Why Is Nightwing Hot? A Comics Alliance Investigation
Nightwing is comics’ hottest male superhero. His superior hotness is a fact so indisputable that, when we compiled our list of the 50 Sexiest Guys In Comics a while back, there was never any serious doubt that he would come out on top. His appeal is not only recognized by fans, but also by creators and even by publisher DC, which has been known to pander to his fans on several occasions. In an industry that doesn’t generally make time for the female gaze, Dick Grayson has emerged as one of the medium’s few male sex symbols.
But what is it about Dick Grayson that sets him apart among the macho mannequins of superhero comics? Is it his personality? His history? His character design? His butt? ComicsAlliance spoke to Dick Grayson experts Tim Seeley and Devin Grayson, and several of the character’s fans, and undertook an intense study of the source material, to get to the lovely bottom of this great question.
Dick Grayson hasn’t always been sexy. It actually took about thirty or forty years for the character to even begin to emerge as a sex symbol. After all, he was just a kid when he first appeared in Detective Comics #38 — “the sensational character find of 1940.” Created by writer Bill Finger and artists Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, Grayson served as both an audience identifiction figure and a junior Doctor Watson to the great bat detective.
Even in the elastic and endlessly rebootable timelines of superhero comics, children do eventually grow up. Yet his youthfulness is central to his appeal.
“[W]e live in a society that really enjoys and glorifies youth,” says Tim Seeley, who writes Grayson, the latest iteration of a Dick Grayson solo series. “Dick is and has been, for 75 years, an epitome of youth. He’s always going to be that boyish charmer in a world of ‘adults.'”
Indeed, Grayson occupies an unusual intersection of eternal youthfulness because of his relationship with his mentor Batman. The generational divide between those two characters obliges Grayson to stay young so that Batman never gets too old. This fixes Grayson to the ideal intersection for a pin-up crush; old enough to be sexual, young enough to be desirable to a young audience.
“[H]e’s basically ‘approachable Batman,'” says Seeley. “Batman is dark and sexy, but ultimately, I think we all know Batman wouldn’t be that fun to hang around with, and he’s probably got some issues that would prevent him from taking advantage of the 0% body fat frame he’s got going on. Dick is confident, and funny, and flirty… he’s all those things, while also occasionally being brooding and mysterious. It’s a pretty sexy combo.”
Grayson first became a young man rather than a kid in the mid-1970s, when he went away to university and got his first girlfriend. At this point he was comics’ #1 teenager for an audience of teenagers in the era of teen heartthrobs like David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Scott Baio. But it wasn’t until the 80s, and the work of the creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez on New Teen Titans, that he truly emerged out from under Batman’s shadow.
Wolfman and Perez made New Teen Titans a teen soap opera about young, attractive superheroes with Dick Grayson at its heart, and when Grayson switched from his Robin identity to his Nightwing identity it was very much a graduation into manhood. New Teen Titans played up Grayson as a sensitive stud, and showed him getting out of the shower, or wearing a Speedo, or in bed with his girlfriend Kory/Starfire.
Sexually active teenagers were such a shocking new development for superhero comics that Wolfman had to respond in the letters page to say “we neither condone nor condemn those who believe or disbelieve” in pre-marital sex. Though outrageous to some, the presentation of Dick Grayson as a sexual young man left an indelible mark on a generation of readers, and cemented Grayson’s place as a teen heartthrob who could draw in female readers.
“If you want me to admit that I would almost certainly never have read, much less written, comics if not for becoming infatuated with Nightwing, I’ll do so willingly,” says Devin Grayson, who wrote Nightwing from 2002 to 2006. “When we talk about attracting females to mainstream superhero comics, one of the components of that should be literal attraction. It’s astonishing to me that sexy male superheroes aren’t marketed as aggressively as sexy male vampires or sexy male boy bands. There’s obviously tons of money to be made there. There is no one on the planet that will devote more energy, social media advocacy, and money to a favored cause than a smitten teenage girl.”
Being young and sexual isn’t enough to account for Nightwing’s enduring appeal, of course. He also has to be sexy. The original Nightwing costume, with its high collar and shoulder fringe, was not especially attractive. In 1995 the character received a makeover courtesy of Brian Stelfreeze, and one of the great superhero costumes was born.
