Nightwing: Year One Review

In his eighty years of existence, Dick Grayson has held many titles and roles; acrobat, Robin the Boy Wonder, Teen Titan, various undercover identities and even Batman sometimes, but it is his identity as Nightwing that he is perhaps now most recognized for; one that was adopted nearly forty years ago.

So it does come as a surprise when it is learned that there was a long period of time between Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing, and when he would finally graduate to a title of his own. Just over a decade in fact, and it especially becomes mind boggling to think that characters such as Tim Drake Robin, Catwoman and even Azrael all got solo titles before Dick did. For a character that has such a rich history, giving him a title seemed like an obvious thing to do, especially after he left the Titans in ’93/’94.

A miniseries in 1995 would be considered his first volume, but his solo adventures did not really kick off until Chuck Dixon and artist Scott McDaniel debuted the ongoing second volume the following year. Fans of that title and creative team will tell you the first three years were absolutely electric and very much what the fanbase longed for in a solo outing by Nightwing. Dixon’s tales were exciting, exploring new territory, while still keeping Dick Grayson just within the sphere of the other Bat-titles. And Scott McDaniel’s art… was and is, absolutely kinetic, with sequences that often felt like they would leap off the page at you. Their run would eventually end and they would move onto different projects.

Dixon and McDaniel would reunite to tell two more Nightwing tales after the fact. One of those reunions would be on the Nightwing title itself, and that story would be be Nightwing: Year One.

Fans of the Dick Grayson character are familiar with the broad strokes of Nightwing’s development, but most of that history still focussed on Grayson’s time as a sidekick, and as Robin. Even his Bronze Age tales were either back-up features in the Batman titles, or shunted over to Teen Titans, where Dick was just one of many heroes with which Marv Wolfman and George Perez had to plot out page space for each month.

There was also the issue that a definitive telling of that period has never truly been done, or better put, properly defined. We knew the basics, Robin was “fired”, and Dick taking it one step further would fuel his recent failures under Batman into a new costumed identity and a new desire to prove himself to the greater superhero community. Unfortunately those early days of him being Nightwing are largely covered in Titans’ related books, and, it did not really address the time period immediately leaving the Batcave and emerging as Nightwing, in any real depth.

In six issues, Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel not only fill in those gaps, but also address the larger part of Dick’s first year in his new identity, and for some, the fan favourite “disco suit”. Surprisingly, the retcon used to justify such a wardrobe choice was done with such brilliance it actually makes the suit itself a little less ridiculous looking. Breaking away from using Batman as much as possible, we see Dick interact with the greater DC universe, and the story told becomes more enriched as a result. One or two guest appearances should not come as a surprise to most fans, but one certainly does stand-out as an interesting, and effective inclusion to the narrative.

Detractors will say that this this is just another year one concept done by Chuck Dixon. While that is a fair assessment, it does not take into account the uniqueness that this story holds. While Robin: Year One and Batgirl: Year One felt like love letters to those characters, Nightwing: Year One takes it a step further; it feels like a love letter to Nightwing and Nightwing fans, alike. If this is not a perfect piece of comic book storytelling, it is damn close.

Collects: Nightwing (Volume 2) 101-106

Curated: Dick Grayson By Chuck Dixon

If you were a fan of Batman in the 1990s, you read many stories by Chuck Dixon. At one point in time or another he was writing 1/3 of the Batman related titles that were published, including other titles for DC and for many, he is considered one of three definitive voices for the Dark Knight for the 1990s (Alan Grant and Doug Moench winding out that incredible triumvirate of writers).

As great of a Batman writer as he was, his true gift was his ability to turn second tier characters, forgot ideas and literal scraps left by other writers into engaging stories, titles and characters… often all occupying the same space at the same time. His run on the first Robin series is definitive Tim Drake, he created Stephanie Brown/Spoiler, and boosted Oracle’s profile while giving her a leadership role in the Birds of Prey franchise. For me though, his crowning achievement is the work he did with Dick Grayson aka Nightwing.

This little Curated: Dick Grayson by Chuck Dixon is my recommendations for anyone looking to get into this character and really enjoy some incredible stories featuring this rich character!

Robin: Year One

This four issue co-written by Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty with Javier Pulido on pencilling duties is nothing short of beautiful. It captures an often referenced period in the Dick Grayson’s time as Robin in greater detail. Robin is faced with his own challenges as a solo hero as well as sidekick to the Caped Crusader. The ending of this mini-series dovetails beautifully with Batgirl: Year One, sharing a pivotal scene between the two books.

Nightwing: Bludhaven

The world’s first superhero side-kick finally gets his own series after some 60 years playing second fiddle, and it’s this groundbreaking series by Chuck Dixon and artist Scott McDaniel take the the former Boy Wonder to the utterly corrupt whaling/industrial town of Bludhaven to fight crime and discover himself (sounds just like the angsty Gen-X fueled 90s). Chuck Dixon spends a lot of time on developing Dick Grayson/Nightwing as a complex, nuanced character trapped between his desires to be his own man, and also his acknowledgement that he will always live in someone’s shadow. This collection gives you the first miniseries as well as the first eight issues of that solo series in Bludhaven.

NIghtwing: Year One

Re-united on the Nightwing title in the middle 00s for a six-issue retrospective, Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel give us a detailed look at Dick Grayson’s transitional year from losing the mantle of Robin to striking out on his own, with quite a few surprising guest-stars on the way. This is honestly, my all-time favourite Nightwing storyline, and it’s recently been collected again!

Nightwing: The Target (optional)

Before Dixon and McDaniel reunited on the title, they did a mini-reunion in the early 00s with Nightwing: the Target. It’s more of a Dick Grayson than Nightwing tale, the story itself is fairly boilerplate, but if you can find a cheap copy, it’s a pleasant albeit quick read, or…

Nightwing (Vol. 1) 25 (1998)

… save up a few extra bucks and look for this single issue Nightwing/Tim Drake as Robin team-up. It has an inventive main plot device that enables Scott McDaniel to truly cut-loose with the art, but enabled Dixon room to really breathe life into a special brotherly bond that these two characters at one time possessed. This is probably my single favourite issue of Nightwing written.

And that, gives you an incredible weekend of reading!