Originally, I was going to do these as separate reviews. Certainly, these figures are sold separately, if in the same series of Mattel's superb DC Universe Classics figures. But, they're both closely affiliated with Batman's world, and Nightwing USED to be Robin before first Jason Todd and then Tim Drake got the job, so why not report on them together?
Let's start with Nightwing. In some respects, the creation of the character of Nightwing, as he is best known today, was one of the most controversial in all of comics.
For over forty years, Dick Grayson had been known as Robin, first the Boy Wonder, later the Teen Wonder, pretty much always Batman's sidekick, and over those 40 years, from his introduction in 1940 of an indeterminate but presumably pre-if-close-to-teen age all the way to the 1980's as leader of the most popular incarnation of the Teen Titans, about all that had changed about Grayson was his age, to roughly 19 or thereabouts.
He still dressed the same, and frankly, it got to be a source of bad jokes even within the Titans. Here's a 19-year-old, Batman-educated super-hero with an equal measure of considerable detective and fighting skills, and he's running around in a red tunic, green speedos, and Changeling is making jokes about wondering how he keeps his legs warm in the winter.
Apparently, enough was enough already. During the run of the comic, Dick Grayson retired as Robin, eventually adopting the new identity of Nightwing, a name taken from Superman, who used the alter-ego on trips to the Bottle City of Kandor, where he had no super-powers of his own. One wonders how many readers are even aware of that anymore.
And the character of Nightwing has been added to a recent assortment of Mattel's superb DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures. Let's consider a more extensive history of Dick Grayson and then have a look at the figure.
Robin was first introduced in Detective Comics #38 in 1940 by Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Robin's debut was an effort to make Batman a lighter, more sympathetic character. DC Comics also thought a teenaged superhero would appeal to young readers, being an effective audience surrogate. The name "Robin, The Boy Wonder" and the medieval look of the original costume are inspired by the legendary hero Robin Hood, as well as the red-breasted American Robin, which parallels the "winged" motif of Batman. Dick Grayson was born on the first day of spring, son of John and Mary Grayson, a young couple of aerialists.
In his origin, Dick is an eight year-old circus acrobat, the youngest of a family act called "The Flying Graysons" of the Haly's Circus. He joins the act at a very young age, having been trained in acrobatics while still a toddler. With his parents, Dick becomes the "Boy Wonder" of the circus and is expected to become an Olympic champion.
While preparing for a performance, Dick overhears Anthony "Boss" Zucco, a well-known and feared crime-lord, threaten the performers unless the circus' owner pays extortion money. The owner refuses, and that night young Grayson watches in horror as his parents' high wire snaps, sending them hurtling to their deaths, all while many of Gotham's elite watched on. Dick felt responsible, because he hadn't warned his parents in time.
Shortly after the tragedy, the millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne rescued Dick from an uncaring juvenile services system. Frustrated by the lack of attention from his new guardian and the mystery still surrounding his parents' death, Grayson sneaks out of Wayne Manor one evening to solve the crime on his own - only to stumble into Batman, who is also investigating the murder. They succeed in revealing Zucco's complicity, but he seemingly dies of a heart attack before his arrest (it was later revealed that he was still alive, but had been confined to a ventilator for decades.)
Seeing a reflection of himself in Dick, Batman not only reveals his identity as Bruce Wayne to the boy, but also makes the young orphan the offer of a lifetime: the chance to become his crime-fighting partner. Dick chooses the name Robin, and his training begins.
In 1980, Grayson once again takes up the role of leader of the Teen Titans, now featured in the monthly series The New Teen Titans, which became one of DC Comics' most beloved series of the era.
And here we have to get into a little weird continuity, because a lot of major characters' history was at least partially rewritten following the legendary Crisis on Infinite Earths. Although Grayson's individual history and how he became Robin was largely unchanged, the means by which he abandoned his Robin identity and took to the role of Nightwing did differ considerably.
Dick continues his adventures with Batman, and begins studying law at Hudson University. However, Robin loses interest in his studies and starts to take on solo missions, and finds himself to be a capable crime-fighter. Shortly afterward, the mysterious Raven summons Dick Grayson and several other young heroes to form a new group of Titans. Robin assumes leadership, and moves out of the shadow of his mentor. Dick, now 19, realizes at that point that he has grown up: he no longer relies on Batman, and he and the Dark Knight disagree on crime-fighting methodology. Robin's newfound independence and Titans' duties in New York leave less time for his former commitments in Gotham. He also drops out of Hudson after only one semester. Dick also rediscovers his self-worth among the Titans.
