Comic Book Starter Guide: Dick Grayson Evolution From Robin To Nightwing

Comic Book Starter Guide: Dick Grayson Evolution From Robin To Batman

There are very few comic book characters with a greater history than Dick Grayson. Debuting in 1940 as the first Robin, the character is only beat by Batman and Superman in terms of a longer history at DC Comics. In these 80 years Dick Grayson has been known for many things: Robin the Boy Wonder, one-half of the original Dynamic Duo, leader of the Teen Titans, Outsiders and Justice League, Nightwing, Bruce Wayne’s Batman successor, Bludhaven’s protector, super spy, and most importantly having the greatest ass in comics. Jokes aside, having such a rich history has made Dick Grayson the most well connected superhero in the DC Universe. 

In honor of the character’s 80th anniversary we’ve put together this comic book starter guide. These are key stories to understand who Dick Grayson is and how he has evolved over the years.

ROBIN: YEAR ONE

Robin: Year One #4

Cover of Robin: Year One #4. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Robin: Year #1 – #4

Creative Team

Writers: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty

Artist: Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin

Inker: Robert Campanella

Colorist: Lee Loughridge

As the original Robin, there is no way of telling the early years of Bruce Wayne as Batman without having Dick Grayson around as his protege. Even as we’ve seen Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne join the Batman Family across all forms of media, it all begins with Bruce and Dick as the original Dynamic Duo. That’s where Robin: Year One comes in to act as a perfect framing device for not only Bruce and Dick’s early father-son dynamic but also defined what Batman and Robin would iconically become.

One of the things that makes Robin: Year One so special is that we get to see how the young Dick Grayson grows over the short period the series covers. As we begin the comic book we see how confident Dick Grayson has become after his training under Bruce and actively being Robin for several months. There is a confidence in not only Robin but also Batman. As the Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin found a lot of early success.

That is what makes the clash with Two-Face in the middle of Robin: Year One stand out so much. Just as Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner Gordon and others in general were getting used to Batman and Robin as the Dynamic Duo protecting Gotham City everyone gets a reality check. The near-death experience Dick Grayson has at the hands of a vicious, revenge-seeking Two-Face is a character defining moment. From there we see how Bruce and Dick reach a crossroad moment in their partnership. That includes Dick growing up as a hero thanks to not only his experience against Two-Face but also in his first run in with the League of Assassins.

Robin: Year One #1 Batman Proud Of Robin

Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth work together as Dick Grayson’s father figures in Robin: Year One #1. Click for full-page view

Along the way, we see how not only is Bruce important in shaping who Dick Grayson is but also others like Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon. Alfred acts as the other father-figure in Dick’s life alongside Bruce. Through Alfred’s eyes we get a better understanding of the road Dick is going on as the question of if he is going to become just like Bruce Wayne when he grows up hovers over Robin: Year One. Having that question further spotlights the difference between Bruce and Dick is that the latter was able to get closure before becoming Robin. Thanks to Bruce and Alfred being there for him as co-father-figures, Dick was still able to have some sense of a childhood after his parents death.

Robin: Year One is further elevated by the incredible artwork from Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin. Pulido handles all of the artwork for the first three issues of Robin: Year One. Pulido captures the classic, iconic nature of this era of the Batman Family. Things begin with a naive tone that quickly changes into a darker story once we get deeper into plots from the Mad Hatter and Two-Face. Martin comes in for the fourth issue to help Pulido complete the final issue of the mini-series. Pulido and Martin do a great job complementing each other while maintaining the style the former established.

THE NEW TEEN TITANS: JUDAS CONTRACT

Tales Of The Teen Titans Annual #3

Cover of Tales Of The Teen Titans Annual #3. Click for full-page view.

