What do Nightwing, Robin, a crazed surgeon who wears a pig mask and a mysterious doctor who may or may not be an extra-dimensional demon have in common?
Well...more than you might expect.
That’s right, it’s time to revisit the weird and wonderful world of Dick and Damian’s dysfunctional dynamic duo (say that three times fast) as they reunite to take on some truly bizarre ghosts from their shared past in the recently released NIGHTWING VOL. 3: NIGHTWING MUST DIE.
Yes, if you’re unfamiliar with this pair’s history together, this volume of Nightwing’s acclaimed Rebirth series may have you scratching your head and wondering what was in that sandwich you had at lunch. But don’t worry! We’re here to help, so let’s break it all down.
BATMAN & ROBIN
No, no, not that Batman and Robin.
When Bruce Wayne found himself “dead” (or rather, time displaced...it’s a long story) at the hands of Darkseid in FINAL CRISIS, he left behind a power vacuum that needed to be filled. Gotham City demanded a Dark Knight, and Dick Grayson was the only person who could really fit the bill, whether he liked it or not.
Dick had been Batman before, back in the early ’90s when Bruce had been knocked out of commission by Bane, but things were different this time around. For one, there was a new member of the Bat Family who needed mentoring in a major way. Damian Wayne had recently burst onto the scene in a flurry of gnashing teeth and ninja stars and he needed someone to keep an eye on him before he burned the city to the ground.
It went over about as well as you might expect. Dick wasn’t exactly thrilled with becoming Batman and Damian most definitely wasn’t interested in taking orders from anyone, much less his father’s eldest adopted son.
It took some time, but they (eventually) made things work. What started as a contentious rivalry eventually evolved into a begrudging sort of respect, even mutual admiration (though Damian would be the first to deny that). But like all good things, eventually it had to come to an end. When Dick was able to pass the mantle back to Bruce, Damian stayed on as his father’s Robin while Dick returned to being Nightwing. With the partnership dissolved, their somewhat contentious relationship reestablished itself. Turns out Damian isn’t big on respecting his elders when they’re not his direct and literal vigilante superiors. Who would have guessed?
You can read all the ups and downs of the new Batman and Robin’s adventures as partners by going back and picking up trades like BATMAN AND ROBIN: BATMAN REBORN.
And, really, don’t let Damian’s prickly nature, or the massive bat-shaped chip on his shoulder, fool you. He does genuinely care deeply about his adoptive big brother, try as he might to pretend that he doesn’t. It’s just that every now and again his eagerness to win Dick’s approval or prove his worthiness as Bruce’s true successor brings him careening back into Dick’s life with all the grace and subtlety of a wrecking ball. Which just so happens to be how the once-and-future dynamic duo come face-to-face with some of their old foes once again, here in the present day. Foes like...
PROFESSOR PYG (WILL MAKE YOU PERFECT)
By all accounts, Lazlo Valentin should be just a regular guy. He doesn’t have any superpowers and he isn’t particularly well funded. He’s just a scientist who...well…no one really knows quite what happened to him, but something caused poor Lazlo to go completely over the deep end.
As Professor Pyg (“Pyg” is short for “Pygmalion”—as in the mythological sculptor who fell in love with one of his own creations), Lazlo wears a cartoon pig mask and kidnaps victims to surgically transform them into “dollotrons,” horrifically mutilated and lobotomized living sculptures. His only motivation? Achieving his own brand of aesthetic “perfection” in all living things.
Yeah. It’s creepy. Pyg is one of the most disturbing rogues in Batman’s gallery—and that’s saying something.
So, you can imagine it was pretty bad news the first time Dick and Damian came up against him, back during their Batman and Robin days. In fact, Pyg and his group of Circus-themed cohorts were some of the very first super-villains the duo came up against, while they were still anything but a well-oiled crime-fighting machine. Don’t worry, they were able to take Pyg out eventually, but it probably could have gone better. The biggest problem with Pyg’s dollotrons is the fact that they’re all surgically and psychologically altered, so even the victims they manage to save are only “saved” in as much as they’re no longer Pyg’s toys.
Luckily, Dick and Damian have learned a lot about themselves and about crime fighting since then...but unfortunately, apparently so has Pyg. He’s resurfaced like the nightmare that he is and brought with him some new and improved dollotrons—but this time, he’s created a set to emulate Nightwing and Robin. Apparently, his early run-in with them proved, well, inspirational. What’s more, he’s kidnapped Dick’s girlfriend, Shawn, who may or may not be pregnant (you can read the background on that particular complication in NIGHTWING VOL. 2: BLUDHAVEN).
To make matters even worse? Pyg isn’t the only skeleton from Dick and Damian’s shared closet that has come to make things miserable for them. Enter…
Okay, here is when the creepy starts getting cosmic. Dr. Simon Hurt is yet another villain that Dick and Damian faced off against in their Batman and Robin days, but he’s sort of a special case in that he may or may not be a crazed immortal obsessed with becoming a conduit for an extradimensional demon.
Okay, hold on. Don’t panic. Let us explain.
Doctor Hurt was introduced back during the days of FINAL CRISIS and BATMAN R.I.P, when the cosmic corner of the DC Universe had been thoroughly weaponized by Darkseid to make everyone’s lives miserable. It was revealed that Hurt may or may not actually be a distant ancestor of Bruce Wayne’s who became obsessed with summoning a literal flesh and blood demon into the moral plane way, way back in the day.
Of course, instead of actually summoning a demon, Hurt was confronted by a totally different crazy extradimensional entity called the “Hyper-Adapter” and was simultaneously driven even more mad and made immortal. You know, like you do.
Oh yeah, that demon Hurt was so desperately trying to summon? He might sound a bit familiar to you if you’ve been keeping up on the massive DARK NIGHTS: METAL event going on right now in the DCU. His name was Barbatos and he’s pretty bad news.
Hurt’s obsession with summoning Barbatos and systematically dismantling the legacy of the Batman obviously did not mesh well with any of Gotham’s protectors (and even some of its more chaotic villains, who apparently did not want to be upstaged). But thanks to Hurt’s truly bizarre origins and connections to forces that aren’t exactly human, completely getting rid of him, or even locking him up in Arkham, is only a temporary solution at best.
So it’s really no surprise that he’s returned to make Dick and Damian’s lives miserable once again. Of course, once he reveals himself, things proceed to go even more off the rails and even less tethered to natural reality…
But we’re not going to spoil it for you! If you want to find out what really happens when Nightwing and Robin find themselves face to face with Dr. Hurt yet again, you can pick up Nightwing Must Die. It’s on shelves now everywhere books are sold!