Devin Grayson - The "Nightwing" Crisis

Thu, November 10th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

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"Nightwing" #116
The other day I received an email at work. When I saw it, I smiled wide and even chuckled out loud. The email was from DGrayson@... and had the word "Nightwing" on the subject line. As someone who got into comics because of "The New Teen Titans," it felt like the original Robin (Dick Grayson - now the character known as Nightwing) was sending me a message from his four-color world.

Yes, I am that kind of geek.

In actuality, the email was from Devin Grayson, the current writer of "Nightwing" from DC Comics. Grayson knows this character - as well as the entire Bat-universe - extremely well. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons she got into comics was due to a fascination with the Dick Grayson character from "Batman: The Animated Series." Since that time, she has written several Batman-related titles, including "Catwoman," "Batman: Gotham Knights," and a number Bat-universe one-shots and miniseries. When she was given the "Nightwing" book three years ago, it was like a dream-come-true assignment due to her love for the character. As is the case with many wishes that come true though, it hasn't quite been the "dream" she imagined.

While Grayson is pleased with what she accomplished on the book, there are elements that didn't quite go the way she planned. Nevertheless, she has made some interesting decisions and taken the character in several intriguing directions. The most recent of these began this past April, when Phil Hester ("Green Arrow," "The Wretch") joined the book as its regular artist. Grayson had the former boy wonder abandon his Nightwing identity and join the mob as Dick Grayson. I think it's safe to say that the events that spun out of this storyline surprised many longtime "Nightwing" fans. CBR News contacted the writer to talk more about this initial decision, the character's current actions in the book and how DC's "Infinite Crisis" mega-event affected her plans for Batman's first sidekick.

To begin with, we need to look at the events in the "Nightwing" book before Hester came aboard. The supervillain known as Blockbuster had discovered Nightwing's secret identity and was threatening to kill everyone Dick Grayson knew. At the same time, Dick had been dating the vigilante known as Tarantula, whose methods didn't exactly align with his. These two factors led to Tarantula killing Blockbuster, while Nightwing stood idly by. This naturally placed Dick in a very gray area in terms of morality. Considering the uproar caused by Wonder Woman's actions in the "Sacrifice" arc (where Wonder Woman killed a villain with her bare hands - for those who somehow managed to miss any of DC's "Infinite Crisis" crossovers), CBR News asked Grayson how she would compare and contrast the significance of these two events.

"Nightwing" #114
Grayson replied, "I haven't read it yet, but I understand that Wonder Woman killed someone herself in the 'Sacrifice' arc. What Dick did was a little different - he stood by and let someone get killed, instead of using his skills to prevent the murder (which we have to assume, based on his proficiency level, he could have managed). But certainly the theme of capital punishment is one we circle with some regularity in superhero comics, which are, at heart, morality tales. And both Greg Rucka (who wrote the 'Wonder Woman' arc) and I are, as writers, often interested in backing characters in morally ambiguous situations.

"In my mind, one of the all-time best examinations of these issues was done in the Batman books during the 'Knightfall' arc. In that story, the issue of killing was explored not just through the eyes of the heroes, but through the moral fabric of an entire city. Still, I think it's a theme that will keep popping up, precisely because there is no blanket answer. Humanity as a whole is fuzzy on the issue, which leaves each individual with the responsibility for coming up with their own personal mores and justifications for their behavior. When that individual spends most of their time actively working to make the world safe for others, constantly encountering beings who have decided that killing is a an acceptable means to an end, then the question takes on an even greater urgency."

Something else to consider regarding both of these events is Batman's reaction. He has essentially condemned Wonder Woman for her actions. Although he hasn't talked with Nightwing about the Blockbuster incident, one would have to assume he has at least an inkling of what occurred. So this naturally leads to the question: would he condemn Dick?

"Dick has tried to bring the issue up with Bruce a couple of times, but as of yet, has never quite fully managed to talk it out," Grayson explained. "I think we have to assume that Batman, being who he is, is perfectly aware of what transpired, but may be less certain about what those events mean to Dick personally. Though it was not necessarily the direction I would have taken the arc, the events of 'War Games' dictated that Batman actively solicit the help of both Nightwing and Tarantula, which in my mind equates a kind of tacit pardon, at least as far as Dick is concerned. But what I was really hoping to convey is that Bruce is smart enough to know that Dick will punish himself with greater heat, energy, and devotion than Batman ever would - in large part due to Batman's influence on his life, certainly - but it is by now an automated response on Dick's part that Bruce need only avoid interfering with. The relationship between Bruce & Diana and Bruce & Dick are very different relationships."

As mentioned, it seems that the book has taken a dramatic turn since Phil Hester hopped aboard. Previously, it felt like Dick was in costume 90% of the time and his life mainly consisted of Nightwing activities. After the "Year One" arc written by Chuck Dixon ("Nightwing" #101-106), the book has gone in a very different direction with a "Donnie Brasco"-type story arc. Regarding how this new direction came about, Grayson indicated it was a natural evolution.

