Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dick Grayson Is The New Batman

When Battle for the Cowl #3 makes Dick Grayson the next Batman, it won't make the first time he has taken over the identity of his mentor. Most current readers recall the Knightfall story that led to Dick spending twelve issues in the cape and cowl in a 1994 story line called Prodigal. But that wasn't Dick's first time going by the name Batman, either. Not even close. If you want to see Dick Grayson suit up in blue and gray for the first time, you shouldn't look to his first appearance as Nightwing in 1984. It was way back in 1951, in Batman #66!

In eight separate stories during the Fifties and Sixties, Dick was seen taking on the Batman identity in an imagined future (the first one set it in 1975, which was then quite a ways off). None of those stories were set in continuity, and employed three different gimmicks to put them in the minds of people who were in continuity. In the first such story, Dick Grayson, after disobeying a tactical order from Batman, had a dream about being "Batman II" and having his own Robin (his real son) disobey him, causing Dick's (imaginary) death. The dream-turned-bad was a morality play that convinced Dick to obey orders more precisely.

The second time around, in Batman #119, it was Batman who imagined the story, hallucinating after inhaling the odor of an exotic plant. In his vision, he awoke as an old man decades later, with Dick having graduated to the Batman role (without the "II" suffix) in a story called "Rip Van Batman". There was a Robin in this imagined story, too, although his identity was not discussed. Right after the elder Batman (complete with a gray beard) helped solve a case, he awoke to find himself back in the present.
The third set-up was provided by a series of stories in which Alfred took out his typewriter and imagined the future. The "II" was back in Dick Grayson's title, but his Robin in this rendition was the son of Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane. This duo debuted in Batman #131 and ran in six stories, battling crime (even the Joker's son) and culminating in Batman #163, when future Dick Grayson ended up romancing future Betty Kane (who naturally graduated to the Batwoman role). As an indication of how persistent the idea of this imaginary future was, note that the last story was in the very last issue of Batman; the "Batman II" stories were only ended when the "New Look" Batman debuted, complete with a yellow oval.

Those stories ended with Bruce or Alfred noting that the butler's fiction could never be published, because it would give away Bruce and Dick's identities, but end with knowing winks and the question posed to the reader if they might actually come to pass some day. Many decades later, Dick finally became Batman in a story that counted -- in Batman #512. With Bruce sidelined with a broken back, Dick suited up for twelve issues, fighting confidence issues leading to a sort of final exam that pitted him against Two Face.

Battle For The Cowl sends Dick on the path towards putting the cowl back on. The preview for issue 3 offers Dick's thoughts: "Bruce ordered me to stay away from the cape and cowl. And I listened... But Bruce underestimated the psychological effect that Batman had on Gotham." It's easy to connect the dots: Dick is reaching his decision.

I think the outcome of BFTC has been clear for quite some time. At the risk of making a "Dewey Defeats Truman" post, I'll say that the indications are nearly undeniable that we will soon have in our hands the twenty-first comic to show Dick Grayson in the role of Batman.


  1. As always, you were right. It was one of those things where it was so obvious, that I was hoping it was a red herring, but alas. I didn't grow up with Dick Grayson as Robin, so I can't truly understand the level of dedication older fans have to him. I don't dislike him, I just prefer him as his own man. It seems that DC has spent decades illustrating the fact that Dick doesn't want to be Batman and even up till the most recent issues of the Bat comics it seems that the idea of Tim Drake (err, Wayne) donning the cowl was what they were going for (Teen Titans meeting their dark future selves, Tim working overtime to stamp out the gang war in Gotham while Dick brooded and fought needlessly with Batgirl over the development of the Network, etc.).

    I honestly think that Tim as Batman with Damian as Robin would be a far more interesting read. Think of all the bickering between them that we've seen so far and you can imagine the hilarity that would ensue in time we spend waiting for Bruce to return. As it stands, I'm looking forward to the storyline that Red Robin will be playing out initially, but Batman and Robin seems a little too fifties-era Batman for my tastes.

  2. Hey Rik!.tis Reddrobin from the DC boards.........I wish to know your thoughts on how things went down.

  3. Frank, I am wrong plenty! But this one was played right up the middle; DC telegraphed us the answer in more than one way. I thought it was as obvious as figuring out that Hal Jordan is the star of Green Lantern.

    In some ways, Dick Grayson is the most evolved character in DC history; he was going through life changes, growing up while the iconic heroes changed very little (or changed only when a retcon erased the previous version). He's recognizable, and he's got roots (only two JLA members predate him). He was Robin when I was a kid; somehow, I ended up older than him. When did that happen?

  4. Soulless, thanks for the comment. I felt like BFTC was pretty slow-going when the outcome was so clear. I thought the plot concerning the villains would be wrapped up, though -- that was the one big surprise that it didn't.

    The hero plot was thin. The tale of the four Robins was stretched out to fill the space, while most of the guest appearances amounted to nothing but background art.

    Separately, it's neat to see an artist take over the writing. I liked TD's art on Batman up to this point, and I like seeing him set himself up with all of those great splash pages.

    I'm unsure why Two Face has joined the ranks of DC characters who say "ya" instead of "you". Wasn't he a lawyer??

  5. One thing I liked about the series was that for all the people on the boards who thought Jason might be the better fighter and Tim the better detective, the story showed what really made a good Batman (and Dick has it). That is preparedness.

    And of course, now we have the ever annoying ending of did Jason Todd die or not?

  6. the story arc with Alfred righting a book about a future of dick being batman and Bruce's son becoming robin was in the cartoon batman brave and the bold recently. i find that interesting that they are using such old story's in the show they made some changes to the story as it was Damion not Bruce Jr and Bruce married Selena Kyle. but if you have not seen it id say look for it on youtube its called the dark knight of tomorrow if i remember correctly