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Nightwing: Is Tom Taylor’s Dick Grayson the Philanthropist That Bludhaven Needs, but Might Not Deserve?

Bree and Rook converse on the closing of Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s first story arc on Nightwing (Issues #78-83). One party thoroughly enjoyed the 6 issues, while the other was not quite as impressed. There is much to be discussed from either camp, read on to find out who thinks what! 

Warning for spoilers on all six issues.

Bree: There’s no denying the technical strengths of everyone involved at every step of creation for all six issues. The art, colors, and lettering are phenomenal, the pacing is consistently great and the dialogue flows very well. 

Rook: Yeah, absolutely. The book had my attention locked in from its very first double-page spread — very deliberately set at dawn in Bludhaven — and it continued to show off how Taylor, Redondo, Lucas, and Abbot are masters of their craft throughout. 

Bree: The bulk of my personal criticisms are likely more indicative of decisions made at various stages of the pitch and editorial process. The ‘big 2’ function somewhat uniquely, and it is quite possible I’ll be eating my own words if/when other books are announced. As it currently stands, Barbara Gordon exists in Nightwing and occasionally Batman and Detective Comics. Her role in Nightwing initially made a lot of sense – a friend had experienced a great amount of trauma and could use some support- but the finale of issue #83 made me realize how underutilized her skill set is in this book. If the Rebirth approach of “everything is canon” still holds up, Barbara would have served as a member of the United States House of Representatives (Detective Comics #423). Even if this Barbara is earlier on in her professional career, I would like to believe that she would still be a better fit as the head of a massive charity operation than someone who hasn’t had any experience with bureaucracy.

Rook: That’s a great point, Bree. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Barbara continued to serve as the brains of Dick’s new Alfred Pennyworth Foundation — her running the logistical end of it, while Dick handled the glad-handing, social politics, and general operations as the face of the charity. Because you’re absolutely right — with or without her political background, Babs is without a doubt the better pick to handle that.

I feel like there are two main reasons we don’t see Barbara with her own foundation. One is just the reality of the setup — Alfred raised Dick, so Dick was his main beneficiary and gets the money to try and turn the city around. 

Two, I think this run’s first arc, “Leaping Into The Light,” has been a statement of purpose: Taylor is in this to evolve Nightwing’s role in the DCU. He’s aiming to maneuver Dick into a position that is arguably long overdue as an A-list major player, and part of that plan is letting his operation become a bright mirror of Bruce Wayne’s setup. Instead of trying to help the world primarily through crime fighting, corporate activism, and shrewd business moves intended to consolidate more wealth for more crime fighting, Dick Grayson wants to solve the biggest non-criminal threats in the city first. He’s not fighting a one-man war, he’s just here to help. That’s a big distinction in the character — he got closure with Zucco that Bruce never could, and as a result, he has a wider view than his mentor. 

Now with the Pennyworth Foundation, Dick has his own way to help a whole city of people. And that’s going to require his famous skills as the most likable, genial guy in the DC universe, because making a charity like this work is going to require a ton of charisma. After all, if he wants to help the city, he’s going to have to partner with public officials, navigate fundraising events, all sorts of that crap. 

Then there’s the secret third reason, which is that there may be a Batgirls book in the making that could occupy a lot of Barbara’s time in the future. Here’s hoping she gets to be Oracle in some capacity in all of these bat-books because I’m really enjoying the distinct dynamics she has with each cast. 

Bree: I have a hard time wrapping my head around Dick being “likable” on that kind of scale and on that type of stage. Some of my favorite moments of his are when he’s had slightly too much for one day and some sarcasm slips through (“Do I get a kiss? It’s just that I like a kiss when I’m getting screwed”, the time he barricaded himself in a cave to avoid Donna asking him questions he didn’t want to answer). It keeps him feeling human. The most snark he’s had in Taylor’s run thus far is saying “acab” once. 

Charities as massive bureaucracies can be a hell of their own making; we don’t know the scope of the Pennyworth Foundation quite yet but the implication that some of it will be international is slightly concerning for me. The problem with a lot of corporate activism and large-scale charities is they often rely on top-down decision-making, and the people in the boardroom making said decisions are very removed from the actual crisis at hand. The lack of transparency about how the money is being spent can lead to corruption and embezzlement as well. Dick still currently owns all of his inherited wealth, he will be signing the checks and therefore he is still participating in top-down decision making. The people he’s talking to are functionally his employees, this isn’t a non-profit co-operative. The game hasn’t changed, the reader is currently supposed to believe Dick will be an ethical billionaire simply because he is an ethical person. There has been no shift in how wealth is owned and redistributed. The story has the potential to be very leftist in optics but ultimately neoliberal on a functional level. 

