Sunday, March 6, 2016

Editorial # 3 - "They Love the Dick..."

By no means would I ever consider myself what is referred to in the modern parlance of our times as "a shipper." However, in comic books as in life and all long form storytelling, issues of love and romantic entanglement do tend to pop up. Dick Grayson has existed as a character for over 75 years now. Suffice it to say that in that time, he's had more than a few ladies in his life.
I have never claimed to be a Dick Grayson expert. That's Tom Panarese, although I doubt he would ever try to make the claim himself. Like it says in the header for this blog, I am simply a fan; maybe a little more knowledgeable than most, but still just a layman. What I do have is roughly 35 years of fandom to pull from and, even just in that time, I know that if he were ever to give up the hero gig, Grayson could live quite comfortably off of his sexual conquests throughout the DCU. The full list of ladies he's been involved with is pretty extensive. I decided to discuss just a few of them in this article. I'll give my personal feelings on the whole deal at the end.
  • Bette Kane  - The controversy surrounding Batman and Robin's relationship resulting from Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the subsequent Congressional hearings caused DC Comics to create female love interests for both Batman and Robin. Kathy Kane was already the first Bat-Woman to Bruce Wayne's Batman and her niece Bette was introduced as the first Bat-Girl. Bette was a tennis champ with as unflattering a super hero costume as her aunt's, but didn't catch on the way her aunt's character did. Eventually, the Bette Kane character was abandoned to languish in limbo for years. She wouldn't be touched on again until the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths annual of Secret Origins that updated the origin of the Teen Titans. This time around, Kathy Kane's Bat-Woman didn't exist so Bette was retconned to have been a fangirl with a Robin crush. She never became Bat-girl, instead taking the much cooler (in my opinion) and then unused hero name Flamebird adopting a costume in order to get his attention. The tactic failed. Robin rejected her. This time, when she went back to tennis, she continued to operate as a part-time hero in the on/off Titans West team. She continued to attempt to impress Nightwing with her prowess. The last time came when he blew up at her cruelly and unnecessarily, telling her that she was essentially a wannabe and was going to get herself killed. She instead got a new, much improved costume (which ironically had a similar design to Nightwing's own) and recommitted herself to being a better hero than ever, this time for herself. When the New 52 came around, Bette was de-aged and her superhero origin was mostly undefined although any tie between her and Nightwing seems to have been severed. She was now the cousin of current Batwoman Kate Kane, starting out as Flamebird before becoming her cousin's protégé temporarily called Plebe before adopting the slightly less terribly name Hawkfire. Interestingly, although the main DCU never made anything really happen between Dick and Bette, the two did have a one night stand in the Young Justice animated tie in book. The tryst was implied more than shown and apparently anonymous since she didn't realize that they'd gone to high school together until she noticed his Gotham Academy yearbook the next morning. She also realized that she was now, "the older woman. But not that much older, I promise."
  • Donna Troy The continuity-challenged Donna Troy, formerly known as Wonder Girl, Troia, and Darkstar, has an very long, intense history with Mr. Grayson from their time growing up together as members of the Teen Titans. Dick and Donna never had a romantic relationship, but legendary New Teen Titans writer Marv Wolfman has said several times that, when he started on the book, he planned to have the two of them get together. Apparently, the idea was rejected by DC editorial. Part of Wolfman and Pérez's impetus for creating Starfire at the New Teen Titans' inception was to replace Donna in the love story while still having a compelling, hot character as Dick's primary love interest. Donna instead married the creepily older-looking Terry Long with whom she would eventually have a son, becoming a successful photographer, and the closest thing in the world Dick has to a sister. Dick hand picked Donna as his successor to lead the Titans whenever he left. Her death at the hands of a malfunctioning Superman robot had a profoundly harmful effect on Dick which caused him to disband the then-current incarnation of the Titans and left him unwilling to connect on any emotional level with the members of his next team, the Outsiders. She eventually returned to life as a central character of the DCU. During her stint as Wonder Woman and Dick's concurrent time as Batman, she was instrumental in getting him to join her and several of their other former Titans teammates as members of the Justice League. Donna was a very late comer to the New 52 with a wildly different history than in the earlier continuity. Neither she nor Dick had any history with the Titans, teen or otherwise. DC's current maxi-series Titans Hunt by writer Andy Diggle has the all-important, incredibly challenging task of weaving the original Titans into the framework of present DC continuity.