The genius of Stelfreeze’s design is how slick it is. The blue chevron enhances the adonis-V of the character’s physique, emphasizing the breadth of his shoulders and slimming his waist, and leading the eye irresistibly downwards. The costume is sexy — even though it reveals only slightly more bare skin than a beekeeper’s outfit. The black elongates the torso, enhancing the character’s lean, lithe build, and it forces artists to really pop the muscle definition to make it stand out.
Here again, the character’s necessary contrast with Batman helps sell Nightwing as a sex symbol, because it speaks to his physique. One fan summed up the aesthetic appeal of the character thus; “It’s that lean body! He’s drawn to contrast with Batman, so can’t be overly muscled.” Another correspondent noted; “burly is lumpy,” and drew attention to one particular feature that the costume’s silhouette seems designed to enhance.
I am referring, of course, to his ass. The costume’s design lends itself to a wide chest, long legs, a narrow waist, and — as one interviewee put it — “Dat ass.”
“I love that Nightwing’s ass, specifically, is a thing,” says Devin Grayson. “There are memes about it, reams of fan-art. If I were a male superhero contemporary of his, I think I might consider following his lead and forgoing the cape to see where it got me…”
Post-Nightwing, post-that costume, Dick Grayson was confirmed as male eye candy. And yet it’s important to remember that he’s always been more than that. As earnest as the fans’ appreciation of his ass may be, everyone I spoke to also talked about the character in terms of charm, confidence, or vulnerability. There is no male superhero who is more greatly objectified than Dick Grayson, yet even he is still appreciated by his fans for his personality. Even he is not reduced to the status of sexual object.
“Socially none of us — male or female — are taught to objectify men the same way we are taught to objectify women,” notes Devin Grayson. “It can be done, of course, but it isn’t reinforced by a nonstop media blitz. The result is that male sex-symbols are more likely to be perceived as whole people, with intelligence and personalities and skills in addition to physical allure. This is definitely true of Nightwing, and part of Dick’s appeal is that we get the whole package — no pun intended… well, okay, maybe a little.”
Of course, Nightwing no longer wears his iconic blue-and-black costume, nor even the red-and-black variant from New 52 continuity. Dick Grayson has abandoned superheroics to become an undercover agent in his current book, Grayson, with pencils by Mikel Janin — but his role as a sex symbol has not diminished. On the contrary, it’s integral to the mission statement of the current series.
“It was actually one of the first things [original series editor] Katie Kubert said about the idea when she pitched it to me,” says Seeley. “She said, ‘we want a cool, slick, sexy spy book starring Dick Grayson.’ She and I talked about how Dick was one of the few male superheroes — besides Movie Loki — with such a rabid ‘Tumblr crowd’ fanbase, and how much we’d like to harness that energy for this book. We both agreed that there was some un-mined territory in really leaning into that for once.”
In fact, taking the costume away simply can’t undermine Grayson’s appeal, so indelible has it become. “There really isn’t anything you can do, at this point, to make Dick Grayson not sexy,” says Devin Grayson. “So you might as well embrace it. It’s a clear draw for female readership and the idea that male consumers don’t want to read about attractive guys with active sex lives is misguided at best.”
So Dick Grayson was a teen heartthrob, eternally young and sexually active, brought to the fore with perhaps the sexiest costume of any male hero, equipped with one of the most likable personalities in comics, and deliberately sold to his readers as desirable. In that light it’s not too hard to see how Nightwing became such a popular crush. But the final reason he’s hot is that other male heroes… just aren’t. Other male heroes aren’t presented in ways designed to appeal to readers who are attracted to men.
Yet as Tim Seeley attests, Grayson has found an audience. While his horror books have always had a wide audience, Grayson has offered a different experience;
“I am sort of used to female readers talking to me about my books, since both Revival and Hack/Slash have a significant female readership. But the influx of gay men, and a whole new audience of women who don’t read horror, has been totally inspiring. I’m confident we approached the book the right way, so expect more shirtless Dick!”
Dick Grayson is popular because he’s a well rounded character who is designed to be sexy. In a genre where male characters get most of the character development and female characters get most of the butt shots, he’s in the unusual position of getting both.