The people that are often doing the most work are often the least talked about because they’re too busy doing. When it comes to mutual aid networks and grassroots organizing (which is what Dick is currently positioning the Pennyworth to be, or at least borrowing the language a lot of these orgs use), you don’t necessarily need a face to represent the whole org. One of the most effective ones I’m familiar with is Common Grounds. They started by organizing aid for those affected by Katrina, and now operate in many different states with a roster of staff and volunteers in the 30,000s. Scott Crow (one of the initial founders) was on Robert Evans’ podcast (Worst Year Ever) and talked about how they initially had a tiny, public office and kept all cash donations in a shoebox. They are effective because they operate as a non-profit co-operative, every team is empowered to make their own decisions about their allotted funds. I think all of those tidbits make for an interesting podcast, but I am unsure it’ll work within the DCU. 

Taylor is steering into tackling very real and very topical issues. Why is there a housing shortage when you could get a few Speedsters and a Kryptionan to build (at least) a house a day? Starfire and Donna can fly all the trash to the dump in minutes. I think there’s a way to go about it in which every problem can exist in the context of the threats the DCU offers, i.e. how do you rebuild after Darkseid scorches half the earth? Personally, I’d probably prefer that than an attempt to borrow directly from life. Telling real stories without sensationalizing them or caricaturing (i.e. the helpers versus the helped) would be a near-impossible line to tread within the DC imprint. The medium is the message.

Rook: Yeah, that’s absolutely something to be wary of. Charity operations can really let their initial promises fall by the wayside when partnering with massive corporate organizations. 

I think you make a great point here about how Taylor is walking the book into some seriously thorny territory by using real-world issues in a universe that isn’t always compatible with real-world problems. When you make it clear that Nightwing can virtually end homelessness in a city with his wealth, it makes you wonder why Batman hasn’t done the same thing. (The answer is probably that supercrime is a much larger problem in the DCU than in ours, so it eats up more of Bruce’s budget, but that doesn’t feel like a particularly satisfying answer even if it’s built into the genre.) 

I’m definitely interested in seeing what you describe, dealing with DCU-scale problems that parallel our own world’s issues without trivializing them. Frankly, I’d love to see more of that kind of worldbuilding and subject matter. However, I think hewing closely to real-world issues has a specific advantage.

I’m mostly thinking of the bit in Dick’s issue 6 speech, where he begins by saying “I don’t think there’s anything heroic about being a billionaire.” Despite everything, large segments of liberals and conservatives alike worship at the altar of Musk and Bezos. That is heavily influenced by Tony Stark’s status as a messianic figure at the center of the biggest pop culture franchise in the world. (And Bruce Wayne helped pave the way for that.) 

Framing the act of being a billionaire for what it is — hoarding money — is a pretty bold move, one I’m not sure DC’s editorial will be willing to commit to. Still, it has so much power in this Nightwing arc specifically because it’s so close to a real-world issue. Maybe this is giving Tom Taylor a little too much credit, but I think he’s trying to redefine what being a billionaire hero means. Punching Ultron or the Joker with expensive tech is great, and an important part of the genre, but our heroes need to use their wealth to deal with problems like homelessness that our society overlooks. 

Bree: Lastly, Dick doesn’t really demonstrate any flaws that aren’t also endearing. He does admit to being “off” due to his recent injury many times, but it’s likely that will eventually heal. Or be forgotten by whomever takes over the book next. He’s attractive, he’s fit, he’s kind, he’s smart, he’s skilled, and he’s now incredibly wealthy. I’m aware that he’s always been a well-rounded and capable person- and that’s part of why he’s a character that’s easy to love- but the needle is moving a bit too far for me. This is especially apparent in his relationship with Babs. We don’t really know what she’s thinking because her perspective in any book is currently minimal, but we don’t even need to because why would she reject someone like that? The initial ‘conflict’ they had pre issue #83 felt manufactured, in my opinion. A very Hallmark movie “will they won’t they”, in which you know they will because they’re both well-adjusted, attractive people in their late 20s/early 30s with similar goals and ideals. Although, Taylor is certainly not the first to manufacture similar drama with those characters, in all fairness. 

Rook: You make great points, particularly about how flat the conflict with Dick’s relationships has been. I’d attribute that to all of this arc being setup, but that’s definitely not going to work for everyone and it’s dependent on the story sticking the landing.  

You’re absolutely right that Dick seems a little too perfect — it strikes me as consistent with his characterization in books like Grayson and Batman & Robin, but less so with (what I’ve seen of) his appearances in the Teen Titans. 

Still, I’m not quite sure Dick doesn’t have any flaws in this run. The big one that always sticks out in my mind is overreach. We downplay it a lot because wanting to be everything for everybody and help as many people as possible is, well, admirable. But I think it’s very deliberate that Dick gets gradually more battered as these issues play out. If he sees there’s someone to help, Dick Grayson will always put himself last in line. That really wears on a person and putting yourself through that can lead to mistakes and unintended consequences. 

Basically, things worked out this time because it’s Nightwing’s first leap into the light, but putting himself last might lead to some serious consequences down the line. And hey, maybe I’m giving the creative team a little too much credit here, but I feel like they’ve set up a variety of circumstances that will really test Dick in the future. Melinda Zucco, Heartless, and Blockbuster all complicate his life quite a bit in different ways, and I’m looking forward to the trials he’s going to go through as a result. (Sorry, Dick.)