  • Koriand'r Starfire first appeared in New Teen Titans # 1. This powerful, stunningly beautiful, exiled warrior princess from the planet Tamaran stole a young Dick Grayson's heart from the moment they met when she kissed him to learn the local language upon landing on Earth. The two of them were almost inseparable through hundreds of adventures all over the planet and to other worlds, galaxies, and dimensions. Even her marriage of state to a prince from the other side of Tamaran had little long term impact on their relationship. While defending Abigail Arcane's right to love Swamp Thing despite his being of another species, Batman refers to the relationship between Starfire and his former protégé indicating there is evidence of the orange-skinned Tamaraneans having descended from cats. Kori matured significantly over the course of her existence as a character although she never lost her sharp emotional edge or her fierce sexually independent nature. Kori and Dick's romance did eventually fail. During their time as members of the Outsiders, the two of them had a no-strings-attached sexual relationship which ended with her asking Dick if he really loved her any longer. He told her that he did and always would, but when she pressed for more clarification, he admitted that he wasn't actually in love with her anymore. There are a few scenes that indicate some New 52 romantic history between Kori and Dick prior to the first issue of Red Hood & the Outlaws. However, Kori's New 52 incarnation was initially depicted as, essentially, a shallow sex bot. She jumped from sleeping with Jason Todd to his best friend and partner Roy Harper in a move that seemed to have the same emotional impact as filling up the fuel tank in a car. The only time she appeared to be anything more than a sex object in the series was during the team's space adventure when she took command of her former squadron and captained her shipmates to victory. Interestingly, during DC's Convergence event, in Convergence: New Teen Titans, set at a point after Kori's marriage to Ryandr, Dick and Kori married during the year the Titans spent under Telos' dome. Starfire is currently starring in her own self-titled series highlighting her experiences in Key West, FL as a stranger on a strange world. I know that Starfire just ran into Dick in his current role as Agent 37 but I don't really know much about how that interaction turned out.
  • Bridget Clancy - Dick's early days as the protector of Blüdhaven were incrementally brightened by his initially blind flirtation with this Chinese-born, Irish-bred superintendent and landlady of his apartment building. The two dated briefly, while Dick was employed as a Blüdhaven police officer. They broke up amicably, preferring to remain friends. Clancy accepted a Wayne Foundation scholarship to a New York City medical school which had the unforeseen but fortunate side effect of saving her life when Roland Desmond had the apartment building burned to the ground. The fire killed all but two residents, one of whom was Dick Grayson. She has not appeared in the New 52.
  • Helena Wayne – Before the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a middle aged Earth 2 Robin/Dick Grayson and this daughter of the Earth 2 Batman and Catwoman, who called herself the Huntress, were partners in both business and crime fighting. They also shared a mutual attraction that both felt uncomfortable about for different reasons. These versions of Huntress and Robin died together and had their existences wiped away by the Crisis like most of DC's characters who had modern analogues from or related to the Golden Age. They were reintroduced in 52. Flashpoint rewrote Helena Wayne's story again and she was given a her own pretty good mini-series before moving on to star with her long-time best friend Power Girl in Worlds' Finest with their adventures continuing through Earth-2, Earth-2: World's End, and Earth-2: Society. She no longer has any real connection to the current Earth-2 Dick Grayson, but Convergence: Detective Comics saw Helena Wayne convincing the adult Robin to assume the role of her deceased father as Batman.
