Despite his litany of abilities many will object to my choice of Nightwing because of his lack of powers. I’ve encountered many fans on the Internet who firmly believe Batman and Family aren’t superheroes at all just for this reason. Let me be clear: superpowers are subjective. There are varying degrees of all enhanced abilities even among the metahuman community.
I could say Dick has “super” powers simply because he has abilities that I don’t. He’s much stronger than my physically, so wouldn’t his strength be super from my perspective? Bane had enhanced strength when he employed his VENOM drug. However, Superman can easily overpower him. Bane still has super strength even though he’s far outclassed by Superman.
The entire argument that superpowers are required to be superheroes is fundamentally flawed. There is no objective standard by which to declare an ability to be “super”. What makes a hero is not the powers. It is the same thing that legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato once told his greatest student Mike Tyson. He told Tyson:
What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do. But they both feel the same, the hero and the coward. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel.
I am the Greatest
This rang true in the boxing ring. I believe it is true in fiction as well. Batman and Nightwing required no powers to become heroes. Others also try to argue there is a distinction between superheroes and vigilantes. This is even more ridiculous. All superheroes act as vigilantes. By definition, a vigilante is a self-appointed citizen or group who undertake law enforcement without legal authority. Superpowers do not, in any sense, segregate the metahuman population from falling under that category. Flash and Green Arrow are both equally vigilantes under the law despite one having a connection to the Speed Force and the other having a bag of pointy sticks.
So if superpowers aren’t a requirement to be a superhero, then how do we determine the greatest? You could certainly point to the strongest, the smartest, or the coolest. Now the archetype of the traditional hero has fallen away to the popularity of the anti-hero. The anti-hero is so cool he will protect people while drinking, cursing, and swearing and simultaneously saving the day. It might make for an entertaining film, but in my view it doesn’t make the best superhero.
I chose Nightwing as the greatest because he went the distance with his heroics and he did it as his own man. He was born into it, trained to be the best, and then became the best in his own right. He didn’t do it as a copy of Batman either. After the death of Bruce Wayne, Dick took on the cowl himself with Bruce’s biological son, Damien, as his Robin. Many have complained Damien didn’t fit the Robin role because he’s too dark and violent.
In the Shadow of The Bat
Dick, however, was never the right fit for the mantle of the Bat in his Batman and Robin series. He admitted that on many occasions. One of the most telling scenes was when he complained to Alfred about the batsuit’s cape. Alfred tried to point out that “Master Dick” had worn a cape for years as Robin. Dick replied, “Yeah, but it was made of nylon and stopped at my butt! It was the first thing I got rid of as Nightwing.”
He was right. Bruce thrived on the stealth and mystique it offered but the cape just hindered his former ward’s style. Dick was an acrobat with an aerial-based arsenal of moves. This short scene in one of the early issues of Batman and Robin was metaphor for Dick’s uneasiness in taking on his adopted father’s identity. It was almost like a child trying on his Dad’s suit and it never fitting him quite right. Nightwing was his tailored job. When Bruce recovered from being dead, one of the first things Dick said was that Nightwing would be eager to aid him in getting re-established as Batman. It wasn’t out of politeness or respect; he was eager to be back in his own skin again.
Dick did return to the role of Nightwing and continued to stand out as a leader of the DC universe. It has been said he has a natural ability to read people and unite them for a common purpose. This area, above all, is where he surpassed his mentor. Many would suggest Superman is the undisputed leader and unifying symbol for heroes and citizens alike in the DC universe.
Leaders are Born
But consider that Dick can accomplish the same feat as Superman without the Kryptonian’s abilities. This is no easy task. He led the Teen Titans/Titans for years, as well as the Outsiders. No matter how long he may leave the various line-ups of Titans all naturally defer to him whenever he joins for an adventure.
His status as the best leader in the DC universe is not just my opinion, but Batman’s as well. In Justice League V2 #51, Batman said he believed Dick’s leadership abilities were so potent that one day he would be the leader of the Justice League. Later in JLA #69, Batman referred to Nightwing as the “best and only person to lead the team” as a contingency plan in a disaster. Only a few issues later in #73, he would successfully lead the JLA in battle against the far more powerful Gemamnae. Dick would go on to lead the JLA on many more occasions.
I can’t choose a favorite superhero. Many of them hold such a significant place in my heart from the stories told over the decades. It would be like picking between a favorite child or Star Wars film. But when I began to meditate over who might be the “best” superhero, Nightwing refused to leave the front of my mind.
Nightwing is not the strongest, smartest, or most powerful of the street judges. He doesn’t have to be. Nightwing may be the greatest of them all because he’s looked the darkness of life in the eye and continued to smile back. He went through more tragedy as a nine-year-old than most people will ever experience in their lifetime. He’s not only endured; he has thrived. He’s never considered another path. Even after he became independently wealthy as an adult from a trust fund left behind by his parents, his first thought was that the money would be sufficient to maintain his Nightwing gear without help from Bruce.
I was thrilled to hear a Nightwing film is in the works. (DT2: Read my treatment for a Blüdhaven TV pilot right here.)
With Lego Batman director Chris McKay (@buddboetticher) at the helm, I have no doubt the project is in great hands. His cameos and minute references to the Batman mythos in the children’s film were great fun and a treat for any longtime DC fan carrying an unruly toddler to view. I believe a Nightwing film will also contain the same respect and care when considering the past stories told featuring the Bat family and the original Robin.
I also wonder if perhaps we won’t see the first installment featuring the future leader of the Justice League. Either way, I will buy my ticket early!
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