Nightwing's revealed secret identity raises a major superhero romance question
As Nightwing and Batgirl’s romantic relationship reaches a perilous crossroads, it raises a major question about the ongoing viability behind superhero romance.
Dick Grayson may be one of the more eligible bachelors in the DC Universe, with perhaps the most famous glutes in comic books, but the original Boy Wonder keeps finding himself coming back to Barbara Gordon. The first Robin and Batgirl have carried an on-again/off-again romance for years, recently rekindling their relationship during Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s run on the ongoing Nightwing comic book series as Dick took on a major role as Bludhaven’s biggest philanthropist. Recently, Nightwing has endured a major setback in his never-ending war on crime, which may impact his relationship with Batgirl as well.
After taking on the villainous Blockbuster in both his superhero and civilian identities, Dick’s secret identity was revealed, shaking up his civilian life and presumably putting those he loves in danger too.
Nightwing’s Latest Romantic Complication
After inheriting the late Alfred Pennyworth’s fortune, Dick became a bonafide billionaire and the richest man in Bludhaven. With encouragement from Barbara, Dick dedicated his newfound funds towards a widespread philanthropic effort to improve Bludhaven by improving its infrastructure and providing affordable housing while rooting out corruption throughout the city. This agenda put Dick on a collision course with Blockbuster, Bludhaven’s most powerful crime lord who already was facing off against Dick in his superhero persona as Nightwing.
By targeting Bludhaven’s mayor and temporarily working with the city’s latest supervillain, the murderous Heartless, Blockbuster discovered Nightwing was Dick after the hero’s mask was knocked off in a scuffle. Though Blockbuster was eventually defeated, he set Dick's headquarters of philanthropy aflame and threatened Dick and everyone he cared for. Concerned by this close call and the continued danger his secret identity reveal could entail, Dick attempted to end his relationship with Barbara under the grounds that it would keep her safe from any reprisals.
Barbara Gordon’s Common Sense Rebuttal
After patiently hearing Dick and his rationalized concern out, Barbara completely dismisses her boyfriend’s worries, Pointing out that danger is part of the package and parcel that comes with being a superhero. Barbara is prepared to face any peril alongside Dick together. Barbara attributes Dick’s current bout of relationship anxiety to toxic programming he learned from Batman, assuring him that she is prepared for the risks and ready to take them on together.
As someone who was attacked in her own home by the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke, Barbara’s insight holds a special amount of resonance. If there’s anyone in the Bat-Family who understands that evil can strike outside of their caped and cowled derring-do, it’s Barbara Gordon. And yet, even having suffered grievously, Barbara still firmly makes the choice to not only make herself happy but for Dick to join her; she is determined not to let fear dominate their lives and separate them.
Why the Secret Identity Is Not Obsolete
Dick’s fears are not completely unfounded, of course, as superhero life and the importance of secret identity has been demonstrated numerous times throughout the DCU. When Kyle Rayner’s superhero ascension became known to the villainous Major Force, the energy-powered enemy strangled Kyle’s girlfriend to death in their own apartment and infamously left her corpse waiting for the new Green Lantern in 1994’s Green Lantern #54 (vol. 3) by Ron Marz, Steve Carr, Derec Aucoin, and Darryl Banks. Wally West kept his identity as the Flash public for years but, after Zoom attacked his pregnant wife Linda Park, the Scarlet Speedster worked with the Spectre to magically remove this knowledge from the general public’s minds in the storyline 'Ignition' by Geoff Johns, Alberto Dose, and Howard Porter.
Superman recently made the decision to publicly announce his secret identity as Clark Kent to the world in 2019’s Superman #18 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado, witnessing both the benefits and explosive consequences of this move firsthand. For the first time in his life, the Man of Tomorrow began to embrace both sides of his life without constantly lying to those around him. This led to all of Superman’s greatest enemies at that time teaming up to attack him in the heart of Metropolis, threatening to cause enormous collateral damage in the city that he had sworn to protect. Beyond the superhero side of the Kent’s family life, both Clark and Lois Lane’s journalistic integrity drew fire for concealing such major information in their professional lives for years.
A Complicated Secret Identity Superhero Romance
The nature of a superhero's secret identity is an important one, especially for a hero who has acquired more than their fair share of devious antagonists, perfectly willing to inflict as much damage to their nemesis’ personal lives. And yet, in this information age where so much of everyone is already out in the open, the secret identity may be working its way towards a more rare and privileged distinction for those leading double lives.
Nightwing and Batgirl is shaping up to a superhero romance success story, but there are plenty of star-crossed couples in the DC Universe that did not enjoy their own happy endings. We'll simply have to wait and see how this one develops.
Written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Bruno Redondo, colored by Adriano Lucas, and lettered by Wes Abbott, Nightwing #96 (vol. 4) is on sale now from DC Comics. The story continues in Nightwing #97, on sale Oct. 18.
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