Batman, however, is less than pleased. He informs Grayson that if he no longer wants to be his partner, then Dick would have to retire as Robin. Furious, hurt, resigned, and confused, Dick Grayson left Wayne Manor-- but not for the last time. He hands over leadership of the Titans to Wonder Girl, and takes a leave of absence from the team.
(In pre-Crisis continuity, the "parting" between Dick and Batman is entirely amicable. Dick passes the mantle of Robin over to Jason Todd voluntarily, in a memorable scene wherein he states that "Robin will always be the second part of Batman and..." Bruce gives every impression of being pleased with his ward's coming of age, and maintains this attitude until the post-Crisis retcon that rewrites the origin of Jason Todd and the circumstances of Dick's departure from the role.)
In pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, the maturing Dick Grayson grows weary of his role as Batman's young sidekick. He renames himself Nightwing, recalling his adventure in the Kryptonian city of Kandor, where he and Batman meet the local hero of the same name.
Nightwing: Secret Files & Origins #1 and Nightwing: Year One tell the full post-Crisis version of how Dick Grayson gives up his identity as Robin (having been "fired" by Batman). Uncertain what to do with his new-found independence, Dick considers giving up fighting crime to study law, but he couldn't imagine his life in any other way.
Turning to someone that he knows would understand, Dick asks Superman what he should be, if not Robin. In reply, Superman tells a tale of long ago on Krypton, about a man who was cast out of his family, just like Dick. He dreamt of a world ruled by justice, and set out to protect the helpless and victimized as Nightwing. Dick then decides to honor the legendary Kryptonian by renaming himself Nightwing.
In an adventure in which all of his Titans teammates are captured by Deathstroke the Terminator, and delivered to the H.I.V.E., Dick reveals his new identity of Nightwing and helps to free them with the help of Jericho. Grayson finally moves out of the shadow of the Bat, and would lead the Titans through some hard times.
Based on Nightwing's increasing popularity, DC Comics decided to test the character's possibilities with a one-shot book and then a miniseries in the mid 1990s. These were successful, and eventually led to an ongoing series. Slowing sales almost resulted in the death of Nightwing during the Infinite Crisis, but this decision was ultimately reversed.
The most recent change in the title to writer Peter Tomasi and artist Rags Morales has done much to reassert the character, with him operating in New York as a respected solo hero, and taking full advantage of the fact that his early start makes him one of the most experienced superheroes, and one of the best connected; through his many former team-mates and the friends he has established in his career.
Nightwing's initial costume was -- how can I put this gently -- well, it looked as though Dick Grayson had gone shopping in a disco. The costume was mostly dark blue, but had a light blue high collar that was ridiculous even in the 80's, light blue boots and gloves, and a gold pattern around the collar and trunks that looked like feathers as much as anything.
Thankfully for all parties concerned, Nightwing has since adopted a more agreeable and certainly darker costume. While perhaps not the most outstanding outfit in the world, it works well for the character, and at least has the advantage of not being dependent on fashion trends best forgotten.
The figure does a superb job of replicating this costume. The figure, mostly using the standard male body molds created for the DC Universe Classics line, is molded mostly in black, with a semi-dark blue pattern across the chest that tapers to stripes running down the sleeves to the middle two fingers of the gloves.
I believe the design is meant to be very slightly reflective of Batman, without specifically noting him. Grayson's mask is almost batlike but not quite. He doesn't have a cape.
The headsculpt is excellent, very much looking like a relatively young, but experienced and determined man. The hair is especially notable as being quite wavy with a shock of it up front that extends rather considerably. What gets me is that I would expect something like this to be a separate attached piece, but I don't think it is. I'd love to see the mold set for this head.
