Dick and Babs
and Huntress and Clancy
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dick and Babs. Dick and Kory. Dick and Clancy. Dick and Huntress. Dick and any female he encounters. Dick and most female readers of "Titans".
If there's any issue that causes more message board discussions at Chuck Dixon's web site, it is Dick "Nightwing" Grayson and which female he should be involved with! To add to complications, the Nightwing character moved from the Titans editorial offices (where Starfire was his main squeeze for years) to the Batman offices (which had Dick Grayson first, of course, and prefers to involve him with another down-to-Earth character like Barbara Gordon). And then there's Huntress.
Attempting to bring some sanity to that message board came Duane Thomas, who filed three lengthy posts on the subject. Here, without much alteration, is Duane's attempt at straightening out this mess.
The Kiss With Helena
I find the relationship between Dick and Helena fascinating. And I don't find it hard to believe he kissed her on New Year's Eve, or even kissed Clancy after his graduation party, and that those kisses don't really mean anything, in a romantic sense, in either case. All it means is that they're both Dick's friends.
Let's remember that Dick was raised in a very happy home environment by two parents who were, by all accounts, very physically affectionate. In just about every group shot we've every seen of The Flying Graysons, either Mom or Dad has their arms around Dick's shoulders hugging him. Obviously this is visual shorthand on the artist's part to let us know what a close family this is. Still we might have a reasonable assumption that Dick grew with a lot of physical affection, lots of hugs and kisses. Then suddenly both his parents are dead and he's living with Bruce and Alfred. I don't see a whole lot of hugs and kisses coming from Bruce, do you? And while Alfred loved "the young master" immensely, I think he is, on a basic level, too diginified to go around hugging those he serves. So Dick, from his early teens on, probably felt seriously deprived of the physical expressions of affection he had been getting his entire life up to that point.
Now, in a less well-balanced personality, once his sexuality began to evince itself during puberty, this could have led to his becoming promiscuous. I do not believe this is the case. However I can easily see him as the sort of guy who, not meaning anything at all inappropriate by it, slips an arm around the waist of a female friend, gives her a hug, or if they're really good friends, even kisses her, simply for the physical expression of friendship.
Remember that Dick grew up in a circus. Everything I've ever read about circus/carnival life indicates to me this is a fascinating social microcosm in which many of the uptight rules of straight culture don't apply. And then post-circus, Dick found himself existing in a jet-set environment where social kissing is normal. You go into a restaurant to have lunch with your female friend: "Ah, darling, so good to see you." Kiss! Doesn't really mean anything. Even if Dick didn't engage in this behavior himself, he saw it enough for it to seem a normal part of existence.
Also we must bear in mind that Dick has, for the entirety of his existence, been almost supernaturally good-looking. He grew up in an environment in the circus where he was constantly surrounded by beautiful female circus performers. And then after that he was the handsome young ward of the world's most eligible bachelor. He grew up seeing Bruce lavished with (mostly unwanted) attention from beautiful women, and I'm sure a certain amount of that drifted his way as well.
What I'm trying to get across here is that, taking into account the life Dick has led, as Chuck Dixon has put it, "Dick's such a good-looking SOB he's used to having beautiful women hanging all over him," and it doesn't blow him away like it would a normal man. It's just an unquestioned part of his existence. The really cool thing about Dick Grayson is that, I honestly believe, he is mostly oblivious to the effect he has on women.
So there Dick is in Helena's hospital room. This is his friend, sometimes a prickly and difficult friend, but a friend nonetheless. Add to this the fact they have been, for one lonely evening when neither of them wanted to sleep alone (and before things began to reheat up with Babs), lovers. Also add to this that Helena's injuries were sustained as the direct result of, with incredible heroism, her nearly sacrificing her life to save Gotham City, and Dick's got to be feeling particularly protective and kindly toward her at this moment. Also add into the mix that this is the one-in-a-lifetime New Year's Eve, the new millennium. (Okay, I fall into that picky "the real eve of the new millennium is 2001" crowd myself, but I'll be the first to admit that is not the common perception.) And on this of all New Years Eves, Helena Bertinelli, Dick's old lover and current friend, is stuck in a hospital room, alone and lonely and hurting from her injuries. The countdown to the millennium begins. Helena is there, lonely and in pain, their eyes meet well, I'd say it would take a pretty cold bastard to NOT kiss her at that moment. To Dick, that's all it was, a moment of real friendship and comfort.
