The Golden and Silver Ages (1940-1969)
Dick Grayson was introduced in 1940’s DETECTIVE COMICS #38. He then became a fixture of Batman’s world, both as the ward of Bruce Wayne and as a costumed sidekick. Dick featured as a prominent character in BATMAN, DETECTIVE COMICS, WORLD’S FINEST (in which he partnered with both Superman and Batman) and (in solo adventures) STAR-SPANGLED COMICS throughout the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s. He came up against costumed villains, cosmic catastrophes and slice-of-life drama, all in equal measure.
In 1964 the original incarnation of the Teen Titans formed for the first time. Consisting of Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad—soon joined by Wonder Girl —the “Fab Foursome” convened as a team for 53 total issues. Often focused on the youth culture of the day, their stories saw them grooving to pop music, complaining about their respective mentors and battling a rogues gallery of their own.
Though these Golden and Silver Age stories often differed from one another, they had one thing in common: for the first 20 or so years of his existence, Dick Grayson didn’t age. It wouldn’t be until the mid-to-late ’60s that the Boy Wonder would undergo the second stage of his evolution as a Super Hero.
The Bronze Age (1969-1986)
By 1969 the decision was made to move away from the “kid sidekick” days of the Golden Age and allow Dick to grow up. In 1969’s BATMAN #217, readers learned he’d been accepted into Hudson University. He then moved out of Wayne Manor and away from Batman to focus on adventures of his own and with the Teen Titans.
During this time Dick worked closely with Batgirl, a.k.a. Barbara Gordon, in anthology books like 1975’s BATMAN FAMILY. In so doing, the two planted the seeds for one of the longest-running on-again-off-again romances in DC history.
In 1983’s DETECTIVE COMICS #526, Dick finally decided he had outgrown his role as Robin. He knew he wanted to do something new, he just wasn’t entirely sure what that something would be. The transition was made easier by Bruce Wayne taking in a new teen sidekick to mentor—a boy named Jason Todd—to whom Dick gave his blessing, as well as his old costume as a gesture of faith. Shortly thereafter, Dick quit his role as leader of the Teen Titans to do a bit more soul-searching. He soon reintroduced himself to the team as Nightwing, complete with a new blue-and-gold, high-collared costume, in 1984’s THE NEW TEEN TITANS #44.
The Teen Titans would continue under Nightwing’s leadership until 1985’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS event, which rebooted DC’s continuity, including Dick’s transition from Robin to Nightwing. Post-CRISIS, Dick learned he had been replaced as Robin by accident, sparking a dramatic falling-out with Batman that left their relationship a rocky one for years to come.
Rebuilding Bridges (“A Death in the Family,” “Batman: Year Three,” “A Lonely Place of Dying,” 1988-1989)
Dick met Jason Todd for the first time after the CRISIS shake-up in 1988’s BATMAN #416, well after he’d already started working as Robin full-time in the new continuity. Shocked and betrayed by the unceremonious replacement, Dick retreated from Gotham to focus on the Teen Titans full-time yet again. Jason was killed by The Joker later that year in the “A Death in the Family” story arc (BATMAN #426-429) before he and Dick could ever reconcile their relationship.
After learning of Jason’s death (in 1989’s THE NEW TITANS #55), Dick made his way back to Gotham City, where a new drama unfolded. In 1989’s “Batman: Year Three” arc, Dick was forced to simultaneously confront Batman’s erratic grief over the loss of Jason and the return of an unexpected ghost from his past. Tony Zucco, the man responsible for his parents’ murder, had been given parole and was set to walk free once more, forcing Dick to decide how far he was willing to go in seeking vengeance.
Thankfully, before things could get out of control, fate intervened. A young man named Tim Drake had been able to deduce Dick’s identity as the first Robin thanks to a lifetime of obsessive study. Tim had been in the audience at Haly’s Circus the night Dick’s parents were killed, and had spent his young life obsessed with the city’s caped heroes. He noted the disappearance of Jason and Batman’s sudden unhinged behavior. After putting two and two together, Tim tracked Dick down and made an impassioned case for his return to Batman’s side, famously stating that “Batman needs a Robin” during 1989’s “A Lonely Place of Dying” storyline.
Dick, however, did not return to being Robin. Instead, he began training Tim to step in as Bruce’s newest sidekick.
Wearing the Cowl (“Knightfall,” “Prodigal,” 1993-1994)
When Batman’s spine was broken by the villainous Bane in the 1994 event “Knightfall,” Dick was not Bruce’s first choice as a replacement. Instead, the Caped Crusader looked to a new hero called Azrael to fill in.
