For over 40 years, Dick Grayson patrolled the streets with Batman as Robin, the Boy Wonder. Then, in 1984 Dick left the Robin mantle behind and forged his own identity as Nightwing in the legendary ‘New Teen Titans’ storyline “The Judas Contract.” But if you’ve only read “The Judas Contract” then you’re only getting part of the story -- and that’s where “Nightwing: Year One” comes in.
In 2005, the ‘Nightwing’ ongoing series took a break from its modern-day narrative to tell an unforgettable flashback story that spanned ‘Nightwing’ #101-106. The origin tale reunited writer Chuck Dixon and penciler Scott McDaniel, the duo whose previous run on ‘Nightwing’ became a game changer in the 1990s. Scott Beatty, who collaborated with Dixon on ‘Robin: Year One’ and ‘Batgirl: Year One,’ joined the duo for the ride and a new masterpiece was born. Dixon’s previous work on Nightwing made him the greatest Dick Grayson writer since Marv Wolfman, while Beatty had already proved he knew how to get inside the former Boy Wonder’s head and find his voice, and nobody can illustrate an acrobatic action sequence quite like McDaniel. ‘Nightwing: Year One’ could not have had a more perfect creative team!
The story, which takes place between the pages of ‘The Judas Contract,’ follows Dick as his partnership with Batman disintegrates, and the former Boy Wonder tries to find a new direction in life. After all, if you’ve always been the second half of “Batman and...” then what do you do with yourself once the Dark Knight is out of your life? Dick explores his circus roots, teams up with Superman, has a run-in with Deadman, and eventually makes a triumphant return to Gotham as Nightwing. In fact, this storyline can almost be considered Dick Grayson’s “gap year.”
Not only does the story serve as the perfect companion piece for “The Judas Contract,” but it’s also a great spiritual sequel to Dixon and Beatty’s “Robin: Year One.” Both comics tell their story in a similar structure, with Dick Grayson narrating the story as a letter to Bruce after being fired. In fact, if you read both stories side by side you’d be surprised at how many moments thematically mirror one another, and you’ll be left with a satisfying reading experience as you see Dick Grayson forge his own destiny.
'Nightwing: Year One' also explored Batgirl’s first meeting with Nightwing, something that had previously been unrevealed. Barbara Gordon is one of the most consistant relationships in Dick Grayson’s life, and believe it or not there had never been a story that had shown her reaction to his transition from Robin to Nightwing. After teaming up as Robin and Batgirl in 1983’s ‘Detective Comics’ #526, Dick and Babs were not seen in the same room together again until ‘Showcase ‘94’ #12 which was published 11 years later! Seeing Nightwing team up with Batgirl was a special sight that hadn’t been seen in comics before, and if you’re a Dick/Babs shipper these scenes will get your heart fluttering. Sorry, Kory, but you’ll have to wait your turn!
This story can almost be considered “Jason Todd: Year One” as well. Jason is introduced partially through the story, and Dixon/Beatty/McDaniel present their own take on how the second Robin came to be. There’s a bit of fun as Jason is given his own trial by fire, much like Dick did when he was training, and a misunderstanding leads to Alfred (who is disguised as Two-Face) landing in some hot water. In addition to working out his own new identity, Dick now has to team up with his scrappy replacement to save Alfred. If you enjoyed the ‘Titans’ episode “Jason Todd,” then you’ll love seeing Dick make sense of his ne'er-do-well replacement during this story.
The lesson from the story can almost be considered embracing the past while looking to the future. Dick Grayson can’t begin his career as Nightwing until he gets closure on his relationship with Batman, face his new replacement as Robin and visit Gotham one more time. “The Judas Contract” did not have the space to deal with all of these issues, since Terra and Deathstroke were keeping Nightwing pretty busy, which makes “Nightwing: Year One” an emotionally satisfying missing piece of the puzzle. But while the story greatly compliments “Robin: Year One” and “The Judas Contract,” it also stands on its own as one of the greatest Nightwing stories ever told. Within the 6 issues, Dixon/Beatty/McDaniel tell readers everything they’d ever need to know about Dick Grayson, and why he continues to chose life as a hero. Could this possibly be the definitive Dick Grayson story? After reading it again, it would be hard to argue otherwise.