This Was Then: Prodigal

Stories about ‘growing up’ are timeless. The time, place, or circumstances may change, but a boy always becomes a man, and a girl always becomes a woman. I could share personal stories about how I did not get along with my father while I was in high school. I am sure you have your own stories. Everyone does. Growing up and becoming an adult is tough. Just as we deal with these problems in everyday life, the characters we read about in our comic books have problems as well.

Every so often a comicbook character comes along, just like a character in a movie or television show, that we can relate to; one that shares in our problems. Whether it is something in that character’s past that we can associate with, or just their views of the world; we can find a piece of ourselves in a comic book. For myself, that character I can most easily associate with is Dick Grayson. From Robin, to Nightwing, to Batman, we have seen Dick Grayson grown and evolve over the years.

This week, This Was Then focuses on Prodigal. Released in ’94 and ’95 Prodigal explores a time when Bruce Wayne decided to leave town, and after the mistake of leaving the identity of Batman to Jean Paul Valley (during Batman’s Knightfall saga). This time, he entrusts the mantle to his former partner, Dick Grayson. As good as this series is, the best part is saved for the final issue: Robin #13.

Bruce returns to the Batcave, asking Dick to give back the mantle of Batman. Dick gets angry and begins bringing up old issues that where unresolved from years earlier. As children, we sometimes latch on to our parents’ mistakes, always remembering how they wronged us. We carry that pain and hurt into our adult lives, remembering that moment of when our parents screwed up. Dick may have taken on the identity of the Dark Knight, but is still acting like a Boy Wonder.

After Dick gets everything off his chest, Bruce makes a comment that brings it all together. ‘A distance grew between us. I left so many things unsaid. I handled it all wrong. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it? … Between fathers and sons?’

All relationships evolve over time, but none so much as between a father and son. It starts as a protective relationship, with the father looking out for the son, teaching him how to take care of himself just as Batman trained Robin. However, it grows to a point where the son becomes his own man, and the two become equals for the most part. We see the way Dick craves respect as a friend and hero from Bruce, longing to be looked at as anything but a child.

Dick gives the title of Batman back to Bruce, and goes back to being Nightwing. Taking Bruce’s place as Batman won’t help him grow up, he must do that on his own.

The writers and artists change with every issue of this series, however the overall feeling of growing up is very strong from beginning to end. Stories about becoming an adult will never lose their familiarity with readers. Whether we are currently growing up, or raising children of our own, growing up is something that never gets old.