Thoughts About Dick Grayson
When did Dick become Sexy?

And other random thoughts.

I’m just spitballing here, but I don’t think DC really presented Dick as sexy until the 1980s in New Teen Titans, and I don’t think he became an icon for sexiness until the 1990s.

Dick has a long history, but he started off as a child. When he debuted as Robin in 1940, he was 8. Not sexy. Cute as a button, but not sexy. During the 1940s Dick aged at almost a normal pace; then DC must have realized “whoa, this Batman and Robin thing is going to be around for a while,” and Dick started to age in “comic time.” Therefore, he wasn’t old enough to go to college until December 1969.

In the 1960s, high-school Dick dated, but it was always extremely mundane “normal” high-school things. He took a date to a school dance; he took another girl to a football game. I believe it was supposed to show how awesome Dick was: he could fight crime and still be a normal high-school boy. Bam! Perfect audience surrogate.

Dick got a long-term girlfriend in the 1970s when he went to Hudson University. (I just want to point out that it seriously rocks my world that two of my favorite things – Dick Grayson and Law & Order – both have affiliations with a fictional Hudson University). Dick dated Lori Elton for a long time (in real-people years), but she didn’t make him sexy. Dating Lori proved Dick was a normal college boy (the audience surrogate issue again) and it added a bit of tension because he had to hide his secret identity from her.

I’m not saying people didn’t see Dick as sexy in the 196s and 1970s, I just don’t really think DC embraced that idea. After all, Dick was Robin – the junior partner of Batman. Batman was the main draw, people! If anyone was going to be sexy, it should have been the Bat.

But with New Teen Titans, Dick was out from under the shadow of the Bat. Dick himself wasn’t, but Robin was now frequently appearing without Batman. NTT was a hugely popular book featuring some sexy, sexy ladies (seriously, Starfire, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Raven are all pretty fabulous) and writers/artists who weren’t afraid to take risks and bring comics, socially, into modern times. Why not have sexy men to go with those sexy ladies? And Dick got to be the sexiest. Gar/Beast Boy/Changeling was too young and too green (literally, his skin is green), Wally West/Kid Flash was too Midwestern pale and red-headed (and it isn’t fair but red-headed men are not seen as being as sexy as red-headed women), and Vic Stone was too new (created for NTT) and too part-robot. And Dick’s short pants helped. According to the introductory notes to the trade paperback The Judas Contract, people thought Robin’s bare legs were hot. In fact, that’s why Discowing had such a low V-neck: bare legs were impractical but the creators wanted him to still be a “beefcake.” So they substituted chest cleavage for bare legs.

Plus, in NTT Dick was in a relationship with Starfire, who was obviously designed to be hot. Two hot teenagers sexing it up just increased the individual sexiness of both Dick and Starfire.

By the time Dick finally got his own series in 1996, he was well-established as sexy. Since he now had a solo series, his sexiness could be elevated because he didn’t have to share the book. And since he wasn’t dating Starfire anymore, DC writers were free to showcase Dick’s sexiness in other ways. Hence, practically every woman he meets develops a crush on him and he has a fair amount of sex (for a comic-book character).

Truthfully, I think everyone crushing on Dick and Dick getting all the ladies is DC’s reaction to realizing “fans think Dick Grayson is hot.” I would imagine they really didn’t expect a kid sidekick would ever out-hot his mentor. Perhaps this is why there is this odd dichotomy between old-timey Dick who is the boy hostage, bad-pun pedaling, squeaky-clean youngster and the new-timey Dick who is sex on a stick. Who is practically the very definition of sexy.

Because, seriously, something happened. People who don’t follow the comics often think of Dick Grayson as this totally-groovy, awkward-around girls, probably gay, little boy. For instance, see this article on Cracked.com. And, while grossly exaggerated for comedic effect, that article isn’t completely wrong – that’s sort-of who Dick Grayson was in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. He came out of his shell in college (don’t we all), but I don’t think he was all that sexy in the 1970s. What he officially was in the 1970s, though, was of age. No longer was Robin jailbait. And with the independence of having his own features (albeit as secondary stories in the Batman magazine or with Batgirl in Batman Family), his sexiness could begin to develop.

And then we have NTT. NTT established Dick as even more awesome than he had been in previous decades, and his sexiness started to become official. Once you ditch the Comics Code in 1984, you can start depicting sex in comics. Dick and Kory were one of the first couples depicted in bed together, and that was a breakthrough. After all, it was the 1980s – did people really expect two teenagers in love not to be having sex?

As strictures against pre-marital sex in media loosened even more in the 1990s, showing Dick having sex became an easy way to cement his sexiness. Dick needed to have more sex than other characters to emphasize that he was the sexiest. Plus, the sex goes hand-in-hand with other aspects of his character that have been more recently developed, such as his physicality. Dick is now (often) described as someone who connects with people through touch, who expresses how he cares through touch (cuddles, sex, whatever), who lives in the corporeal plane. This makes sense for an acrobat/trapeze artist, but it’s a relatively recent development. Prior to the 1980s, comics didn’t mess with developing Dick’s personality so carefully. Sure, he was always brighter than Batman (especially when he was with Batman), but he was often Batman Junior (the planner, the detective, the serious one) when he was with the Silver Age Teen Titans. This is not to say Dick wasn’t a developed character, but his character has been developed to an even greater extent post 1980.

I personally love the old-timely comics, though. Although I love new-timey ones, too, I have a thing for old stuff. (I’m a historian, remember). The old-timey comics give me things newer ones don’t. In the older comics, I get a relatively tension-free Bruce-Dick relationship. It isn’t as nuanced as their newer, more fraught relationship, but I enjoy its simplicity. Bruce loves Dick, Dick loves Bruce, neither is afraid to show it. Adorable. Dick is also sweet in this All-American Knute Rockne sort of way. It’s hilarious (to a modern person) and incredibly cute. This the Dick who will take a girl to a school dance, only go so far as holding her hand, and be home by eleven. He’s a little bit dorky. And he’s very cute, but not sexy. So as much as I love sexy Dick, sometimes I wish he didn’t get every girl ever. That’s a big turnaround from old-timey dorky Dick, and I love that Dick, too.

I do think Dick’s relationship with Starfire helps explain the change. She taught him a lot about emotions and he really grew as a person. So while old-timey Dick and new-timey sexy Dick do not seem like completely different characters to me (the continuance of the bad puns help), I would like to see more glimpses of dorky Dick. I know you’re in there.

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