We might pause to ponder the fact that we don't know why Dick wasn't with Babs on this of all New Year's Eves. I think we can safely assume, however, that Dick's immediate pre-New Year's Eve life did not include a message from Babs saying, "Come on over, there's no one I'd rather spend this New Years Eve with." Because if it had, that's where Dick would have been, hurt friend or no hurt friend.
Now, given Dick's unbringing, I believe he probably feels the same way about his kiss with Clancy. Just two friends and a friendly kiss. Unfortunately it is very obvious (to those of us not Dick Grayson, that is) that Clancy is infatuated with Dick and the kiss probably meant a good deal more to her.
Now why was Helena so snotty when she saw Dick and Babs together? Well, we have two possibilities. (1) Helena wants Dick for herself, and she hated seeing him with her "rival." (2) Even though in her heart of heart and soul of souls she knows she and Dick are not meant to be, still she is a woman. A very passionate, not always totally logical woman, as a matter of fact. I think the mutual love and attraction between Dick and Babs was very obvious to her, the sort of thing she can never have with Dick, the sort of the thing she has NEVER had with any man, and is seriously frightened she never will. It bothered her to see that, and when Helena is bothered, Helena can be a bitch. I personally go for what's behind Door Number Two.
If I were to look into my crystal ball and try to see what the future holds for Dick and how he and the Huntress relate to each other: I see a continually deepening friendship that however stops short of an ongoing sexual relationship. If Dick is in trouble and Helena knows it, she will always be there to back him up. If Helena needs help, Dick will be there, period. They can, despite times of conflict caused primarily by Helena's prickly nature, count on each other. And that's the bottom line in any real friendship. And their friendship will always have that underlying sexual tension, that spice, added by that one night of almost-illicit passion.
The Status of Babs
A favorite topic of discussion on the Dixonverse message board is that people are STILL arguing over just what Dick and Babs' conversation in Nightwing #38 meant. I just reread that scene again, and let me say IMHO this is some of the best stuff Chuck Dixon's ever written. A real gut-wrencher. I can see where there could be some controversy over just what actually occurred there. Complex emotional undertones are at play in that scene, and the events that have occurred in the months succeeding it, that allow multiple interpretations. In this post you'll get my take on it all.
Frankly I have avoided posting on the whole "Dick and Babs, where are they in their relationship" question for months, while I turned this all over in my mind, trying to understand what's really happening here. And if it's that hard for me, a mere observer, imagine how difficult it is for the "people" who are motivated by the actual emotions, who do not have that built-in distance and objectivity! BTW allow me to apologize in advance for the length of this post, but you're getting months of thoughts here at once. Let's start with my theory on just what happened between Dick and Babs in Nightwing #38:
Babs tells Dick that, in order to come to terms with the fact she will never again have the use of her legs, she had to consciously give up wanting many things, one of which was the possibility of ever again having a relationship with him. I think so far we can all agree on that. We now continue on, and I'll give you my translation of what I believe each line means.
Dick: "It doesn't matter to me." Translation: "I love you. I want you. The wheelchair doesn't matter. I still want a mutual commitment."
Babs: "It does to me." Translation: "Look, it's nothing against you personally. I'm just not capable of being with anyone right now."
Dick: "What can I do? I hate this." Translation: "I know you're going through incredible pain. Is there anything I can do to make this easier on you, and also to change your mind? I still want you." A page-turn panel if ever there was one!
