Dick Grayson as Batman: A Retrospective (Part 3)

Dick Grayson's evolution

Welcome to the third and final part of “Dick Grayson as Batman: A Retrospective (Part 3).” We left off in our last piece with Dick long into his tenure as Batman. With Bruce Wayne’s return in Grant Morrison’s The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman & Robin, there are two Batmen in Gotham, a unique and exciting time for what would ultimately be the twilight years of the Modern Age. With reboot looming via 2011’s Flashpoint (by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert), the sky is the limit for creators, so it would seem. As such, there are a lot of memorable moments. We’ll look at those Modern Age moments before touching upon cape-and-cowled Dick Graysons of other timelines.

In the wild and excellent crossover “JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM” (Batman #708, Red Robin #22, Gotham City Sirens #22, and Batman #709—by David Hine, Guillem March, Fabian Nicieza, Freddie E Williams II, Peter Calloway, Andres Guinaldo, et al, May-June 2011), we get the delightful debuts of Fireball and The Crusader—crazy scary powerful warriors subservient to Azrael (Michael Lane). Claiming to have been sent by God (in this case Ra’s al Ghul), the so-called “Angels of Death” destroy whole city blocks. Catwoman begs Dick to call Bruce for help, but Dick says that this is his own responsibility. Azrael kidnaps Mayor Hady while Fireball and the Crusader continue destroying the city. The Crusader’s powers include telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, flight ability, near invulnerability, super strength, and the power to make locusts and snakes appear at will. He’s amazing—one of my favorite comic book villains of all time (in case you couldn’t tell). Bruce, seeing the chaos on the news while away in Hong Kong, calls Dick to ask if he needs help. Dick says he can handle it. Eventually, Red Robin and Catwoman show-up with Jenny Lane and her kids. Azrael realizes that Ra’s al Ghul has been using him as a pawn and ends the attack.

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Detective Comics #875-881 by Scott Snyder, Francesco Francavilla, and Jock (May-October 2011) continues and concludes the “Skeleton Cases” story-arc. James Gordon Jr is back in Gotham, but is he a psychopath and did he really commit multiple murders? Inquiring minds want to know, including Barbara Gordon (Jim Gordon’s ex-wife), who returns to Gotham for the first time in over a decade. Unfortunately, Barbara is attacked by a mystery assailant and left naked, bloody, and Jokerized. Welcome back to Gotham, Barbara! Batman confronts Joker, who is genuinely annoyed that he’s dealing with Batman #2. Joker claims he doesn’t know anything about the attack. This is because it wasn’t Joker—it was James Jr, of course. James Jr kidnaps Babs and then contacts Dick, gloating that he knows the secret IDs of both Batmen! It’s heavily implied that Commissioner Gordon also knows, but I suppose that isn’t too shocking since it’s always been insinuated, especially by Snyder. James Jr monologues like Adrian Veidt, claiming he’s spiked Gotham’s baby formula vats. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but if so, thanks to the way James Jr’s drug functions, Gotham’s next generation will be composed of brand new psychos. Babs stabs James Jr in the eye just as Dick shows-up to save her. Commissioner Gordon shoots his son in the legs and reels him into justice in a scene that mirrors the climax of Frank Miller’s Batman Year One. Despite its myriad continuity errors (nearly every flashback is riddled with contradiction), this arc packs a chilling gut punch by the end. 

With Snyder riding high and taking the main reins of the Bat-line, DC gives him his own mini-series called Batman: Gates of Gotham #1-5 (art by Kyle Higgins and Trevor McCarthy, May-October 2011). Snyder decides to rebuild some of the Gotham mythos with a little retconned history. In the late 1800s, the “first families” of Gotham (the Waynes, the Kanes, the Cobblepots, and the Elliots) began construction on the skyline of Gotham. Two young sibling architects, Nicholas Anders Gate and Bradley Gate, were hired to construct the elaborate Cyrus Pinkney designs. The skyline was built, but politics and intrigue led to a terrible accident and the death of Bradley. Unable to cope, Nicholas went insane and killed Cameron Kane’s son, earning a lifetime sentence to Arkham Asylum. Not wanting bad publicity, the “first families” covered-up the true facts of the murder and the Gate brothers never received credit for their involvement in the development of the city. With this backstory set in stone, we turn to the present. Three of Gotham’s bridges, the old Wayne Tower, and the Iceberg Lounge are blown up in terrorist attacks. Who is responsible? The steampunk villain known as The Architect aka Zachary Gate, descendant of the Gate brothers, who believes that the Gates were victims of persecution by the “first families.” And Snyder definitely gives us evidence that some underhandedness may have indeed occurred back in ye olden times. After some Dick-led Bat-Family teamwork, the Architect is defeated. Afterward, Dick reports to Bruce, who is overseas on business. Bruce tells Dick that he’s done a great job as Batman, but he’s coming home to Gotham for good soon and when he makes his return, they must have a talk about the future (i.e. Nightwing will eventually have to come back). Damn.