Any complaints? Well -- one. Unfortunately it's a fairly serious one, and Nightwing isn't the only figure I've encountered it on. The way the articulation is designed on these figures, there is an upper-leg swivel just about the knee joint. It's a fairly small piece which consists of some of the leg musculature and an attachment point for the lower leg. Now, that musculature is fairly well-defined, as one would expect on a super-hero, and the left leg and right leg "knee joints" are categorically NOT interchangeable. Which -- unfortunately -- didn't stop Nightwing from having the wrong knees on the wrong legs. They don't line up well with the upper legs, they cause the figure to stand at a slight slant, and there's no practical way to switch them out, either.
I am finding myself having to give these figures, now, a visual inspection before I buy one. And given how scarce they still tend to be, sometimes I don't have a lot of selection. Never mind that I shouldn't have to do this. I realize the assembly-line nature of these figures, but I've had this happen twice now -- JUST TO ME -- and I wonder -- how many are out there? It's a sickening irony that Mattel is using some of the best sculptors in the business to design these figures, they're easily the best general-release DC Comics figures EVER created (the only other major problem I've encountered is they botched the design on Firestorm's costume), and they can't put them together right on a consistent basis!? Come on, Mattel. It's called QUAL-I-TY CON-TROL!
I will say this -- the figure is superbly painted, and Mattel went to a little more detail than they really needed to, but it's the sort of additional detail that's generally appreciated. The bulk of the black uniform is a mostly matte black. The gloves and boots are a gloss black. I don't think it's the type of plastic that was used. It seems that they were painted this color.
Nightwing customarily uses two small battle staffs as weapons, and the figure does come equipped with these. He can carry them by clipping them to a couple of holders on his back. They're not too obtrusive, even if they're not exactly part of the costume as he appears in the comics. The holder is plugged into a hole that appears on the basic male body mold for these figures, that's usually used to attach a cape. (On figures that don't have capes or equipment holders, a small plug is inserted.)
Certainly the Nightwing figure is superbly articulated. Nightwing is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper led swivel, knees, and ankles.
So what's my final word here? The leg problem does bug me. However, apart from that, this is a really extremely impressive rendition of the character. Certainly Nightwing has had figure versions before. There's been no shortage of them in any number of Batman lines over the years, Animated and otherwise. But this one is really excellent. The uniform is very properly done. I suppose "understated" might be the best term for it, and that's not easy to achieve in the super-hero world. The blue is a good and proper color for the character, the headsculpt is absolutely fantastic, and the end result looks very cool.
And the character is certainly a legendary one, dating back now almost 70 years into the DC Universe. His history may have been a bit rough at times, but Nightwing has earned his place in the DC Universe, and continues to be a well-regarded character.
But just because Dick Grayson became Nightwing, did not leave the DC Universe bereft of Robin, and we need to turn to him now.
DC was initially hesitant to turn Grayson into Nightwing and to replace him with a new Robin. To minimize the change, they made the new Robin, Jason Peter Todd, who first appeared in Batman #357 in 1983, similar to a young Grayson. Like Dick Grayson, Jason Todd was the son of circus acrobats murdered by a criminal (this time Killer Croc), and then adopted by Bruce Wayne. In this incarnation, he was red-haired and unfailingly cheerful, and wore his circus costume to fight crime until Dick Grayson presented him with a Robin suit of his own. At that point, he dyed his hair black.
After the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, much of DC Comics continuity was rebooted. Todd's character was completely revised. He was now a black-haired street orphan who first encountered Batman when he attempted to steal tires from the Batmobile. Batman saw to it that he was placed in a school for troubled youths. Weeks later, after Todd proved his crime-fighting worth by helping Batman catch a gang of robbers, Batman offered Todd the position as Robin.
Readers never truly bonded with Todd and, in 1988, DC made the controversial decision to poll readers using a 1-900 number as to whether or not Todd should be killed. The event received more attention in the mainstream media than any other comic book event before it. Readers voted "yes" by a very small margin (5,343 to 5,271) and Todd was subsequently murdered by the Joker in the A Death in the Family storyline, in which the psychopath beat the youngster severely with a crowbar, and left him in a warehouse rigged with a bomb.
DC Comics was left uncertain about readers' decision to kill Todd, wondering if they felt Batman should be a lone vigilante, disliked Todd specifically, or just wanted to see if DC would actually kill the character. In addition, the 1989 Batman film did not feature Robin, giving DC a reason to keep him out of the comic book series for marketing purposes. Regardless, Batman editor Denny O'Neil introduced a new Robin.
