In 2014, the DC hero Nightwing almost died. What happened next was a massive revamp with the hero becoming a James Bond-esque superspy in the 'DC You' series Grayson. But as Newsarama has recently learned, it almost happened very, very differently.
In the DC comics event Forever Evil, Nightwing was captured by the alt-reality Batman known as Owlman. Captured, chained, and tortured, Dick Grayson was teased to die in the series - even by then-DC co-publisher Dan DiDio. In reality, he was unmasked to the world with his secret identity no longer secret, then publicly killed - only to have secretly survived.
DC fans know this would set up Nightwing's spy turn as Grayson, but originally it was to be the stage for a new Nightwing series by writer James Tynion IV and Mikel Janín, years before they individually became best known with runs on the flagship Batman title.
"Hah, basic pitch was (and this is me remembering it very loosely)... Owlman is free in the DCU post Forever Evil. Batman sees an opportunity in the fact that Dick Grayson is believed dead by the world," Tynion tells Newsarama's Chris Arrant on Twitter.
"He can't let Owlman know he's getting close. Dick Grayson creates a new identity for himself, Police Officer John Blake, and goes undercover to get close to where Bruce thinks Owlman is hiding. The biggest rule is that Dick cannot tip his hand at all, he cannot act as a vigilante."
If "Police Officer John Blake" sounds familiar to you, it should: it's the name of Joseph Gordon Levitt's character in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, two years before this possible inclusion in DC comics as a cover identity for Nightwing. In the final moments of that film, John Blake was led to the Batcave but never quite became a superhero.
But in Tynion and Janin's Nightwing pitch, this John Blake did - with a mask and all, different from what Nightwing wore in the past. But the mask wasn't just for the public, but also for readers. According to Tynion, DC planned to keep Nightwing's survival from his Forever Evil death a secret - only revealing it until after 'John Blake' and this new Nightwing series was to debut.
Tynion planned a unique wrinkle to that, as in the first arc of his planned Nightwing run, another Nightwing appears - much to the surprise of Grayson/Blake.
"Nightwing MUST stay dead.... But then while he's undercover, someone else who clearly knows he's alive starts putting on the Nightwing costume, and Dick needs to figure out who before his cover is blown," Tynion continues.
Tynion, who was then co-writing the weekly Batman Eternal series, said this proposed Nightwing series was going along well, with Mikel Janín even drawing concept art and a cover to the first issue, until some larger plans at DC began chipping away at what he could do in the planned Nightwing book.
"The first leg that got pulled from the stool was that we couldn't use Owlman," Tynion reveals. "The second was that they kept rejecting the answers to who the mystery Nightwing was. The third was the rejection of a return to a blue Nightwing. And the final was the idea from the bosses of a new super spy direction, and I decided to quit and just focus on Batman Eternal."
That editorial-mandated 'new super spy direction' ended up with DC recruiting then-untested writer Tom King and veteran artist/writer Tim Seeley taking over the reins of this series, resulting in the critically successful series Grayson. Although Tynion quit the project, Mikel Janín remained on, and drew a majority of Grayson's issues from 2014 to 2016 before following King to relaunch Batman for 'Rebirth.'
Of course Dick Grayson is one of the best Robins ever - but where does he rank on our list of best Robins?