|Pages from “Nightwing #71.” Art by Rick Leonardi and Jesse Delperdang. Story by Devin Grayson. Click to enlarge.|
To say Devin Grayson is excited about being the regular writer on DC Comics’ “Nightwing” is something of an understatement. There probably aren’t enough synonyms for that word in Mr. Roget’s fine thesaurus to fully describe her current state of creative bliss.
“It just feels really, really right,” Grayson says of her newest assignment. “I’m relaxed, I’m happy, and I’m very in love with the work I get to do.”
For “Nightwing” fans, the Devin Grayson era officially begins in July with issue #71 – but the 31-year-old Californian is no stranger to Dick Grayson’s costumed adventures. Her first published comic-book story – 1997’s “Like Riding a Bike,” in “The Batman Chronicles” #7 – starred her namesake, as did her “Nightwing/Huntress” mini-series in 1998. The acrobatic hero was a key player in Grayson’s 20-issue run on “The Titans,” too, and he also was a frequent guest star in “Batman: Gotham Knights,” the masterful monthly psychological profile of the Dark Knight Detective that she co-created and helmed until this summer.
There’s a good reason Grayson keeps coming back to the black-and-blue-clad hero: She really digs him. Grayson considers Nightwing one of DC’s more complex characters, which makes him interesting to read about – and a heck of a lot of fun to write about.
“I think Dick Grayson has struggled with problems that are resonant to a lot of people: loss, grief, difficult and unyielding parent figures, the need to carve out an individual place for one’s self in the world,” Grayson explains. “I could gone on for hours – about Dick’s complexities and the contradictions in his nature that make him so completely believable; about his amazing physical prowess and natural athleticism and how much he loves movement and fluidity and physical contact; about his intelligence and his compassion and his fierce romantic streak; about his fascinating vocational and ethnic background, and how different those things were from what he eventually grew up with in Wayne Manor; about his energy and resourcefulness and ability to be totally, stunningly present in any given moment.
“The character beat I find most interesting with Nightwing is how deeply he experiences frustration and pain, and then how totally done with that he is by the time he’s making an actual decision or evaluation,” the writer adds. “He’s not in denial about the darkness in his life the way Batman sometimes is, and in fact he’s remarkably self-aware and conscientious, but he acts from a place of loyalty and gratitude and even joy.”
Grayson replaces veteran comics scribe Chuck Dixon on “Nightwing.” Dixon – who left the series to join the CrossGen Comics team – was the title’s writer since its inception in 1996. Following Dixon is a bit intimidating for Grayson, especially given the book’s popularity through the years.
“Ideally, when you take over a book, you want it to be failing miserably so that you can take a crack at ‘saving’ it – you never, ever, want to walk on to a series that has momentum and a stellar reputation and a devoted fan base,” Grayson says. “This book does not need an overhaul. It’s always been a fantastic book. What makes it do-able for me is how accessible and helpful Chuck Dixon has always been. From my very first year in the industry to this day, he has been willing to answer questions and give out writing tips. He’s just incredibly generous with his time and advice, and he’s the consummate professional – his work ethic is really stunning, especially in this industry. I’ve really learned a lot from him. He’s made it clear that I can contact him any time to ask questions about Blüdhaven or where he saw something going in the series, and I’ve made it clear that I have a tremendous amount of respect for his work and what he’s created here, and I consider my job a matter of keeping that party going to the best of my abilities.”
Grayson’s got some big plans for Nightwing and the various citizens – good and not so good – of Blüdhaven. Regular “Nightwing” readers will recognize many of the faces in Grayson’s early issues, including Barbara Gordon – a.k.a. Oracle – the villain Blockbuster and Dick’s partner on the police force, Sgt. Amy Rohrbach. Members of the Titans might pop in for a visit, as could Tim “Robin” Drake and Yoska Graesinka, the gypsy who befriended Dick in a recent “Batman: Gotham Knights” arc. Several characters will be fresh, however, including a new assistant district attorney, new police officers and an all-new adversary named Tarantula.
The first story arc is a four-parter that focuses on the deeply corrupt Blüdhaven Police Department.
