Comics on Film: How the Original Boy Wonder May Swing to the Big Screen in 'Nightwing'

Comics on Film: How the Original Boy Wonder May Swing to the Big Screen in 'Nightwing'

Feb 24, 2017

Cover art for 'Nightwing: Rebirth' #1 by Javier Fernandez.

For a lot of people who are all across the spectrum of comic book fandom — from the barely initiated to the hardcore — Batman's most natural state of existence is as a part of the "Dynamic Duo" consisting of he and Robin, the Boy Wonder. As the original kid sidekick superhero, Robin would play a hugely important part in comics history by providing a more relatable hero for young comics readers to attach to, while also charting a path for future sidekicks like Toro, Bucky, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, and a plethora of others that have followed in the decades since the Boy Wonder's first appearance in 1940.

Still, now there are a generation of Batman fans who know that the Dark Knight has actually had a few different partners that have gone by the Robin moniker. Its originator, Dick Grayson had long since helped found the Teen Titans while leaving the reds and greens of Robin behind, in order to become a more fully-formed solo hero with a new codename: Nightwing.

While the current films of the so-called "DC Extended Universe" have only alluded to Ben Affleck's Batman having served with at least one Robin that we know of during his 20-year career in Gotham City, new rumblings have surfaced that seem to imply that Dick Grayson himself will be due for a big budget superhero movie of his very own, which will apparently take place after he's already established himself as having stepped out of the far-reaching Shadow of the Bat.

Let's take a look.

Splash panel from 'Batman: Dark Victory' by Tim Sale.

Who is Nightwing?

As we've gone over, Nightwing is Dick Grayson: the young circus performer who, on one fateful night in Gotham City, watched his acrobat parents fall to their deaths after their line was cut by a lowly extortionist thug. In the audience for that performance was billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, who had secretly begun his own war on crime as the vigilante Batman a few years before. Stirred by witnessing a tragedy eerily similar to the one he himself suffered as a child, Wayne took the young Grayson into his home. Depending on the version of the story, Grayson either discovers Bruce's identity as Batman on his own, or Bruce reveals himself as the Dark Knight shortly before Dick takes it upon himself to become Batman's original partner: Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Robin, of course, becomes an integral part of Batman's war on crime, and makes Dick's adolescence and teenage years very eventful. In addition to gaining firsthand training and experience from Batman himself, he cultivates friendships across the entire heroic community of the DC Universe. Since Dick has a naturally more outgoing and extroverted personality compared with his mentor (as well as his own natural abilities as a showman from childhood), making friends was never difficult for him. In addition to creating bonds with other young protégés and forming the original Teen Titans, Dick was also the friendlier, lighthearted alternative to his persistently scowling boss, but also kept Bruce himself from going too far into the deep end. As Batman himself would attest, Robin was the necessary counterbalance of light to the Dark Knight.

Depending on different versions of the story across comics and animation, a now-older Dick Grayson either consciously decided with Batman to strike out on his own, or a falling out between Bruce and Dick occurred that causes the younger hero to leave his role as Robin behind. In the comic book story Nightwing: Year One by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, it's actually the Man of Steel himself, Superman, who tells Dick about a legendary masked Kryptonian warrior from several hundred years before he was born. Cast out from his family, this figure decided to take on crime as a vigilante called "Nightwing." Inspired by the story, Dick takes the name for himself as a new heroic identity.

Nightwing is and has easily been one of DC Comics' most consistently popular characters. As an infinitely relatable hero who shows that even the darkest beginnings can lead to a hero who can still smile, fans have always been both passionate and protective of Dick Grayson's place in the ongoing stories of the DC Universe. In fact, in 2004-05 when it was rumored the Infinite Crisis crossover would be killing him off, the vocal outrage of the fans diverted that possibility from ever making it to the page.

tl;dr: The original Robin, Nightwing is a big deal and is very beloved by superhero fans.

What Are These Nightwing Movie Rumblings?

