With Batman and Catwoman’s wedding scheduled for Wednesday (do they or don't they? spoilers) and Superman already married to Lois Lane, is DC about to decide that this is the right time for Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon to become a couple?
According to Nightwing series writer Benjamin Percy, "Batgirl is going to play a very important role in my run."
Dick Grayson also appears in this month's Batgirl #25, further solidifying the idea that the two heroes - who have been romantically linked for decades - might finally make things official in the "Rebirth" DCU.
Barbara's appearance in Nightwing ties into the Dick's antagonist right now, a sneaky data-gathering villain called Wyrm. The story, which explores the real-life data warfare of the Dark Web, takes things up a notch for the world of superheroes, but reflects a world that Percy wrote about in his recent prose novel The Dark Net.
Newsarama talked to Percy to find out more about the fake appearance of Barbara Gordon last issue, what it says about how much she's on Dick Grayson's mind, and what readers can expect from Percy and artist Christopher Mooneyham's story now that Babs is part of it.
Newsarama: Ben, something just happened in Nightwing that was pretty wild. Dick Grayson had Barbara Gordon at his house, apparently overnight, but it wasn't her. Can you clarify what happened? He didn't remember what happened, so I'm assuming nothing happened with this fake Babs? That was just a hologram, right?
Benjamin Percy: Well, in Nightwing #45, he wakes up to find Babs in his apartment. As he departs, and he's incredibly confused and in a state of blackout about the night before, we see Babs' face, and she smiles at his departure and then glitches. It has an effect that's somewhat similar to a VCR tape that's suddenly been paused.
That's because, yes, she is a hologram.
Nrama: OK, so she was just a sort of projection. But this is an elaborate way to gather data?
Percy: She was a phishing scheme, essentially. Wyrm has bio-hacked Dick Grayson. So every Phantasm unit, and these have been delivered to every address in Bludhaven, every Phantasm unit has a controller. And these controllers are listening. They are like a souped up version of Alexa.
And as Dick Grayson begins to fiddle with the device, the controller sprouts legs like a mechanical spider and burrows into him. The way that phishing schemes work are a scammer might send out thousands of emails and only get one or two or three responses. They might have thousands of phone calls go out, and only here and there do people actually fall for them.
They're looking for targets. They're looking for vulnerable data. They're looking for financial information.
Nrama: And Dick Grayson is a pretty good target for them?
Percy: He's somebody who Wyrm recognizes is a valuable target. He's not known as Nightwing. He is only recognized as the ward of Bruce Wayne.
There's potentially money to be made here. There's potential vulnerable data to be mined from him.
The thing about data hacking - I should say data mining or bio hacking - Dick Grayson is that he's somebody who's well-equipped at keeping secrets.
He's somebody who is going to withstand, even on the subconscious level, somebody trying to dig around in his memory.
So even though he doesn't know what's going on at first, he's still able to keep a lot of doors locked.
But when we first catch up with him in issue #45, this fake "morning after," some neural information has been unloaded, including his connection to Babs.
Nrama: So maybe that information isn't as protected?
Percy: Well, she was in issue #44, so she's in his recent memory. But yes, on a larger, more important note, Babs takes up a lot of real estate in Dick Grayson's mind.
They're age-old friends and lovers. They have so many deep connections. And Wyrm is taking advantage of that in the same way that maybe you have received an email that seemingly came from someone you know, but it's just a mock address with a phishing attachment.
So that's Wyrm trying to take advantage of Dick Grayson.
But in issue #46, as a result of the conversation that happens in issue #45, where Dick Grayson talks on the phone with Batgirl, that clues her in that something suspicious is at work.
Nrama: And she shows up.
Percy: Right. In issue #46, which drops this Wednesday, as he crashes out of his apartment window, as he tries to escape this holographic environment, as he tries to move beyond the confines of this environment where he can be taken advantage of because his neural network is tied into the simulation, so as he crashes out of this window, Batgirl is there to seize his hand as he falls.
Nrama: Perfect timing! So you're rewarding fans after the way you fooled them with the last issue?
Percy: Yeah, the last issue was a bit of a fake-out. Hopefully all the readers were on the edge of their seats thinking, are they actually back together? And the answer is no.
But then, in this issue, #46, they are back together.
Nrama: Now we're on the edge of our seats again.
Percy: Right, right, and you should be. I'll be very coy here, but Batgirl is going to play a very important role in my run.
Nrama: When you have something high-tech going on, not that Dick isn't bright enough to keep up with the high-tech stuff, but this sort of thing is right up Barbara's alley.
Percy: Yeah. That's her skill set.
Nrama: So I assume she can help him like no one else can with this problem?
Percy: She can help him with the narrative absolutely. She can help him with the plot points. She can help him as a technical adviser.
But the other side of that, and this is the side that really speaks to people, is she can connect to him emotionally. She can help him emotionally.
They're going to be getting a lot closer as a result of this adventure.
Nrama: You mentioned that Barbara takes up a lot of real estate in his mind. Introducing him to the idea, and even the possibility, that he would wake up after a night spent in bed with her has got to have expanded her real estate recently? Gave it some extra oomph?
Percy: Absolutely! There are questions that are going to be raised for both of them as to whether or not the time is right for them to be a couple.
Nrama: Let's talk about Wyrm and this storyline in particular. I think we discussed it some last time we talked, but is this "Dark Web" subplot going to continue as part of your run for a while?
Percy: That's correct. Wyrm and the Dark Web are the central antagonistic force of my run.
We're never going to lose sight of it. Sometimes it'll be a C-plot. Sometimes it will be a D-plot. But it will always be there.
I have a story coming up about the greatest motorcycle race in the cosmos. That's Nightwing #48 and Nightwing #49.
And there's another storyline coming up beyond that about Scarecrow.
But there's a through-line to my tenure on the series, and the through-line is the Dark Web.
What you'll see in Nightwing #47, and what you'll see in the Nightwing Annual is a few doors close and a few others open.
So I want there to constantly be a kind of turnstile at work in my run in that I want people to feel like they can jump in at any point.
And I want to keep things constantly fresh, such as with this gonzo, Grant Morrison-esque storyline involving the motorcycle race.
I want tonal variation. I want to feel free to digress.
But all the way through, I want people to be anxious about what's going on with this larger data grab, with this larger entity known as the Dark Web.
So what you see in these first four issues, you could prefer to as a prelude to a larger cyber war.