We now reach the crux of the controversy, just what the next exchange means:
Babs: "Time. Can you give me time?" Translation: "I need time to heal, and to get used to the idea that I can actually have you again. If you'll wait for me while I fight with my demons, then, yes, there's a possibility that eventually we might be able to be together." This is, BTW, a major breakthrough for Grayson in his I-want-Babs campaign. Before the answer was "No," now it's "I'm not saying yes yet because I just can't right now, but you have hope where before there was none." Note the respective expressions of Dick and Babs in this panel (good job, Scott McD!): Babs is crying and pleading with her eyes for Dick to understand. After all she's been through, do you have any idea the courage it must take to even think she might indeed, one day, be able again to have her true love? Dick is grinning because now he has hope instead of despair.
Dick: "All you want, Babs." Translation: "Take all the time you need. I hear your implicit promise that, if I'm patient and don't push you, there's reason to hope, at the end of that time, my patience will be rewarded and we'll be together."
Babs: "You're all right, Grayson." Translation: "Thank you so much for hearing my request, recognizing its validity and agreeing to give me time. And by the way, you just won MAJOR points toward convincing me you'd make a good choice in a lover/lifemate."
Now the big question is whether or not that conversation translates into a statement of commitment. In the classic "We're together, we're currently a couple, we're sexually active and neither of us will sleep with anyone else" fashion, then no, obviously not. This is more a postponement of commitment. Dick and Babs are temporarily On Hold while Babs gets her head straight. However when we look deeper implicit in this exchange, at least to me, is the idea that if Babs is willing, because Dick asks it, to submit herself to the incredible pain that allowing herself to want a relationship with him is going to entail, if she agrees to put forth the energy and find the courage it will take to deal with the emotional issues her wheelchair embodies, so that eventually they can be together sexually, then while she's doing it Dick is not going to hie himself merrily off and find someone else to sleep with. This would constitute emotional betrayal of the blackest sort. Similarly, if Dick is willing to put his love life on hold while she gets her head straight, it would be the height of insensitivity for Babs to take her hard-won, newly recovered ability to have a lover and give it to someone else. So in that sense, yes, it's a commitment.
Now this whole "Dick is waiting for Babs to get her head straight so they can be together sexually" thesis is seemingly contradicted by the fact that mere minutes after this conversation Dick and Babs were engaged in "some serious lip action." (And again, good job Scott McD., I could feel the heat through the paper.) So if Babs is capable of getting physical with Dick, then why aren't they together today? Why, I'm glad you asked!
It's because the fact that Babs' passion and physical attraction toward Dick is very much alive and well does not mean she's emotionally ready for a relationship. Given the amount of heat in what I refer to as The Kiss, is it possible that, had they not been interrupted, Dick and Babs might have, ahem, Gone All the Way right then and there? It's at least possible. And I think that would have been the worst thing that could have happened to their relationship. In a way they should be grateful to Pettit and crew and Helena. Because to Babs that would have been an immediate betrayal of Dick's "I'll give you time" promise.
Obviously this would have occurred with her active cooperation, but that would have made it even worse. Because during The Kiss, Babs lost control, of herself, of her actions. And control, the sense that she is in charge of herself and her own life, is something Babs has been fighting for, inch by bloody inch, ever since she was crippled. To lose it all so suddenly must, when she thought about it afterwards, have been terrifying for her. Given the emotions at play surrounding The Kiss, I believe it's absolutely unavoidable that in the aftermath there will be a period of time, which we are going through even now, when Babs holds Dick at arms length emotionally and sexually, while she (a) reassures herself she is still in control of her own emotions, and (b) does the hard emotional spade work necessary so they can one day be together.
It might be observed, "What work? She's not hanging with Dick now, she's out flirting with Ted Kord." IMO flirting with Ted is part of the work, but I'll come back to that later.
