Nightwing’s Combat Police Violates One of The Oldest Comic Book Rules

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Warning: Contains spoilers for Nightwing #93!

Nightwing has just broken one of the oldest rules in comics when Dick Grayson fights a group of cops in the deeply corrupt city of Newhaven. Once an official part of comic censorship under the Office of the Comics Code, even DC and Marvel comics after the CCA era rarely show superheroes forcibly engaging in combat with law enforcement.

The Comics Code Office was established in 1954 after the success of psychiatrist Fredrik Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocents raised concerns about the impact of comics on young people. Thus, the CCA was created along with a set of rules about what should not be shown in comics. Excessive violence was banned, as well as the words “horror” or “crime” and the depiction of all drugs. The Code of the American Comic Book Magazine Association also insisted that “police officers, judges, government officials and respected institutions should never be presented in such a way as to cause disrespect for established authority.” The CCA was gradually discarded as public opinion changed, but many of its decrees still shape the environment to this day.

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The current Nightwing series, written by Tom Taylor with illustrations by Bruno Redondo and Adriano Lucas, definitely doesn’t shy away from social issues. Dick Grayson used the wealth inherited from Alfred Pennyworth to create Haven, a shelter/community for people in need of help in the corrupt and criminal city of Newhaven. In issue 93, the police (who are in the custody of the criminal authority of the Blockbuster) are trying to sabotage his project by committing acts of vandalism in disguise in the area, and then cracking down on visitors in a “retaliatory manner”. When Nightwing goes to erase graffiti from the statue of Alfred, he is attacked by a group of policemen who immediately start shooting at him. Dick quickly disarms the officers, and the fight is depicted very jokingly: Nightwing throws a bucket over the policeman’s head and kicks him. Even when violence against police officers is comical in nature, it is rare to see violence against police officers treated in this way in mainstream comics (although it is common for criminals, who are confirmed to be officers).

The Nightwing creative team was not afraid to solve modern problems of the real world, so it’s hard not to see in this scene an ongoing discourse about the role of modern law enforcement agencies. This fight is presented as if Nightwing were fighting traditional street criminals, with a comedic bucket element making it clear that the goal here is to ridicule corrupt institutions, not provoke violence against them. This is only possible because the hero of the story is Nightwing, who has always shown a more acrobatic, less violent approach to his crime—fighting activities than, for example, Batman. Despite the fact that it has been repeatedly stressed that the police are clearly corrupt, adding an extra layer of context to a superhero beating up police officers, nevertheless, this would be prohibited under the CCA.

The creators were severely restricted by the Office of the Comic Book Code, which determined the stories that could be told in a comic environment. Intentionally or not, this scene in Nightwing #93 is a celebration that these restrictions no longer apply, and also sheds fresh light on the unwritten rules that the mainstream comics continue to follow in most cases. By portraying corrupt police like any other violent criminal, Nightwing breaks one of the oldest rules in comics and conveys a powerful message against the abuse of power, whether on the streets or on the pages of comics.