SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Nightwing #21, by Tim Seeley, Michael McMillian and Christian Duce, on sale now.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Rebirth's more Titans-centric books along side Nightwing proper, you’ve probably gleaned a bit of information about Nightwing and The Flash’s history with one another; but by and large, the exploration has been limited to the shallow end of the pool since Wally West's return to continuity.
This makes sense, obviously, as the current timeline of the DC Universe is largely in cosmic flux thanks to the recently-confirmed manipulation of Doctor Manhattan, so there’s still a delicate balance to be struck in terms of what can or can’t be properly flashed back to as the Watchmen-centric Rebirth continues to unfold. Add to that the fact that Dick’s spent the last arc of his series facing a relentless existential dread in the form of Dr. Simon Hurt, and you’ve don’t have much space on the docket for reestablishing friendships.
But never fear, Dick and Wally fans, because Nightwing #21 seeks to rectify the situation by adding some much needed levity to Dick Grayson's world, along with a return to a much missed and very nostalgic style of storytelling.
Dick Grayson and Wally West go way back; way, way back to the original incarnation of the Teen Titans in the early 1960s, in fact. In their first appearance, the team was just Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad in the pages of The Brave and the Bold -- it would take a whole year for the rest of the group to be added to the list and for the official moniker of “Teen Titans” to be applied.
Still, those early days provided the seed of something that creative teams couldn’t help but dig into, no matter how many reboots and reimaginings the characters or the group dynamic underwent. It was plain to see that Robin and Kid Flash worked really well together, and the idea of teenaged sidekicks having legitimate social lives combined with the chance to interact with one another was great for bolstering sales to younger readers, even before the idea of firmly established continuity or crossover connections were fully realized.
From there, the friendship between Dick and Wally would evolve organically, until eventually it made sense for them to be at each other’s side almost by default. Their stories gained an uncanny level of symmetry as they struggled with the responsibilities of their mentors, their place in the Titans, and their ability to balance vigilante work with growing up. They even both (temporarily) quit the Titans at the same time, right before the start of the 1984 event, The Judas Contract, to step into their new roles as The Flash proper and Nightwing.
Later, Brian Augustyn, Mark Waid and Eduardo Barretto would double down on their friendship by establishing that Dick and Wally actually took an annual vacation together in the pages of the relatively obscure and short lived Flash one-shot series, Flash Plus. This story posited that Dick and Wally had actually made a yearly getaway an event for quite some time -- they even had a pattern established to decide who got to pick their destination.
From here, all bets were off. Wally became an semi-regular feature in the subplots of Gotham City and later, Blüdhaven, whenever Dick happened to need a little extra speed.
Or, in the case of Dick’s tenure as a legitimate police officer, someone to hurriedly cover for him when Dick found himself out of town on vigilante business.
Tim Drake even managed to use Dick and Wally’s friendship to his advantage after his family was briefly relocated to Keystone City just before the start of No Man’s Land.
Over the years, this style of slice-of-life storytelling spliced into bigger superhero narratives has mostly died out on the pages of most ongoing superhero stories -- and Nightwing specifically suffered for it.
Dick Grayson may be a world class athlete and detective, but his real superpowers have traditionally come in the form of his connection to the DCU’s other heroes. Batman may be the tentpole for DC’s franchises, but Dick has, historically, been the beating heart of the shared narrative -- the hero everyone knows, everyone trusts, and everyone feels comfortable approaching in their time of need. This “heart-and-soul” status requires moments of downtime where characters simply connect with one another on the page to really flourish.
Nightwing #21 sees an earnest return to that style of storytelling, wherein Wally visits Blüdhaven for the specific purpose of hanging out with his best friend. It’s a perfect progression from the subtle blink-and-you-miss-them seeds of connection that the Nightwing ongoing has been sowing since the start of Rebirth, between the hearty portions of action and identity crisis.
The issue gives room for Dick and Wally to go to a bar, see a movie, and generally decompress and connect in a way that echoes not only the stories from the boys’ own past, but other classic slice-of-life DC favorites like Judd Winick and Manuel Garcia’s Green Arrow #32, “Boys Night Out,” or Bruce Wayne’s quiet evening in Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson’s Gotham Knights #32, “24/7.”
Of course, as you could probably expect, out-of-costume bonding is eventually derailed by a brief moment of heroics as Dick and Wally are forced to curtail a D-list villain, but it’s hardly out of place. Nightwing #21 is able to organically weave the brief spike in action into the ominous Rebirth reintroduction of Tiger Shark, who will no doubt provide no shortage of agony for Dick down the road.
Nevertheless, the fact that space has been made for this type of narrative to experience a slowly growing resurgence speaks volumes about the direction and intention of Rebirth as an initiative, and provides a clear, hopeful blueprint for the future of DC’s shared universe moving forward. With any luck, Nightwing fans will see their favorite hero restored to his position at the center of the intricate social network of the super heroic community from Gotham to Coast City in no time.