The first six issues of Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin expertly put Dick Grayson in a position that readers weren’t used to seeing him in – one of vulnerability. The normally confident Grayson approaches heroism the way he approached the trapeze; with a grin and ready to put on a show. So, it’s an interesting change of pace to see him uncomfortable as Batman and unsure of how to teach Damian morality. Even though Dick Grayson has been a super-hero since he was a kid, he is still developing and to achieve knew psychological depth in a character that has been around since the 40’s is a great accomplishment.
In the first arc, Dick Grayon learned to regard “Batman” as a great role. In the second arc, he reaffirmed his morality when it was tested by Jason Todd. In the third arc, Grayson literally faces his fear that Bruce might really be gone in order to complete his transformation into the role of Batman. While the third arc isn’t the best of Morrison’s run, it’s important for a number of reasons.
First, while Grayson was uncomfortable as Batman in the beginning, it’s clear that he has adjusted by the sheer fact that he has left Gotham for London. Dick isn’t being reactive in his heroism, but rather, he is being proactive in his quest to revive Bruce Wayne. But, this new mission creates an interesting paradox: If Dick Grayson is comfortable as Batman, then why does he look for an out by reviving Bruce Wayne? If he were truly comfortable, then he would accept Bruce’s death as a natural part of life and move on.
Second, this is the first issue that Damian doesn’t appear as Robin. In fact, he is only shown briefly during a scene where he is undergoing spine surgery after being shot repeatedly by Flamingo at the end of the last arc. With Damian out of the story, Dick must learn to work with Knight and Squire (the Batman and Robin on London) and also Batwoman. The dynamic between the heroes doesn’t quite work which is either indicative of how some of this arc is awkwardly put together or proof that Dick and Damian play off of each other really quite well.
Third, the turf war between Charlie English and King Coal is never explored to a satisfactory degree. Their conflict is always in the background of the real plot of Dick Grayson trying to revive Bruce Wayne and so, their threat is never a real threat at all. (But then again, maybe that’s intentional . . . *hinthint*)
Ultimately, the arc has too many elements in play at one time and none of them really gel together into a strong, coherent story. Dick has to go to London to team up with too many people to revive Bruce Wayne in a Lazarus pit controlled by two London crime bosses. It’s all just a bit too much, but that doesn’t mean Dick doesn’t grow from the arc.
Once Bruce’s body emerges from the Lazarus Pit, it’s clear that it’s not the real Bruce Wayne. In a flashback within the fake Bruce’s mind, the reader realizes that during Final Crisis, Darkseid had a clone made of Batman just in case he ever needed one. Whether Dick Grayson realizes this or not is unclear and the question of how this copy was replaced with Bruce’s body at the end of Final Crisis #6 as the Omega Sanction blasts him is even less clear. What one needs to realize, however, is that these questions don’t matter in the scheme of things. What matters is that a Bruce-like monster has appeared and Grayson has to stop him from killing Damian.
Of course, Dick saves the day, but rather than let this be a comfort to his doubts regarding whether or not he can be Batman, he considers it proof that Bruce is alive and worth searching for. As heroic as Dick Grayson is, he can never be comfortable as Batman. He can never embrace that darkness that haunted and fueled Bruce Wayne, and he will do what he can to pass the legacy back to his mentor.
Some might consider this to be Grayson giving up, but I would argue that it is proof that he is aware of himself. Grayson is selfless because he knows that Batman is essential to the world and if he must fill that void, then he will do so. However, Grayson is still determined to bring back Bruce.
The fourth arc continues Grayson’s quest to resurrect Bruce Wayne and while Oberon Sexton and the 99 Fiends are certainly major players in the story, Deathstroke’s possession of Damian’s body is the most noteworthy element to the story. As stated previously, Dick Grayson never really had a foil except for Deathstroke and in this arc, he uses Talia Al Ghul’s machine to take control of Damian.
In the past, Deathstroke has poisoned the mind of Terra and other teens in order to strike against the Titans and Dick Grayson, but this time, he has quite literally taken control of Damian. It’s a fascinating twist and one that perfectly shows the effect that Grayson has had on the son of Bruce Wayne. Despite not being in control of his own body, Damian is able to take what his partner has taught him and applied it to breaking the control of Deathstroke.
By this time, Grayson’s identity as Batman had been established enough that to truly pit him against another foil would be unnecessary, but the Deathstroke interaction is a perfect conclusion to Dick Grayson’s tenure as Batman.
Of course, there are four more issues of Dick Grayson as Batman under Morrison’s guidance, and other writers contributed to him as a character afterward, but in terms of establishing foils for Dick Grayson, Morrison was the best.
But, it would be a mistake to believe that Grant Morrison was the only writer responsible for crafting an excellent rogue’s gallery for Dick Grayson. Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics produced two memorable confrontations as well. The first was with Sonia Branch – a.k.a. Sonia Zucco, daughter of Tony Zucco, the man who murdered Dick Grayson’s parents. While the two were never direct adversaries, their hatred for Tony Zucco made Dick vulnerable and allowed him to be manipulated by Sonia. She’s not necessarily evil, but she is a woman who will control others for her own gain. It’s unclear if she survived the relaunch, but I certainly hope she did because she adds another element to Grayson’s life.
The most significant interaction is with James Gordon jr. – son of Commissioner Gordon and younger brother of Barbara Gordon (of Oracle and Batgirl fame). Of course, Dick Grayson has worked with Commissioner Gordon since his days as Robin so there is that connection, but because Bruce acts as a surrogate father, Dick and James Jr. are united in that they are two sons of families that were close to one another. Early in Snyder’s run, Dick Grayson jokes with Commissioner Gordon that Gordon had driven him to his high school prom to which Gordon replies “Actually, I drove my daughter to her high school prom. You just happened to be in the car.”
As the black sheep of the families, James jr. is a perfect foil to the son who never let anyone down. Snyder even has James Jr. express this notion in the form of an old-fashioned psychotic monologue, “You were the one who always seemed the most different from me. You always went around with your heart on your sleeve. You were genuinely nice – that was the thing. It wasn’t an act. You cared about everyone.” In fact, after James jr. saw that Batman had returned to Gotham, he knew that it was Dick Grayson and he knew that he would have to face him. So, Dick Grayson’s mere existence was the cause of his psychotic breakdown.
And the very fact that James jr. is without a codename or a costume just furthers his role as a foil for Dick Grayson who has operated under three different super-hero aliases. James jr. doesn’t need any theatrics to be a formidable, frightening villain. Beneath a blank stare and cryptic messages, it’s unclear for some time that James jr. is anything more than a strange man.
Finally, James jr. explains that “Gotham made me to challenge you. You and my father and Barbara and all the heroes who don’t see the truth. Because the truth is that men like me, men like the ones in that study, we’re the future” establishing that if Dick Grayson is the future of Batman, then James jr. is the future of villains.
By the end of Batman and Robin, Dick Grayson had grown as a character, but it would be foolish to only focus on his development because he is only half of the team, after all.