In Batman Incorporated #6 by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn (June 2011), Bruce gives a TV interview regarding Batman Incorporated. When Emoticon-Man (!) shows-up, Alfred kicks ass (!) and the villain is left surrounded by a bunch of GI Bat Robots and a grinning Bruce. Looks like the new Batman is rubbing off on the old one! Bruce holds a Batcave meeting with his closest allies and declares war on Leviathan, a global crime syndicate (secretly run by Talia al Ghul). Later, at the Bat-Bunker, Bruce explains to Dick and Damian that many people will now be trying to expose the secret IDs of all the Batman Inc members. After examining an Internet message board, Bruce demonstrates that much of the Internet community already believes that Bruce is indeed Batman! Bruce isn’t worried, claiming that a steady stream of misinformation will keep their IDs safe. Bruce and Alfred then begin a trip around the globe to meet with various Batman Inc soldiers, including Nightrunner, Black Bat Cassie Cain (!!!), a new Aboriginal Dark Ranger, Batwing, Traktir, Spidra, and Wingman (Jason Todd). We also see Gaucho and Jiro Osamu. Aboard the Leviathan satellite HQ, Doctor Dedalus and the mysterious leader of Leviathan begin their final preparations for an all out assault against the entire planet. On the twinkling blue Earth below, Batman Inc is ready and waiting.

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Batman #713 (by Fabian Nicieza, Steve Scott, Daniel Sampere, Andrei Bressan, et al—October 2011) represents the unbelievable end of an era. Issue #713 is the final issue of Batman Vol. 1. Dick and Damian attend a Wayne Foundation Annual Benefit for victims of the long-ago-but-never-forgotten Great Gotham Earthquake (from 1998’s Cataclysm by Chuck DixonAlan Grant, Devin GraysonDoug Moench, et al). At the event, Damian tells three eager kids his version of the history of the Dynamic Duo. Afterward, Batman and Robin go on their nightly patrol. Batman and Robin will never die!

In Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! #1 by Morrison, Burnham, Cameron Stewart, and Fairbairn (February 2012), Batman Incorporated is finally ready to attack Leviathan head-on. Batman (Bruce), Batman (Dick), Robin, Red Robin, and Gaucho infiltrate a Leviathan oil tanker. Batman (Bruce) is dosed with an experimental drug and becomes separated from the group. Super-villain Doctor Dedalus is able to taunt Batman and pry precious secrets about Batman Inc from the struggling hero. Across the globe, Leviathan agents seemingly kill Batwing and the Hood. (Don’t worry, they are okay!) Meanwhile, Batman (Dick), Red Robin, and Robin fight a brainwashed Dark Ranger and Nightrunner and a turncoat Gaucho. Dedalus sinks his own ship and reveals that several meta-bombs will blow-up all over the planet. Gaucho has a change of heart and betrays Dedalus, giving Batman the antidote to the drug in his system. Damian throws a knife into Dedalus’ head, killing him. Damian nervously mutters, “Father. I’m sorry. He was going to kill you.” Great stuff. Batman, Batman, Red Robin, Robin, and Gaucho then find the severed head of Jezebel Jet (Bruce’s ex). Over the phone, Talia tells Bruce that the war is officially game on. While the Modern Age might be ending, things are just heating up for the New 52. 

And that’s really where our Dick-as-Batman story ends. As referenced earlier in Snyder’s Batman: Gates of Gotham #5, Dick returns to his old role of Nightwing. Dick returning to his Nightwing gimmick is also referenced in Justice League of America Vol. 2 #60 (by James Robinson and Daniel Sampere, October 2011) and Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #1 (by Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn—July 2012). In the latter, which is canon in both the Modern Age and New 52, Dick is shown back in his Nightwing persona.

However, it isn’t long before Dick is already wearing the Bat-costume again—at least for a classic Bat-ruse. In Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #3 (by Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn—July 2012), Batman dons his Matches Malone guise and, along with Dick dressed as Batman and an undercover Gaucho, Hood, and Freight Train, pumps the local bar scene for information regarding Leviathan. Dick gets to ham-it-up and do his amazing best-impression of grim-n-gritty Bruce Batman. Later, in the Batcave, Dick plays around, wearing the Bat-cape along with his Nightwing outfit.

