The DC Universe is chalk full of some of the most wonderful romances in popular culture—Superman and Lois Lane, Batman and Catwoman, Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. The impact of their often Earth-shattering romances transcend even the comic book genre. They’re mainstream, baby!
Yet, for my money, DC’s best ongoing romance isn’t quite as well known—at least, not by the general, non-comic reading public. Nightwing and Batgirl have been right at the heart of the Bat-Family for generations, and both lead their own comic series to this very day. For a long time, they were the only two characters who fully understood what it meant to have been brought under the wing of the Batman.
I can’t imagine those were friendly, welcoming wings, even at the height of the Silver Age’s smiling Batman stories. Robin’s training must have been excruciating, so the minute someone new entered the Batcave, you have to imagine that young Dick was thrilled. Finally, he had someone he could commiserate with about whatever horrors Batman was putting him through at that moment. They were thrown together from the moment of Babs’ introduction and left to their own devices to carve out their respective legacies in the wake of not only Batman, but one of Gotham City’s most important protectors—Barbara’s father, Jim Gordon.
That’s a tall order to live up to! Forget about the other good people Dick and Babs would come to work with, like Doctor Leslie Thompkins or Alfred Pennyworth. The bar has always been set incredibly high for these two kids.
Now, let’s be very honest with ourselves, it didn’t hurt that Barbara was an incredibly intelligent, cute girl. One has to think she may have inspired Dick Grayson’s affection for redheads, as evidenced by his only other relationship of real staying power and substance—the time he spent with Starfire when they were both founding members of the Teen Titans.
All the other people that Dick or Babs have been with in a romantic capacity have always struck me as placeholders. Even when Babs was engaged to Jason Bard and Dick was flirting it up with Huntress at the Spyral HQ, it was as if they always knew they would be coming back together someday—it was only a matter of time until they found their roads home. Babs and Dick’s interactions throughout 1999’s NO MAN’S LAND are a great example of this. Not only are they looking out for each other in a Gotham that’s under martial law, not only do they collaborate in their personas as Nightwing and Oracle, but the heightened reality they inhabit throughout the event solidified their relationship for years, ultimately culminating in Dick popping the question of marriage to Barbara.
And let’s speak about those Nightwing and Oracle personas a moment, shall we? Both Robin and Batgirl are unique in the DCU in that they are two of the only characters who have been permitted to bloom and grow over the time they have existed. Dick Grayson is one of the first legacy characters to have taken on a new identity for himself, when he aged out of his original alter-ego. When he started establishing himself as Nightwing, Barbara was one of his biggest cheerleaders. Of course, a mere four years later, THE KILLING JOKE was published, leaving Barbara Gordon irreparably changed for the rest of her life and prompting an evolution of her own that she did not have the luxury of designing the way her male counterpart had.
Babs adopted the persona of Oracle and went on to run point for the Justice League, a team Dick Grayson would later lead in place of his mentor Batman. In doing so, both characters completed their graduation from sidekicks into two of the most important superheroes in their shared universe. But what’s remarkable about this is that they did it together. Dick Grayson may have spearheaded the Justice League, but the team could not function without the intel provided to them by Oracle. His contributions are incomplete without hers. As a pair, they complement each other perfectly.
It’s true, Superman and Lois Lane have been doing a similar dance for longer, but for that reason, their dance feels less exciting. Of course, Clark and Lois will always be together. They nearly always have been. Babs and Dick haven’t had that good fortune. In fact, since the New 52, I’m not even sure you can call them a couple. Part of the fun of their relationship now is that we know they’re perfect for each other, even if they don’t always realize it. There’s the thrill of those moments where they come close, and the fun frustration of those where they put those feelings aside to date someone else. Babs and Dick’s relationship is an adventure. It’s exciting because we don’t know for certain that it’s all going to work out okay for them. It’s much like those early weeks in a new relationship where everything is exciting and vibrant, and nothing is certain other than the fact that you’re having too much fun to care.
Dick and Babs need each other, and it’s complicated. But ultimately, all aspects of their vigilante existence are enhanced by being together. And, if I may end on a sentimental note, who doesn’t want to see two children who have suffered so much physical and emotional pain come through the Bat-Family gauntlet to wind up happy and healthy together? If that’s not worth fighting for, I’m not sure what is.
Ashley V. Robinson writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. You can find her on Twitter at @AshleyVRobinson and on the Jawiin YouTube channel.