'Gotham': Dick Grayson, From Circus Boy to Super-Spy

What the son of the Flying Graysons learned that made him a better superhero
Jim Lee/DC Entertainment

While it remains unclear whether or not audiences are about to meet the Joker on tonight’s episode of Gotham, there’s one piece of Batman’s comic book mythology that is definitely making its debut on “The Blind Fortune Teller” — namely, the Flying Graysons, the circus double act that is better known to comic book fans as the parents of the boy who would grow up to become Robin, the Boy Wonder.

The Flying Graysons made their comic book debut in 1940’s Detective Comics No. 38, but it was far from the highpoint of their acrobatic career. In fact, John and Mary Grayson’s sole purpose in that first appearance is to be murdered by a mobster called Tony Zucco, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead to their orphaned son Dick being taken in by Bruce Wayne, who’d eventually train him to become his sidekick in crime fighting.

Although the Flying Graysons' comic book career was brief — with the exception of the 2009 Blackest Night: Batman series that brought them back as zombies, John and Mary’s purpose in almost every appearance is to die in flashback — their legacy is arguably more present in contemporary comic books than the equally-departed Thomas and Martha Wayne. Both sets of parents’ deaths inspired their children to fight crime, but while the Waynes left behind the money to fund Batman’s crusade, the Graysons managed to teach Dick the skills that he uses to this day to save the world.

In fact, Dick Grayson’s love of acrobatics is one of the few things about the character than hasn’t changed over the course of his 75-year career. Over that time, he has gone from a grieving child to the lighthearted Robin, before graduating from sidekick duties to become Nightwing (in 1984’s Tales of the Teen Titans No. 44), spending some time filling in as Batman (from 2009 to 2011), and can these days be found working undercover as a secret agent in the current DC Entertainment comic book series Grayson. Throughout it all, the influence of his parents had stayed consistent — and constantly referenced.

That influence isn’t merely limited to his physical prowess, however; no matter what costumed identity Dick Grayson has adopted, he’s always displayed a more understanding, more fun-loving attitude than his Dark Knight mentor — something often placed at the feet of his upbringing in a circus surrounded by those described by other as “freaks” or outcasts. Occasionally, his circus upbringing would be referenced directly in his career, as 2009’s Batman and Robin comic book series demonstrated; similarly, 2011’s Nightwing series brought the character back to the circus to show the extent to which his youth had shaped the man he had become. You can take the boy out of the circus, but apparently taking the circus out of the boy is apparently far more difficult.

While they might not have had a lot of time on the page, the Flying Graysons have been a big influence on their son — and, through him, the fictional world of Gotham City. Whether or not they demonstrate their skills on the trapeze or their easy-going nature in Gotham remains to be seen, but either way, their appearance on the show demonstrates once again how oddly important these two little-seen characters are to the Batman mythos as a whole.

Gotham airs Monday nights on Fox.