  • Helena Bertinelli – The Huntress was too good an idea for DC to fully let go of after Crisis. However, it did remove her entire parentage and origin from DC history, so they had to come up with a new reason and way for her to be around. The character was re-imagined as the last surviving member of the Bertinelli crime family. Having escaped the family's assassination by a rival mob, she was sent to Sicily where she learned the skills she needed to begin her vengeance years later as the violent vigilante called the Huntress. Her extreme methods put her at odds with Batman and his associates early on, but she eventually earned their respect and trust. During her time as a Gotham high school teacher, she and Nightwing worked together on a case and had a brief affair. She spent a short period as a member of the Justice League before becoming a top agent of the Birds of Prey where she developed a sisterly bond with Black Canary (Dinah Lance) and Oracle (Barbara Gordon) despite some initial tension between herself and Barbara. She substituted for Arsenal with the Outsiders while he recovered from multiple gunshot wounds. During this time with the team, she also took advantage of the opportunity to tease Nightwing about still wanting her. She ended her time with the team by passionately kissing Arsenal. As she walked out Nightwing deduced that Arsenal and Huntress had slept together at some point. Huntress became good friends and partners with Renee Montoya in her guise as the second Question. Initially assumed to be deceased at the beginning of the New 52, the now bi-racial Helena Bertinelli had her identity stolen by the displaced Helena Wayne. When Dick Grayson could no longer operate as Nightwing after having his identity revealed and the world believing he was dead, Helena Bertinelli was shown as a high ranking member of Spyral, the same spy organization that Batman had asked Dick to infiltrate. Helena and Dick became partners at Spyral until she eventually took over as its chief. There has been some romantic tension implied between Dick and Helena but nothing has yet come of it. The two are shown to be in love during the possible future depicted in Grayson: Future's End.
  • Barbara Gordon – Debuting as Batgirl on the 1966 “Batman” television show, Barbara Gordon proved to be so popular that she was quickly brought into the comic books. Although some early flirtations were implied between Dick and Babs, she was much older than he in her original incarnation. In fact, he ended up serving as one of her aides during her time as a congresswoman. Many retcons later, Post-Crisis Dick and Babs were roughly the same age. She might have had a couple of years on him, but it was nothing that seemed too out of bounds. This time around, Babs was Dick's first big crush. Not much was done with the idea at the time because he was involved with Starfire all through the 80s and part of the 90s. In fact, it wasn't until after she was shot by Joker, effectively ending her superhero career, and had spent several years operating as Oracle, that Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon finally decided to pursue a romantic relationship. Barbara had been a competent superhero, but as Oracle she was a true powerhouse; the best hacker on the planet and chief information broker to Earth's superhero community. Her services were instrumental to the Justice League numerous times. She even took things a step further by enlisting several heroes to her side as the Birds of Prey. Her first attempt at running a hero as her agent resulted in a disastrous mission for Power Girl and the two were on very uneasy terms for a long time. She was far more successful with her second agent, Black Canary, recruiting Dinah at a very low point in her life both personally and professionally. The Birds of Prey was a two person show for a long time with Canary in the field and Oracle behind the scenes. Eventually, the two took on more operatives with Canary acting as the field leader and Oracle running the show. Dinah and Barbara's friendship is almost deeper than anything either of them has with any other person in their lives and has continued into current DC continuity. After getting together, Dick and Barbara spent several years as a couple. They had a really strong, though sometimes rocky, relationship that was often hampered by Dick tending to see her as the Batgirl she had been in what she thought he saw as her more exciting times. A particularly low point in their relationship culminated in his proposing marriage to her before going off to spend some time traveling with his adoptive father, Bruce Wayne, while Dick recovered from injuries he'd incurred during the events of Infinite Crisis. The proposal did not go his way. Although they would both pretty much always be each other's greatest loves, they could never really fully connect after she turned him down. I honestly don't recall him really falling for anyone else since the two of them broke things off. Post Flashpoint, Barbara is back in the cowl as Batgirl in a move that was both reductive to the character and to the diversity of the overall DC Universe. It has been shown several times that Dick and Barbara have a romantic history together that complicates things for both of them due mostly to very poor timing. He asked her to move to Chicago with him and she balked at the idea at first because her boyfriend at the time was in the hospital. When she changed her mind the next morning, it was already too late as Dick had left without her. After he resurfaced as a spy and Barbara got over her initial anger at not being privy to the secret that he was alive, he tried to move on her again causing some tension in her budding relationship with Luke Fox, aka. Batwing. As depicted in Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle, Dick and Babs got back together with him once again operating in the field and her acting as the brains of the operation. After overcoming a very violent version of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the two of them finally tied the knot. Dick and Babs' romance has been a fact of both the DC Animated Universe and Young Justice. In the DCAU, Dick discovered Barbara's secret life as Batgirl and that Batman had been aware of her activities the entire time. Batman's reluctance to share the secret with his partner resulted in Robin punching Batman in the face, dissolving their partnership, breaking up with Barbara, and leaving for Gotham for a year to become Nightwing. A flashback scene from Batman Beyond hints that Bruce and Barbara had a fling at some point after the break up.
