Nightwing: who is he, & where will he fit in the DCEU?

Nightwing is getting his own movie as part of the DC extended universe. Here’s our primer...

The DC Extended Universe continues to add more movies to its slate, and one of the most intriguing prospects to join the big pile of in-development movies is Nightwing. An announcement was made recently that an impressive team was working on the project, which sent the internet into pure fan mode, with dream casting lists popping up all over the shop.

Since then, rumours have surfaced that Warner Bros and DC want to get something in front of cameras by the end of this year. Perhaps Nightwing will be put on this fast track, allowing Blüdhaven’s premier protector to swoop onto our screens speedily.

If the name Nightwing flew straight over your head, though, you’ve come to the right place. This is our primer on the character, to prepare you for his cinematic debut with all the knowledge nuggets you need…

Who is Nightwing?

Even if you’ve never read a Nightwing-centric comic, you’ll likely be familiar with Dick Grayson, the man beneath the mask. Before he became Nightwing, he was Robin, the original Bat-sidekick. Dick Grayson’s induction into the Bat-family has been explored numerous times in pretty much every medium going.

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If you’ve seen Batman Forever, you’ll know the basic beats. Dick Grayson is the youngest member of a family of acrobats, The Flying Graysons. When a brutal hit is put on them (by Two-Face in the film, but mafia bosses in the comics), Dick is the lone survivor. Bruce Wayne takes him under his Bat-wing, and retrains him as a crime-fighter. The LEGO Batman Movie recently retold this story for a younger generation, with, err, a few minor changes. (“Riiiiiip!”)

In the comics, Dick eventually started branching out on his own, notably by leading the Teen Titans super-team without Bats’ supervision. And after a few years as Robin, he opted to move out of Batman’s shadow and rebrand himself as a solo vigilante in a different crime-ridden city, Blüdhaven.

Since the DC Comics universe has been rebooted a couple of times, we’ve gotten a few different explanations for this decision. In one timeline, Dick was shot in the shoulder by the Joker, which sent Bruce into overprotective mode. Bruce booted Dick out of the Batcave.

Dick tried for a while to have a normal life, even going so far as to enrol in college. He dropped out after one semester and turned to Superman for advice: if he couldn’t be Robin, who was he meant to be?

Supes recounted a story from Krypton, of an outsider known only as Nightwing, who protected the planet’s most helpless people. Dick took the name.

In other versions of the timeline, Dick’s transition into Nightwing was a little different: in one, he actually recalled meeting this Kryptonian Nightwing; in another, he created the name for himself; and in yet another, there was no shot from the Joker, just a big argument with Bruce.

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Regardless of how it happens, the simple stuff stays the same in each iteration: Dick Grayson was Robin, but then one day he wasn’t. Eventually, he decided to move to Blüdhaven and become Nightwing, with a new super suit to match his new identity.

How would he fit into the DCEU?

Ben Affleck’s DCEU incarnation of Batman debuted in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice as a grizzled, 40+ version of Gotham’s caped crusader. It was established in the grim shot embedded above that he had previously mentored at least one Robin sidekick, who had been shot to bits by the Joker.

If they’re following comics lore to the letter, the Robin that was murdered by The Clown Prince Of Crime should be Jason Todd, the second of Bruce Wayne’s young wards to squeeze into the red and green costume. If they did go down that route, they could also borrow from the aforementioned Joker-shot-Dick-and-Bruce-freaked-out canon, and tie Nightwing into some major turmoil for Bruce.

What I’m suggesting (which, as usual, could be totally worthless) is this: say that Dick Grayson was the original Robin, and that Bruce cut him off after the Joker shot him. Years later, after Dick had gone off to become Nightwing, Bruce felt confident enough to recruit a new Robin – Jason Todd. This backfired spectacularly, and Bruce’s worst fears resurfaced when the Joker put bullets into Jason. History repeated itself, but this time the result was far worse. Jason died.

Setting up something like this – Bruce kicking Dick out, and Dick’s replacement in the team being murdered sometime later – would go some way to explaining by Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is so glum all the time. It would also provide some real tension, if the big screen version of Nightwing ever shares scenes with him.

It seems safe to assume, however much stuff they end up borrowing from the comics, that Nightwing already exists in this filmic universe. Batman V Superman seems to suggest that it’s been a while since Batman had a sidekick, so Dick must have left the Batcave and moved to Blüdhaven some time ago. The filmmakers could leave that bit of the story out, allude to it in dialogue, or tell it in flashbacks.

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Who might the villains be?

Over decades of comic book history, Dick Grayson has fought all manner of DC villains, including most of Batman’s rogues’ gallery to a few foes of his own. And at this stage, no clues at all have been released as to which ones will appear in the Nightwing movie. But when has a lack of actual information ever stopped us fans from speculating?

Given his ties to some of Dick’s biggest comic book stories, it would be nice to see the Joker pop by, even if it’s just for a flashback or two. But following the rumblings of disagreement between Jared Leto and Warner Bros about Mister J’s screen-time in Suicide Squad, I wouldn’t count on it.

