Nightwing’s Time As The Batman Exposes A Huge Fandom Double Standard
When superheroes love Batman were gaining popularity during the Golden Age of the late 1930s and 1940s, most of the leads and their supporting actors were white and male. At this point in American history making a person of color the hero was unheard of, most minorities were portrayed as crude caricatures in comic books at this time. The Silver Age began in 1956 with the introduction of the Legacy Character, a hero who takes on the name, costume, and abilities of an established predecessor, starting with DC’s Flash. Ultimately, this idea would unwittingly expose a glaring double standard among comic book fans.
The predominantly white, cisgender male portrayals of heroes in superhero comics had in turn cultivated a predominantly white, cisgender male audience. A vocal percentage of that audience, either intentionally or unknowingly, would be wary of any instance of a white male hero having their title usurped by a new, non-white, non-male hero. Despite the fact that white male heroes are regularly replaced by other white men, there is little to no reaction from those same readers. A prime example of this being Dick Grayson’s time as Batman.
When Dick Grayson stopped being Nightwing to take over as Batman in 2009 following the events of Battle for the hood, it was the logical conclusion of the character’s arc up to this point. Going from the original Robin to Nightwing, and even becoming a temporary replacement for Batman in the ’90s after Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back in the fall of the knight storyline, it was perfectly reasonable for fans to accept Grayson as the new Batman. The double standard, however, becomes apparent once fans’ treatment of a character called Nightrunner is factored in.
Bilal Asselah, aka Nightrunner, is a French-Algerian parkour expert who, like Dick Grayson, became the “Batman of Paris” after the retirement of The Musketeer, a lesser-known Parisian hero who made an appearance in 1955. This power transition took place in 2010, just a year after Grayson’s, but despite the obscurity of Nightrunner and Musketeer, the mere idea of Paris having a Muslim Batman sent a strong contingent of fanatical DC readers into a fury. . It was for the Batman Incorporated storyline, where Bruce Wayne funded Batman surrogates around the world, at least three of those Batmen were white, but due to Nightrunner’s background, he came under undue scrutiny.
Some have argued that Bilal Asselah was not a “true” Frenchman, that Islam was inherently dangerous and was only created for political correctness. Similar arguments still prevail today with legacy characters like Riri Williams and Kamala Khan, though none of them contain water. Superhero stories often take place in urban environments, which are the most diverse areas in the world. It didn’t make sense for whole groups of characters to be white in these environments in the 1940s, and even less so today. Many of these characters have been “race-swapped” in recent live-action adaptations for this very reason, big-city stories need to portray big-city dwellers.
A common response to accusations of racism and sexism among bigoted comic book readers is that minority fans are “just making their own” superheroes. This argument fails to recognize that most superheroes became icons in an era when comic books were more popular, the likelihood of a completely original character succeeding in the mainstream to that degree today is considerably less likely , regardless of race, gender or orientation. Batman is the icon he is today in part because others weren’t allowed to be icons in the past.