Why did Babs not call up Dick and ask him to spend New Years Eve 2000 with her? It's because she knew the passion between them is so strong that if they spent that most romantic of all nights together they'd probably wind up in bed, and she's just not ready for that yet. Partly because Dick Grayson, and the emotions being around him evokes, the issues she knows she'll have to deal with if she ever sleeps with him, scare the living hell out of her. Part of it is she's smart enough to realize that sleeping with Dick now would probably destroy any possibility of having that happy, lifelong relationship she's only recently realized she can allow herself to want. And she does NOT want to destroy that possibility.
Does Dick understand all this, where Babs' head is at these days? I tend to doubt it; he's not a mind reader. I do believe however that, after one serious slip (motiviated, no doubt, by the huge amount of pheromones free floating in the room) he is honoring his promise not to push the issue.
Now if all this is true, why doesn't Chuck Dixon just TELL us this stuff in the story? One thing I really like about Chuck's writing is that he doesn't take his readers by the hand like widdle first graders and lay everything out for them. We have to figure out this stuff for ourselves. He eshews explaining in excruciating detail the exact emotions and thought processes his characters are experiencing. He also doesn't use thought balloons as a cheat for expository dialogue to clarify a character's emotions. We've got pretty much the face value actions of the characters to go on ourselves, just like they do, anything deeper we have to dig for, which makes the story line much less self-explanatory but IMO much more involving. Can you imagine how deadly it would be to have Babs thinking to herself in a story: "Oh Dick, my dearest darling, how frightened I am by the emotions that being around you raises in my womanly breast! How I long to be with you! And yet I can't, I have yet to deal with the emotions my paralysis has raised inside me. Oh, how I wanted to call you on New Years Eve, to spend that night with you and no one but you, my dearest, my heart! But if I had, the passion between us might have flared out of control, and I simply can't deal with that yet. I can't! Oh my heart is torn " Etc., etc.
I believe I can answer the question of why it's so important to some people that the conversation leading up to The Kiss and the event itself constitutes a commitment between Dick and Babs. It's because they're basically romantics. This is not necessarily a bad thing to be. And like all romantics they want to see the characters they love live happily ever after. They thought The Kiss was the start of Happily Ever After, and they can't understand why that's not happening. They didn't realize this was the start of the work, not the end.
I will continue this later, in the third and final installment of my thesis: Dick & Babs, Part III, in which I discuss the events that have occurred since The Kiss.
Since The Kiss
I do not feel that Dick's actions subsequent to this conversation (kissing Helena, kissing Clancy) and Babs' (flirting with Ted, becoming his friend, visiting with ex-fiance Jason Bard) constitute a breach of their implicit agreement. Rather I see them as the actions of two basically well-balanced people who both have good relationship skills.
Allow me to explain. One of the real danger signals of a dysfunctional relationship is the belief that the relationship must be socially isolated. (Source: "Relationships and Intimacy" by psychologist Dr. Terry Gorsky.) IOW the people who believe that, when someone gets involved with them, then they and their partner must both automatically give up their old friends, especially of the opposite sex, and also give up the possibility of making new friends, especially of the opposite sex. "It's just you and me against the world - because we don't want to have our privacy violated." Or could it be there's some stinking stuff going on in this relationship you don't want other people to see? Could it be you're so insecure you can't handle the idea your lover has anyone important in their life besides you, and you're willing to dump your own friends (assuming you have any) as proof "Hey, I'm willing to compromise here. Why aren't you?"
Does this sound like Dick and Babs? I don't think so either.
Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon don't play those games. They keep their old friends (Helena, Clancy) and keep the possibility of making new friends (Ted), yes, even of the opposite sex. And while they both enjoy their friends, and enjoy making new friends, neither is looking for anyone else with whom to have a sexual relationship. For reasons I've outlined above, I believe Dick's kisses for Helena and Clancy were motivated by friendship with no romantic overtones on his part. (And I had that belief even before events in the latest issue of Nightwing confirmed its truth in Clancy's case.) Dick can kiss his female friends from now til doomsday for all I care; I simply don't believe, given his upbringing, that it's anything other than an expression of friendship on his part. Therefore those kisses do not constitute a betrayal of his implicit promise to wait for Babs. Now, if he starts casually hopping into bed with them I'd have a real problem with it. But that's not going to happen because (a) Dick Grayson does not casually hop into bed with people, and (b) he's waiting for Babs.
