“Old Wounds” (season three, episode 18; originally aired October 3, 1998)
When I was a kid, I thought it was so cool that Dick Grayson went from being Robin to Nightwing. He was the first sidekick I was aware of that stepped out of his partner’s shadow and became his own hero, and that transition made me realize that superhero comics offered a deep history for me to explore. He also had an awesome, sleek costume when most superhero looks were becoming needlessly complicated, and I remember the excitement of seeing the black and blue threads on The New Batman Adventures for the first time. “Old Wounds” details how Dick Grayson made the change in the DC animated universe, and it’s a strong episode that gives the individual members of the Bat-family their own moments to shine.
The introduction of Nightwing opens the show up to a new world of Batman stories, exploring the ways that the Dark Knight clashes with his companions. While on a routine patrol, Dick tells Tim the story of how he gave up the Robin mantle, detailing his falling out with Batman over Barbara’s secret identity. The relationship between Dick, Barbara, and Bruce is complicated; Dick is Bruce’s ward, Dick and Barbara are dating, and Barbara has a crush on Bruce. When Bruce misses Dick’s graduation and then makes Dick blows off a date to join him on the streets, their partnership begins to show signs of deterioration. It collapses when Batman ruthlessly attacks a thug in his home while his wife and son watch, and watching his boss’ shifting tactics makes Dick realize that he doesn’t want to fight by Batman’s side anymore.
Dick is in a rough place after deciding to end his time as Robin, but he can’t talk to Barbara about it because it’s a secret. When Barbara goes to Bruce to tell him that Dick is really bothered, Bruce makes a risky decision and shows Barbara the Batcave, finally bringing her into the Bat-family. He reveals that he’s known she’s Batgirl the entire time, and when Joker comes on television and threatens Gotham, Batman takes to the streets with a new female partner. Unfortunately, no one told Robin that his girlfriend was Batgirl, and when he finds out that his old partner knew his girlfriend was a costumed vigilante, Dick becomes even more enraged.
Batman is the world’s greatest detective, so of course he was going to figure out that Barbara was Batgirl. I mean, look at her. The fact that Dick couldn’t put it together says more about him than it does about his boss, and he shouldn’t be mad that Batman kept Barbara’s secret identity from him. He probably just wanted Dick to figure it out himself, and when he didn’t, it was like failing an exam. Bruce is in the wrong for revealing Dick’s secret life to his girlfriend, but otherwise Dick overreacts when he sees Batman and Batgirl together. Dick makes it very clear how he feels when Batman tries to stop him from leaving in anger and he punches him in the face, throwing down his cape and mask as he firmly leaves his Robin identity behind.
The last few episodes of this show have been disappointing, so it’s nice to see writer Rich Fogel take the show back to a more character-driven, emotional place. At times, the episode feels like a showcase for action figures (Jetpack Batman! Robin with motorcycle, complete with rocket handlebars!), but the story strikes a nice balance of drama, action, and humor courtesy of Mark Hamill’s Joker. Curt Geda’s direction gives the episode a cinematic tone that is appropriate for such a monumental moment in the development of Dick’s superhero career, and there are some striking visuals, including a sweeping shot of Barbara getting knocked off a rooftop by the Joker.
Nightwing’s chat with Robin helps him put his situation in perspective, and when they find out that the man Batman beat up in front of his family was given a job at Wayne Industries after the incident, Dick realizes that his old partner is more than he appears. Batman may be a brutal force of nature when he’s confronting criminals, but once the mask is hung up, he’s an altruistic public figure who is trying to help Gotham in multiple ways. Wayne even checks up on Conner’s son to make sure he’s not traumatized by that one time a man dressed up as a bat crashed into his house and beat up his daddy. Hearing this helps Nightwing forgive Batman, and when they see the Bat-signal in the air, Nightwing and Robin swing away to provide assistance, a family freshly united after considerable time apart.
- Batman Beatdown: After getting knocked down by Robin kicking in his front door, Conner gets a second dose of Dynamic Duo pain when Batman comes flying through his window with his jetpack, punching the thug into the wall while his family watches in horror. Jetpack Batman is not to be messed with.
- The BTAS trope of deadly garbage cans returns at the top of this episode as Robin gets beaten up with trash bins.
- I love that infomercial variation of the Joker theme when he appears on television.
- “Coulda, woulda, didn’t.” Nightwing’s a jerk.
- “Nice entrance. Either you’ve never heard of a door or you just like pulling glass out of your shorts.”
- Alfred: “Yes, I admit it. I am Batman.” Bruce: “It’s alright, Alfred.” Bruce: “Very good, sir.”
- “And remember, don’t send it airmail.”
- “Hey! Do I hit your kids? Actually, I do.”