Happy 80th Anniversary, Dick Grayson! I suppose jumping around Gotham rooftops keeps you looking young and healthy. From Robin to Nightwing and beyond, the onetime Boy Wonder has been through a lot these past eight decades, with plenty of memorable moments that have gone on to represent some of the best the comic book medium has to offer. Here are twelve defining ones that have helped shape him into the beloved character that he is today.
Like any good retrospective, it’s important to start at the beginning. Let’s go back eighty years to Detective Comics #38 and look at Dick Grayson’s origin. Most of us know the story—circus acrobat watches his parents die and is taken under Batman’s wing. He becomes Batman’s partner and stops his parents’ killer. The basic story beats are so timeless, that the origin remains MOSTLY unchanged to this day. Luckily a few necessary additions were made. For example, notice how in the original story Batman sort of kidnaps Dick Grayson without telling anyone. Thankfully, later retellings had Bruce officially adopt the boy, but you have to wonder if the circus people were worried.
This story was not only important for Dick’s history, but for comics in general. Robin the Boy Wonder started the trend of superheroes having kid sidekicks, which resulted in classic characters like Wally West, Roy Harper and more!
His First Solo Feature
In 1949, Robin struck out on his own for the first time. Although Dick wouldn’t be ready to leave Batman for another few decades, the Boy Wonder got his first taste of solo success early in Star Spangled Comics. The anthology series featured Robin from Star Spangled Comics #65-#130. The stories featured Robin solving teenage-related crimes and fighting forgettable villains like the Clock, who was a less royal version of the Clock King. Batman occasionally appeared, but this was Robin’s time to shine. While these goofy Golden Age stories may not be as memorable as Dick’s later Blüdhaven adventures, he wouldn’t be the hero he is today without these comics.
Forming the Teen Titans
Batman was responsible for making Dick Grayson into a hero, but the Teen Titans were responsible for making him into a leader. In The Brave and the Bold #54, Robin teamed up with Kid Flash and Aqualad to help a town deal with their generational divide and stop a villain called Mister Twister. The group reunited in The Brave and the Bold #60 where they were joined by Wonder Girl and began calling themselves the Teen Titans. Leading the Titans helped Robin find his own sense of purpose away from Batman and grow as both a hero and a person. The Titans have gone on to become one of the most important parts of the DC Universe, starring in multiple animated series and a live-action show on the DC Universe service. Dick wouldn’t be the man he is today without them.
Flying off to Hudson University
Some people have the idea that Bruce and Dick were inseparable until he graduated from Robin to Nightwing, but the shift actually began fifteen years earlier. In Batman #217, Dick Grayson, now a high school graduate, left Wayne Manor and took a cab to Hudson University.
The new setup would change both heroes forever. While Robin had his Golden Age solo feature and Batman would occasionally fight crime on his own, almost every Batman comic since 1940 had featured the Dynamic Duo as a team. Dick’s move began a new precedent for Batman solo adventures, while Robin fought crime in the college town of New Carthage. Dick’s college adventures were featured in backup stories in Detective Comics, where Robin soon became the big man on campus. Like any college student, Dick would occasionally come home to Wayne Manor to do laundry, eat some of Alfred’s cooking and briefly reunite the team of Batman and Robin. Nightwing may have been fifteen years away, but this was the first step in Dick Grayson becoming his own man.
His Partnership (and Romance) with Barbara Gordon
Robin and Batgirl had teamed up before, but things took a turn in Batman Family #1. Dick was no longer a Boy Wonder, and was now a college man. During one of his school breaks, he served as an aide to the now Congresswoman Barbara Gordon. Of course, it wasn’t long before something happened that required them to go into battle as Robin and Batgirl, this time against the ghost of Benedict Arnold.
Stop looking at me like that, I’m not joking.
You would think that the ghost of America’s greatest traitor would be the most notable part of the issue, but it was actually the kiss Batgirl gave Robin during the final act. It was meant to shut the former sidekick up, but it wound up awakening feelings in Robin that spawned into the legendary Dick and Babs romance. Next time you want to impress your friends, tell them that the legendary Dick/Babs ship began with Benedict Arnold’s ghost!
The New Teen Titans and Starfire
In 1980, a new team of Teen Titans reunited and rocked the comic book industry to its core. The series was regularly a top seller and elevated the DC Universe to heights it had never seen before. The Teen Titans’ goofy Silver and Bronze Age adventures were left behind for more mature storytelling and a more serialized approach. These adventures were the final phase of Dick’s life as Robin, and many of the early New Teen Titans issues had the Boy Wonder contemplating his place in the world. He had outgrown his role as Batman’s junior partner, and he hadn’t found his way in college, so who was he?
In addition to being one of the most iconic team books in comic history, this series also introduced Robin to Princess Koriand’r, otherwise known as Starfire. Next to Batgirl, Starfire has been the biggest romance in Dick’s life. In fact, it would be accurate to say Starfire has shaped Dick almost as much as Bruce, Barbara and Alfred have.