To say Azrael made of mess of things during his tenure as a substitute Batman would be putting it lightly. He did such a terrible job that Bruce had to come out of recovery early to strip him of his cape and cowl. Bruce banished Azrael from the Batcave and looked to Nightwing for help. In 1995’s “Prodigal” story arc, Dick finally took up the cowl for the first time.
As Batman, Dick worked closely with Tim, now well-established in his role as Robin, in protecting Gotham while Bruce recovered.
The Blüdhaven Years (NIGHTWING vols. 1-2, 1995-2004)
Following the events of “Knightfall,” Nightwing transitioned from his original blue-and-gold costume to a black-and-blue outfit that would serve as his trademark look for decades. He was at last given a full opportunity to establish himself as a solo Super Hero. He earned his first solo title with 1995’s NIGHTWING limited series.
In October of 1996 NIGHTWING vol. 2, Dick’s first ongoing solo series, began when Bruce sent Dick to work a case in Gotham’s sister city of Blüdhaven. Though the assignment was only supposed to be temporary, Dick became heavily invested in the corruption and plight of the city and decided to make the move permanent. He set up shop in an apartment building, using funds from Wayne Enterprises to become its landlord in secret. And he began a tireless effort to turn the town around, one criminal at a time—just like Batman had done with Gotham City.
Over the years, Dick worked tirelessly for the betterment of Blüdhaven. He became an officer in the Blüdhaven Police Department in his civilian identity, so he could patrol the streets during the day while working above the reach of the law at night as Nightwing. He used his apartment as a halfway home for the rehabilitation of misguided villains like Amygdala and as rent-free housing for families who were down on their luck. He even came up against his very own archenemy—a man named Roland Desmond, a.k.a. Blockbuster, the kingpin of the city’s underground.
Stories during this time period also took the chance to retroactively develop parts of Dick’s past. 1997’s BATMAN CHRONICLES: THE GAUNTLET told the story of Dick’s first night as Robin, while 2001’s ROBIN: YEAR ONE expanded upon his first year working in the field. Later, 2005’s “Nightwing: Year One” story arc would flesh out the earliest days of Dick’s transition from Robin to Nightwing.
Back in Blüdhaven, Nightwing and Blockbuster’s feud racked up a brutal body count, pushing both men to their absolute limits. Blockbuster deduced Dick’s civilian identity and systematically destroyed everything he’d ever cared about—his apartment building and everyone he’d worked to save, Haly’s Circus, even his relationship with Barbara Gordon. In 2004’s NIGHTWING #93, things finally came to a dramatic conclusion, leaving Blockbuster dead and Nightwing in crisis.
The Dark Years (“War Games,” THE OUTSIDERS, 2003-2006)
Back in Gotham City, a young hero named Stephanie Brown inadvertently sparked a gang war that ravaged the city and forced Dick to return home to assist during the chaos (2004’s “War Games” storyline).
A different tragedy struck the Titans. A crazed, robotic Superman clone attacked and killed one of Dick’s oldest friends, Donna Troy (formerly known as Wonder Girl) in 2003’s TITANS/YOUNG JUSTICE: GRADUATION DAY. This prompted Dick to disband the Titans for good rather than see another one of his friends hurt or killed in the line of duty.
After the Titans dissolved, Dick’s friend and fellow Teen Titans alumnus Roy Harper (a.k.a. Arsenal) convinced him to form a different group of Super Heroes—one that would avoid the tragedies that had befallen the Titans, by keeping every member at arm’s length.
Dick begrudgingly acquiesced, and together he and Roy formed their own iteration of the Outsiders—a team of Super Heroes first formed by Batman—that was willing to work below the radar on black-ops missions (2003’s THE OUTSIDERS vol. 3). The team remained together for 50 issues through 2007.
Blüdhaven Lost (“Under the Hood,” “One Year Later,” 2005-2009)
2005 saw the resurrection of Jason Todd as the villainous Red Hood. As Red Hood, Jason manipulated a team of villains to stage a troubling demonstration for Batman, whom he blamed for not avenging his death. As Jason forced Bruce to watch from across the bay, the Secret Society of Super-Villains dropped the chemical monster Chemo onto Blüdhaven, effectively nuking the entire city from the air. The effect was devastating, leaving nothing but rubble and ash, with thousands of people dead—and Batman believing Nightwing to be among them (in 2006’s “Under the Hood” storyline).
Fortunately, Dick had not been in the city at the time of the bombing, so his life had been spared. Unfortunately, however, the city he had poured his heart and soul into for so long was no more.
