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Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon: It's Complicated

Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon: It's Complicated

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

If you’ve been watching season three of Titans on HBO Max, then you might be wondering what the deal is between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. It’s a fair question, and the duo recently addressed the question in Nightwing #80.

Yeah, Dick and Babs aren’t going to be much of a help, which is puzzling because they were both trained by the World’s Greatest Detective. If these two sleuths can’t solve the mystery of their own relationship, well, then it looks like it’s up to us. Let’s start at the beginning.

Their original “meet cute” occurred during Barbara’s first appearance in Detective Comics #359. She was on her first case as Batgirl, and Dick Grayson was still in his formative years as Robin. There weren’t any romantic sparks in this first meeting. In fact, their big interaction of the issue involved Robin condescendingly mansplaining to Batgirl.

Ouch.

Of course, part of the reason there were no sparks is because there was originally a large age gap. Barbara was depicted as a woman who had already finished graduate school, while Dick was still in high school. Their first one on one team-up was in Detective Comics #369, and Batman falsely assumed Robin was harboring a school boy crush on Batgirl. It seems that even Batman was having trouble defining their relationship in these early days!

At this point though, they were nothing more than crimefighting colleagues, until Robin had his glow up. Flash-forward to 1975’s Batman Family #1. Dick Grayson was now a college student, while Barbara Gordon was a Congresswoman. Dick had taken a job as Barbara’s Congressional aide, but by the end of the issue their relationship would take another turn. Still unaware of each other’s secret identities, Robin and Batgirl team-up to fight the ghost of Benedict Arnold. (Yeah, you’re reading that right. You can read more about this nutty story here, if you’d like.)

This story was notable for reasons other than the ghost of an American traitor because it ended with the very first Robin and Batgirl kiss. Robin tried to talk Batgirl into retiring, giving her a tired spiel about how crimefighting was man’s work. (Yes, you can and should roll your eyes at that.) However, Batgirl shut Robin up by kissing him and things were never the same. It’s hard to believe this now, but fan reaction to the kiss was negative. Over in the letters pages, editor Bob Rozakis told readers that the kiss was a gag and that “there are no plans to develop a romance between the two.”

Robin and Batgirl continued teaming up in the pages of Batman Family, and by the end of issue #3, they revealed that they had deduced each other’s identities. Batman Family #11 featured the first Dick and Babs wedding—sort of. The whole thing was a plot where Robin and Batgirl pretended to get married in order to trap criminals or something.

Honestly, we’re not sure what the thought process was there, but it had a cool cover where Batgirl wore a Bat-bridal veil and Robin had a snazzy tuxedo costume. Despite what Rozakis had said, the kiss awoke something in Robin and he became a lot flirtier as the series progressed. In Batman Family #13, Robin confessed his feelings to Batgirl, only to turn around and discover she had slept through his declaration of love. (Ouch!) As if things couldn’t get any more humiliating for the Boy Wonder, 2007’s Nightwing Annual #2 revealed that Batgirl was pretending to be asleep to spare Robin’s feelings.

Batman Family eventually ended, and the Robin-Batgirl partnership faded. They had a team-up in Detective Comics #489, which ended with Batgirl agreeing to erase her memories of Batman and Robin’s secret identity at the Boy Wonder’s request. That’s kinda messed up, which is probably why Batgirl revealed that she faked the whole thing in Detective Comics #526. And that was that. Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon didn’t interact on panel again for another 11 years!

From 1983 through 1994 they had no contact, and during that time Dick went from Robin to Nightwing, and Barbara went from Batgirl to Oracle. Dick had his whirlwind romance with Starfire, while Barbara spent some time with a private detective named Jason Bard. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare around their reunion in Showcase ’94 #12, but after that, Dick and Barbara interacted pretty regularly again. Yet their relationship remained undefined.

So, when did the duo first become a couple? It might surprise fans to learn that it didn’t happen in the comics. The animated movie Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (set in the continuity of Batman: The Animated Series) was the first time Dick and Babs were presented as a couple in any medium. In animated continuity, Dick and Babs were the same age and college classmates. The New Batman Adventures episode “Old Wounds” revealed that their relationship ended abruptly when Dick quit being Robin and left Gotham. He later returned as Nightwing, but scars from their breakup prevented the two of them from reigniting their old flame, leaving their relationship (you guessed it) complicated.

Their comics counterparts finally got together in 1999’s Nightwing #38—thirty years after their first meeting! Nightwing showed up to Oracle’s doorstep wounded from battle, she treated his injuries, and one thing led to another.

Their relationship became official, and it was such a force of nature that it literally rewrote Batman history. Robin: Year One presented a fresh look at Dick Grayson’s early years, revealing that the first time he laid eyes on Barbara Gordon, his breath was immediately taken away (much to Jim Gordon’s chagrin). Batgirl: Year One picked up the thread by showing how Robin’s crush shaped his early encounters with Barbara, foreshadowing their future relationship. Their initial age difference from earlier comics had shrunk, and after a series of reality altering universe resets, it’s become almost non-existent.

Barbara broke up with Dick in Nightwing #87 after a villain named Tarantula engineered an argument between the couple. Determined to win her back, Dick proposed to Barbara in Nightwing #117 and she happily accepted. Unfortunately, a flashback in 2007’s Nightwing Annual #2 revealed that Barbara put their engagement on hold after realizing that Dick needed some time to find out who he was as a person.

Although Dick and Babs haven’t been a couple since 2006, they’ve spent the last fifteen years dancing around the question of getting back together. In 2013’s Nightwing Annual #1, they considered running away together, then in 2017’s Batgirl #17, a cold case forced them to take a look at their undefined relationship, and in 2018’s Batgirl #25, the duo snuggled in a honeymoon suite as they pondered what they meant to each other.

Batman himself tried to step in Dark Knights: Death Metal: Last Stories of the DC Universe #1. Bruce, like many of us, was tired of the “will they or won’t they” and told them that by the power vested in him by being Batman, they were now officially married.

Can Batman legally perform a marriage? He is Batman after all, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. At any rate, Dick and Babs decided to go with it and agreed to be married for a single night, before annulling the next morning. (It’s a shame that Barbara didn’t wear the Bat-bridal veil from Batman Family #11.)

So where does that leave Dick and Babs? Are they friends, lovers, spouses…or something else? It’s been over fifty years since their first meeting, and they’re still trying to work it out. Yet, they remain one of the most popular couples in the DC Universe not despite their relationship’s ambiguity, but because of it. Dick and Babs may be unsure of what their relationship is, but the fans have certainly made their preferences clear.

So, as this relationship plays out this season on Titans (it comes to the forefront in this week’s new episode), keep this in mind. It doesn’t matter what continuity they’re in, Dick and Babs belong together. But whether they belong together…well, that’s complicated. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
 

Titans Season 3 is now streaming on HBO Max. Look for new episodes every Thursday! Not yet an HBO Max subscriber? Sign up today to enjoy the best of DC movies and TV.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.