Severing Yet Another Tether to Bruce’s Humanity in Batman 55

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

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When first introduced back in 1940, Dick Grayson — then known as Robin, the Boy Wonder — was meant to provide a reference point for young readers, a way for them to see themselves in the stories they were reading. His youthful charm not only won over readers, but Batman himself, who quickly transformed from his early brooding, murderous, pulp-inspired incarnation into a more genial, bombastic character thanks to Robin’s influence. Even as modern interpretations of Batman return to a darker take on the character, Dick Grayson — now Nightwing — remains a tether to Batman’s humanity, a character who can bring out his lighter side even under the harshest circumstances. In Batman 55, Tom King and Tony Daniel highlight this vital role Nightwing fills, not just through his actions, but through the very structure of the issue.

Batman 55 is split between two stories running concurrently: a night on patrol for Batman and Nightwing, and the adventures of the mysterious Mr. Zimmerman, who ends his tale by shooting Nightwing in the head with a sniper rifle. King and Daniel immediately show the difference between what Dick represents and what Zimmerman represents by telling their respective stories in very different ways. The Zimmerman sequences are highly regimented, each and every one depicted as nine-panel grids. This seems to represent how cold and calculated Zimmerman is and how mercenary and transnational his life is, but also how isolated he’s become. Though Zimmerman is frequently in public, unless he’s buying something or tricking someone other people are just background noise in his life, drifting in and out of frame (and earshot) like ghosts.

In fact, thanks to the close-up shots Daniel employs, Zimmerman never once fully shares a panel with any other character — if another character does appear in a panel, only a small part of Zimmerman, like his arm, will appear, and never his face. Even when he’s choking a man to death, Zimmerman remains completely removed from the frame.

Choking is an action usually backed by some sort of passion or fury, but Zimmerman remains utterly disconnected from the action. He’s only seen as a pair of hands and a shadow on the wall, more phantom than person. He’s utterly without humanity.

In contrast, Dick Grayson is a bundle of joy. He jokes and quips, leaps from buildings without thinking, and even, on occasion, gets Batman to do the same. He couldn’t be more human, and his infectious joy and boundless energy could never be contained within a rigid grid like Zimmerman. Instead, the pages open up, with Daniel and King incorporating far more dynamic paneling, splash pages, and even some two-page spreads.

The difference between the two men couldn’t be more clear, and thus, it couldn’t be more clear that Zimmerman’s attack on Dick is an attack on Batman’s very humanity itself. King and Daniel have shown readers what Dick brings to Batman’s life, and made it heart-breakingly obvious what Zimmerman is trying to take away from him.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

2 comments on “Severing Yet Another Tether to Bruce’s Humanity in Batman 55

  1. Why not contrast Dick Grayson with Bane’s toaster? They contrast well. One always in motion, the other just standing still. One talking, smiling, human. The other an object. You would have a great contrast at the end with the word pop. Is it the sound of a silenced sniper rifle, or of Bane’s toast being ready? And like Zimmerman, Bane’s toaster has a similar role in the narrative. Merely as a plot device, existing not as a character themselves but merely to provide a specific outcome required for the plot to continue. One exists to shoot Dick in the head, the other exists to ensure that Bane’s eating healthy enough to maintain the physical form required to be a physical threat in the narrative. And the toaster would work great as a satire of how King’s Batman and Mister Miracle use form in absurd ways that actually detract from the narrative by caring more about showing off than they do about adding to the narrative (Is any book doing a better argument about why the nine panel grid shouldn’t be used than Mister Miracle?)

    Mirroring, as a technique, works when you contrast actual characters. Where your insight on one character in the greater context of the story actually affects your understanding of the other. If King, for example, compared Dick to Bane, you can ask interesting questions about what it means to place Dick opposite Bane. What is Bane’s place in the thematics of the book. What does it mean that Dick is opposite that? What are Bane’s core qualities? His core philosophy, his great flaw. How do those qualities manifest? What does it mean to suggest that Dick Grayson is not that?
    But Zimmerman isn’t a character. He’s a plot device. He exists to shoot someone. He has nothing to him except his function and his superficial qualities. So, Dick Grayson is not a cold, inhuman killer? How insightful… What insight is really gained by contrasting Dick Grayson to him. What greater, new insight is really generated.
    I know the last few issues, with the way they have stripped Dick Grayson of one of his all important independence in a way that truly screws up the character, have made it hard to remember, but King used to write Grayson, one of the best books to ever get Dick as a character. Now get this?

    Though I have to say, I am pro mercy killing Dick Grayson. If every character that comes to this book is going to be screwed up by bad writing and turned into a farce of themselves by the unrelenting bad writing, could we have more snipers? I’d rather they get shot in the head than have their characters screwed up as part of this book’s toxic and ugly narrative. Ultimately, the sniper needs to aim for Bruce, but can Selina be next? Catwoman is too good of a character to be subjected to more time in this fucking disaster

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