  • Sonia Branch – While their relationship never got very far, Dick's flirtation with Sonia Branch is indicative of his personality in the New 52. Dick's life is in constant forward motion. The evidence of that fact is that he started a business relationship with the daughter of the man who killed his parents. Born Sonia Zucco, daughter of Tony Zucco, Sonia entered Dick's life as president of the bank he approached to fund the renovation of Gotham's Amusement Mile fairgrounds as the new home of Haly's Circus. Sonia and Dick grew closer over time, becoming friends and almost something more. Her embarrassment over her father's actions caused her to hesitate in giving Dick the information that she had recently learned that Tony Zucco was still alive. Dick captured the murderer in a story arc that will be discussed later on this site. Sonia visited her father in prison, rebuffing him. She also briefly returned to Dick's life to apologize for what happened and failed to happen between them.
Like I said earlier, I am not a “shipper”. That said, I do have some ideas about Dick's personal life. Firstly, I am actually not a fan of either of the two big relationships in Dick Grayson's long history. Nothing against either Babs or Kori, I just don't find either relationship to be very healthy for him or compelling for me.
Barbara is a great character, but their fascination with each other seems more like a first crush that they never outgrew and should have. I like the fact that their New 52 timing sucks. It shows that they are not actually in the same place emotionally and that they probably never will be. In my opinion, this relationship works best as a “one that got away” story. They appear to have less in common as their individual characters evolve. Constantly trying to shoehorn them back together is actually contrary to their character development.
On the other hand, Kori and Dick's relationship has simply run its course. They were good for one another in their teens and early 20s, teaching each other what love really meant. But the fire is out now. They don't have to hate each other or anything. After his break up with Babs, Dick and Kori's friends-with-benefits relationship was fun for both of them, but I don't really see any growth potential for either one if they were to fully get back together.
So who would be a good fit for our Mr. Grayson? Honestly, I'm not sure. Of the characters I've mentioned here, I would be most interested to see what could happen with either Helena Wayne with Helena Bertinelli as a close second. Bette Kane is a not-uninteresting character in her own right, but a relationship with her Pre-Flashpoint incarnation might have felt like him taking advantage of her hero worship. The aborted romance with Sonia could have had some interesting developments, as could the stories with Donna and Clancy.
I would love to see something happen between Black Canary and Dick. She is my favorite female superhero, after all. The New 52 removed any connection between her and long-time love interest Green Arrow, but beyond her persistent comments to the Pre-Flashpoint Barbara on how sexy he is, I just don't believe there is any real potential there. Plus, it would really throw a monkey wrench into Barbara's relationships with both Dick and Dinah. 
To my mind, a more interesting pairing story-wise actually comes from the aforementioned Young Justice animated series, Zatanna. They shared an off-screen romance of unknown length between seasons 1 & 2 of the critically acclaimed series. She is slightly less high profile than Dinah, so a writer who wanted to use her in a Dick Grayson book would likely not have to compete with many others to tell different stories with the two of them. As I've said elsewhere, a pairing between the two could also open up pathways into some mystical stories for Grayson, a relatively unexplored region of the Bat-books since the end of the Batwoman series. Zatanna has also been without a solo book since the New 52. Hooking her and Dick up might also help raise her profile and generate some interest for a new solo title featuring the generally awesome, powerful, sexy sorceress in the fishnet stockings.
Considering how little I tend to care about imaginary relationships, I have droned on for almost seven pages now. I don't know if anyone will ever read this or if anyone that does will even care. However, if any of you reading this do have an opinion on young Mr. Grayson's love life, please take a moment and tell me who you think could be the one to make him meet his match.

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