NIGHTWING NIGHTWING NIGHTWING

As I say pretty much every time I start talking about comics, Richard John Grayson has been my favourite character forever. So now that Titans is on the verge of him putting on the Nightwing suit, I think it’s time I talk about how I feel it’s handled the journey to this point. Nightwing is about far, far more than the suit. I think I made that point before when it applied to Gotham – Batman is more than just a suit that Bruce wears. That means that I have a few issues with how Titans is going about that transition.

One of the things that was wonderful about season one was that it wasn’t about Bruce. Like, at all. Dick was at the lowest point in his life, but it was about him. Yes, Bruce plays a major role in his life, but as much as Dick blames him and resents him, it’s not really about him. But since they cast someone for the part, we’re being put into a position where Dick needs Bruce for everything. He needs him and a whole team of people to make his suit. He needs him to give him Titans Tower. He needs him to make decisions. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Everything comes back to Bruce in a way that just didn’t happen in season one.

Hallucination Bruce isn’t really Bruce. Duh. He’s Dick’s conscience, his way of working through information alone, the manifestation of his worst fears and insecurities and guilt. Everything hallucination Bruce says is something that Dick knows but doesn’t want to confront, or something Dick’s subconscious knows, but his conscious mind hasn’t actually figured out yet. So that fight scene? It has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with Dick. Fandom keeps trying to make it about Bruce – like, “yes, this is exactly Batman!” Except the entire point is that it’s not. It’s Dick projecting, it’s making his father into this larger than life figure that’s strong enough to throw him clear across the room, still seeing himself as the kid that couldn’t stand on equal footing with him. It’s not about any of that being true in reality. It’s about him knowing that he’s not Robin anymore, that he’s grown up into something more, something better. Titans does a much better job than I originally anticipated of balancing the different aspects of Dick’s character, but it still fails to grasp the full scope of why he matters, and the interpretation of that fight being about Bruce is a byproduct of how the entire season has ignored has ignored a lot of what makes Nightwing.

Nightwing is interesting in part because he’s a walking contradiction. He has more friends than Bruce ever will, yet he operates independently. He has been a part of countless teams, yet he’s more introverted at heart than Bruce has ever been. The Titans writers haven’t been doing nearly as good a job lately at handling that.

Let’s start with Rose – Rose and Dick’s relationship is hugely important in the comics. He trains her; he inspires her to break away from her father and become a hero; he’s the reason that she becomes a Titan. That’s a role in her life that no one other than Dick could have taken on – it requires the relationship with Slade as well as Dick’s idealism and determination, his insistence on looking for the best in other people. Titans glosses over all of that in favour of putting Rose alongside Jason. That’s tied to an issue that I pointed out in this post – with every additional Robin, more and more of Dick’s characteristics and relationships get leeched away from him to be handed to the new Robin. In this case, the writers had to give Jason Dick’s relationship with Rose to keep him relevant to the season. Yes, they made it romantic instead of the mentor-mentee dynamic that defines how Dick and Rose interact, but it’s the same basic principle – a relationship that pulls Rose away from her father and towards heroism.

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Dick talking to Deathstroke about Rose.

In Titans, it ends up falling flat because we don’t see much substance to Rose and Jason’s relationship at all. It was Rachel that stood up for her in the beginning, and she was standing up for her to Jason. We don’t see them doing anything to inspire each other. Hell, there’s barely any reason they stuck together at all.  Not only does it have to do with the way Jason ends up taking on Dick’s characteristics, it has to do with how even within this universe alone, Rose has been an afterthought. She showed up, we get some insight into her famijly dynamics, but it’s not part of the running theme of the show. It’s separable. You could remove it and the show would still make sense. That’s the same problem as with a lot of the subplots – all of them are included, but they’re so disconnected it doesn’t mean anything. In season one, the running theme was one of identity. But in season two…Kory. Rose. Hank and Dawn’s drama. There isn’t anything connecting any of those plots. They’re just there. Even Dick’s rivalry with Deathstroke, something that I love, is still a little bit lacking. As I said before, they’re still missing the full spectrum of the character.

Fighting skills are a very small part of the picture of what makes a character, so in most cases it wouldn’t bother me to see Dick depicted as not Deathstroke’s equal. But in the trailer, we see him knocked to the ground, seemingly in the same scene as initially confronting Deathstroke, so Rose can fight her father. While that’s obviously an important thing to see…the timing is frustrating. Dick putting on the Nightwing suit and taking on the Nightwing name is a huge moment. It’s important. Dick is the central character of the story. The plot of the first season may have revolved around Rachel; there may be a huge number of characters with subplots. But the constant is Dick. The entire show has been building up to him leaving Robin behind. And to have the moment where we finally get a visual recognition of how he’s moved on be undercut with an immediate shift towards someone else…well, that’s not great. It’s what Titans did last year all over again, in terms of fumbling at the end.

And then there’s the issue of the Stu thing. I get it – it was pretty funny. But that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make sense. For a start, is there a single person in this entire universe that doesn’t know Batman’s identity? But more importantly, Nightwing is about independence. It’s one thing for him to use Bruce’s money once he’s established – he does that frequently in the comics, and I have no objection. It’s an entirely different thing for him to need Bruce’s resources to become Nightwing at all. In Titans, not only does he need to go to Bruce’s guy to get a suit made, Bruce already had him start on it. It’s taking away so much of Dick’s agency in the matter. He’s being made into a perpetual second stringer, rather than a grown adult that doesn’t need Bruce’s help or permission to be a hero.