Issues: The New Teen Titans(1980 – 1984) #39, Tales of the Teen Titans (1984 – 1985) #42 – #44, and Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3

Creative Team

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Artist: George Perez

Inkers: Romeo Tanghal, Dick Giordano, and Mike DeCarlo

Colorist: Adrienne Roy

The Judas Contract is by far the most iconic and well-known Teen Titans storyline. Not only that, but it is arguably one of the most iconic DC Comics storylines. This is that even now comes across as something that Marv Wolfman and George Perez built their entire Teen Titans run around. Not only that, but it would end up defining how the rest of this era for the Teen Titans would go.

For Dick Grayson, Judas Contract was also the chapter in his life where he finally graduated from being Robin to Nightwing. Making that transition even more meaningful is that Dick went through this change with his best friend Wally West, who also took a break from being Kid Flash, which would lead him to eventually become the Flash after Crisis On Infinite Earths. While Wally was able to get a clean break from the team before the events of Judas Contract went down the same can’t be said for Dick. Even after turning over leadership of the Teen Titans to Donna Troy we still saw Dick maintain contact with the team, which made his quick return to the team and become Nightwing.

Tales Of The Teen Titans #44 Dick Grayson Becomes Nightwing

Dick Grayson honors all his mentors when becoming Nightwing in Tales Of The Teen Titans #44. Click here for full-page view.

As he adopted the Nightwing identity Wolfman was able to define why the name holds such a greater meaning than just being the identity Dick adopted after graduating from being Robin. The Nightwing identity to not only honor Batman but also Superman. The name coming from a Kryptonian legend that Superman once told Dick about when he was younger shows how much of an influence the Man of Steel had on his life. In a way, Nightwing is a combination of all the ideals of Batman, Alfred, Superman, and Commissioner Gordon, as they all played important family roles for Dick after his parents died.

And there was no one better suited for drawing this transition from Robin to Nightwing than George Perez. Perez’s art style is iconic. His work on Teen Titans in particular stands out as some of his best work. With Dick Grayson in particular we saw how Perez drew the character more as a young adult, who was in this transition period. When the time came for Dick to move to the next phase of his superhero career he looked ready.

NIGHTWING: A KNIGHT IN BLUDHAVEN

Cover of Nightwing #2. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Nightwing (1996 – 2009) #1 – #8

Creative Team

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Artist: Scott McDaniel

Inker: Karl Story

Colorist:  Roberta Tewes

Becoming Nightwing was the equivalent of Dick Grayson having a high school graduation. It was his first step into a full adult life. But it wasn’t until he moved to Bludhaven to begin his own solo career as Nightwing that Dick got his college graduation. Because before getting his own ongoing series, Dick was in a weird spot from being exclusive to the Teen Titans franchise when he originally left Gotham City and stopped being Batman’s partner. So almost like a young adult that goes to college, Dick was able to grow up being around his fellow peers that were all coming up together. 

But thanks to events such as Knightfall and Prodigal, it was time for Dick to finally strike out as a solo hero. Which we see him do in the “A Knight In Bludhaven” story that kicked off the Nightwing ongoing series.This storyline set the groundwork for why Dick would leave Gotham City once again in order to save a city in Bludhaven that was in even worse shape. As both Batman and Nightwing spoke about, Bludhaven was a place that was even more behind the times, with crime running rampage on the city without a protector.

Nightwing #8 Blockbuster

Nightwing first big clash with Blockbuster doesn’t go as planned in Nightwing #8. Click for full-page view.

With his own city came with it a supporting cast that was built around Dick Grayson. Characters like Bridget Clancy helped make Bludhaven be more than another stop for Dick. Bludhaven was a living, breathing city with its own unique cast of characters like Gotham City and Bludhaven. In establishing a strong supporting cast Dixon was able to bring in Batman Family members for guest spots that added to the ongoing story in Bludhaven rather than distracting due to their special appearances. It was all time for Dick Grayson to step up as Nightwing and show he was no longer in Bruce’s shadow.

