figure) so much that they try to turn into them, and find out that isn’t who they are.
And Nightwing was also one of the first characters in the DC Universe to actually age.
Nightwing: Leaping into the Light is an exceptional treatment of the character. The artwork is phenomenal; the writing exceptional. I don’t follow comics as closely as I used to–I simply don’t have the time, but maybe when I retire–and I know there have been a lot of changes to the DC comics universe over the last decade or so, and I’ve not been able to follow them all. I know there are a lot of characters now in what’s considered the “bat family”–I would have to look them all up–and I also know the character of Nightwing himself has been through a lot on his recent journey; this book alludes to his troubled recent past–but now he is actually trying to make a difference in the world, to be the “light” the world (or the deeply criminally contaminated city of Blüdhaven that he now calls home) needs. Alfred has died–that was a deep shock–and it also turns out he left young Master Grayson a fortune. Over the course of his story, as Dick/Nightwing recognizes the issues and problems in his new home city, he decides to use that money to try to turn back the darkness and help people, while working at night as his persona to fight crime. It’s done extremely well, and I love the dog he rescues and winds up adopting at the beginning of the book; and Nightwing’s character…who he is…and what he stands for…is very well defined in this story.
And now I want to read more.