Dick Grayson as Batman: A Retrospective (Part 1)

dick as batman collin colsher

Ever since the Golden Age, Batman has occasionally had friends fill-in for him underneath the cape and cowl—usually Alfred or Superman as part of a ruse to fool either a villain or a snooping associate looking to discover a secret identity. However, Dick Grayson has, every once in a blue moon, filled-in for Bruce to wear the Bat-costume as well. While this initially happened quite sparingly (especially since the much smaller Robin didn’t necessarily fit into the costume very well back in the day), once Dick got to be around college age in the Silver/Bronze Era, it was a switcheroo that could be implemented more easily.

One of the first notable times that Dick wears the Batman costume is at the end of Batman #302 by David Vern Reed and John Calnan (August 1978). Dick, finally old enough to fill-out the costume, dons his mentor’s suite so that Bruce can be present when the cops arrive after a successful adventure.

In Paul Levitz’s old-school Earth-2 tale from Wonder Woman #283, (art by Joe Staton, Steve Mitchell, and Adrienne Roy—September 1981), which takes place after Earth-2 Bruce Wayne has died, Earth-2 Dick wears the cape and cowl of the Bat in order to help The Huntress (Helena Wayne) bust an elderly Joker.

levitz earth 2 dick as batman

In Mike W Barr’s Batman #353 (art by Don Newton, Dennis Jensen, and Adrienne Roy—November 1982), an adult Dick wears the Bat-suit, hoping it’ll give him an extra edge when confronting some crooks. Despite being a grown-ass man, Dick still needs inflatable pectorals to fill out buff Brucie’s costume.

A mere month later, in Gerry Conway’s Batman #354 (Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, and Adrienne Roy—December 1982), Dick seems to fill out his mentor’s costume much better, filling in for an injured Bruce. Dick wraps up an all-important case involving Rupert Thorne, Peter Pauling, and Mayor Hill. Awesome stuff—and the first legit glimpse of Dick performing at his full Bat-potential.
dick as bamtan 354
Really though, besides sporadic instances like the above (throughout the Bronze Age and pre-Zero Hour Modern Age), Dick doesn’t wear the Bat-costume proper until “Prodigal” by Chuck DixonAlan GrantDoug MoenchBret Blevins, Phil Jimenez, et al (1994-1995). 

prodigal

Having recently returned from besting bad news replacement Jean-Paul Valley, Bruce has decided he’s still not quite ready to be Batman full-time yet. Thus, Bruce temporarily bestows the honor of being Batman unto Dick! While this is a temporary move, lasting only a couple weeks, as referenced in Matthew Manning’s The Batman Files (2011), it is Bruce’s hope that Dick will one day become a permanent Batman after his death. Soon after, Dick debuts his now infamous spiky-shouldered Bat-costume. It’s worth noting that, while there are many artists credited to “Prodigal,” only penciler Jimenez drew Dick’s Batman costume with the spiky shoulder blade cape. No one else did this. So, it’s actually best to take those spiky shoulders as Jimenez’s bizarre artistic liberty. The new Batman meets with a pissed-off Commissioner Gordon, who (once again) realizes immediately that there’s a new face under the mask. Dick tells him to chill out and makes quick work of Croc, Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, Two-Face, and Tally Man. The most important part of “Prodigal” is really in the conclusion where Bruce returns to reclaim the mantle of the Bat and has an intense conversation with Dick (who becomes Nightwing again). Why did Bruce choose Jean-Paul over Dick in the first place? Because he knew Dick was his own man and didn’t want to just assume that he would be the natural successor to the title. Hmmm, okay. Robin Vol. 2 #13, the concluding episode of “Prodigal,” features Bruce at possibly his coldest in regard to his fellow Bat-family members. And what Bruce says to Dick here echoes this frigidity.

Nearly thirteen years later, following Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis (2009) where Bruce has been zapped into history and presumed dead, there is a seemingly permanent vacancy in the Batman position. Thus, Dick finally gets to shine as THE ONE AND ONLY Batman.

How does Dick’s Bat-reign begin? In the conclusion to the Battle for the Cowl arc (by Tony Daniel and Sandy Florea, 2009), we get lots of wannabe Batmen feuding for the top Bat-spot. Nightwing defeats a Bat-clad Jason Todd and claims sole ownership rights to the mantle. Dick, however, is very hesitant to assume the role of Batman, and doesn’t step into Bruce’s old shoes without deep contemplation. At first, Dick doesn’t even want the mantle of the Bat, but he’s got it and he’ll wear it with pride and honor. Dick designs costumes for both himself and Damian. He then suits up in the gray and black colors of the Dark Knight. We have a brand new Dynamic Duo! Damian Wayne is the newest and 5th Robin (in Modern Age continuity). And Dick is the new official Batman!