NIGHTWING: THE BOYS

Nightwing #25

Cover of Nightwing #25. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Nightwing (1996 – 2009) #25

Creative Team

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Artist: Scott McDaniel

Inker: Karl Story

Colorist:  Roberta Tewes

As Dick Grayson has gotten older he has taken a big brother role with the younger generation of heroes. That has been best seen with Dick’s relationship with Tim Drake. Due to various reasons, Dick was never close with his previous Robin successor, Jason Todd. That was the opposite when it came to Dick’s relationship with Tim. In many ways Dick was as much Tim’s mentor as Bruce was. Idolizing the original Dynamic Duo, Tim looked up to Dick as role model even before becoming Robin. And thanks in part to the events of Knightfall and Prodigal these two were able to forge a strong big brother and little brother relationship.

That is where Nightwing #25 does such a great job with showcasing what makes the bond between Dick and Tim so strong. In this one-shot story Nightwing takes Robin on a training session across trains in Bludhaven. To make the training be even more intense Nightwing has them both wearing blindfolds the entire time. It shows how much trust Dick has in Tim that he would go through this type of training. Not only is it trust in Tim’s skill but also in having his back in when the training turns into them having to save the day while still blindfolded.

Nightwing #25 Nightwing Robin Quality Time

Dick Grayson and Tim Drake do blindfold training on top of moving trains in Nightwing #25. Click for full-page view.

Through all of this training and superhero work we see how close Dick and Tim are. They both openly talk to each other about their lives. That includes their recent relationship history with their respective love interests. It’s small details like this that give you insight into why Dick and Tim’s brotherly bond is as important as their bond with Bruce. This forges a stronger tie between the generations of Robin’s that Dick helped inspire in the generations that followed him.

Scott McDaniel’s, who defined this era for Nightwing, really knocked it out of the park with his artwork in Nightwing #25. He got over how dangerous the training Nightwing and Robin were doing. Robin’s worried expression when he thought Nightwing almost fell off the train they were on helped add tension to this issue.

NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP

Nightwing #150 Cover

Cover of Nightwing #150. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Nightwing (1996 – 2009) #147 – #153

Creative Team

Writer: Peter Tomasi

Artist: Don Kramer, Rags Morales, Doug Mahake and Shawn Moll

Inker: Jay Leisten, Michael Bair, Bob Petrecca, Christian Alamy, Rodney Ramos

Colorist: Hi-Fi

While it’s a general rule in the comic book world that characters don’t really age after a certain point Dick Grayson is one character we’ve seen go from tween to teen to a guy in his mid-to-late-twenties. Peter Tomasi’s run on Nightwing spotlighted this aging of Dick Grayson during his Nightwing run. Specifically, the final arc of the Nightwing series, “The Great Leap,” defined how much the character had grown. Coming at a time when Grant Morrison was telling his epic “Batman: RIP” storyline, Tomasi showed a Nightwing that was a veteran hero who has become on the level of Batman and other heroes.

What makes “The Great Leap” a key story in Dick Grayson’s life is the major clash that Nightwing has with Two-Face. While Dick has grown older one thing that has haunted the character was his defeat at the hands of Two-Face when he was Robin, where he almost lost his life. Since that time Nightwing has had various clashes with Two-Face but never a big solo one. Both the fights and discussions that Nightwing has with Two-Face throughout this story arc shows how far Dick has come since his early days we saw in Robin: Year One.

Nightwing #151 Two-Face Meeting

Dick Grayson shows he has overcome his past in this confrontation with Two-Face in Nightwing #151. Click for full-page view.

Tomasi further ends “The Great Leap” story with two final issues that examine if Dick Grayson is ready to make that next big step in his life as Bruce Wayne is believed to be dead. Which is all complimented by an early interaction Dick has with Barbara Gordon. In that conversation we see Barbara call Dick out on starting to sound like Bruce when talking about the Two-Face case. The story with Ra’s Al Ghul and Dick’s move back to Gotham City further that narrative of who Dick Grayson is becoming in this important chapter in the entire Batman Family’s life.

During all of this we once again see how one of the important aspects of Dick Grayson’s character are the connections he has. As mentioned before, Dick Grayson is arguably the most well connected superheroes in the DC Universe. Scenes with Barbara Gordon, Flash and JSA shows how valuable these connections are to the character. Even if they are just cameos it is an important aspect of the character that should not be forgotten.

BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL

Batman Battle For The Cowl

Connected cover of Batman: Battle For The Cowl. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Batman: Battle For The Cowl (2009) #1 – #3

Creative Team

Writer and Artist: Tony S. Daniel

Inker: Sandu Florea

Colorist: Ian Hannin

The argument of who will be the next Batman if Bruce Wayne ever died or decided to pass on the mantle has been going on for a long time. A case could be made for each of the Robins or Batgirls for who is to be Bruce’s successor. One thing we have seen over time is that Dick Grayson has been the leader when it comes to being the next Batman. Over the last decade in particular, we’ve seen that be a commonly accepted succession plan by those in and outside the Batman Family. The question has always been more of if that is what Bruce and Dick’s plans are for Batman.

Batman: Battle For The Cowl addresses that as we see how Dick Grayson’s decision that no one should be Batman reverberates across the Batman Family and Gotham City. Because while Tim Drake, Alfred Pennyworth and others push Dick to pick up the mantle of Batman we learn that is not necessarily what he wants at that point. At that point Dick has pushed away from following in Bruce’s footsteps as Batman for a long time. He carved out his own path as Nightwing, a solo hero that everyone could turn to for leadership. That is something even Bruce understood, as we learn that Bruce himself left a message for Dick that no one has to pick up the mantle of Batman.

Batman: Battle For The Cowl 2 Alfred Talks To Dick Grayson

Alfred Pennyworth helps Dick Grayson accept that he is ready to be Batman in Batman: Battle for the Cowl. Click for full-page view.

But then as we see with what Gotham City turns into after “Batman: RIP” it does become a question of if Dick is running away from a role he was raised to take on. We see throughout Battle For The Cowl how Dick’s indecision leads to chaos not only in Gotham City but within the Batman Family itself. Everyone is sort of scattered even when they are trying to protect the city together. That’s where when we finally have Dick accept that he is the one that should be Batman it is a big moment in the character’s growth.

BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR

Detective Comics #874 Cover

Cover of Detective Comics #874. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Detective Comics (1937 – 2011) #871 – #881

Creative Team

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Jock and Francesco Francavilla

Colorist: David Baron

When it comes to seeing what Gotham City built around Dick Grayson as Batman can be, you don’t have to look farther than Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics. This run, that was a precursor to Snyder’s run with Capullo on Batman, showcased how Gotham City is a living, breathing city. And ever since Bruce first appeared as Batman the city has found a way to morph itself to reflect those that protect it. Whether it’s how the first big interaction with Joker goes down or the previously unknown Mirror Society, we see how Gotham City turns into a twisted circus as Dick’s era of being Batman begins.

As Gotham City morphs into a dark reflection of Dick’s Batman we get glimpses of how he is a different Dark Knight. Little things like not doing the whole disappearing thing after speaking with Commissioner Gordon on the GCPD rooftop spoke to the differences in approach. The same goes for how Dick used the Wayne Enterprise’s resources to help the GCPD outside of wearing the cape and cowl. 

Detective Comics #871 Batman Commissioner Gordon

Dick Grayson does not follow Bruce Wayne’s style of disappearing as Batman in Detective Comics #871. Click for full-page view.

At the same time, Snyder examines how being Batman is changing Dick as he is now the man. There is no longer the safety net of Bruce being around for advice or help. The interactions he has with Commissioner Gordon, Barbara, Tim and others add to Gotham City becoming Dick Grayson’s city. How Dick deals with the weight of being Batman adds to how this was all an evolution of the character.

Both Jock and Francesco Francavilla add to the world Snyder crafted around Dick Grayson’s Batman. There was an entirely different look to Gotham City that made it look and feel as it was changing to match the new Dark Knight. That is credit to both Jock and Francavilla’s talents as artists to reflect that change even as readers we’ve pretty much seen all of Gotham City over the last 80+ years. They hit on how this was a whole new era for both the character and Gotham City as a whole.


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