Yesterday, it came to light that Warner Bros. has apparently begun plotting a Nightwing movie with Chris McKay in line to become its director. McKay is fresh off another success out of Gotham City, as he was the director of the wonderful Lego Batman Movie, which this column reviewed here two weeks ago.

This is a pretty interesting development, which followed right on the heels of news that director Matt Reeves will, after some strange apparent back-and-forth with the studio, end up directing and producing the solo Batman film that Ben Affleck recently chose not to direct himself. This Nightwing film will also apparently join the ranks of Man of SteelBatman v SupermanSuicide SquadWonder Woman, and Justice League as a future entry in the DC Extended Universe, with Warner Bros. still apparently ready to pursue a fully-realized cinematic DC Universe even though its two 2016 entries failed to make a significant critical impression.

While it's looking more and more unlikely that the deceased Robin that was alluded to in Batman v Superman was Dick Grayson, that gives a potential film plenty of room to play with. Since we know that Batman's career in the DCEU has lasted for at least 20 years according to dialogue in BvS, that gives a lot of leeway in the continuity for Dick Grayson to have both entered and exited Bruce Wayne's life, and for Batman to have taken on a second Robin in the process. One of Nightwing's most prolific eras in the comics revolved around him moving to Gotham's ugly sister city to the south, Blüdhaven, where he became that city's sole heroic presence and even served as a police officer there.

Other periods of the comics have also seen him operate in cities like Chicago, New York and Metropolis, with a fair amount of stories also seeing the "prodigal son" return to Gotham to fill a void left by an absent Batman on more than one occasion. Dick has also himself served as Batman in at least two notable instances: as Bruce continued to recover from his back-breaking encounter with Bane in the early 1990s, and when it appeared Darkseid had killed Bruce in 2009.

Cover art to 'Nightwing' (vol. 2) #133, by Ryan Sook.

What Could a Nightwing Movie Mean for the DCEU?

Since the films of the DC Extended Universe have a reputation thus far as being perhaps too serious, a flm based off of Nightwing definitely has the potential to "lighten" things up while still staying true to the hard-hitting street-level action that Gotham City is now solidly known for, through both the efforts of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder.

Dick Grayson was, after all, one of the original quip-artists in superhero comics. Even Peter Parker's acrobatic sense of humor owes a debt to the smiling, domino-masked daredevil who bounced around the villains of Gotham City as he was punching them in the face, laughing as a yellow cape followed him into the air, to the ground, and back up again. Unlike Batman, a pragmatic sense of humor is kind of ingrained into the very fiber of Dick Grayson's being, and has informed his likable personality while serving as Robin, Nightwing, and Batman.

You won't see Comics on Film issuing a blanket critique to the entire DCEU thus far that says humor is the sole element missing from the movies we've already seen. After all, the exuberance and humor of Suicide Squad is likely one of the things that endeared its devoted fanbase to it. But, featuring a character who is inherently more lighthearted than what we've seen from the likes of Batman, Deadshot, Amanda Waller, and Rick Flag (and even the DCEU's vision of Superman) could certainly help make Nightwing an attractive hero to general audiences, as long as the film tells a story worthy of just how much immense love and goodwill fans across the world have for the Dick Grayson of comics and animation.

Sure, we've seen him in live-action before: twice in some serials from the 1940s, from 1966-69 as played by Burt Ward, and by Chris O'Donnell in 1995 and 1997. DC Comics fans would likely agree, though, that the character so many of them fell in love with as envisioned by writers like Marv Wolfman, Chuck Dixon, Peter Tomasi, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins (among many others, like current post-Rebirth scribe Tim Seeley) have never seen a live-action vision of Dick Grayson that delivers on just how...well, cool a character he really is.

At the end of the day, that's the word this writer most associates with Dick Grayson as both Robin, and especially as Nightwing: he's the coolest hero in the DCU. He's friends with everybody, he gets the job done, and he'll save you with a smile on his face.

If you've got a good story to tell, give us that, please.


Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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