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A Brief History of Shortpants
or Three Year Ones For Nightwing

Today marks the release of Nightwing #101, subtitled "Nightwing: Year One." Purporting to explain what happened to cause Dick Grayson to stop being Robin and start being a much darker avenger of the night, it's a pretty good read. Why not? It's also co-written by Chuck Dixon, one of the two best writers to handle Nightwing. (The other best, alas, is not co-writer Scott Beatty, but Devin Grayson, whose entire reason for becoming a comic book writer was to write Dick Grayson.)

On the verge of quitting crime-fighting forever, Dick must look back at his past to re-evaluate just why he ever did it. Naturally, though, since Robin is a different book, the key event has to be his becoming Nightwing, not the sensational new character find of 1940.

The only problem with doing a "Nightwing: Year One" is that not only did we experience it as it happened in New Teen Titans, but this also now marks the third time the transition has been told. Not to worry - thanks to the vagaries of retroactive continuity, it has also happened three different ways. Only twice has it involved Batman firing Dick. If only Stephanie Brown had known this history, she might be alive today.

Originally, Dick became Nightwing for a simple reason: Batman had too many Robins. Already grown up, out of college and leading the hardly Teen Titans, Dick Grayson had returned to Gotham City to help Batman break up one of Killer Croc's criminal enterprises. For some reason, this involved going undercover at a circus, where Dick felt right at home. He even befriended a family of acrobats similar to his own lost parents - the Todds.

Those intrepid trapeze artists ran afoul of Croc and were brutally murdered, leaving their son Jason an orphan. Seeing history repeat itself, Dick felt a responsibility toward Jason and planned to make him his ward, but Bruce stepped in and initiated Jason to the mysteries of the Batcave himself.

For a few months, both Robins co-existed peacefully in different books. Then, perhaps tired of Cyborg consistently calling him shortpants, greenboots and/or "the sissiest looking hero in all of Christendom," Dick ripped up his Robin costume and became Catwoman. No, actually, he donned a light and dark blue suit similar to the Nightwing costume we know today.

The identity of Nightwing, by the way, was chosen as a tribute to the two men he considered the greatest influences in his life: Batman and Superman. Remember that this was pre-Crisis, and there was nothing grudging or prickly about the friendship between the two men that make the World's Finest. Dick Grayson knew Superman then as almost a beloved uncle figure. And Nightwing had also been the name of a Kandorian superhero during the Silver Age. Writer Marv Wolfman perfectly summed up Dick Grayson's heritage just in time to completely tear it apart with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

That event actually happened in 1985, and nobody really noticed anything different in the Bat-books until 1987. By that time, mystery writer Max Allan Collins (he of Road To Perdition and some Dick Tracy fame) had taken over Batman. Subtitled "The New Adventures" so as to help readers not wanting to read the old adventures, evidently, Batman #408 opened with the question "Did Robin Die Tonight?" as The Joker dangled Robin over a building during a heavy rainstorm.

With no warning, after years of Jason Todd, we were actually reading a story of Dick Grayson as Robin. More importantly, it was the story of how Batman decided to forbid his ward from fighting crime. Wha huh?

Yes, the Joker almost killed Dick and as a result both his arm and his pride had been shot through. Bruce Wayne realized it was madness to put a child (though 16 years old at the time) into harm's way, and both men went about the business of forcing Dick Grayson to be just Dick Grayson. Until the Titans came a-callin', I guess, and then this street urchin tried to boost the Batmobile's hubcaps. That kid, in the same issue, turned out to be Jason Todd, the character everybody came to know, loathe and eventually kill by phone-in vote.

But that's another story...

What matters now is that today we see it all happen again. Most interestingly, Dick Grayson's Robin outfit actually has long pants, which he never did before, far closer in design to the uniform worn by current Robin Tim Drake. (Somewhat ironically, Bruce had designed Tim's outfit as a response to the weaknesses in the previous short pants version worn by both Dick and Jason - the Earth-2 Dick Grayson, however, had grown up to wear long pants as the adult Robin.)

This redesign fools fans in two ways: you get to think that Robin's outfit was always slightly more practical than that bizarre little elfin one from 1940 that DC licensing managed to phase out of the public's consciousness at least a decade ago anyway, AND...now it matches the one that Jim Lee will be drawing in the continuity-free All-Star Batman and Robin.

It's not Killer Croc nor the Joker that spurs Dick Grayson's leaving the fold. Now it's Clayface. Clayface?!?! Clayface?!?! And, of course, this time around, Bruce is a much bigger bastard about the whole thing.

So let's see where it goes. But if you're a true Fanboy, don't forget where it's been.

Derek McCaw

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