“My first story arc is about Nightwing discovering, tracking down, and eventually obtaining a piece of evidence that can work to indict most of the department,” Grayson says. “It’s a little bit of a James Bond adventure, taking Nightwing first to Italy and then to France and finally London as he tries to get his hands on this piece of evidence while keeping the woman who’s had it all this time safe from Blockbuster’s goon squad, who want her and the evidence eliminated. The woman in question happens to be BPD police chief Francis Alexander Redhorn’s wife, so Dick finds himself protecting one of his enemy’s allies.”
Grayson’s second arc also will focus on Dick’s daytime job as a police officer – but she’s not revealing much about the plot right now.
“All I can say now is that Dick’s successful enough in the first arc that those around him – like Bruce and Babs – start questioning whether he needs to continue working as a police officer in addition to his Nightwing work,” Grayson hints. “It seems like a natural time for him to quit the force, and he tells them he will. But he doesn’t. And more time goes by and he still doesn’t. I want to look at an increasing addiction, on his part, to 24/7 heroing, and the effect that begins to have on his relationships, his psyche and even his judgment.”
Grayson’s artistic partner on “Nightwing” is Rick Leonardi, who as the penciler of “Birds of Prey” is no stranger to the supporting characters in the Bat-universe. Grayson is ecstatic about Leonardi’s vision for the series.
“I’ve seen three of his issues now, and Rick’s stuff is amazing,” she says. “He absolutely captures the kinetic energy you need for ‘Nightwing,’ and his storytelling is just really incomparable. Rick’s got a terrific eye, too, and a very cinematic quality to his layouts and staging – he really knows how to make a fight scene move and how to get the emotional resonance out of a quieter moment.”
Grayson’s love for Nightwing actually goes back to the hero’s days as Batman’s adolescent sidekick, the first Robin. As aficionados of Grayson’s work should already know, the writer was drawn to comics by the relationship between the moody Batman and his cheery young ward. She helped cement that bond last year by having Bruce Wayne formally adopt Dick in “Gotham Knights” #17.
“The dynamic that most interested me about Batman from day one was that he was, in his own weird way, a parent – and that relationship is just as fascinating when you flip it to look at it from Dick’s point of view,” Grayson says. “As Robin, Dick lived out one of the most enduring human fantasies: the chance to be respected by and useful to a hero figure who fills your life with adventure. The price paid for that, though, is having Batman as a parent – Batman who is able to do the incredible things he does in part because he has sacrificed other developmental aspects of himself, such as the ability to be intimate or supportive. And in the face of all of this, Dick has had some resentment and some anger and, I think, a lot of pain, but he has also never for one moment of his life shied away from it, or away from Bruce. He embraces his life and his vocation and his sometimes-difficult mentor with absolute commitment and gratitude. Nothing is wasted on Nightwing – he makes use of every single gift bestowed upon him.”
Most fans of Grayson’s writing would agree that her best work has been in the pages of “Gotham Knights.” Although the series has had its share of supernatural villains and knock-down, drag-out fight sequences, “Gotham Knights” has been much more cerebral than physical. Coming to the much more action-packed “Nightwing” is a dramatic creative switch for Grayson, but one she’s confident she’s ready to tackle. Although she still plans to show readers what makes Nightwing tick, she doesn’t plan to change the book’s pace at all.
“‘Gotham Knights’ is a book about psyche and relationships, whereas ‘Nightwing’ is an action comic about, well, kicking ass and taking names,” Grayson says. “The book moves much faster than ‘Gotham Knights,’ which dealt with content happening mostly behind the scenes and in-between the big fights. But we definitely want to see the fights in Nightwing – they’re not only fun, they’re actually very central to the character and his way of moving through the world. It’d be dumb to slow Nightwing down – it would be a disservice to the series, to the readers, and, most importantly, to the character himself.
“But one thing ‘Nightwing’ has that ‘Batman: Gotham Knights’ didn’t is a first person narrator,” Grayson continues. “Dick’s chatty – he talks to us and to himself all through his adventures. So I think it’s possible to get into his head without ever really setting stories up around that desire. We’re just naturally going to be finding things out about him as we move around with him. That’s such an inherent element in my writing, too, that I think I can pretty much forget about it and it will still leak into what I do. My hope is that our readers feel connected to Nightwing and included in his emotional range and thought processes without really noticing that it’s happening.”