Introduced in 1989, the new Robin was Timothy Drake. O'Neil gave the character a connection to Grayson, which I will delve into along with the character's full origin, and it is this most current Robin that Mattel has chosen to include in a recent assortment of their excellent DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS series of action figures!
Mindful of the poor reception Jason received from readers, O'Neil arranged for a more nuanced introduction in which Tim first introduced himself to Dick Grayson and impressed the former Robin with his skills. This led to Grayson and later Alfred Pennyworth to support Tim's request to be Batman's new sidekick. O'Neil hoped that Grayson's approval of Drake would ease reader acceptance of him. Evidently, this approach was successful, with Tim Drake being so accepted by readers that the character has had his own series since the early 1990s.
Tim Drake, who is to become the new Robin, first appears in a flashback in Batman #436 (August 1989). Drake first appears as a 13-year-old boy who has followed the adventures of Batman and Robin ever since witnessing the murder of the Flying Graysons when he was a child. This connects Drake to Dick Grayson, the first Robin, establishing a link that DC hoped would help readers accept this new Robin. At the age of nine, Drake surmises their secret identities with his instinctive detective skills, after watching Batman and Robin battle against the Penguin on a security tape shown on TV. While the Penguin was attempting to catch Batman unaware, Robin pounced on the Penguin after executing a quadruple somersault, which Tim had witnessed Dick execute during the final performance of the Flying Graysons. Knowing that only Dick Grayson could execute such a feat, Tim makes the connection and follows Batman and Robin's careers closely.
Years later, after Batman grows progressively more violent and reckless following Jason's death, Tim seeks out Dick Grayson to try to convince him to reprise his role as Robin. Reluctant to take a step back, Dick agrees to assist Batman again, but only as Nightwing. Tim, who is unsatisfied with Dick's decision, continues to argue that Batman needs a Robin. Finally, he coaxes Alfred Pennyworth to help him, and taking the Robin costume from the Batcave pursues the original Dynamic Duo where he proves to be an invaluable asset in the capture of Two-Face.
Both Dick and Alfred can see that Tim is well suited not only as Robin but also as a force to keep Batman grounded emotionally. Although Batman is very reluctant to have another partner, he grudgingly agrees that the boy has potential and then begins an extended training period in which Tim endures months of physical, mental and psychological tests.
One thing that soon resulted from this was a new Robin costume. Enough already with the green speedos and the pixie boots. It was wonder enough that the streetwise Jason Todd had agreed to dress like that. If nothing else, the classic costume afforded little in the way of protection. Bruce Wayne designed an entirely new outfit that consisted of a red top and trunks, green leggings (finally!), black boots and gloves, green short sleeves, a black cape with a yellow lining, and need it be said, the whole works was bulletproof and probably a few other things proof.
Drake goes abroad to train, and when Robin returns to Gotham City, he begins his official career as Batman's new partner. Over the next several months, he earns the respect of those around him through his ability. Over the course of several mini-series, he gains confidence, does his best to operate as a normal teenager as well as a crime- fighter, and deals with any number of villains, including the Joker.
Robin garnered his own ongoing series, and was also a major player
in the semi-comedic Young Justice comic series, alongside Superboy and
Impulse, among others. Superboy and Impulse soon become Robin's closest
friends, which is maintained when the group finally transitions into
becoming a new incarnation of the Teen Titans years later. Young Justice
disbands following the death of Donna Troy. Cyborg, Starfire and Beast
Boy bring Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Impulse (later known as Kid
Alas, no Robin is immune to tragedy. Although Tim's father Jack was still alive at the time, during the Identity Crisis storyline, Jack Drake is killed by the son of longtime Flash adversary Captain Boomerang. After Identity Crisis, Bruce Wayne offers to adopt Tim, who is not initially fond of the idea. During the Infinite Crisis, Robin's best friend Superboy is killed. And not terribly long after that, Robin's other best friend, Bart Allen, the former Impulse and Kid Flash, who has taken on the role of the Flash, is also killed. At a ceremony honoring Superboy one year after his death, Robin attends in a new costume primarily red and black. When asked why, he explains that they were Conner's colors, although the costume also bears a very strong resemblance to the one worn by the Tim Drake Robin character as he appears in later episodes of the Batman Animated series.
