Dick Grayson is one of DC’s most iconic superheroes, and he represents a lot of firsts for the comic book medium. He was one of the first sidekicks, taken in by Bruce Wayne to prepare for the rigors of superheroing as Robin. He was also one of the first young superheroes, representing a new generation of readership as Nightwing. Most importantly, Dick Grayson would become the first of Batman’s sidekicks to don the cape and cowl and become the World’s Greatest Detective. For over 75 years, Nightwing has made superheroing almost fun. Even faced with the Arkham rogues, Dick Grayson represents the excitement and thrill of the job. He’s truly a son of the circus, making every death-defying leap and taunt a spectacle.

With such a long history, where do you start the experience? Dick Grayson has been featured in a number of different titles in that history. He’s led teams of superheroes, giving him an entirely unique role. This Essential Reading List looks to give you a brief glance at the most important stories of Dick Grayson’s history. This list is hardly extensive, and there are a number of great contenders that didn’t make it. However, I have pulled from all points of this character’s history to give you a good place to start. Grab your escrima sticks. Time to swing into adventure!

NIGHTWING #27: Dangerous Double Cross

DETECTIVE COMICS #38 — by Bill Finger and Bob Kane

Dick Grayson Nightwing
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

All the way back in 1940, Dick Grayson made his first appearance as Robin, the Boy Wonder. Though BATMAN #1 (June 1940) would act as the Boy Wonder’s first prominent role alongside the caped crusader, pitting him against the Joker and Catwoman, DETECTIVE COMICS #38 (April 1940) acts as Robin’s true debut. Most of you reading this probably already know the story. After Grayson’s trapeze artist parents are murdered by the Gotham mob, Bruce Wayne takes Grayson under his wing to avenge their deaths.

While this represents Robin’s first appearance in the comics, this story is essential for more than simply that. It provides a basis for Robin’s portrayal, giving context to his crime-fighting antics. More importantly, it makes readers understand why Batman even needs a sidekick. He’s Batman after all, and up until this point, he’d faced criminals of all types. Mad scientists and monsters couldn’t stop him, so why does he need this young man? While I would argue Batman needs a Robin for many reasons, socialization being one, we see here that Dick Grayson needed Batman. He needed a purpose, and we see throughout this story the very factors that pushed Robin into becoming one of DC’s most important heroes.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #54 — By Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani

Dick Grayson Nightwing
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

As a young superhero, Dick Grayson’s primary role was to inspire kids to be heroes in their own right. While the message was never to take the fight to actual criminals, Grayson’s superheroing meant that young people could actually make a difference. As such, Robin’s role in the Teen Titans, a diverse team of young people, cemented this message. While the team wouldn’t make an official debut until THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #60 (July 1965), the beginnings of the group could be seen as early as issue #54 of that same series.

TITANS #14 Review: Secrets Revealed

The young people of Hatton Corners believed that they deserved more say in the town’s affairs. To help preach this message, they invited the trio of Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Robin to join their crusade. Before the heroes could arrive, though, the supervillain Mr. Twister appeared and held the children for ransom. Robin convinces the other two protégés to join him in saving Hatton Corners’ teens, and together they defeat Mr. Twister.

This issue is notable for a number of reasons, the first being that this youth team up would echo all the way into DC’s current Rebirth event (see TITANS REBIRTH for more). However, it’s worth mentioning that Robin takes the lead in saving civilians and defeating Mr. Twister. For the first time, Robin takes control of the situation for his teammates, exercising skills likely learned from Batman. This leadership role would later come to define Dick Grayson’s superheroic career, and thus makes this story that much more essential.

NEW TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT — By Marv Wolfman and George Perez

Dick Grayson Nightwing
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Speaking of the importance of the Teen Titans to Dick Grayson’s character, let’s look at the most definitive TEEN TITANS story of all time. THE JUDAS CONTRACT (now a DC Animated Film ) first released in May 1984. In this story, Deathstroke the Terminator has a superpowered teen named Terra infiltrate the Titans. Exploiting their trust, Terra helps Deathstroke incapacitate each member of the team before delivering them to HIVE HQ. It’s then up to Dick Grayson, the only Titan to escape the assault, to team up with an unexpected ally and stop HIVE’s nefarious plans.

X-MEN and TEEN TITANS: The Diverse Revivals

Fans widely regard THE JUDAS CONTRACT as one of the most important DC Comics event stories. Despite the problematic portrayal of Terra, the entire book is action packed and sees the team striving through the greatest adversity. Most importantly, this story showcases Dick Grayson’s transformation into the Nightwing character. In that moment, Dick steps out of the Bat’s shadow to become his own man. THE JUDAS CONTRACT marks the moment when Nightwing truly grabbed the reigns of his destiny and became the leader the Titans deserved.

BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR — By Scott Snyder and Jock

Dick Grayson Nightwing
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

After Batman is presumed dead in FINAL CRISIS (May 2008-January 2009), Dick Grayson dons the cape and cowl for the first time. BLACK MIRROR is the definitive Dick Grayson story from this period. Penned by Scott Snyder, BLACK MIRROR is an episodic tale following Dick Grayson’s adventures as Batman as he battles black market dealers, mob bosses, and a mysterious new serial killer in Gotham.

BATMAN: THE MURDER MACHINE #1 Review: How May I Help You? [SPOILERS AHEAD!]

While some readers may find the episodic nature of BLACK MIRROR disorienting, there are very few stories that so handily define Dick Grayson’s view of crimefighting. The entire book focuses on Gotham City as a living, breathing, cannibalistic organism. However, Dick Grayson sees the city differently. It’s the city that took his parents from him, and that has nearly killed him on a number of occasions. In his words, though: “There’s something about seeing Gotham from the sky that energizes me, gives me hope, if only for a moment.” BLACK MIRROR pays tribute to the dichotomy between Dick and Bruce Wayne. Bruce only sees the never-ending flood of tragedy and crime. Dick, though, focuses on the good he does and views his job with optimism.

THE NEW 52: NIGHTWING Vol. 1: “Traps and Trapezes” — By Eddy Barrows and Kyle Higgins

Dick Grayson Nightwing
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

No DC Comics Essential Reading List would be complete without delving into the 2011 New 52 company reboot. NIGHTWING Vol. 1 acts as a prelude to the stellar NIGHT OF THE OWLS event, where the Court of Owls secret society releases an army of assassins into Gotham City. These Talons are elite warriors from all across Gotham’s history, preserved and revived for the Court’s purposes. Nightwing does play a major role in NIGHT OF THE OWLS, but I chose NIGHTWING vol. 1 because it’s here that we learn that Dick Grayson’s entire history is tied to the Court.

After Bruce Wayne’s return to the Batman title, Dick steps back into his Nightwing guise. While fighting crime in Gotham, Haly’s Circus arrives in town for the first time since Dick’s parents’ deaths. However, C.C. Haly, the troupe’s former ringmaster, isn’t with them. He has been mysteriously murdered. Before his death, Haly bequeathed the circus to Dick who takes the reigns on the troupe’s cross-country road trip. As the story continues, Dick discovers ties between the circus and the mysterious Court of Owls and uncovers secrets that change everything he thought he knew about his past.

JUSTICE LEAGUE Essential Reading

To understand the current events in Dick Grayson’s life, NIGHTWING vol. 1 is more than essential. It not only establishes the Court of Owls as a threat to Gotham, but it manages to put Nightwing’s tragedies back into focus. Haly’s Circus and the trauma of his death defined his entire superhero career. Now, after learning that it was all a lie, Nightwing has to reinvent himself. The story is action-packed and extremely intelligent, pulling in allusions to all of Nightwing’s past relationships.

TITANS HUNT — By Dan Abnett and Paulo Siqueira

Dick Grayson Nightwing
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

TITANS HUNT is necessary reading for anyone looking to explore DC’s Rebirth. In fact, TITANS HUNT steps from the New 52 directly into the present status quo. Dick Grayson, Omen, Gnaark, Arsenal, Tempest, Mal Duncan, and Donna Troy, the original Teen Titans, come together for the first time in years. However, they have no memories of their time together. They learn over the course of TITANS HUNT that they purposefully removed their memories to limit the influences of the powerful Mr. Twister. The Titans must come together in Hatton Corners to defeat him and his extra-dimensional master.

Besides the allusions to THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #54, TITANS HUNT sees Nightwing back leading the Titans. Even without powers, Nightwing stands amongst young gods and holds his own through the strength of his mind and sheer force of will. More importantly, it shows Dick Grayson’s return to the Nightwing identity. After the events of FOREVER EVIL, Batman sent Grayson undercover into the spy agency SPYRAL and, for almost a year, Dick Grayson wore no costume. TITANS HUNT finally saw the return of Nightwing and leads the way to his present day adventures alongside his former team.

GOTHAM Season 3 Recap And Review

Final Thoughts: Dick Grayson, Acrobat, Soldier, and Spy

Through his long history at DC Comics, Dick Grayson has proven his worth time and time again. Whether as a representation of youth’s potential or a non-powered leader of superheroes, Dick Grayson, Robin, or Nightwing stand as an example for readers. No matter how bad the situation, he sees hope in his fight. Though trained by the Bat, Dick Grayson has become so much more than his mentor. Though there are many brilliant Nightwing or Robin stories out there, I feel this list is a great place to start.

Advertisements

One Comment

  1. Roy S.

    November 13, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    Why can’t they just reprint Nightwing Year One?

    Reply

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!

Check Also

MYOPIA #1 Review: Making Contact

MYOPIA #1 is a dense sci-fi epic that introduces us to a wildly entertaining and dystopian…