You’ve been Batman’s youthful sidekick for as long as you can recall. But DC Comics introduced you in 1940 (Detective Comics #38). You’ve lived through many a retcon, and your youth has passed. By now, you might even be in your twenties. And the Dark Knight is a dear man, really, beneath that grim exterior, but it’s time for you to move on. Besides, you could do with a change of outfit. You’re a holy walking target in red top and short pants.
You like the superhero gig, though. You may lack actual super-powers, but you’re among the best non-metahuman athletes in the DC Universe. You started out as a young circus acrobat, and have since been trained by the Batman in athletics, science, criminology, and martial arts. So you move out of the manor, buy a motorcycle, assemble a dark ensemble, and take on a new name.
Nightwing. Yeah. Like the old man says, criminals are a cowardly lot. Time for Nightwing to strike fear into some criminal hearts.
Dick Grayson first adopted the Nightwing identity (or, as we shall see, adapted it) in 1983. Bruce Wayne had taken him off active duty after the youth was shot and injured by the Joker. Grayson reacted poorly to this decision, and thus began a rift between the two halves of the Dynamic Duo that would last many years. He wandered, spending time in New York and Gotham City among other places. For three years Grayson continued to fight crime as Robin, but he finally took on the new name and costume and in that guise remains a major player in the DC Universe. In 1996, he settled in Bludhaven, a corrupt city near Gotham. For a time, he even served on their police force.
He generally does not work alone. For years, he led the Teen Titans, originally a team consisting of superhero sidekicks. He also headed a variation of that group known simply as The Titans. More recently, he has been part of The Outsiders: the comic-book super-group, not Ponyboy and the gang. Batman has asked him to join the Justice League, but he’s turned his old mentor down. He has, however, often teamed up with Batman and the various replacement Robins.
The character’s name, interestingly, goes back further in comic history, back to the Silver Age.
In Superman #158 (1963), Superman and Jimmy Olsen are forced by false allegations into hiding while visiting the bottled city of Kandor (note to non-nerds: while in the Silver Age version of Kandor, Superman loses his powers). In order to clear Superman’s name, they take on costumes and become the Kandorian version of the Dynamic Duo, Night Wing and Flame Bird, named for Kryptonian birds. Superman and Olsen clear their names, defeat the villains, and returned to their Kandorian identities sporadically throughout the 1960s. Lois Lane also once took on the Flame Bird identity.
Most fans have forgotten Superman and Olsen’s pre-Crisis romps as Night Wing and Flame Bird, but DC has reintroduced the team in name. Dick Grayson’s Robin inspired a young woman, Bette Kane, to become a superhero named Flamebird, and she has since teamed with Nightwing and members of the Teen Titans.