Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Favorite Character in Comics

In honor my recent run of comics-related articles on BleedingCool.com I want to talk about my favorite character and first experience meeting a writer.

Kyle Higgins wrote his last issue of Nightwing last month after almost three years on the comic. He has written every issue since the New 52 relaunch and has undoubtedly became my all-time favorite writer of the character.  The reason why I have always liked Nightwing is because he has a lot of the facets that I love about Batman - the realism of having no powers and the resolve to find strength in the face of great tragedy - but with an altogether healthier outlook on life.  Being Batman's sidekick allowed him to crack jokes and be a little less paranoid while growing up with him as a father figure helped him become a hero but never lose his smile.  An idealistic notion of a human being but aren't all those who wear capes and cowls? This was a hero I always found relatable and during my first big comic-con experience I got to share that passion with Higgins at the Javits Center in October 2011.

As the enormous late morning crowd had trapped me in a slow-moving line to nowhere in-between a video game demonstration and the abyss of fandom that was the autograph section, I began having idle conversation with a familiar-looking face. Suddenly it dawned on me who he was and my wholly-inappropriate response to discovering his identity was:

 "Wait...are you ****ing Kyle Higgins ?!"

He was kind enough to let that slide - although looking back he did not exactly have an escape path at that moment - and for the next few minutes I was able to talk to the man who was writing my favorite character in comics. At the time of this meeting, only the first issue of his run had been released but had already given me high-hopes for the future therefore putting him at the top of my list for autographs. When I mentioned to him that Nightwing was my favorite comic book character, to my excitement, he revealed that was something we had in common. Even as the crowd slowly dissipated he stuck around and discussed his passion for the character with me before signing my book. After that conversation, I was certain that Nightwing was in good hands... and I was right. Fast-forward a couple years and my ever favorite run on the character, Higgins revealed that he was leaving the book on his Facebook page:

 So here’s something I’ve put off writing for a while. On Tuesday, DC solicits for April 2014 hit. They’ll introduce a new creative team on NIGHTWING which, sadly, I won’t be a part of.
It’s a weird feeling to leave the book after almost three years, and even though I would love nothing more than to write Dick Grayson for another fifty or sixty issues, it’s time to move on. (In that spirit, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention BATMAN BEYOND 2.0 and C.O.W.L…two of the books I am currently working on, which are also– both in their own way– helping to curb the Grayson withdrawal :-)
I’ve talked many times about my love for Nightwing. He was the hero I grew up with, the book that got me collecting, and the inspiration for my first film. For all those reasons, I had a lot of reservations about launching his New 52 series. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if DC wouldn’t let me tell the stories I wanted? What if people hated it? What if I hated it?
As much pressure as I felt about doing DG justice, the truth is there’s very little I ever could have done to break him. He’s an amazing character who’s been around for almost seventy five years and will still be around long after I’m gone. Instead of thinking about what I’ve been able to do for DG, I’ve found it much better to think about what DG has been able to do for me. In that regard, I’ll only ever be able to look at my time on Nightwing and smile. Why?
Because Dick Grayson made me a better writer.
All good things must come to an end and are a lot easier to swallow when paired with an earnest display of humility and gratitude. In response, let me just say "thank you" and I look forward to your continued success in whatever projects you choose to pursue in the future. Meanwhile, I will have to remind myself to add C.O.W.L to my pull list.
Like Higgins, Nightwing was the first series I started collecting when I became interested in comic books. Actually, it was Nightwing and Ultimate Spider-Man, but largely for the same reason. Unlike the vast majority of mainstream super-heroes the journey of these two characters is always about growth and transformation.
Sure, those themes present themselves from time-to-time in the tales of all super-heroes but with these two it is ingrained in their characters from their origins onward. Despite my love for Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man, including Miles Morales, I personally find Nightwing even more interesting than Spider-Man or Batman.

While Peter Parker became a hero after a freak accident gave him super-powers and tragic circumstances brought him face-to-face with the weight of his new-found responsibilities, Dick Grayson never had the benefit of super powers.  He was given the opportunity to help as Robin and then chose the life for himself. In my view, Batman's greatest victory is helping to form a better hero than himself because Nightwing is not driven by tragedy and inner demons but instead by genuine altruism and dedication...and yes, a lot of money for vehicles and grappling guns but hey its comics so I let that slide. Over the years he has opened up his shop of good works in Gotham, New York City, Titans Tower, Bludhaven and Chicago...which is a lot like real life in that he never completely outgrows the shadow of his past but simply grows into his own man by being a hero wherever and whenever one is needed.

In a departure from the obsessed approach of Batman, Dick sometimes takes a break to get laid or is the best friend he can be to his Teen Titans rather than always crime-fighting. Or at least before the New 52 ret-con.  Recently he took over the role of Batman for a temporarily dead (time-displaced is more accurate) Bruce Wayne and helped instill humanity in an impossibly competent but tragically immoral Robin in Damian Wayne. Just before Damian's death, in Grant Morrisons' epic series Batman Inc., his final words to Dick before sacrificing himself were: "So far you've been my favorite partner. We were the best, no matter what anybody says," which is telling.

Now it seems my favorite character is headed for another transformation as his central role in the New 52's first big event, coupled with the recent announcement that he will appear in the upcoming Batman-Superman film, makes me believe the future is bright for Dick Grayson. DC recently announced a new series, written by Tim Seely (Revival) and former CIA officer Tom King, where Grayson will dish out non-vigilante justice which I think sounds awesome and has endless creative possibilities.
As I have stated before, I personally find that reading most mainstream comic books often feels like you're ingesting the same stories ad nauseam. Oh Superman saves Metropolis from so-and-so but there is bigger threat looming and they have Kryptonite...uh-oh there's another psychotic band of super-criminals on the loose in Gotham City and Batman has to come face-to-face with his inner demons in order to stop them...damn Supergirl is hot and also punches bad guys and flies and stuff. The publishers bottom line relies on those stories to maintain a healthy bottom line. But, from my perspective, Nightwing has never fallen off the tight rope of semi-realism. This view is shared by many including the writer of Image Comics staple, Invincible, who named his main character Grayson in honor of Nightwing/Dick Grayson.

Like Spider-Man, Nightwing has always been a hero whose greatest strength was his ability to smile and enjoy a life of altruistic service to his community while maintaining strong relationships coupled with general badassery. But what really made me connect to him was that, unlike Spider-Man or any other character I can think of, Nightwing is a character who is in constant transition. From where he lives, what he does for a day job, who he associates with there have always been changes to his status quo. Now it appears that he is headed for another transformation, perhaps as a public hero or perhaps as an hipster chick, but I take solace in knowing that his legacy will always be that of a young man with no powers other than his ability to be an ass-kicking light of hope and justice in a world of crime-ridden darkness. If Batman became fear to overcome darkness, then as Robin he became hope to light his way. Then he went off on his own as Nightwing to do good works on his own while honoring his past. That's a life-long commitment that I, as an emotionally-subnormal adult, can rationalize a lot easier than most mainstream heroes.

Hopefully the bigger spotlight will show only serve to shine that light brighter. If the new creative team is anything like Kyle Higgins, I don't think I will be disappointed.

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