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In Andy Kubert’s Damian: Son of Batman (December 2013-March 2014), in what actually seems to be a quasi-canonical future for both the Modern Age and New 52, Dick actually returns to the cape and cowl of the Bat after Bruce retires. Batman (Dick) and Robin (Damian) fight together long enough to garner new rivals in Jackanapes, The Weasel, Chipmunk, and Tomahawks. However, tragedy strikes when Dick and Damian investigate the scene of a grisly pile of murder victims about which are strewn a bunch of Joker-fish. When Dick examines one of the fish, a bomb goes off killing him instantly. This sequence is also shown in Batman #666 by Morrison and Kubert (July 2007).

Throughout the Modern Age, there have been other Dick Graysons to wear the Bat-costume, but they are all non-canon or alternate universe versions. An Elseworlds Dick-as-Batman from John Byrne’s Superman & Batman: Generations (1999) comes to mind as a highly notable Modern Age alt-version of the character.

After the Geoff Johns-authored Flashpoint reboot (2011), the New 52 brought a handful of fresh alternate reality Dick Grayson Batmen. Most notable among these is the Dick-as-Batman that debuted in Earth 2: World’s End #1 by Marguerite Bennett, Mike Johnson, Daniel H Wilson, et al (December 2014). This Batman had some longevity, appearing in over fifty issues, mostly in the pages of various Earth-2 titles. The Earth-42 Batman (from The Multiversity Guidebook #1 by Morrison et al, March 2015) is also remarkable. Not only is he Dick Grayson, but he is also a cute chibi version of Dick.

More recently, in the current “Rebirth Era” of DC Comics, Dick has returned briefly to the Bat-role, but only for ruses akin to when he wore the costume back in the Silver Age. For example, in Dark Nights: Metal #2 (by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo—September 2017), the entire Bat-Family (Nightwing, Batwoman, Batgirl, Batwing, and Red Hood) each disguise themselves as Batman using EMP holographic masks.

In Tom King’s current run, specifically Batman Vol. 3 #51-53 (“COLD DAYS”)—art by Lee Weeks, September-October 2018, Dick returns to the cape and cowl of the Bat after Bruce’s heart is broken by Selina and he has to go on jury duty for a Mr. Freeze trial. Learning that he will be sequestered at a hotel for what could be weeks of deliberation, Bruce asks Dick to fill-in for him as Batman. As the trial goes on, Batman (Dick) meets with Gordon and tells him that the other Batman isn’t doing so well. After routinely busting Killer Croc, Dick leaves a concerned voicemail on Bruce’s phone, inquiring whether or not Bruce is okay. Bruce is not okay. He vents in the courthouse bathroom by screaming and destroying a urinal. During the jury deliberation, Bruce tells his fellow jurors that everyone in Gotham sees Batman as this infallible god, whom they’d never even think to question—but Batman is human. He’s no god, no matter how much Gotham respects, fears, or loves him. With this sliver of reasonable doubt, the jury votes not guilty and Mr. Freeze is acquitted.

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Also in recent comics, we’ve seen an alternate Dick-as-Batman—the Batman of the future world of the 6th Dimension. In Justice League Vol. 4 #19-21 (“THE SIXTH DIMENSION”) by Scott Snyder and Jorge Jiménez. Mr. Mxyzptlk helps the JLA by opening a door to the 6th Dimension. There, the JLA finds an alternate future world where they are greeted by alternate future versions of themselves. The elder JL shows-off a utopian version of Earth where all crime has ended. The 6th Dimension’s Batman, an alt-Dick Grayson, tells Batman how the 6th Dimensional Bruce Wayne sacrificed his life to ensure the peace they now have. Alt-Dick gives Batman a tour of the Pennyworth Home rehabilitation center. Of course, things aren’t exactly as they seem. There’s a darkness to the ostensible utopia. The elder JLA is really led by Alpheus (the original World Forger, son of Perpetua, and brother to the Anti-Monitor Mobius and original Montior Mar Novu).

And that brings us up to speed. Let me know if I missed anything! Like I said, there’s a handful of instances where Dick wears the costume as part of a trick or ruse in order to fool someone, but this retrospective was really about tackling all of his more official runs as Batman. Overall, Dick was a wonderful Batman, who carried on Bruce’s legacy while adding flair of his own to the role. One can easily argue that Dick was a better-suited partner for Damian (and acted as a better father/big brother than Bruce ever did), which is pretty amazing. Dick’s candor, humor, and lightheartedness breathed new life into the concept of Batman, complicating the very idea of what it meant to be the Dark Knight for the first time in almost 70 years. Able to admit fault and rely on his heart, empathy, and humanity to guide him (in ways that Bruce has struggled with at times), Dick is a Batman that I wouldn’t mind seeing again in the future. Thanks for reading! Until next time, take care and keep reading superhero comics!

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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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