I’ve been thinking a lot about Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, and their skills as detectives. Now, for the most part, Tim Drake is shown to be a better detective (or at least, the potential to become a better detective) than Dick, and that’s fine. But this sadly seems to come with a lack of emphasis…
The Dick Grayson I grew up with WAS logical and intelligent. Of course he was. He was a detective, trained by the Batman since he was 8 years old until he was old enough to leave the nest.
If you can read “Who is Donna Troy” from the New Teen Titans series, the man basically tracked down Donna Troy’s biological mother with evidence (a rag doll) found in the remains of the demolished apartment building firemen found her in as a baby.
Dick Grayson is even shown using a laboratory.
All through his association with the Titans, he was written as having a logical mind and detective skills. He didn’t have any super powers, but he was the leader of the team because of his amazing mind.
^ This. If you read New Teen Titans, Dick was always very much characterized by logical intelligence. If you read this interview from 1998, for example, Marv Wolfman even talks about “Nightwing’s logical approach to life” being an essential part of the character that he took into account when conceptualizing the Titans.
I think what tends to happen is that Dick’s characterization fluctuates depending on the characters he’s surrounded by. Among the Titans, he (along with Vic and Donna) was “the logical one”, as opposed to characters like Kory, Gar, Roy and Wally who are all more emotional. And sure enough, even in later years, when you see Dick surrounded by the Titans he once again falls back into the role of “the logical one”:
(This scene is from Devin Grayson’s Titans run, and while we all know I have plenty negative to say about Devin Grayson, one thing she almost invariably gets right is her ability to portray Dick as someone who is both logically intelligent and emotionally expressive. Something you see even in this scene, I think - at first you see Dick very much in “Batman mode”, all steely logic and focus… and then he cracks a joke, and you’re reminded that he’s not Batman, he’s Dick. Very good characterization, IMO.)
But when Dick is surrounded by the Batfamily, as opposed to the Titans or a similar group, that side of him tends to get emphasized far less. Why? Because the Batfamily as a group are all defined by being logical - they’re detectives. It’s what they do. And that’s especially true of the members Dick interacted with most (until Damian came along, anyway) - Bruce, and Babs, and Tim. All characters who are defined by being highly intelligent and highly logical. So if you play up that aspect of Dick when he’s with them, there’s no contrast. Dick can’t be “the logical one” when he’s interacting with characters who are equally logical.
As a result, when you see Dick interacting with those characters, he tends to fall into the role of “the emotional one” as opposed to “the logical one”:
An important thing to understand: These are both legitimate sides of Dick’s character. He is both highly emotional and logical, and if you lose one of those aspects, his characterization is going to come out skewed. A good writer is able to balance both sides of his character; a bad writer focuses too much on creating false dichotomies between him and other characters, and ends up ignoring large aspects of who he is.
With Dick and Tim specifically, this idea of them as The Emotional One and The Logical One actually took quite a bit of time to evolve. If you look at some of their earliest interactions, you see Dick very much in the role of The Logical One:
Which makes sense, because Tim was still honing his detective skills here, and Dick was teaching him. Therefore, it makes sense to emphasize Dick’s logical side. It’s also relevant that this is NTT-era Dick, written by Marv Wolfman, and Dick was always characterized more as a logically intelligent character in that era, as I’ve explained above.
By the time you get to Nightwing #6 (1997, written by Chuck Dixon), you see their roles evolving:
Tim is now the “more cerebral” one, being contrasted with Dick’s “streetsmarts”. (If any of the Robins are particularly street-smart I would’ve said it was Jason and Steph, but ok.)
But, note that Tim also tells Dick that “I’m not half the detective you are” - an interesting comment, considering that in recent years Tim is generally acknowledged as the best detective in the Batfamily after Bruce, with the potential to outstrip even him.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Tim was a character defined by being cerebral from the start, and it makes perfect sense for his detective skills to be where his character truly shines - even to the point where he eventually outpaces Dick.
The important thing here, though, is that Tim’s skills evolving shouldn’t make Dick’s magically regress, and when writers forget that Dick can think logically or has detective skills just because he happens to be standing next to Tim (or Bruce, or Babs), we have a problem.