The unexpected announcement that Warner Bros. is making a solo movie about Nightwing, the grown-up superhero identity of the first Robin, Dick Grayson, has huge implications for the latest onscreen Batman. To start with, it marks the first major live action appearance of the Batfamily since Joel Schumacher’s infamous Batman and Robin. Looking farther into the future, though, and it seems like the Nightwing flick might be setting up the groundwork for a classic comics trope: legacy.
Over the long history of superhero comics, it’s become commonplace for a younger generation of heroes to take up the mantles of their former mentors. Wally West’s Kid Flash succeeded Barry Allen to become the regular Flash (for awhile), and almost the entire Marvel Comics lineup right now are second or third generation heroes. So far, none of the major superhero franchises have dealt with this passing of the torch. Christopher Nolan’s Batman left his gave to “Robin” Blake, but that was the end of the series. Robert Downey Jr.’s been doing this for a while, but it seems like it’s still going to be quite a few movies before somebody replaces Tony Stark as Iron Man, if that ever happens.
That’s where the Nightwing flick, which is being helmed by Lego Batman director Chris McKay, has promise. By making a tentpole movie about a (former) sidekick, Warner Bros. is letting audiences get to know a new character and the actor playing them. If, sometime down the line, the DCEU’s Bruce Wayne ever hangs up the cape, it would be less jarring for Nightwing to step in, especially since it’s happened before in the comics.
Dick Grayson may have started out as Robin before eventually becoming Nightwing, but for awhile he was the Batman. After Bruce Wayne died (or was sent backwards in time because, lol, comics) in the 2008 series Final Crisis, his not-so-young ward put on the cowl. In acclaimed runs by comic authors Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder, Dick acted as Batman along with the new Robin, Bruce’s son Damien. He was great in the role, and it was a refreshing change of character — but his elevation into DC’s Trinity felt earned. It had the natural weight of history behind it.
If Nightwing ever does become Batman in the DCEU, it won’t be for a long while. Sure, there are lots of rumors about Ben Affleck wanting to quit, but they’re just rumors, and in any case he’s still locked in for several more movies before his contract is up. Nightwing’s entry into the DCEU is really interesting if you look to the future, after Warner Bros. has had time to recreate some of that history on the big screen, starting with the solo movie.
For now, at least, shared superhero universes are a gold mine, and Marvel and DC don’t seem like they’re going to be giving up the game anytime soon. As these franchises stretch out over decades, there are going to have to be some changes. Characters will die and actors are going to quit. Even if Affleck isn’t dying to get out of the role right away, he’s surely going to want to at some point. Assuming that the DCEU is still going strong when that happens (which admittedly is a big if, since superhero fatigue and reboots are possibilities), Warner Bros. is left with a few options. They can recast Batman, as has been done before, or they could kill him off. Given how wildly popular Batman is, keeping him in the ground seems like a terrible, not-profitable idea.
Or, just maybe, by that time they’ll have a fan-favorite former Robin who is ready to finish the caped crusade his predecessor started.