I just saw Batman Live this past weekend (in Nottingham, no less, although I suppose it might have been more appropriate to see Green Arrow Live in the hood of Robin Hood). Anyway, it was diggity dank (or awesome, if you prefer), and it was so cute to see the incredibly large number of little kids in the audience who had dressed up as Batman. It made me think of my own younger brother (more on why later). Naturally, the show prompted me to write this post, about a Dick near and dear to my heart: Dick Grayson (full name Richard John Grayson; so sad that I know that). They say you never forget your first, and that’s why Dick Grayson will always be special to me: he started me down this long, sordid, Dick-filled road.
Back in the early 1990s, I used to come home from elementary school and watch Batman: The Animated Series with my younger brother. My brother was a total Batman nut. My seamstress grandmother actually whipped him up a little black Batman cape and he wore it everywhere, everyday. Seriously. My friend’s dad just took to calling him Batman, ignoring that he even had a name. Anyway, my brother liked to play Batman, and naturally he was Batman. Therefore, I was Robin, a.k.a Dick Grayson. I grew to have a certain amount of affection for Dick Grayson and his name: Richard. I can’t say I was truly “obsessed” with learning about Richards until I started studying the English monarchy (and became besotted with Richard III), but Dick Grayson got the ball rolling. And, seriously, what’s not to like about the guy? He’s a Dick who is not a dick. He’s way less emotionally repressed than Bruce Wayne/Batman, he works and plays well with others, and he makes funny jokes and bad puns. And I love the bad puns so much! This allows me to put in a plug for the 1960s Adam West/Burt Ward show. Even though it’s not from comics proper, I love this line from the episode “Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill:”
Batman and Robin enter the dressing room with their eyes closed because technically no men are allowed inside.
Batman: Batgirl, are you in here?
Model: Catwoman kidnapped her, Batman!
Robin: Holy Robert Louis Stevenson!
That’s quality right there, my friends. Holy cheesy-ness!
Anyway, Dick Grayson is the original Robin, who later grew up and became Nightwing. For a few years he was Batman (long story), but he’s back to being Nightwing again, as of this month. As a character, Dick has grown up over the years, but it’s been incredibly slow. He debuted in April 1940 as an eight year old, and he’s currently in his mid twenties (or maybe it’s only early twenties). DC has the slowest time ever. Dick spent the entire 1970s (yes, the whole decade) in college, and then DC decided that that was only one semester. Really! Imagine how much work you could get done in a ten-year semester. Also, imagine how old you would be when you graduated. Aside from getting older, Dick has matured, but he thankfully can still be counted on to make cheesy jokes and just generally be more light-hearted and positive than Batman.
Although some people complain that Batman was cooler and grittier before Robin came along, I’m not totally buying that. For one thing, Batman only went eleven issues before Robin was added. In fact, Robin predates Alfred, who wasn’t introduced until 1943. I’m glad Alfred came into the mix because I was getting tired of Bruce occasionally leaving Dick home alone. Seriously, was that considered okay in the 1940s? Dick was probably only 8-10 years old (but it’s impossible to tell with comics since people age soooo slowly in them), but Bruce would sometimes go out and leave him. That seems like a bad idea in the hell-hole that is Gotham City, but whatever. Aside from pre-dating Alfred, Dick also came into existence before the Joker (granted it was about a month, but still). Dick Grayson is an integral part of the Batman mythos, which itself is a cultural touchstone ; ) He didn’t ruin Batman because 1) Batman was barely established before he came along and 2) he’s so awesome he could never ruin anything. In my book, the best way to improve anything Batman is to add more Dick. It’s a formula, but it bloody well works!
Now isn’t really the place to rehash the Life and Times of Dick Grayson. I have websites listed below for that because, given the guy has been around for 71 years, that’s a lot of hashing. For instance, Dick’s age when he became Robin keeps changing. First it was eight, and then it was twelve. However, all the comic book writers haven’t gotten on board with the change because I read one comic wherein Dick said he’d known Bruce since he was eight (did they meet randomly one night at the circus?) and another in which he was having a Robin adventure as an eleven year old. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree and go with more generic statements such as, “Dick became Robin as a child (or pre-teen, if you prefer).” Another bit I find fascinating (so much for not hashing, am I right?), is that Dick and Bruce used to be super-tight until they had a bad break-up in the mid-1980s. DC has explained this in various ways (Dick leaving the Batman and Robin duo, Dick getting fired by Bruce), but for a while Bruce and Dick had a rather fraught relationship. Things began to work themselves out in the 1990s, and Bruce finally got his act together and officially adopted Dick in 2001. While a part of me was/is kind of annoyed that Dick and Bruce had a falling-out, it does add emotional complexity to the stories. Much as I want people (real and fictional) to have big, happy families (as I do!), I must admit that the loving-yet-complicated Bruce-Dick relationship has made for more interesting and thought-provoking stories. In short, I guess there is a relationship worth exploring now, and their marks of affection have more meaning than they did pre-1980s. While I love relationship harmony, conflict makes for better writing. This has been proven again and again in “real” (hehe) literature, from Greek tragedies (such as the Oresteia) to Shakespeare (think Henry IV and Prince Hal) to novels (The Joy Luck Club). I also can’t believe I just devoted time to analyzing comic books, but my mom says I have a tendency to over-analyze everything.
Suffice it to say, though, that Dick and his green speedo (or “chainmail hot pants” as a cracked.com article called them) will forever be fondly remembered as the original Robin and as the very cool Nightwing. He’s a fun superhero, so here’s to another 71 (plus!) years!
Useful websites for getting your Dick Grayson on: