What Is to Be Done About Nightwing?
What can be done with this guy?
As many others have pointed out, Dick Grayson’s root problem is simple: he’s redundant. He’s not Robin anymore, he can’t be Batman, and so he’s just sorta…there. Stuck as a "Junior Batman," Nightwing hasn’t been established as anything in particular over the last twenty years.
Tim Drake has taken his place as both Robin and The Next Batman. The recently-resurrected Jason Todd has taken the gig of "embittered ex-sidekick." What is Dick?
Best I can tell, Nightwing’s current niche is "Emo Batman." He's a Batman who feels emotions beyond rage and frustration. He’s a brooding avenger of the night with a pseudo-Byronic angle. Oh, the torment! Oh, the agony!*
Which, while it does differentiate him from his stoic mentor, can be powerfully, profoundly irritating.
Twenty bucks and a box of doughnuts says this has been forwarded by many others before, but hey...that never stops me. Here’s my ten-cent Monday Morning Quarterback idea:
Make Nightwing the Batman of the Sixties.
Facing a murderous rampage by axe-wielding Filthy Pierre the Breton Butcher? Call Batman. Need to fight a fourth-dimensional pirate on top of a giant typewriter? Call Nightwing.
With this split, Batman can maintain his "dark avenger of the gritty streets" gig and Nightwing will have a new niche, one that Batman abandoned decades ago. Dick will become the tech whiz/strategist/acrobat for the Justice League. He'll be the laughing daredevil with the brilliant mind and the undertones of dark violence who spends time with Superman and Wonder Woman.
Set him up not as "Junior Batman," but "Social Batman." He's the one the League calls when they need help. He's the one who jet-sets around the world and romances the ladies. He's the one who gets tied up in spy rings in Indonesia. He's the one who invents crazy gadgets, travels through time, and solves murder mysteries in Gorilla City. If anyone should have a Whirly-Bat one-man helicopter, it should be Nightwing.**
In essence, I'd flip the team memberships. Nightwing belongs in the League, the most visible superhero group in the world. Batman belongs with the Outsiders, hiding and fighting the weirder menaces.
This isn't all that different from Marv Wolfman's original interpretation of the character, of his "graduation" from being Robin. (I think.) Because dammit, this approach makes sense. Nightwing is a circus performer by birth, a detective by training, and a whoopass fighter by nature. Robin was created to fill the gaps Batman left. Why not continue that as he reaches maturity?
It would not lessen Batman to have his foster son become a different man in his own right, nor would it rob the character of Batman of anything. It's not like he's fighting four-dimensional pirates on giant appliances these days anyway.
Bring on the Gorilla City murder mysteries and the mad scientists. Dick is ready.
* Granted, I haven’t read Nightwing in a while. I’m going by the reactions of the blogosphere and issue solicits. If I’m wrong about this, please let me know.
** Or me.