Following the One Year Later "reboot", which debuted Robin's new costume, and during which time Tim Drake had spent time abroad with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, Bruce begins thinking about Tim's place in the world following the deaths of both his parents and the events of the Crisis. Finally, Bruce approaches Tim again with the idea of adoption. This time, Tim readily accepts, even going so far as to hug Bruce with tears in his eyes. Along with the adoption, plans are made to move Tim into the Manor using the room once owned by Dick and Jason.
Robin remains active in the superhero community, and is currently involved with the latest incarnation of the Teen Titans.
The DC Universe Classics ROBIN figure features this most recent version of Robin, and it's really an excellent figure. It's also an entirely unique figure, which was something I found rather surprising.
It is understandable that Mattel would want to reuse as many -- well -- body parts between figures as possible. Molds are extremely expensive, and really, one muscle-bodied super-hero really does pretty much look like another, some details notwithstanding. With four assortments of DC Universe Classics available, it is clear that Mattel has found a decent balance between figures that can share parts significantly, such as Captain Atom, Green Lantern, Orion, etc., and ones that need individual attention because of their appearance, either wholly or partially, such as Deathstroke, Cyborg, Aquaman, and, it would seem, Robin.
Honestly, I expected this figure to use some of the parts that were used on the Sinestro figure. Sinestro comes up a little short. This alien foe of Green Lantern is supposed to have a more slender body, but he came up a little too short height-wise. I assumed what had been created here was a set of molds for "teen heroes", and while that might still be the case at some point, it's definitely not the case with Robin.
For starters, Robin is even shorter than Sinestro! The average height of a figure in the DC Universe Classics line, using the standard male body, is around 6-1/2". Sinestro is 6". Robin is 5-1/2". Don't underestimate him though -- kid's had a lot of training.
Very few of Robin's parts could be used for any other figure. Between the distinctly sculpted clasps and insignia on the shirt, the "bat flares" on the gloves, and even the sculpted tops of the boots, I think about all that could be transitioned over to someone else would be the upper arms and upper legs.
None of this is a complaint -- merely a comment. This Robin figure is really a very impressive piece of work. The headsculpt is excellent. Robin has an expression of youthful determination, and the hair, which Robin seems to wear in a perpetually mussed up condition, is superbly well done.
The detail on the costume is excellent. Particularly notable are the clasps on the shirt, which are reflective of the original Robin, and the three flares on the back of each glove, which are a nice little nod to Batman. Robin has a large utility belt, very neatly designed and with plenty of pouches to contain a wide range of crime-fighting equipment.
The costume colors are interesting. Utterly gone is the green that was a part of every previous Robin costume to one degree or another. The shirt, sleeves, and legs are red. The trunks, gloves, and boots are black. The belt and clasps are yellow. The cape is black on the outside and yellow on the inside. Wisely, Mattel clearly chose to mold the cape in yellow and paint the back of it in black. This was certainly infinitely easier than trying to do it the other way around.
Overall, it's a good costume, and shows a maturing Robin. Still, I wouldn't've minded if there had been a little green in it somewhere.
The figure is as well articulated as any of the DC Universe Classics, and that means considerably. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Robin comes with a few accessories, as well. One of these is a long silver staff, a fraction longer than Robin is tall. Definitely wouldn't want to be on the kid's bad side if he starts swinging this thing. Robin also comes with two little "batarang" type of weapons. These are pretty small.
So what's my final word here? Mattel has really done a great job with these figures, and to the best of my knowledge, this is the first Robin figure in this new costume (its earlier Animated "inspiration" notwithstanding). Both figures are superbly sculpted and detailed. I am convinced that if Mattel just pays a little more attention to assembly procedures -- and this IS a resolvable problem, then they can boast of having one of the most impressive action figure lines out there, period! Wouldn't mind if it was a little more readily available, too. Mattel -- fix the assembly matter and then ship these things a bit more, okay?
Technically, both Nightwing and Robin could have been part of this line when it was still centered on Batman and Superman, and indeed there were versions of these figures at the time (although Robin was in his previous costume). But these are easily the best yet.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS NIGHTWING and ROBIN definitely have my enthusiastic