Things don't look so good for Nightwing.
Of course, Nightwing's future has been questionable for months — ever since he was captured and unmasked by the evil Crime Syndicate of America in September's Forever Evil #1. His secret identity was broadcast worldwide, and March's Forever Evil conclusion is an issue billed as, "The final fate of Nightwing!"
This week, the character's poor prospects went from bad to worse. In Tuesday's release of DC solicitations for April, the cover for Nightwing #30 was revealed to be a close-up of the character's mask, sitting in a pool of blood. Even more alarming was the announcement that issue #30 would be the title's finale.
So what do the clues say so far about what might happen to Nightwing?
One of the earliest clues released by DC that indicated the future of Nightwing came in November — after the shocking capture of Dick Grayson in Forever Evil #1 — DC released a Jason Fabok-drawn teaser image called, "Happy Batsgiving," to promote the upcoming Batman: Eternal weekly series.
And Nightwing wasn't on it.
Well, to be more accurate, there was someone wearing a mask that looked like Nightwing's mask, but the guy had blond hair. So technically, there was a Nightwing, but it didn't look like Dick Grayson was behind the mask.
Blond Nightwing (or as we like to call him, "Blondwing"), is definitely not a coloring mistake, nor do we think it's just someone else's mask that was drawn incorrectly, because when Newsarama asked Batman group editor Mike Marts about it, he coyly said: "No comment."
The man in the teaser image is supposed to be blond. And he's supposed to look like Nightwing. And because Batman: Eternal begins in April, whatever happens to Nightwing in Forever Evil is reflected in that image.
New Female Nightwing
Another clue came in early December, when Scott Snyder released a character sketch for a new character that will appear in Batman later this year. The image, which features a woman in a mohawk and a mask, sure looks like someone trying to play the role of Nightwing.
The best bet on who's behind that mask is Harper Row — whom we've been trying to put into a superhero role for years. (More clues will probably come in February's Batman #28, which gives readers a sneak peek at the late-2014 Bat-universe — since this female, Nightwing-type character is supposed to show up in that issue.)
But more important than who is in that mask is… why is someone else in a Nightwing costume? Where is Dick Grayson?
New Identity for Dick?
One of the best theories for why the new Nightwing is blond is that Dick Grayson might fake his own death and/or take on a new identity — one that is blond.
According to this theory, after Forever Evil concludes, Dick Grayson would be trying to mask his identity, since it's been "outed" so publicly. So he moves (again…), takes on a new identity, bleaches his hair, and maybe even changes his superhero code name.
And in a world where Clark Kent's bumbling and glasses can disguise his hidden identity as Superman, surely a guy with blond hair can trick people into believing it's not dark-haired Dick Grayson in that costume, right?
A new superhero codename would explain why the Nightwing title might end. Dick Grayson might even get a new solo comic — just one with a different name.
It would also explain why someone else — like this female, mohawk character — might be able to call themselves Nightwing.
Some people are guessing that the blond guy in the Batsgiving teaser is someone other than Dick Grayson — a blond guy who has taken over the Nightwing mantle, either because Dick Grayson quit or *gulp* because… he …. died.
The leading candidate in this theory is Calvin Rose, who's currently starring in the DC title Talon. The hero is a former circus performer just like Dick Grayson (although instead of being an acrobat, he was an escape artist). And he's about the right age and build to be the man in the teaser.
And oh yeah… his hair is kind of blond.
There are other possibilities too. Some are longshots — like blond-haired Booster Gold, who has been missing from the DCU Earth but is expected to return any moment. Pre-New 52 Green Arrow Connor Hawke hasn't been introduced to the New 52 and has blond hair. There are a few dozen other blond possibilities.
But the fact that the Talon series is ending in March gives greater weight to the argument that it's Calvin behind the mask.
Dick Grayson fans shouldn't mourn just yet. This theory doesn't account for the female Nightwing — if Dick's dead and Calvin took his mantle, then why is there also a girl Nightwing? And there's also a possibility that Calvin Rose (or another blonde) donning the costume doesn't necessarily mean Dick is dead. He could be recovering. Or taking a vacation. Or maybe he asked Calvin to fill in while he gets his identity straightened out.
But we can't ignore the very obvious implication that Dick Grayson might be dying…
Would DC Kill Dick Grayson?
Despite all the evidence pointing toward Dick Grayson's demise in Forever Evil, there's a lot of reasons to believe he's going to be fine at the end of the story.
Perhaps the most obvious indication of a positive outcome is the story itself. Although the Justice League is missing in action, Batman survived and is determined to rescue Dick. And Nightwing himself isn't completely friendless — Owlman from Earth-3 has recruited Nightwing to help him take down Ultraman.
Those story reasons aside, there are a lot of other reasons DC probably isn't killing off Nightwing.
First off, he's iconic, and DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has said in the past that it would be a mistake to let him die.
Fans like to cite DiDio's admission in 2006 that he wanted Nightwing/Dick Grayson to die in the 2005 event Infinite Crisis, but the executive admitted later that he was wrong. "One of the things I’ve been proven wrong about," DiDio told Newsarama in 2006 about the Infinite Crisis plans to kill Nightwing, "is that I had felt that Dick Grayson was a redundant character." The key word in that quote being proven wrong.
It's also worth remembering that Forever Evil is being written by Geoff Johns, who back in 2005 was the main person who talked DiDio out of the Nightwing death. Johns admitted in an interview in the Infinite Crisis hardcover that it would have been a powerful moment to have Nightwing die, but then he added…. "but it’s Dick Grayson. My mom knows who he is. Nightwing would’ve been a mistake."
The brand recognition of the name "Dick Grayson" is nothing to scoff at. After all, it's one of the reasons that Barbara Gordon is back in the Batgirl costume — she's the name most associated with the mantle of Batgirl.
And fans also recently found out that Dick Grayson is rumored to appear on the Arrow television series on CW (allegedly played by tough-guy actor Steve McQueen's grandson, Steven R. McQueen). He's also rumored to be appearing in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel that features a meeting (and battle) between Superman and Batman.
That means the character has even more mainstream potential, and Warner Bros. also recently filed trademark registrations for the Nightwing logo — including one for merchandising of the hero's logo on toys and clothing. Most industry watchers read the move as indication that Warner plans to release some high-profile products associated with the hero's name soon.
It all points toward DC being horribly shortsighted if they kill off a character who is being primed for marketing by parent company Warner.
Whatever is happening to Nightwing at the end of Forever Evil, it's something DC isn't quite ready to announce. It may just all be a ploy for people to believe Dick Grayson will die in Forever Evil — after all, if Dick Grayson were going to die, we could see DC announcing it a few days beforehand. But advertising the death with a blood-soaked cover, months before the event? We're not so sure.
But there is something big coming for Nightwing. And there's no doubt there actually will be a significant change to the character. And whether DC is going to pull the trigger or not, all this teasing has fans wondering — would DC kill Nightwing? And if not, what's going to happen to him?