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The Trapeze Swinger: Dick Grayson's Past Comes Back to Haunt Him

The Trapeze Swinger: Dick Grayson's Past Comes Back to...

By Meg Downey Monday, January 30th, 2017

Dick Grayson’s had a busy couple of years. From faking his death to becoming a super spy, it’s been anything but easy. Now, even though he’s back in his iconic blue and black, he’s hardly out of the woods.

Dick’s first order of business is pretty simple: infiltrate, track down and eliminate the Parliament of Owls. It’s a complicated first goal, to be sure, and one made all the more tricky by the fact that it’s way more than just a mission for the greater good for our favorite former Boy Wonder—it’s personal.

Really, really personal.

Between the Owls’ attack on Damian to their connection to his ancestor, Dick was anything but at arm’s length from this one from the get-go, and it seems like more and more of his past is ready to crop back up into the spotlight the farther down the rabbit hole he travels.

Luckily, facing down the skeletons in his closet is something Dick’s pretty well versed in. Despite his best efforts, his past—specifically his childhood as a performer with Haly’s Circus—coming back to haunt him is actually a pretty common thread in his super heroic adventures. But, hey, practice makes perfect, right?

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest moments in Nightwing’s history that proved without a doubt that you can take the boy out of the circus, but you can never quite take the circus out of the boy.
 

Birds and Big Tops

Ironically, the most violent ghost from Dick’s past happens to be literally undead.

No, really. His great grandfather was a Talon for the Court of Owls.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The start of The New 52 saw the deed for Haly’s Circus being transferred into Dick’s possession—something that might have been pretty great, if it didn’t come with it’s own built in murder mystery. Ownership of the circus, several bodies in the Gotham City morgue and a handful of vicious attacks from a mysterious masked villain all prompt Dick to rejoin the circus as it travels around the country while he attempts to find the killer.

Unfortunately, the case is hardly cut and dry. As Dick reconnects more and more with his past, including the mysterious and beautiful Raya—a fellow trapeze artist who still works with the show—more and more uncomfortable truths begin to come to light. Dick uncovers a manuscript containing a list of names (that ends in his own) which links Haly’s back to the Court of Owls…and more specifically, a man named William Cobb.

Cobb is an undead Talon assassin who has been attacking Batman back in Gotham under the orders of the Court. He’s also Dick’s great grandpa. Even worse? Dick’s name in the manuscript he found indicates that he was intended to be Cobb’s successor as a Talon. The Owls have had Dick marked from birth, and they can prove it. They’ve even got their insignia secretly etched into a filling on one of Dick’s molars.

The Owls’ manipulations didn’t stop, even after Dick and the rest of the Batfamily managed to fend off their biggest attempt to overthrow all of Gotham City during the Night of Owls. No, they just didn’t want to let him go, even going as far as to prompt an all out war on his super heroic legacy as Robin.

You can read all about that particular catastrophe in ROBIN WAR.
 

Weak Spots

While living in Bludhaven in the early 2000s and working to bring down Blockbuster, Dick owned and operated an apartment building where he would provide housing and work for those in need while they got back on their feet. However, his tenants were people he helped as Nightwing first, so you can imagine his surprise when a complete stranger showed up at the door to his building asking for him by name.

As part of a plot hatched by Ra’s al Ghul, a man named Yoska was tricked into believing that Dick was his long lost grandson, the child of his son who literally ran away to join the circus. It’s a strange story to be sure, but it puts Dick in an uncomfortable position in which he realizes that he doesn’t know all that much about his family.

Fraudulent or not, Yoska’s brief appearance in Dick’s life nearly threatens to drive a wedge between he and Bruce (who, at the time, had been working on finally filing the papers to legally adopt Dick as his own.) It would seem that Ra’s’ plan nearly goes off without a hitch—but wait, there’s even more.

While Yoska is inadvertently stirring up dust in Dick’s memories, Blockbuster is also concocting a plan to lay Nightwing low by exploiting all of his most personal weak spots. It’s a domino chain of horrible moments that come to a crescendo by an attack on—you guessed it—Haly’s.

It would seem that during the course of their cat-and-mouse game, Blockbuster uncovered the truth about Dick’s identity and decided to strike at him where it would hurt the most. Dick gets a call from Haly’s current ringleader explaining that there’s been an accident, they’re in the area, and they need someone to fill in for their trapeze artist’s partner act. He accepts, unable to say no (especially not when his talks with Yoska have left him so nostalgic), and immediately finds himself back under the lights of the big top.

But rather than a chance to relive his glory days as a performer, Dick finds himself smack dab in a trap. Firefly, longtime Gotham City villain, sets to work burning the show to the ground. Dick narrowly escapes with his life in one of the most horrifying incidents in Nightwing’s history as a super hero.

Had the chips fallen just slightly differently, Dick himself would have ended up as another Haly’s Circus tragedies...just like his parents.


New Allies

Thankfully, not every part of Dick’s past comes with the price tag of trauma and destruction. Sometimes there are some silver linings to be found in even the worst situations.

You’re probably familiar with Dick’s origin story: seeing his parents fall to their deaths while Haly’s was performing in Gotham. An event that, famously, left Dick orphaned and eventually, taken in by Bruce Wayne. You know the drill.

What you might not know is that Dick and Bruce’s lives weren’t the only one dramatically changed that fateful night at the circus. A young Tim Drake and his family happened to have tickets to the show that evening, and ended up bearing witness to the whole tragedy as it unfolded. However, rather than letting it scar him for life, Tim was inspired. He got to see Batman in action, doing good, protecting people who couldn’t protect themselves. He kept up on the case as it was covered by the media and eventually saw Batman bring the criminal, a gangster named Tony Zucco, to justice.

Tim’s obsession led him to connect the dots between Batman, Robin, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson—and later, between Dick Grayson and Nightwing. Tim’s brilliant detective work eventually lands him the role of Robin after Jason Todd’s death, something that would have never happened without that day at Haly’s all those years ago.

Interestingly, Tim may not be the only new partner to Nightwing who can tie their story back to the circus. Rebirth saw Dick coming into a new alliance with a man who calls himself Raptor and boldly claims to be “better than Batman.”

Raptor is willing to help Dick take out the Parliament of Owls once and for all, but his methods (and his ego) leave something to be desired. Dick’s willing to take all the help he can get. But Raptor just might be motivated by more than simple altruism, and his investment in Dick’s future as a hero may be a bit more complicated than a vendetta against the Owls.

Of course, if you haven’t been reading Nightwing’s exploits in Rebirth, we don’t want to spoil them for you—especially since it’s now easier than ever to get caught up. You can begin to uncover some of Raptor’s mysteries and find out how he fits into Dick’s past in NIGHTWING VOL. 1: BETTER THAN BATMAN, in stores now.

 

Nightwing Rebirth

NIGHTWING VOL. 1: BETTER THAN BATMAN

Nightwing is back! Boy Wonder-turned-vigilante-turned super spy Dick Grayson returns to take down the international Parliament of Owls!

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