Dick is Batman for about a year in the comics, and is Batman from 2009 until 2011 in regard to publication time. Dick is a decidedly different type of Batman than his predecessors, less brooding, less nasty, less of a perfectionist—prone to complaining, but open to making big sweeping changes to better match his personal needs. Put bluntly, in spite of his whining (and his grinning), Dick as Batman is a breath of fresh air in many ways compared to Bruce. It’s an interesting experiment that actually was meant to go much longer than it wound up going. Not matter your opinion of Dick behind the cape and cowl, he proved that someone else absolutely could be Batman instead of Bruce. And he cemented the concept of legacy storytelling that is kind of lacking today. The Modern Age elevated Wally West and Kyle Rayner early on, but Dick becoming Batman paved the way for others like Donna Troy and Cyborg to be bumped-up to the next level too. During Dick’s official Bat-run, there’s lots of great stuff. Here are some highlights of his excellent tenure.

Morrison was the prime architect of Dick’s call-up to the big leagues. Naturally, we start with Morrison and Frank Quietly’s Batman & Robin #1-3 (“BATMAN REBORN”) (June 2009-October 2009), the new Dynamic Duo debuts a flying Batmobile in action against newcomer Mr. Toad. The debuting Professor Pyg adheres one of his horrific masks on a victim named Sasha. The masks turn innocent women into Pyg’s obedient followers known as Dollotrons. Dick and Alfred close-up both Wayne Manor and the Batcave and make the permanent move to Wayne Tower. Batman and Robin then have a meeting with Commissioner Gordon at GCPD HQ when Toad’s contemporaries, the Circus of the Strange, try to break him out of jail. The new Dynamic Duo has very little chemistry and the end-result is disaster. After their debacle, an upset Damian takes off after Pyg by himself but gets kidnapped. At the Bat-Bunker, Dick complains to Alfred, “It’s not even Damian. It’s Gordon… Those cops…  Nobody believes I’m Batman! I spent years building up respect as Nightwing and now they’re looking at me like I’m one more psycho Batman impersonator!” After a quick Alfred pep-talk, Dick saves Damian, stops the Dollotrons, and apprehends Pyg.

batman and robin #1

Not everyone in the fictive world of the DCU was so happy about a new Dark Knight appearing so soon after the fall of version 1.0. In Superman/Batman #76 by Judd Winick and Marco Rudy (November 2010), Superman hears about the new Batman on the news and angrily confronts Dick, nearly physically forcing him to remove the costume, claiming that Dick as Batman is “grotesque” in light of Bruce’s death. Supes zooms-off to consult with Wonder Woman, who is able to calm him down. Later, Superman visits the Bat-Bunker and apologizes to Dick about their ugly encounter. The two shake hands as Superman gives his full support and acceptance to Dick.

While Morrison was quick to show Dick’s very different emotional demeanor right out of the bat (pun intended), Winick is keen to expand upon that idea as well. In Batman #688 by Winick and Mark Bagley (September 2009), Dick makes some smiling Batman appearances on TV before returning home to complain about how annoyed he is by the Bat-costume’s cape. Dick has a completely different fighting style than Bruce did. Alfred laughs out loud at the idea of a “neurotic Batman.” Dick then trains Damian in hand-to-hand combat.  Across town, Two-Face watches the news on TiVo over and over again and realizes that there’s a new man wearing the cape and cowl.

batman 688

There’s a fun bit of personal hypocrisy on the part of the new Batman that is displayed early-on in his Bat-run too. In Batgirl Vol. 3 #1, by Bryan Q Miller and Lee Garbett (October 2009), Dick and Damian watch Batgirl in action and realize that there is new person under that mask too—someone they claim is “not as good” as the old Batgirl. Hey, harsh indictment! It’s Stephanie Brown!

Winick, who became a sort of secondary architect (along with Tony Daniel) in regard to the development of Dick as Batman, wanted to dig deeper into re-building the Bat-mythos and he started to do so in late 2009. However, for whatever reasons, Winick would retreat backward just after getting out of the gate. In Batman #689-691 (“LONG SHADOWS”) by Winick and Bagley (October 2009-December 2009), Two-Face infiltrates the Batcave and drugs Dick. Alfred shows up wearing a Bat-costume to confuse Two-Face, allowing Dick to kayo the villain. Dick and Alfred then clean everything out of the Batcave. Out with old, eh? Forget the past! But not so fast… Dick finds a secret case file regarding the death of his parents. That case was solved ages ago, wasn’t it? Curious. Of course, as I hinted at above, Winick never follows up on this mysterious Flying Graysons case-file! Neither does anybody else. Oops. Comics, everybody!

Superman was an asshole to Dick earlier, but he was still hurting bad from the loss of Bruce. Having made amends and found acceptance, the Man of Steel returns to fight side-by-side with the legit Caped Crusader. In World’s Finest Vol. 2 #3-4 by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle (February 2010-March 2010), Dick has his first team-up (as Batman) with Superman (who is wearing a New Kryptonian police uniform) as they battle a giant Composite Super-Batman that is powered by a captive Kryptonite Man. The heroes save K-Man and shut down the robot.