I do believe Dick made a mistake kissing Clancy, not because it was morally wrong per se, but because Dick simply doesn't understand the effect he has on women, and didn't realize Clancy was infatuated with him. While that kiss was to him a simple expression of friendship, it meant much more to Clancy, and I always knew that sooner or later, one way or another, Dick was going to have to pay the piper for this blind spot in his perceptions. Of course it turned out to be sooner than later, and it does kind of suck that he's "paying the piper" by knowing he's hurt Clancy. And to those people who were saying all along, "Oh no, that couldn't possibility have been just a friendly kiss on Dick's part, it had to mean more," well, now that the natural progression of events has proven I was right all along, it would be totally, y'know, wrong of me to say "I told you so," but I DID, didn't I.
I do not believe Dick's "babble" in Titans about "not knowing where he stands" with Babs invalidates the idea there is an implicit agreement between them. Actually I feel that under stress he misspoke - he does know where they stand - they are in a pre-relationship holding pattern. What he doesn't know is where they're going though he certainly has his preferences and hopes. The one thing I did disagree with was his comment on Clancy, "that's barely started." There is nothing romantic between Dick and Clancy as far as Dick is concerned, barely started or otherwise, per Chuck Dixon and since he's writing all their scenes together he should know, as well as my own reading of the situation. Other than that, in Dick's rant I feel the writer presented an impressively accurate summary of the current state of the character's love life.
I believe there is nothing wrong with Babs becoming friends with Ted Kord. And I must say, given Ted's actions when he finally met her, there's every reason she'd want him as a friend. I love the way Chuck Dixon writes Ted Kord, as just a very, very decent, intelligent and actually rather charming guy instead of the idiot he's normally portrayed by other writers.
[Editor's note: While Barbara Gordon and Ted Kord recently decided to just be friends, I think it's worth including this analysis of Barbara's motivations when she and Ted first started hanging out together.]
We have to ask ourselves though, by flirting with Ted, who obviously finds her extremely attractive, while she knows it will never go anywhere other than maybe a nice friendship, is Babs being dishonest with Ted? Answer: yes, obviously. Unlike Dick who has been lavished his entire life with attention from the opposite sex to the point it's simply an unquestioned part of his existence, for most of her life Babs has had a self-image as a mousy bookworm, so it does mean a lot to her to be pursued. She is very aware Ted is interested in her romantically, where in a similar situation Dick was oblivious until he got his face rubbed in it. I feel her behavior here is understandable, and forgiveable as long as it doesn't go on too long.
At this point in her life Babs probably really, really needs to feel desirable, to realize she still has the power to attract a man. And it helps immensely that Ted is someone who doesn't know her from before her crippling, thus he's not possibly running on old memories when he wants her, he's sees her new, as she is now, wheelchair and all, and still finds her attractive. Ted's attention is probably just the medicine she needs. (And who will be the eventual beneficiary of this newly-regained self-esteem and sense of sexual desirability? One Mr. Richard Grayson.) I do believe, however, that in short order Babs' natural honesty will force her into telling Ted the truth, that there's nothing in their future except, if he's interested, a really nice friendship (and that's no small thing IMHO). Will this hurt his feelings? You betcha. "Can't we just be friends?" Five words no man, or woman I am sure, likes to hear from their lust object. But I believe in the end he'll appreciate her honesty, and they actually will become good friends.
[Last editor's note: I am shocked at the prescience of Duane's last statement. See BoP #25 if you have any doubts.]
I am done. I collapse with exhaustion. As I've said to Chuck Dixon in the past, "It's all YOUR fault for making me think!"
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This piece is © 2000 by Duane Thomas.
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