"Nightwing" #113
"The 'Donnie Brasco' arc - as you rightly call it - was an idea my then editor, Michael Wright and I, had been discussing and working toward for quite some time. And of course, being an arc, it was never meant to be a permanent change in the book, only a temporary new direction that would allow us to turn a corner into the long-planned conclusion of the Blockbuster arc. Dixon's 'Year One' came in out of the blue - I hadn't heard about it, and if I had, I would have assumed that it would run as an independent miniseries. A decision was made from on high, though, that miniseries were less viable than series-contained arcs, so Chuck's story ran in the regular series. I think that was actually probably fun for the fans, since the book really is Chuck's baby and he's so good with these characters.

"In terms of the mob story, we were able to make use of it by kind of jumping right into the mob arc rather than slowly setting it up. We just figured, well, there's a three month gap here, so when it's over, let's start with Dick already ensconced in Tommy's home instead of showing the whole, laborious setup of that. I think that might have worked out okay, but then 'War Games' came up, and I will admit again here (as I have admitted elsewhere) that in the wake of those and a few other unexpected interruptions, I ended up mismanaging the time line on the mob arc, which has gone on much longer than I had originally intended. And now with Crisis (laughs ruefully)…well, let's just say this is quite a challenge. "

The idea of someone like Nightwing going undercover as his secret identity has generated many discussions online, with comments ranging from the strongly supportive to the strongly opposed. The positive comments can see and understand how Dick ended up in a position such as this and why it makes sense for the character. The negative comments question the logic of Nightwing flaunting his #1 asset - his secret identity - especially when one considers the implicit danger Batman is placed in if Dick is discovered. Grayson understands these concerns, and explained her views on Dick's actions.

"Dick's trying to do something very tricky here, and he cannot get caught in a lie. Omissions, sure, there are plenty of those, but technically nothing he's ever told the Teves family is untrue. That also makes it extremely important for him to distance himself from Bruce right now. I had one fan write to me and ask why Dick was mad at Bruce all of a sudden - he's not! He's just protecting him. Hopefully by issue #116 or so, the degree to which he is and isn't undercover will make more sense."

With all that has occurred in the book - and everything that continues to occur - readers have to wonder whether or not Dick is actually even undercover? Is he turning to the "dark side?"

"Nightwing" #112
"That's a question Dick is exploring in the series," Grayson responded. "On the one hand, his motives and over-arcing plan are still those of a 'good guy.' But on the other hand, he has not forgiven himself for what went down with Blockbuster and is sort of 'trying on' the identity of a criminal to see if it's a fit. We, as people who are invested in and love this character, have very strong ideas about the impossibility of Dick ever really being 'bad.' But he himself, at this point in his life, is trying to solidify his own identity and sense of self. He is also, of course, searching for redemption, and working on an over-arcing plan that will come to light in a few issues."

Currently, it is nearly impossible to read any DC universe book that doesn't crossover with the company's big event, "Infinite Crisis." Evidence of this can be seen in the most recent issues of "Nightwing," as Dick has hopped into a brand new costume, appears to be taking on a brand new identity, and has teamed up with supervillain Deathstroke and his daughter, Rose (a.k.a. the Ravager). CBR News asked Grayson if this was a happy coincidence, or if it was editorially-driven and she was asked to have Nightwing at place X by issue #Z?

"The latter. Though if it reads as such, that's my failure," Grayson said. "On the one hand, we get to use Deathstroke? Great! On the other hand…well, the other hand hasn't been released yet, but it's a huge wrench in the works, even more complicated than the usual 'have hero at location X by Y'-thing, which at least I'm used to. In this case, the event is making use of something from the series I had earmarked for exactly the opposite fate, and it undermines the entire mission Dick's been on for over a year now.

"What's interesting to me about this is that this is the first time - that I'm aware of, anyway - that an event has reached directly into the sandbox of an ancillary series and made use of something designed specifically for that series in a highly significant way. In a sense, it's sort of flattering, but it's also hugely challenging logistically. I've spent the last twelve months heading in direction X - with approved outlines and the like, of course - only to be told late into Act Three that events outside the series will render that direction unapproachable. So, now I've spent the last four months trying to figure out how to mesh everything back together, and as soon as I'm done with this interview, I'm gonna have to go back and think about it some more.

"This is, without a doubt, the trickiest and least fun part of working with corporately-owned entities, but you know that when you sign up to do it. I do feel sad and frustrated that I won't get to tell the story I've been leading the readers up to for over a year, but hopefully the emergent story will be just as compelling."

"Nightwing" #111
For those who haven't been reading the book, Dick's new red-and-black costume has a very familiar-yet-different look to it (as Dick no longer considers himself Nightwing, it's not wholly accurate to call this his "Nightwing costume"). According to Grayson, that's part of its intent. Phil Hester designed it, "and all I said was that it shouldn't be outrageously dissimilar from what he usually wore. I just wanted a less 'Bat-influenced' costume. I think what Phil came up with works great (and it kind of made me laugh that there was still a bat on it anyway). Nightwing will, by the way, get a new name for the new costume, but only because Rose insists."