Following 2005’s INFINITE CRISIS event, Dick relocated from the ruined Blüdhaven to New York City (during the “One Year Later” storyline, in 2006’s NIGHTWING #118). He remained there for several years, taking day jobs that ranged from fashion model to museum curator, until yet another crisis forced him to return to Gotham once more.
The Dynamic Duo 2.0 (FINAL CRISIS, “Battle for the Cowl,” BATMAN & ROBIN, 2009-2011)
When Bruce Wayne was plucked from time and believed to be dead in the aftermath of 2009’s FINAL CRISIS event, a power vacuum was left in Gotham. Someone needed to step in as Batman before the city destroyed itself.
There were many contenders for the throne—Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Bruce’s newly revealed biological son, Damian Wayne, even Two-Face (in 2009’s “Battle for the Cowl” storyline). Dick Grayson, despite having reservations about filling in as Batman once more, emerged from the fray victorious. He took on the League of Assassins and trained Damian as his Robin, and together the two of them began a tenuous partnership (in 2009’s BATMAN & ROBIN vol. 1).
Dick and Damian were Gotham’s sole protectors for 15 issues before Bruce was “resurrected.” Rather than force Dick to step down, however, Bruce allowed him to continue working with Damian as Batman and Robin within Gotham while Bruce acted as the Batman in the world at large and in the Justice League. This arrangement lasted until 2011, when the FLASHPOINT event resulted in a reimagined continuity known as the New 52.
The New 52 (NIGHTWING vol. 3, “The Court of Owls,” FOREVER EVIL, 2011-2014)
The early days of the reimagined New 52 continuity introduced the Court of Owls, a secret society that had been running Gotham in secret for centuries. It was revealed that the Court also played a fundamental role in Dick’s newly modified history, tracing all the way back to his distant ancestors.
Dick’s relatives had been connected to the Court as “Talons”—undead, brainwashed assassins who would be activated to do the Court’s bidding when needed—and Dick himself was intended to be the next in line to step into the role, though the murder of his parents and the intervention of Bruce Wayne had thwarted the Court’s plan to indoctrinate him.
The revelation sparked a new rift between Dick and his mentor when it was revealed that Bruce had actually known all along about Dick’s hereditary ties, but had kept them secret. This rift widened after a coordinated attack on the entire Batman Family by The Joker (in 2013’s “Death of the Family” storyline).
The invasion of an evil alternate Justice League, the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3, sparked 2014’s FOREVER EVIL event before any real reparations could be made between Bruce and his family. This event ended with the public outing of Dick as Nightwing and later his apparent death at the hands of the Crime Syndicate.
It turned out Dick had faked his death—a secret only Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor were party to. His secret identity revealed, Dick allowed the rest of the world, even his closest friends and family, to believe he was deceased. At Bruce’s urging, Dick used his status as a dead man to go deep undercover, infiltrating a corrupt spy organization called Spyral.
Agent 37 (GRAYSON, BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL, “Robin War,” 2014-2016)
Dick joined Spyral as a junior agent called Agent 37 (in 2014’s GRAYSON), while he secretly worked to take the organization down.
When disaster struck Gotham City, Dick gave up his mission and returned to Gotham. A fight with The Joker left Bruce an amnesiac with no memory of being Batman (in 2015’s “Endgame” storyline), and Gotham’s remaining heroes as well as the GCPD scrambling to pick up the pieces in his absence.
Shortly after his return, Dick—alongside Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne—became embroiled in a conspiracy about the origins of Bruce’s sidekicks in 2016’s BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL.
Meanwhile, in Batman’s absence, a group of civilian teens had begun patrolling the streets of Gotham as amateur “Robins” (in 2016’s WE ARE ROBIN). In 2016’s “Robin War” storyline, Dick, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne attempted to organize the amateur Robins, both training them and keeping them safe from the clutches of the Court of Owls, which had yet again begun fixating on Dick and his “destiny” to become an assassin for their cause—and were looking for a way to blackmail him into joining them.
By the end of both “Robin War” and the 24-issue BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL, Dick had found a way to regain his secret identity, by activating a repurposed doomsday device that, quite literally, allowed him to make the population of the world forget they had ever known Dick Grayson was Nightwing. Ethical quandaries aside, he made use of the device after deciding he could do more good for the world as a Super Hero than as a spy.
With his secret identity restored, Dick Grayson took to the streets once more as Nightwing following the events of 2016’s DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1.
After reestablishing Blüdhaven as his home base, Dick regained his footing in the Super Hero community and renewed his connections to the Batman Family.