It’s official. The day Nightwing fans have dreamed about (and/or dreaded) is finally here. There’s a Nightwing movie being developed, which will mark the first live action incarnation of Dick Grayson since 1997’s infamous “Batman & Robin”. And with Warner’s past attempts at translating DC’s most famous characters from page to screen landing only the most divisive degree of success, the prospect of a new cinematic Nightwing can be a little daunting.
With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at some some of the most critical elements of the character they’ll need to lock down to produce a great movie.
After all, speculation about actors and potential plots may already be in (justifiably) high gear, but there’s more to pulling off a successful incarnation of Nightwing than casting a perfect face (with equally perfect…um, assets.)
Day & Night
One of the most essential cornerstones to Dick Grayson’s character is understanding his identity in relation to Batman. On the surface, they’re cut from the same cloth: loss, grief and revenge, an overwhelming sense of martyrdom in the line of duty — and while that’s not incorrect, it’s not the whole picture.
Nightwing works the way he does because he is able to take those tried-and-true components that make Batman who he is and turn them on their ear. His competency in the face of danger and insurmountable odds isn’t tempered by a surly, detached disposition. His selfless need to save the people around him isn’t spurned on by a wound in his past that never quite healed. Instead, Dick’s character and narrative potential is represented in his Nightwing identity by his evolution into a “version 2.0” on Bruce’s original super heroic hypothesis.
A Batman stripped of all the things that make Batman untouchable, terrifying, and alienating.
To craft a successful Nightwing in film — especially one that won’t have an already established on screen Batman and Robin partnership to call back to — this carefully considered juxtaposition between Nightwing and Batman will be critical.
We’ve seen the DCEU’s Batman and his grim, limitless determination across two films already; a live action Nightwing will have to be someone who can stand in those daunting shadows without succumbing to them — and without sacrificing his own integrity or believability to shed a little light onto them.
Conversely, overcompensating against Batman’s dour brutality would also be a misstep for a successful Nightwing film. While it’s well known and commonly accepted (thanks, in part, to the popularity of the camp classic “Batman ‘66”) that Dick’s levity comes from slinging quips and banter during fights, edging too far into joke-machine territory would be dramatically incongruous to the rest of the DCEU. It’s important that Dick seem as much a part of the Gotham City atmosphere as he is apart from it.
The Social Network
Another critical notch in in Nightwing’s metaphorical spine is his position at the very center of an extensive and far reaching web of friends and family members. Dick is the extrovert to Bruce’s introvert; the social butterfly and lynchpin upon which the vast majority of the weight of the shared DCU rests.
In fact, Dick’s connectivity between superheroes and civilians alike is commonly presented by creators as being matched only by Superman himself, which is some pretty daunting company to be in.
This is, admittedly, probably going to be the hardest thing for a Nightwing film to execute. Without the established existence of any other Teen Titans, Outsiders or second generation heroes in this specific canon, Dick’s roster of friends has a staggering “0” potential members.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean it’s a hopeless endeavor. The most important component of Nightwing’s extroversion isn’t actually the specific friends themselves, but being depicted as the sort of person with the capacity to make them. Dick’s compassion, investment in relationships, and emotional intelligence are things that keep him afloat. It may be risky, but it’s completely possible to lay the foundation down, even without the aid of his canonical roster of friends in play.
There’s always the temptation, aided by sources like “Nightwing: Year One”, to define Nightwing’s identity as a character who is the embodiment of the rebellious, furious teen-slash-twenty-something whose decisions are dictated exclusively by a need to stick it to their parents.
While this isn’t expressly incorrect — stories like “Nightwing: Year One” and “Batman: Year Three” are definitely viable source material, sure — to reduce Nightwing to the brooding, rebellious teen trope would do a pretty huge disservice to his traction in a franchise right off the bat. The DCEU is populated almost exclusively by brooding, icy faced heroes, painted in rain slicked gray. To put it bluntly: there simply isn’t room for the “you don’t know me, dad!” story to be told in this incarnation without it feeling tonally redundant at best and laughably trite at worst.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for conflict between Dick and Bruce to be explored on screen — their relationship most certainly isn’t always smooth sailing — but it has to be deployed with restraint.
As an alternative to “Nightwing: Year One”, a lesser known arc like “Batman: Prodigal” would provide a good blueprint for not only conflict between Dick and Bruce, but also the perfect pacing and tone of a very necessary resolution.
The most interesting thing about Dick and Bruce ending up at odds with one another isn’t how or why they decide to fight — it’s how and why they, as two of the most bull-headed, stubborn characters in the DCU, decide to set aside their differences. After all, their partnership hasn’t stood the test of time by accident. It’s more critical that their dynamic is fleshed out with a sense of trust before any film earns the emotional resonance to make bad blood between them actually sell.
Digging Up Roots
Dick may have a more fluid point of origin than Bruce — he definitely lacks the short hand iconography of a snapping strand of pearls, at the very least — but stripping a Nightwing film of Dick’s circus roots would be counterproductive at best.
Haly’s is one of the most pervasive elements of Dick’s story and establishing a history as a performer provides a neat and tidy narrative “get out of jail free” card in the believability of Nightwing’s athletic prowess, especially in a universe where the Robin (and therefore, the training stage) is being passed over.
What’s more, as drenched in camp as the “circus kid” origin stories of the Golden Age may be now, Haly’s specifically creates a tonal counterpoint to Bruce’s own up tight and affluent upbringing. It’s an foundation upon which to build the duality between Bruce and Dick while also handling some of the more complex origin story related exposition in a story.
Additionally, even a cursory examination of Dick’s past would leave an opening for explicit exploration of Dick’s heritage and present an easily accessible vehicle for representation of his Roma ancestry.
Having only recently been brought back into mainstream canon via Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin’s work on “Grayson”, a movie featuring Dick’s Roma heritage would be a major gain in diversifying the DCEU. Also, a fresh pass at Dick’s past would be a chance to correct some insensitive missteps in the original introduction of Roma culture to his backstory. It’s a win/win.
More than a Pretty Face
Dick’s status as a super heroic sex symbol is (rightfully) the subject of more than a few well-worn jokes, however it’s important to consider the character’s complicated, multilayered relationship with his own sexuality to actually execute an interpretation of Nightwing worthy of the name.
Specifically, for all that Dick is known as a ladykiller, his charm and romance doesn’t stem from the sense of vaguely toxic, hyper masculinity that’s prevalent in mainstream male heroes: while Dick’s had his fair share of botched relationships across multiple canons, his core rests in his emotional accessibility. Similarly to what allows him to maintain his expansive network of friends, Dick’s love life is defined by a genuine desire to connect with people — and a genuine respect of the people he ends up entangled with.
Dick Grayson’s heart is permanently attached to his sleeve, and traditionally, every time he’s tried to put walls up around it, he (and his stories) have suffered for it.
A Nightwing film that tries to rush too fast, or lean too hard into Dick’s sexuality runs the risk of painting him as a trope-laden womanizer, pulling the rug out from under his inherent charm — one of his easiest and most marketable selling points — before he even gets to the starting line.
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