None of this really matters. Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I’m so ecstatic to see Nightwing finally exist in live action. That has been true and still is true. I’m just…a little displeased with how the leadup has been handled.

‘Titans’ Team, You Brilliant Bastards, You Did It Again: The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Promo Material

Caring about this show is emotionally exhausting, because even when episodes aren’t airing, the creators seem to be on a specific mission of making me feel every emotion between dislike and sheer glee. This trailer? It brought me back to the glee side of the spectrum.

Last year, before season one started airing, we got a few pieces of news and two trailers. And I wrote about how everything we found out was making me feel more and more confused as to how I felt about the show, and then the second trailer came out, after which I withdrew all my reservations and went all in, because it was awesome. This year seems a repeat. I loved this trailer.

The Wilsons are so wonderful to see! Slade looks great, the little glimpse of Jericho was cool, and Rose is everythingThe relationships between Dick and Slade, Slade and Rose, and Rose and Dick are all so rich and complex in the comics that Dick and Rose sparring – with him using wood while she uses steel! – is the most delightful thing. Dick leading the team, training the newer members, the confident smile when he answered in the affirmative to Kory asking if he was ready for this – this is what I mean when I say Nightwing is a journey, not a destination. Because his growth into a confident, settled person defines him. He’s such a nuanced character that I love getting to see all these sides of him. There’s this line in…I forget which run it is. But Wally is thinking about Dick, and he refers to him as “perfection in a mask”. During Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans, Wally muses about how Dick can juggle half a dozen problems at once and still do everything perfectly. Dick is so good at so many things, he sets the standard to which everyone around him tries to live up. I think part of why the Titans version of the character is so controversial is that people forget that that image – confident Mr. Well Adjusted with great social skills – is partially a mask; partially the result of Flanderization; and partially something that took a lot of time, pain, and character growth for Dick to become. So Titans acknowledging that he’s been through a lot and does have some anger issues and all that, then having him grow past that partially because of a need to train people like Rachel and Rose? So good.

When the first trailer was released, I commented that I was a bit worried about how it was Jason that answered “Deathstroke” to Dick’s “what” because Deathstroke is so heavily associated with Dick. In my defense, I said from the beginning of that post I was extrapolating from and overreacting to a minute long trailer. But this one seems to have totally cleared up that issue, because Slade was apparently why the original Titans shuttered the tower. Eeek! Love it.

I’m back to being excited about Dick and Bruce’s relationship! I still don’t want him to be in it much – this is a Titans show, after all, and Bruce has a tendency to suck up all the oxygen in a story (which is also kind of my issue with Jason, but that’s another story). However, the bit of dialogue we got to hear – “Would you do it again? Devote all that time and trouble for someone who just wants to leave?” I would do everything exactly the same” – made me clap my hands together. We’re getting the Dick and Bruce reconciliation – an absolutely crucial step in Dick’s character development – and it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be less one sided than in the comics, where it was entirely because of Dick’s efforts that they repaired their relationship, and Bruce is going to affirm to him that he has no regrets about raising him. I’m so excited.

The screech I let out when I heard the “Be Batman” line was embarrassingly high pitched. Like, sure, it’s probably not going to be literal. It’s probably too soon in the story for Dick to take up that mantle. But in a figurative sense, with Dick deciding who he is and what he represents and how he wants to come across to the world as an independent hero that isn’t the other half of a team…that’s just as good, just as important, and it could well lead to one of my favourite things ever – Dick as actually Batman.

I love it when Dick puts on the cowl. Every time. It’s such a great chapter in his journey, and later, a great aspect of his character. Becoming Batman is a much bigger deal for him than it could be for anyone else, because he defined the role just as much as Bruce did, by being present for the beginning of it all. And every time he puts it on, it means something different. When Bane broke Bruce’s back, it was an issue of why Dick wasn’t his first choice for it. After Final Crisis, it was an all encompassing issue, this crushing burden that he was struggling under the weight of and learned to carry and thrive under. By the time Bruce comes back from the dead and returns to the mantle, Dick can casually sub in for him, no problems at all. It’s such a good story, and even the thought that Titans might eventually include it makes me giddy.

I understand why all fans have a different character they want to don the mantle. Like, duh – Batman is such a big deal, and a character being a part of that legacy has the potential to make them a lot more popular. I just happen to believe that it’s not as important for the Batfamily characters that aren’t Dick. People always latch onto the idea that Dick doesn’t like being Batman and doesn’t want to be Batman as a reason that someone else – usually Cass – should get it. But I think it’s important to remember that the only thing he hates more than wearing the cowl is watching someone else do it. He specifically admits it. And he grew out of his hatred! He learned how to be Batman on his own terms, how to be what Gotham needs.

When he took up the cowl while Bruce was presumed dead, he had to be Batman on hard mode. Bruce got to ease into it. He got a traumatized kid, but one that, all things considered, wasn’t that hard to raise. He was dealing with the rise of supervillains, sure, but mostly just non-meta organized crime. But Dick got Damian. He had to deal with Damian, Tim, Steph, and Jason all at the same time. Superman randomly decided he didn’t like Dick wearing the cowl. A bunch of new villains popped up. He had so much going on, and thanks to all the timeline compressions and retcons, he was apparently doing that when he was nineteen. It says a lot about how capable he is that he not only managed, but thrived. I know it’s not technically relevant to a Titans show, but it is something that I’d love to see.

This trailer was so fantastic, it brought back all my hype for the show after it had been mostly killed by the season one finale and the mediocre bits of news! That’s ridiculously impressive. Little over a week left! Can’t wait.