Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Nightwing 0, originally released September 19, 2012. Nightwing 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Drew: The past is complicated. Or rather, our relationship with the past is complicated. Time has a way of changing our opinions of events, placing even our emotional attachment to our own memories in flux. That shifting relationship to the past is made exponentially more complicated in the comics world, where the actual events of the past are open to revisions, reboots, and retellings every few years or so. While those changes are often jarring for the characters, they’re particularly difficult for the audience, who may be attached to previous iterations of the story (not to mention the fact that they may be particularly anal about continuity). Like I said; shit’s complicated. It’s impressive, then, that Nightwing 0 isn’t just a successful retelling of Dick’s origin, but a compelling essay on the value of such retellings.
The issue begins the night before Dick’s parents are killed, but — much like Batgirl 0 — is narrated from the present, giving the events a poignant, knowing quality. Dick is horsing around on the train tracks with Raymond which almost causes a horrible accident. Dick saves the day, but is treated to a lecture from his parents about accepting responsibility and not ignoring his problems. From there we get a economic retelling of the death of the Graysons — brilliantly told in a series of snapshots from Dick’s traumatized memories. From here, plotters Tom DeFalco and Kyle Higgins begin to deviate a bit more from what we know. Dick doesn’t come back with Bruce; he goes to the Wayne Care Center, which he easily sneaks away from in order to seek out Tony Zucco.
Bruce discovers these late-night escapades, but allows them to continue under his watch, eventually taking Dick back to the batcave where — surprise! — Dick has already figured out who Batman is. Bruce trains Dick, but keeps him strictly on computer duties. Until, that is, Bruce is overwhelmed by Lady Shiva, and Dick rushes to his rescue in the new suit he’d been putting together. Dick doesn’t exactly beat Lady Shiva, but he does stop her, garnering a strange invitation to train with her. As Bruce dusts off his pants, the two share a moment, and Dick notes that he knew even then that his tenure as Robin would be limited.
The changes here are in many ways quite shocking, but are deployed with such breathless conviction, it’s difficult not to get on board. The most obvious difference is how much older Dick is in this telling — about 15 at the time of his parents’ death. This is obviously a move to help Gotham better adhere to the five year rule, and it has pretty profound effects on Dick’s character — especially his relationship to Bruce. Aging Dick in this way necessarily limits the amount of time he spent as Bruce’s ward (which maybe he didn’t at all, given the Wayne Care Center), and it acts to distance the murder of Dick’s parents from Bruce’s. Under must circumstances, forsaking the similarities between Bruce and Dick would be a foolish, if not downright tone-deaf move, but DeFalco and Higgins lean on those differences to emphasize exactly how Dick isn’t Bruce.
It’s an incredibly strong choice, and is pulled off beautifully. In a heartbreaking scene, Dick asks Alfred if not devoting every moment to avenging their deaths — essentially, if not becoming Bruce — means he’s forgetting them. Alfred assures Dick that moving on is perfectly natural, and goes on to suggest that he fundamentally disagrees with Bruce’s attitude. It’s a telling moment for both Dick and Alfred, and serves to emphasize how much Bruce differs from the people who care about him.
That difference is what will ultimately drive Dick to abandon the Robin mantle, even though he chose it specifically to honor his mother. Writers always have their own pet-takes on why Dick would chose “Robin,” and the nickname-from-the-parents has always been one of my favorite explanations. Dick’s emotional attachment to the name also emphasizes the turbulence of forsaking that mantle — it was his and his alone.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Batman and Robin if they didn’t have some things in common. Dick is quite the detective in this issue, using his Terminator-like ability to assess body language to it’s full potential. Penciler Eddy Barrows can’t help but emphasize that similarity to Bruce.
Not only is Dick’s detective moment ensconced in the bat-symbol, but it has allowed him into Bruce’s spotlight, an effect that is classically employed as Bruce kneels over his parents’ bodies. This is a level of understanding that I’m not even sure Alfred has ever achieved, and makes the fact that Bruce has brought Dick into the fold all the more believable.
Barrows is on his A-game this issue. the acting is superb, and his idiosyncratic layouts perfectly match Dick’s kineticism. I’m particularly fond of the sequence where Dick escapes from the Care Center, dressed in a very Robin-like color scheme.
I question the taste of bordering the scene following the Grayson’s death with spattered blood, but it’s possibly reflecting Dick’s subjective view of those moments as particularly graphic, so it gets a marginal pass.
The biggest philosophical departure in this origin is the notion that Dick never really counted on being Robin forever. I personally feel that his youthful (over)exuberance is an indelible part of his character, and that he must have thought he would be doing it forever in order to do it at all. It undermines the connection he has with the title if he knows it’s only temporary. However, I think DeFalco and Higgins make a strong case for Dick’s agency — and more importantly — acknowledge that change isn’t always comfortable. Dick’s closing words, “things always change,” takes ownership of the changes, suggesting that our resistance to these changes are akin to Dick’s attachment to his circus life — we may not like the change, but change comes whether we like it or not. I can’t help but also see it as a suggestion that things might just change back, too, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
All that is to say, this change might be uncomfortable for me, too, but I’m willing to accept it, and am happy to see the changes made with such finesse. I’m curious what you think about these changes, Shelby — our history of differences of opinions on titles that tweak details is an ever-longer and more interesting one. Do these changes even come up on your radar?
Shelby: Honestly, I didn’t even really take notice of them. I was too enchanted by the story. “Finesse” is exactly the right word to use to describe what Higgins and DeFalco have done with this issue; they took a story we all knew all too well and tweaked it just enough to make it fit in the universe they’ve crafted. The changes they made were so subtle, I didn’t even stop to think about what it meant having Dick take up the Robin mantle when he was older, or that he knew from the beginning he wouldn’t be Robin forever. I didn’t even notice that he was staying at the Wayne Care Center instead of Wayne Manor proper. The fact that I could be so caught up in a story I already know is further testament to how skillfully written this issue is.
The pencils are fantastic; Barrows has a really dynamic style that is perfectly suited for the acrobatic stylings of Nightwing. I like the way Dick’s parkour acrobatics are drawn, but I really like the way we are shown Dick’s analytic mind at work.
It’s such a simple solution to isolate and highlight the little tics that Dick sees in Bruce. It also forces us to better see this story through Dick’s eyes, the way he has seen it. It brings us closer to the character, closer to the story (and closer to Batman!). And of course, I can’t mention the art without giving due praise to Rod Reis; as per usual, his colors sparkle off the page. That man does beautiful work.
The one thing I’m not totally sure of is how good this issue would be at bringing new readers to Nightwing, namely because Nightwing is not in it. Now, you know and I know full well that Dick becomes Nightwing after giving up Robin, but would a new reader know that? I love this story of Dick’s introduction to crime-fighting in Gotham, I love seeing him become Robin, I love the way Higgins and DeFalco drop clues about the hero Dick will evolve into. But I’m coming to this title with the baggage of history of the character, and I can’t help but wonder if the origin of Robin would be confusing in an issue that should be the origin of Nightwing. If that seems like a nit-picky point, it’s because it is; it’s also the only point of criticism I can come up with for this issue.
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