Batman is an icon to anyone who knows the character. For the past eighty years, the Dark Knight’s presentation as a hero has shifted, from campy crusader to noir detective. Despite all of the various interpretations of the caped crusader, the fundamental idea stands: someone who harnesses the darkness around him into something good. Batman symbolizes becoming the best version of yourself, despite the trauma and hardships of life. Most importantly, Batman harnesses the darkness to provide a light for others, creating a brighter tomorrow. The question must be asked, then: if Bruce Wayne is not the one wearing the cape and cowl, who can carry on the mantle of Batman? Who can bring light to those in the darkness? Grant Morrison, legendary Batman writer, answered this question during his seven-year epic on the title.
Bruce Wayne seems as if he were destined to be the only Batman. After the murder of his parents, Wayne grew up as a tortured soul, crying out for justice which he never received. Indeed, when Morrison discussed the central idea of his Batman saga, he said, “I chose to build my story around the basic trauma, the murder of his parents that lies at the heart of Batman’s genesis”. Making such a traumatic event the centerpiece of Morrison’s storyline indicates its necessity to the character of Batman. Furthermore, Wayne uses his childhood trauma as a driving force which pushes him to his physical and mental limit as a crime-fighter. Speaking about the character of Bruce Wayne, Morrison says, “This was a man who had tamed and mastered his demons and turned personal tragedy into a relentless humanitarian crusade”. The relentless commitment to preventing any further tragedy is a core component of the Batman character, generating from Wayne’s personal history. Wayne becomes a true force for good, evolving into an inspiration to others as well. Morrison agrees, describing Wayne as “a true superhero at the height of his powers and the peak of his abilities, surrounded by a network of friends and associates, all of whom had been inspired by his lead”. Wayne’s intense dedication, resulting from a desire for justice, makes him the perfect embodiment of the Batman ideal. Yet when Wayne is no longer around, it is those whom he has inspired that must uphold the Batman legacy.
The first to be inspired by Batman’s example was the original Robin, Dick Grayson. Raised as a circus acrobat, Grayson experienced a much brighter childhood than Wayne. Even after his parents were murdered, Grayson kept a light-hearted, fun-loving attitude. Morrison sees many of the good qualities in Grayson, saying, “I kind of always saw him as the quintessential superhero–you know, he’s the first-ever sidekick and he’s grown up. He’s pretty relaxed. He’s handled the traumas in a way that maybe Batman even hadn’t done it”. Grayson owes much of his well-adjusted nature to Wayne, who adopted him, in addition to making him the first Robin. By helping Grayson find justice for his parents, Wayne made sure to protect him from the same demons with which Wayne struggled. From there, Grayson grew up to become his own hero, Nightwing, joining teams such as the Teen Titans and making many friends along the way. The close social connections upon which Grayson relies define him as a character. Whether he is a member of the Teen Titans, an older brother to other Robins, or just a friendly ear for those around him, Grayson maintains a social nature about him. Many of Grayson’s endearing qualities indicate how different he is from Wayne. Instead of using the darkness to create light, Grayson thrives on the light, acting to brighten everything around him. When Grayson became Batman, he embodied a totally different type of caped crusader. Morrison clarifies, saying, “I like this idea of having this more relaxed, light-hearted Batman who’s very acrobatic. He’s very physical in a very different way”. The personal and physical differences which Grayson bring to the table make for an interesting experiment in the Batman title. Gone are the darkness and the trauma behind the character, replaced by a lighter tone of crime-fighter. Of course, only extreme circumstances could warrant Grayson stepping into his mentor’s shoes.
After a series of complicated comic book shenanigans in Morrison’s DC crossover, Final Crisis, Batman was presumed dead, leaving a void in Gotham City. Someone had to take up the Dark Knight’s mantle, lest his legacy fall into the hands of someone like Jason Todd, aka the Red Hood. Todd was the second Robin, informed more by pain than altruism. In order to protect the legacy of his mentor, Grayson finally chose to become Batman. The role was not an easy one to inherit, however. Grayson was initially quite uncomfortable in the cowl, as he and Wayne were such different people. Wayne was a planner, while Grayson improvised. Wayne thrived on darkness, while Grayson fought in the light of day. Yet it is this clash of qualities which made Grayson such a fascinating take on the role of Batman. Grayson joked around, he was friendly with others, and ultimately stayed true to his own personality. As a natural performer, Grayson made the role of Batman his own. Additionally, Grayson took in Wayne’s own son, Damian, as the new Robin. The new dynamic duo helped Grayson develop as Batman, as Morrison notes, “He was never really in the Batman role; he was always pretending. But by giving him his own, definite Robin, I think it actually elevated Grayson into being a real Batman”. While Bruce Wayne was away, it was time for Grayson to bring his own unique perspective to the cape and cowl.