In addition to keeping busy in costume, Dick is someone who has always had a "healthy" love life. When he first became Nightwing, he was dating Kory (a.k.a. Starfire), one of his fellow Titans. Next, he had a "romantic coupling" with Helena Bertinelli (a.k.a. the Huntress). And finally, he had a long-term relationship with Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Oracle and the original Batgirl) until they broke up several months ago. After this, a complicated fling with Tarantula ensued, but that dissolved fairly quickly. Recent issues of "Birds of Prey" have hinted at a reconciliation with Dick and Barbara, although Dick also slept with Kory in one of the latest issues of "The Outsiders." This naturally begs the question: is Dick settling down anytime soon? Or is he going to remain a "player"?

"Well, he's not sleeping around in his eponymous series," Grayson stated. "I had expressly asked the Outsiders office to hold off on doing anything with Dick and Kory and they chose to ignore that, so that continuity contradiction is on their heads this time. As far as the story I'm telling goes, Dick has been devoted to Barbara for quite some time now, with a brief and already distant (not to mention complicated and unhappy) entanglement with Tarantula. His heart is completely with Babs."

Speaking of the women in Dick's life, an event which contributed to Nightwing's darker direction was the death of his close friend Donna Troy (a.k.a. Troia and the original Wonder Girl). As is the case with many popular heroes though, the character was miraculously brought back to life in the recent "Return of Donna Troy." Therefore, it stands to reason that Dick should feel a bit "lighter," shouldn't he?

"Donna's death and resurrection were not factored in to the original outline for this story, nor was information on timing or logistics made available to us," said Grayson. "DC seems to be working towards a much tighter continuity these days, but at the same time, information has become much scarcer and the level of secrecy is much higher. Sometimes it's hard to play along even if you'd like to. Donna's death and subsequent return would absolutely be significant to Dick, but it isn't approached in our story directly, only because the timing wasn't made clear early enough for us to make use of it. But in terms of the emotional beats of Nightwing's arc, in this case it will pretty much work out and you can assume that what you just hypothesized is true."

While DC has remained fairly secretive regarding "Infinite Crisis," CBR News took a chance and asked Grayson if she had any teasers about the mega-event. "Nope. I'm pretty much as in the dark as the rest of you!" She explained, "Though it reverberates through all the books, this version of 'Crisis' is the work of a very small group of architects who are very committed to protecting the element of surprise for the readers. I have no insider information, and - with the exception of the last-minute dovetailing into the 'Nightwing' series - no part in creating or sustaining this event."

"Nightwing" #110
As a matter of fact, after all the alterations made to her "Nightwing" storyline to accommodate the Crisis, the writer said, "If I can still get a coherent, satisfying story out of this, it will be due to tremendous effort and luck! Often, that's the challenge with mainstream superhero comics - trying to figure out how to make a single series cogent and satisfying for the readers who aren't following any additional marketing events, while also trying to capture and participate in the excitement of the event for the readers who are following it. That's my greatest concern right now: I want the regular readers of 'Nightwing' to get a story that is satisfying and plausible in and of itself, and that's very difficult to do in the face of such a far-reaching crossover."

With all the changes to her storyline necessitated by "Infinite Crisis," CBR News felt compelled to ask Grayson when she found out that the Crisis would be taking place?

"Too late to reroute my story line!" Grayson said with a smile. "It was kind of in the air for a long while, but has been very slow to take definitive shape, to the point where many of us are currently writing or have already written issues that will end up being directly affected by 'Crisis.' Hopefully, 'Crisis' itself will be worth the slight disorder of the other books and by the end of 'Crisis,' everything will dovetail nicely."

After a bit more pleading on our readers' behalf, Grayson offered this tiny bit about Nightwing's role in "Infinite Crisis": "I believe he does have quite a significant role, and that's pretty much all I can tell you because that's pretty much all I've been told myself!"

The writer did say that - as far as she knew - there would be a "Nightwing" title after "Infinite Crisis." The unfortunate addendum to this was that she will not be writing it. Just last night artist Phil Hester revealed he's off the book with issue #115.

However, Grayson does still have more DC projects in her that will be coming down the pipeline. She added, "I'm working on two novels for Warner Bros. - one of which is a Batman novel, 'Inheritance,' due out next summer. I'm also working on a new series for DC which I probably shouldn't talk about yet, but which promises to be a lot of fun."

As many websites are having fun trying to guess the outcome of various heroes post-Crisis, we thought we'd pose a theory of our own to Grayson: With everything that's taking place with Dick in the current "Nightwing" series - working for the mob, a change in costume, allying himself with Deathstroke - it would be understandable for people to question his motives. But the original boy wonder couldn't be contemplating life as a supervillain…could he?

Grayson offered, "It certainly looks that way, doesn't it? And oh - with what he knows? What a dangerous supervillain he would be!"

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