Behind the Mask: MARV WOLFMAN on the Creation of NIGHTWING

The perfect hero at the perfect time.

Marv Wolfman turns 72 — and we’re debuting THE MARV WOLFMAN INTERVIEWS: a series of discussions with one of the Bronze Age’s greatest writers. For more installments, click here.

It’s hard to explain just what a big deal Nightwing was to me when he was first announced.

See, in 1984, I was 17 years old and looking ahead to when I’d be on my own, taking my first genuine steps toward adulthood.

I’d been reading comics for most of my life and Robin was one of my favorite characters. Even though I dug Batman the most, in many respects I could relate to Robin more.

If I were bored in class, for example, it was a lot easier to imagine I was Dick Grayson at Hudson University than it was to think of myself as Bruce Wayne toiling away at the daytime business of Wayne Enterprises.

Detective Comics #486. Written by Jack C. Harris. Art by Kurt Schaffenberger and Jack Abel.

But I also chafed under the notion that Robin was a guy who still ran around in short pants and pixie boots, even if George Perez made him look so cool in The New Teen Titans. And with college in my near future, I really empathized with a guy who was eager to make his own mark in the world, out from under the shadow of familial authority.

So when word came down that he was gonna pitch his red, gold and green for a new name and a new look, I was on board 1,000 percent.

To launch THE MARV WOLFMAN INTERVIEWS, then, I wanted to start with the creation of Nightwing, who has since become one of comics’ most popular heroes.

Nightwing’s first appearance

Dan Greenfield: Why don’t we start with Nightwing. Tell us how that all happened.

Marv Wolfman: It was fairly simple, actually. I got a call that (DC) really would like Robin back in Batman, and they wanted Robin to be younger. Again, because Batman really needed a partner. The nice thing was that Teen Titans—which I was still on at the time—was way outselling Batman and I really wanted Dick Grayson and I really loved the character.

We had aged him, we had made him a real leader, we had done a whole bunch of things with him, and I didn’t want to give up Dick Grayson. And it suddenly struck me — I don’t even know what happened because it was unprecedented in comics — I said, “Why don’t I keep Dick Grayson and you create a new Robin and make that a big to-do in Batman … while we have Nightwing.”

We’d already been having long stories about Dick Grayson breaking up with Batman, not being part of the Batman thing, so it fit perfectly that he would want to change. Also, he hated those stupid green shorts. (Laughter) Just utterly… It’s so cold in Gotham in the winter and Batman’s totally dressed in armor.

So (they) thought that was a great idea and they went off and created, with Gerry Conway, I think it was, Jason Todd, and I got to play with Dick Grayson and finally make him his own person.

It was something we had been leading to, but we never expected we’d have permission to remove him from the Batman continuity whatsoever and this gave us a chance to actually fulfill the story that we had been working towards. George’s artwork was playing him at about 21. I was writing him about the same age. … And that’s pretty much how it happened.

Dan: Now, with comics historically, they promise something like, “Big bold new direction!” but then it goes back. That’s never changed. Dick Grayson hasn’t gone back to being Robin. At the time that this happened, did you expect that it was gonna stick and take on a life of its own or did you say, “Well, we’ll do this now but eventually they’re gonna turn him back to Robin anyway.”

Marv: No, we never expected he’d become Robin again. We also never expected that he’d be as a hot a character as he became. You can’t go into things thinking that’s gonna happen. There’s so many things. The fact that you catch lightning in a bottle and all the fans were reaching that age where they were breaking from their parents or something or had just been through that within the last five, six years or so. It really seemed to click that he was the very first, the very first teen partner in comics—when Robin was created, there was no one else—and then suddenly he’s off on his own as an adult.

So we knew that he was always going to be Nightwing or maybe he’d become something else. But we never thought he’d go back to being Robin.

We just never thought he’d be quite as popular as he is. I mean, you hope, but you don’t bet the farm on it.



This Dazzling Statue Brings NIGHTWING to Life. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Great stuff Dan. I was a bit younger when the switch was made, and although it made me sad that Dick wouldn’t be Robin, it was handled so well by Wolfman/Perez and Conway/Newton/Colan that I didn’t mind it at all. Even at age 9 I could accept the change.

    Too bad Post-Crisis retcons made the eloquent exchange into a continuity cluster, but, the original still stands, and Nightwing is of course, a classic.

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