With this unique Batman came some unique new adversaries as well. One major foe who emerged during Grayson’s tenure is Professor Pyg. A deranged scientist turned supervillain, Pyg kidnapped several victims, turning them into mind-controlled puppets for his amusement. Villains such as this hearkened back to Grayson’s days as the original Robin, with all of the ridiculous gimmicks and homicidal tendencies of classic Batman foes. Grayson also contended with Jason Todd once more, along with Todd’s own sidekick, Scarlet. Todd and Scarlet acted as foils for Grayson and Damian, challenging their claim to the legacy of Batman. The rivalry between Grayson and Todd emphasizes the multi-faceted legacy of Batman, as one Robin followed in his mentor’s footsteps, while the other rebelled into a killer. Morrison made sure to include recurring villains throughout his run, including Dr. Hurt, who fought both Wayne and Grayson. A vicious killer obsessed with the Waynes, Dr. Hurt represents the fears and insecurities which Wayne has about his family. Grayson, in continuing the fight against Dr. Hurt, picks up where his mentor left off. Grayson not only protects the legacy of Batman, but of Bruce Wayne as well.
The largest contrast between Wayne and Grayson, however, came in their dynamic with Robin, the boy wonder. When Grayson was Robin, he acted as the light to Batman’s darkness. Robin’s bright, colorful personality complemented the brooding, mysterious persona of Batman. When Grayson became Batman, however, the roles reversed. Damian Wayne, the new Robin, had none of the light-hearted attitude of previous Robins. Raised by the League of Assassins, Damian was very much his father’s son in attitude and intensity. With Damian in the role of Robin, Grayson became the lighter Batman to Damian’s violent, edgy version of Robin. Morrison was very excited about this shift, saying, “I think the relationship between Dick Grayson and Damian was just so fresh and so new and it still felt like Batman but it really opened up a lot of doors for characterization that hadn’t been there before”. Indeed, Grayson became the big brother that Damian never had, guiding him onto a kinder, gentler path. Furthermore, supporting characters such as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon became more involved than before. Grayson’s natural connection with others lends itself well to a partnership with Gordon and the Gotham Police. Alfred continued guiding Grayson on his path as Batman, just as he helped Grayson as Robin and Nightwing. While Wayne always maintained relationships with both Gordon and Alfred, he was always more closed off, reluctant to ask for help. Grayson, on the other hand, is a refreshing “people-person” as Batman.
Overall, Grayson’s tenure as Batman was quite brief, from August 2009 to August 2011. Yet his time in the cape and cowl did not seem like it was meant to last. Bruce Wayne returned to life in 2010, during the Return of Bruce Wayne storyline. Afterwards, Wayne went around the world to start Batman Incorporated, an international army of Batmen. While Wayne was away, Grayson remained the Batman of Gotham, allowing two Batmen to coexist for a time. While it was fun to see both Wayne and Grayson as Batman, this status quo merely felt like a small story arc in Morrison’s overarching storyline. Batman Incorporated certainly was not going to last forever, and eventually, Wayne would return to Gotham. With Wayne alive and in Gotham, Grayson could return to the role of Nightwing. Indeed, in September of 2011, when DC launched its New 52 initiative, both Wayne and Grayson returned to their respective roles of Batman and Nightwing. Bruce and Damian Wayne even became a father-son dynamic duo in the Batman and Robin title. New storytelling possibilities emerged in pairing up Bruce and Damian Wayne, as Morrison says, “It’s really Damian relating to his father for the first time in a big way and the two of them trying to find some kind of common ground, which they don’t really have”. While Grayson had a fun tenure as Batman, it was time for another paradigm shift.
Ultimately, Morrison opened up the doors for plenty of new stories by making Dick Grayson Batman. Yet this could only be a temporary change. Dick Grayson’s time as the Dark Knight was only a part of the massive epic which Morrison told about Batman. It was fun seeing a different kind of Batman: light-hearted, funny, and emotionally well-adjusted. The new dynamic between Batman and Robin also brought lots of fun to the table as well. These paradigm shifts, however, directly contrasted the essential elements of Batman: creating light out of darkness, the intense drive to do good, and Bruce Wayne’s brilliant mind. Bruce Wayne is the only one who can embody these elements, becoming the quintessential Batman. Like Morrison said, “What son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?” Similarly, Grayson has already become Nightwing, his own superhero. Forever casting Grayson as Batman would only keep him in his mentor’s shadow. Nightwing exemplifies how Grayson is his own man, with his own methods of crime-fighting. Dick Grayson’s identity as Nightwing makes him more than just a former Robin, it makes him his own hero. While it is fun to see Grayson play the role of Batman, only Bruce Wayne is Batman.
That’s all for this week. Thank’s for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! Check back next week for another legacy post!