In Morrison’s Batman #700 (August 2010), Dick and Damian investigate the apparent murder of Professor Carter Nichols, who is found dead in his lab with a laser bore hole in his chest and the room locked from the inside. Oddly, Dick notes, Nichols appears to be older than he should be. Dick says it must be suicide, despite the strangeness. In a neat twist, we learn that present day Nichols traveled to the future to kill his older self, then sending his future corpse back in time to 2010. Thus, the body Dick and Damian found at the beginning of our tale was actually an older Nichols from the future. In a bizarre way, it was suicide! Meanwhile, in the future, present day Nichols escapes, thus becoming newly rejuvenated and free to surf the time-stream!

batman #700

The legacy of being a second generation character wouldn’t be complete without an induction into the Justice League of America, which is what James Robinson was in charge of handling in late 2009. We get this is the maligned Justice League of America Vol. 2 #41-43 (“TEAM HISTORY”), “RISE AND FALL,” Justice League: The Rise & Fall Special #1Green Arrow & Black Canary #32, and Justice League: Rise of Arsenal #1-3 (by Robinson, Bagley, JT Krul, et al, December 2009-August 2010). There’s some ugly mean-spirited writing here (especially with all-things Arrow Family related), but Robinson handles Dick-as-Batman with relative grace. With the JLA in dire shambles following Blackest Night, Vixen decides to disband the team. Before you know it, Donna rebuilds a brand new JLA starting with Starfire, Cyborg, and Batman. The old Teen Titans are finally THE JLA! The rest of the team is quickly hired-on, including Dr. Light, Mon-El, Guardian, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Ray Palmer, Hal Jordan, and Red Tornado. However, the new JLA has absolutely no chemistry or teamwork skills and fails to prevent Chair and Tender Mercy from stealing an artifact. When the superhero community receives word that Green Arrow has murdered Prometheus, the JLA is shaken to its core and falls apart once again. Only Donna and Batman remain, along with new recruits Congorilla and Starman (Mikaal Tomas). The 4-member JLA refuses to participate in the hunt for Ollie. Afterward, Dick attends the child-funeral of Lian Harper, where a pill-popping Roy wigs out, curses at everyone, and storms off in a huff. Later, Roy straps on a cyborg arm, pops some more pills, and goes out to bash some skulls. Arsenal is back! Unfortunately, Arsenal is a pain pill-swallowing, drugged-up, hallucinating mess that actually purchases drugs from the very dealers he beats up. A shaky Arsenal winds up shooting heroin in an alley while clinging to a dead cat. Batman tracks Arsenal down and they fight, Batman obviously winning the duel. Dick and Donna immediately put Roy into rehab. Sweet Jesus, what an infamous bummer of a story—so infamous I had to include it here.

Robinson’s legacy arc continues with Justice League of America Vol. 2 #44-48 (“BRIGHTEST DAY / THE DARK THINGS”) and Justice Society of America Vol. 2 #41-42 (by Robinson, Bagley, et al, June 2010-October 2010). Batman and Donna get to know their newest JLA teammates, Congorilla and Starman, by training with them in the Kitchen (the Danger Room of the Watchtower). The JLA soon fights the Starheart, a sentient crystal created by the Guardians, which houses the emerald chaos magick energy of Alan Scott’s power ring. Alan goes insane and dons his Kingdom Come armor, forming a heavily-fortified emerald palace on the moon. Along with Obsidian and a new Dr. Fate, Alan is able to capture several heroes. Batman responds by leading the team of Hourman, Jesse Quick, Mr. America, Mr. Miracle, and Donna into the lunar citadel. The heroes, along with Kyle Rayner, battle a merged Jade and Obsidian. Eventually, White Lantern Jade defeats Alan (her dad) in battle.

new jla with dick

In Batman #692-697 (“LIFE AFTER DEATH”) by Daniel and Florea (December 2009-May 2010), Dick meets with Selina Kyle to ask her for information related to a case. Selina was always willing to help Bruce for free, but for Dick it costs him a cool $25 thousand. Selina points Dick in the direction Mario Falcone (making his return from the pages of Dark Victory). Meanwhile, Black Mask assembles the Ministry of Science—Fright, Dr. Death, Hugo Strange, and a revived Reaper (Dr. Gruener). Mario Falcone’s teenage sister Kitrina Falcone also debuts. Batman, wearing a new armored suit, burns down Falcone’s mansion then tracks Kitrina to an amusement park, but the Dark Knight is mind-controlled by Mad Hatter into attacking Mayor Hady, Catwoman, and the Ministry of Science. In his drugged-up state, Dick is knocked into the bay. The next day, Damian retrieves Dick, who realizes Black Mask is Jeremiah Arkham! Batman then kicks the Ministry of Science’s asses, after which Jeremiah is incarcerated in his own prison. Afterward, Kitrina debuts as Catgirl.

When we meet again, we’ll continue with the highlights of Dick’s official tenure as Batman! Bruce will soon return, leading to an awesome moment of dual Batmen in Gotham. Until next time!

 

About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher, the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY, is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book historian that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has lectured at various universities, libraries, and book fairs. Collin has also served on the jury for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
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