The good people at DC Comics have long had a fascination for Dick Grayson’s family. Well, “fascination” is too strong a word. Perhaps “healthy interest” would be a better way to put it, especially if you expand the definition of family to include circus comrades and teammates. I suspect this springs from the struggle to differentiate the first Robin from his dark mentor, a struggle partly rooted in a healthy desire to develop the character in his own right, and partly in the rather unhealthy fear of homoerotic subtext as identified by Dr. Fredric Wertham and others. Whether healthy or unhealthy, this line of inquiry, broadly defined, lay beneath some of the best stories of the Teen Titans in multiple incarnations, as well as numerous tales of the Bat Family. In the present day, the original Court of Owls in the New 52 era introduced the idea of the Gray Son of Gotham with Dick’s great-grandfather as an immortal super assassin, and Owlman of Earth 3 as a would-be elder brother.
Tim Seeley picks up on the ideas of circus and family in his Raptor arc, which he rejoins in Nightwing #7 after a brief interruption for the Night of the Monster Men crossover. The issue begins as Nightwing joins his old comrades from Spyral as they use the Book of Wisdom that Nightwing and Raptor retrieved from the Parliament of Owls to track down the members of the Avian Aristocracy of Awfulness. It is a pleasant visit with old friends for the former Agent Grayson, including seeing that young Ms. Duff is progressing quite nicely on the way to being a full-fledged femme-fatale. Unfortunately, they discover the Owls dead, slain by agents of Kobra who have a fang to pick with them over misappropriation of Kobra technology. It seems that Raptor has built a back door in the Book of Wisdom, which after all is only a gothic digital storage device with mystical overtones. Whenever Spyral accesses the Book to locate an Owl, the name gets forwarded to Kobra.
When Dick confronts Raptor, who is in the midst of practicing his theme song (Raptor has a great appreciation for the power of brand merchandising) he is treated to a diatribe about upper-class and lower-class justice. It’s a powerful perspective, one that writers in the past tried to explore through the character of Jason Todd, with checkered results. It ends with Raptor observing that Dick needs to have the corrupting influences stripped from him. In the ensuing fight, Nightwing is knocked unconscious and Raptor proceeds to abduct Bruce Wayne, who he knows is Batman (that is surely becoming one of the worst kept secrets in the DC universe).
The final revelation is in the final panel. A photo found by Nightwing in Raptor's quarters shows Mary Grayson, Dick's mother, in the company of a young Raptor. Mary wears her trapeze outfit, while Raptor appears to be a clown of some type. Who is this villain? Is he Dick's Uncle George from long ago? A former boyfriend of Mary? An anti-hero with relatively poor social skills? It is one of the most intriguing mysteries Nightwing has faced in many years. A regular circus of shadows.