It seems more likely that we’ll jump into a fresh story here instead, with Nightwing facing off against a new threat. With any luck, this could be a smaller, more street level movie, without a big CGI threat in the third act. They could go for Saiko, the clawed menace embedded in image form above, a childhood friend of Dick’s who wound up under the tutelage of the sinister Court Of Owls. He became one of their elite assassins, the Talons.

There’s also Roland Desmond, Blüdhaven’s beefcake answer to Carmine Falcone. He’s a crime lord who goes by the moniker Blockbuster, who gained super strength after being injected with some experimental steroids. As Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin proved in Daredevil, a mob boss with a lot of muscle to throw around can be more than enough to challenge a street-pounding vigilante.

Catalina Flores, aka Tarantula, is another recurrent feature in Nightwing comics. She’s a former FBI agent and a trained acrobat who uses decent hand-to-hand combat and a range of gadgets. She’s been painted as a brutal vigilante at some points, and a murderous villainess at others. She’s sometimes a friend, and sometimes a foe. Either, or both, of those dynamics could work nicely in the film’s supporting cast.

Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, is also a top contender for the Nightwing movie’s villainous ranks. The madman/martial arts master/mercenary has been tormenting Dick since his Teen Titans days, in the comics, and has been known to kill people close to him. Of course, whether or not Deathstroke can or will appear here depends on what DC has planned for Joe Manganiello. He’s been cast in the role for The Batman, and we don’t know yet if he’s a one-time villain or a recurring one. Recent comments where he cast doubt on his own involvement don’t help clear up the mystery…

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Who’s making the movie?

Finally, an easy question! Warner Bros has brought in their old chum Chris McKay to direct the picture. He’s coming in off the back of directing The LEGO Batman Movie, so there’s no denying that he’s got a keen handle on the Batman mythos. Presumably, with Nightwing, given the style of this DC shared universe that Zack Snyder helped to create, McKay will have to veer a little closer to darkness. (“Noooooo parents!”)

Before LEGO Batman, McKay was the animation co-director on The LEGO Movie. And before that he was working on various Robot Chicken projects (such as their take on Star Wars: Episode III, which McKay directed). Nightwing will be his second live-action feature film, following his 2002 directorial debut 2wks 1yr.

Warners have teamed McKay up with Bill Dubuque, who’ll pen the Nightwing screenplay. His previous project was The Accountant, which starred Batman himself (well, Ben Affleck) as an autistic money man/hit man. Prior to that, Dubuque brought us the Robert Downey Jnr film The Judge and Gerard Butler flick A Family Man. Notably, he’s not written a comic book movie script or a CGI slugfest before. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t pen one here, but it still has me hoping for a smaller story in Nightwing.

And, in surprising-nobody news, Deborah Snyder and Geoff Johns will produce the movie. That’s all we know at this stage about the personnel.

Who could be cast?

The comics presented Dick Grayson as a Caucasian chap with dark hair, but the movie could go in any direction, as long as the filmmakers, producers and studio bosses can agree on it. The only real stipulation is age: Dick Grayson can’t be a really young kid here, because the DCEU is already beyond the point of Batman having junior sidekicks.

Of course, there’s a chance that they could set the entire film years in the past, but that would feel like an odd move, to me at least. So yeah, Dick Grayson needs to be older than a teenager but younger than Ben Affleck’s mid-forties Batman. In Nightwing, then, I’d guess Dick will be in his early to mid thirties, or something like that.

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I’d personally like to see Milo Ventimiglia (pictured above) taking the role. He’s proven in recent years (across Gotham, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life and the terrific family drama This Is Us) that he can tackle pretty much anything. Plus, he’s got that grizzled, grumpy thing down, which seems vital for anyone who who’s spent years with Batfleck.

A cursory glance at that there internet tells me that there are plenty of other ideas out there. Supernatural actor Matt Cohen seems to be a particular fan favourite at the time of writing. Lewis Tan, who recently kicked some arse in Iron Fist, has been mentioned too. So have Dev Patel, Riz Ahmed, Garret Hedlund, Taron Edgerton, and pretty much every other actor you could think of.

Kit Harrington and Richard Madden have provided the typical ‘wouldn’t someone from Game Of Thrones be nice?’ option. Rami Malek has been mentioned too, as he often is in these sorts of situations. Steven Yeun, who’s had some free time of late, has also popped up in the fan discussions.

Let’s be honest, though, it could be anyone. And since the Nightwing movie has no set release date yet, it could be a while before we find out. DC’s schedule seems to be up in the air at the moment, and there’s always a chance that Dick (whoever ends up playing him) will show up in an earlier movie before spinning out.

As we mentioned earlier, there have been reports recently that DC wants to get at least one film in front of cameras this year. Gotham City Sirens, The Batman and Nightwing all have writer/director teams attached. Whichever one ends up coming first, I wouldn’t rule out a Dick Grayson appearance. And, of course, as soon as more news about the DC universe comes to light, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Please feel free to put your own Nightwing casting, story and villain ideas in the comments. At this stage, there really are no wrong answers…