This was the big moment, folks! After leaving the Robin identity behind in The New Teen Titans #39, Dick took a few months to consider what his next step was before he unveiled his Nightwing persona in Tales of the Teen Titans #44. This epic milestone happened during an iconic story called “The Judas Contract,” which marked the cumulation of the last four years of Titans stories. All of the Titans had been captured, except for Dick, who teamed up with a new hero named Jericho to rescue his friends, and in the process, donned his Nightwing costume for the first time.
I admit, his first look isn’t as striking as the black costume we’re all familiar with, but it worked for its time (and it looks great when George Perez draws it!). For 44 years, Dick had been Robin in comics, radio shows, newspaper strips, cartoons and live-action productions. It was unthinkable to imagine things would ever be any different, but Nightwing has always been a trailblazer. Kid sidekicks usually didn’t grow up and graduate into their own identities, but Dick Grayson changed the game for everyone.
Becoming the Bat: Take One
They say we all become our parents one day, and in Dick’s case that meant taking on the Batman identity. In 1994, a storyline called “Prodigal” ran in all the Batman titles, which featured Dick Grayson becoming Batman while Bruce Wayne took off on a secret mission. Dick had been hurt ever since Bruce chose John Paul Valley to be the substitute Batman during “Knightfall” and this storyline was seen as a way of setting things right. For the first time, the dynamic (no pun intended) had been flipped, and Dick Grayson had his own Robin (Tim Drake) to back him up. Dick’s time as Batman helped him get his life back on track after his broken engagement to Starfire and his emotional departure from the Titans. His time as the Bat may have been short, but Dick Grayson proved that he was the right man for the job.
So, now that Nightwing was his own man, he needed his own place. After leaving the Titans, Dick Grayson fought crime around Gotham, but if we’re being honest that’s always been Batman’s city. How can Nightwing leave Bruce’s shadow when it extends over the entire city?
All that changed in 1996 when Nightwing was given his own ongoing series for the first time. While Dick had his own features, team books, one-shots and mini-series, this was his first time getting his own ongoing, which meant moving to a new home. Nightwin went across the river from Gotham to a city called Blüdhaven, which was even worse than his old home. However, since Nightwing #1, Blüdhaven has been the closest thing to a home that Dick has. Several times he’s set down roots in the city and fought to take down its criminal underworld.
There’s more than one way to fight crime, and in 1999’s Nightwing #31, Dick Grayson decided to help Blüdhaven clean up their streets by joining the police academy. Blüdhaven was a town without a Jim Gordon, and the city’s police department was full of corruption. Dick decided to be the change he wanted to see, and before long he was patrolling the streets as a police officer…and the rooftops as Nightwing. The move surprised Batman, who was proud of his former sidekick for creating a life outside of his costumed identity, but perplexed that Dick would choose a profession that requires you to carry a firearm.
Dick Grayson’s time as a cop ended in Nightwing #83, when one of his superiors learned he was Nightwing and asked him to resign because his double identity was a clear conflict of interest. Although Dick had to leave the force behind, he could hold his head high knowing he made a positive impact on his community.
Training Damian and Becoming the Bat: Take Two
After the events of “Batman R.I.P.” and “Final Crisis,” Bruce Wayne was missing and presumed dead. But Gotham still needed a Batman and Dick once again answered the call…only this time he wouldn’t be getting a Robin as cooperative as Tim Drake.
2009’s Batman and Robin #1 featured the dawn of a new Dynamic Duo as Dick did his best to rein in Bruce’s son Damian. It’s hard to imagine, but Damian was even more stubborn and bloodthirsty then than he is now. The newest Robin was one bad decision away from becoming a super-villain, and handling his attitude was one of the biggest challenges Dick Grayson had faced so far in his career. By the time Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham, Dick Grayson had taught Damian patience, compassion and restraint. The current Robin has a bright future ahead of him, and a lot of that credit has to go to Dick. In some ways, Damian might be Dick’s greatest legacy as a mentor.
Agent of Spyral
Dick Grayson never stops reinventing himself! He’s been an acrobat, Robin, Nightwing, Batman, a police officer, and in 2014, he added “super spy” to his resume. After the events of “Forever Evil,” the world thought that Nightwing was dead, so Batman sent his former partner on an undercover assignment to infiltrate the spy organization known as Spyral. Readers thrilled to Dick’s espionage adventures in a new, markedly different series titled Grayson. The storytelling was a far cry from what fans had read during Dick’s time in Gotham or Blüdhaven—this was as much a James Bond film as a superhero comic. In the end, though, Dick returned to his iconic Nightwing identity, but his time as an agent of Spyral was a fun diversion and an underrated chapter in the Boy Wonder’s history.
Not bad for a former circus acrobat!
Happy anniversary, Robin! You can celebrate Dick Grayson and all of the other Robins with the 100-page Robin 80th Anniversary Super Spectacular, now available through comic shops and as a digital download.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.