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Michael Keaton’s DCEU Batman Return Wastes An Underrated DC Hero (Again)

Michael Keatons DCEU Batman Return Wastes An Underrated DC Hero Again

The return of original movie Dark Knight Michael Keaton in The Flash is great for Batman fans, but not for one of his most famous allies. 

Michael Keaton returning to the role of Batman in the DCEU actually secretly wastes the franchise’s opportunity to deliver a satisfying version of Dick Grayson as either Nightwing or Robin. The DCEU’s most significant problems are rarely considered to be related to its existing version of Batman. Even so, the continuity is set to change with The Flash, as a Multiverse narrative will introduce Michael Keaton’s Batman into the DCEU, promising an exciting arc for the iconic hero. However, despite this intriguing announcement, there is still legitimate concern about the franchise’s handling of Robin.

The passing of the cowl is an exciting prospect, as Michael Keaton’s Batman return hints at a much-needed tonal shift for the franchise. Though Affleck’s was an interesting take on Batman, Keaton’s version of the hero was gothic but with key moments of levity. Bringing that energy into the DCEU is an excellent idea, as the darkness of Keaton’s Batman matches the franchise in part, and his less self-serious elements will undoubtedly help to smooth the DCEU’s reputation as needlessly gritty. However, bringing a Batman from another universe into the DCEU comes with complications, and it will be necessary for certain aspects of the franchise’s future to be adapted to better match Keaton’s Batman. This, in turn, has potential ramifications for Robin.

Keaton returning not only kills the DCEU’s best Robin setup, but it prevents a key DC hero from being given a satisfying arc in the DCEU. Dick Grayson was the first to adopt the mantle of Robin, later establishing himself as the hero Nightwing, and even briefly acting as Batman, too. However, the DCEU has mostly ignored Grayson’s existence, and switching its Batman from Affleck to Keaton makes it seem as though the franchise will continue to waste him. As Keaton’s Batman will likely fill a similar role to Affleck’s (an older, battle-worn iteration of the hero), the implication is that he’s too late in his career to mentor Grayson, who is canonically his first sidekick. By introducing a Batman that’s further along in his personal timeline, the DCEU appears to be wasting an opportunity to introduce Dick Grayson into the franchise.

The DCEU Already Wasted Dick Grayson Once

Perhaps most importantly, the DCEU has already wasted Grayson once. In Snyder’s DCEU, Dick Grayson’s death was confirmed by the director himself after a Robin suit is shown displayed in the Batcave, defaced by the Joker. Though the death of Robin and the identity of his murderer naturally evokes Jason Todd, Zack Snyder confirmed that the DCEU’s dead Robin was none other than Dick Grayson, whose death put Ben Affleck’s Batman on the darker path he’s seen walking throughout his DCEU appearances. In this, the franchise reduced its version of Dick Grayson to little more than a plot device established by an Easter egg and a few throwaway lines of dialogue.

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This wastes Grayson entirely, as he’s such a key part of the Batman mythos. In the comics, not only does he act as Bruce Wayne’s first-ever sidekick, but he later goes on to rival Batman himself as a crimefighter. One of the worst Robin mistakes the DCEU made was making the character a part of the franchise’s canon, but ultimately choosing to have him die offscreen roughly a decade prior to the events of Batman v Superman. This made Dick Grayson seem disposable and inconsequential, painting him as a character more important dead than alive, relegating him to nothing more than a motivating influence for Ben Affleck’s Batman.

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Dick Grayson’s Story Could Help Save The DCEU

What makes the DCEU’s snub of Grayson so disappointing is that his story is so incredibly compelling. Much like Batman, Grayson sees his parents murdered as a child, but with the guiding influence of Bruce Wayne, he’s raised specifically as a hero. Many of the character’s different arcs examine different ideas as a result of this story – Titans‘ Nightwing could fill a spinoff with his own Batman-related issues alone – which serves as proof that there are a great many narrative avenues to take with Grayson’s character. What’s more, he operates as three different heroes at different points in his career: first, he’s Robin, then he’s Nightwing, and finally becomes Batman for a while after Bruce Wayne’s death. Bringing Grayson into the DCEU could see him fill any one of these roles.

Making use of Dick Grayson’s story could also be exactly what the DCEU really needs. Though he’s a character with his own share of angst, he’s most commonly characterized by the way he breaks Batman’s problematic cycle as Robin, overcoming his pain and trauma to become his own brand of hero. The idea of moving beyond the past and recovering is something that the DCEU could certainly use, and shifting focus from Batman onto Grayson as Robin/Nightwing would be an interesting way for the DCEU to fix its tonal issues. Focusing on Grayson’s story of moving out from Batman’s shadow would be an easy yet satisfying way of changing the franchise’s tone, and exploring the dynamic between Batman and his ward is often a good opportunity to show the lighter side of the Caped Crusader. This makes Dick Grayson the perfect hero for the DCEU to introduce moving forward, although it seems unlikely to happen.

Keaton’s Return Is Good For Batman – But Bad News For Nightwing

Though Michael Keaton’s return as Batman is largely considered to be a clever way to reinvent the character and avoid backlash, it does present an issue for Nightwing. In terms of Batman’s story, Keaton’s hero is presumably at a similar point in his career as Affleck’s: an older version of the hero who has many years of experience fighting crime in Gotham. Though it’s not entirely clear how the DCEU will handle the idea of Keaton’s Batman having a Robin, his age and the fact that he presumably has lived his life as Batman in his own timeline imply that he would likely have trained Grayson long before. This would mean that in Michael Keaton’s Batman timeline, Grayson would most probably be in the Nightwing phase of his career at the time of The Flash‘s crossover.

This makes Nightwing’s DCEU chances appear incredibly slim. As Affleck’s Grayson is confirmed to have been killed, any Robin or Nightwing introduced would need to come from another universe, which would logically have to be Keaton’s. This would mean either introducing a pre-established version of Nightwing (thus skipping all of his most important character development) or presenting the timeline in a particularly strange order (Keaton’s Batman training Batgirl first, then meeting Grayson just seems somehow wrong). Either way, it would appear that Keaton’s Batman presents a significant obstacle to Nightwing appearing in the DCEU, and that’s a genuine shame, because he’s one of DC’s most underrated and interesting heroes.

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