Three Ways Nightwing is a Feminist Gold Mine

by Dayton Uttinger

Batman and Robin are probably one of the most famous duos out there.  With multiple renditions in comics, TV shows, and movies, the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are inseparable, so much so that there have been repeated claims of gay subtext. However, there’s always been an imbalance in their relationship: Batman is obviously the hero.  Robin is the sidekick.  And as much as Robin was needed to balance out Batman’s brooding darkness, Robin has largely been regarded as a joke.  Christian Bale only agreed to be Batman after assuring that Robin would not be included in the series.  Regrettably, this has resulted in Robin not getting the representation he deserves.

Until now, that is.  Well, until 2025-ish, probably.  Chris McKay, director of the LEGO Batman movie, is pursuing a live-action Nightwing film. The adult Nightwing, real name Dick Grayson, is more intense than his younger Robin self, thereby lending a lot more material to play with in a solo film.  Robin fans and feminists should rejoice!

Wait, what was that last part?

Yes, a Nightwing movie is a great opportunity for feminist comic fans.  While Nightwing is yet another male superhero who is famous for his womanizing ways, a movie starring him could actually fix some issues that we’ve been complaining about for a while. Fixing gender role perception is a challenging task, but pop culture is a great place to start.  Movies have a much farther reach than a comic or graphic novel. According to ReportLinker, Americans watch over nine hours of television or film weekly; that’s plenty of time to absorb Netflix superhero specials, or watch the newest movie based off comics that have been around for years.  Hopefully, after the Nightwing movie, more people will see the feminist potential of his storyline.  But, just in case you didn’t want to wait a decade . . .

Dick as a Sex Symbol

Let’s get the most problematic one out of the gate. Nightwing has been regarded as the hottest male superhero.  His status as a sex symbol has evolved over the years, peaking now.  Dick Grayson has to stay young, because Batman can’t get too old.  He is famous for his acrobatic skills, which give him the lean muscle that many women prefer.  Additionally, he’s still charming, witty, and a hero  like Batman, but without the deep psychological issues.

So, Nightwing is decidedly a sex symbol within the comic book world, but considering the outcry of feminists when women are objectified, how can we possibly justify ogling Nightwing?

Well, for one, objectification occurs when characters serve no other purpose but to be pretty to look at.  There is nothing inherently wrong with having a sexy character, just as there’s nothing wrong with having a strong character or a smart character.  But that’s not all they should be.  When depicting superheroes, they’re likely going to be super-everything: super intelligent, super charismatic, super athletic, and super good-looking.  The issue occurs when a character is used for only one thing, especially when a whole group of characters are only exalted for one trait.  Women in comics shouldn’t be just valued for their sex appeal, just as Asian superheroes shouldn’t only be valued for martial art prowess, or elderly characters shouldn’t just be valued for their wisdom.

Nightwing is an excellent example of how you can have a character who is sexy while not making that their only quality.  And while that agenda would be better served by a female character with more traits than a board with boobs (fingers crossed for Wonder Woman) Nightwing accomplishes something different.  His character acknowledges the female and even gay gaze, whereas comics are traditionally written with only the heterosexual male gaze in mind.  So while superheroes are largely good-looking, it’s through the lens of what heterosexual men want to be and less what heterosexual women or gay men want in a partner.

Dick in Relationships

We all know Hollywood likes to include the classic romantic subplot.  It’s still far too early to determine whether a Nightwing movie would feature this routine plotline of superhero movies, but feminists should actually hope for that in this one.

While Batman remains romantically “unreachable” in a sense, Nightwing has not been as damaged.  Bruce Wayne uses women to reinforce his billionaire playboy persona with a few notable exceptions.  But he is ultimately a loner, ready to sacrifice everything for his mission.  Nightwing, on the other hand, does not need to be fixed and has had several healthy relationships that filmmakers could choose to feature.  He is just as invested as the love interest in many cases, sometimes even more so.

What’s more, the two most likely love interests would be Batgirl (Oracle) or possibly Starfire. Not only were both of these committed relationships, but they were with women who stand on equal footing with him in the same “profession.”  Both are super heroines with their own storylines and abilities.  This is a direct contrast to the likes of Peter Parker’s Mary Jane or Clark Kent’s Lois Lane.  While either are talented, formidable women, they are not independently “super.”  Would a Nightwing and Batgirl/Starfire romance be the first pair of equals depicted in the Hollywood superhero universe?  No, but it would add to a very scarce pile.  And considering the continuing sexual assault problems on our college campuses and in the workplace, it might not be such a bad idea to have some positive relationships of equality featured in pop culture.  Especially for the next generation.

Dick as a Man

Feminists constantly find themselves explaining that feminism is not about raising women above men, but about achieving equality.  This also means recognizing how gender roles hurt men, and working to change those too.

Filmmakers have an opportunity here to show that you can still be Nightwing-level masculine while not remaining emotionally constipated.  Batman, for instance, is deeply affected by what happened to him as a child and carries this burden with him stoically for the eternity of his arc.  Conversely, heroes like Deadpool are altered by horrible tragedies, but brush everything off with constant humor.  Nightwing has the possibility to strike a balance between stoicism and humor while also displaying emotion.

Nightwing is able to grieve in a healthy way; he does not respond to death with only anger.  He is capable of moving on, even eventually realizing that his parents’ killer has changed.  He shows a wider range of emotions. Furthermore, DC is renowned for being significantly darker than Marvel comics.  Nightwing has been raped multiple times, deals with real issues of guilt, and struggles with his responsibility to take up the Batman mantle.  He falls in love, gets married, and overall has extended relationships with women that leave him vulnerable.  The newest installment in the Dick Grayson storyline, Grayson, depicts his need for intimacy, not just sex, and not just with women.  And despite all of the above vulnerabilities, Nightwing is still definitely a man.  Now, should all these moments be a part of the Nightwing movie?  Maybe not, but the filmmakers have plenty of potential to dismantle harmful masculine stereotypes.

Showing something like this would be a huge step forward for feminism.  “Weakness”, sexual assault, experiencing a wide range of emotions . . . These are not just for women.  These are things that humans go through, regardless of gender.  The fact is, Nightwing can be a movie about these complex feminist issues and still be about a charismatic, hot guy with a great ass.  It’s not mutually exclusive.

Dayton spends her time slowing becoming nocturnal with the aid of classic novels, comic books, and coffee. Despite the lack of people willing to listen to her opinions on anything and everything, she is arrogant enough to believe what she has to say is worth other people’s time and has taken to the Internet in search for like-minded individuals.