It has been a while since I delved into the dank depths of Nobody’s Favorites, and what better time than the Halloween Countdown to exhume the Dreaded Feature That Cannot Die?
In keeping with the seasonal spirit, we’re going to turn the spooky spotlight (it’s covered in cobwebs, okay?) upon the night-loving non-entity known as Nocturna.
Nocturna (aka “Natasha Knight” or “Natalia Knight”) was a recurring member of the pre-Crisis Batman Family cast, and an odd artifact of the time immediately before Frank Miller (and Jim Starlin) steered the Caped Crusader onto a grittier path.
She made a shadow-obscured teaser debut in Detective Comics #529 (August 1983) before fully revealing her pigment-deficient self in Batman #363 (September 1983). The adopted daughter of a prosperous crime boss, Nocturna developed a passion for stargazing and an appreciation for the finer things in life. When her ill-gotten gravy train got derailed by a successful hit on her mobbed-up pappy, she turned to high-stakes larceny to fund her lush lifestyle.
She was assisted in these endeavors by the mobster’s biological son Anton, a creepily doting ninja wannabe who dubbed himself “The Thief of Night” and — during his later descent into edgelordian nonsense — the “Night-Slayer.”
Oh, and somewhere along the way she got zapped by an experimental “astronomical laser” which bleached her skin and made her sensitive to light because “comics,” I guess.
Nocturna/Natasha’s antics brought her to the attention of the Batman, who was torn between his devotion to justice and his lust for the gothic hottie.
The inner conflicts and bizarre love triangle which ensued were pretty standard Bat-tale boilerplate, with Nocturna functioning as a slightly more suggestive yet less interesting analogue for the recently sidelined Catwoman. As far as filler material went, though, it was perfectly adequate stuff capable of keeping the franchise fires burning for a couple of months…but then things took a turn for weird.
Nocturna’s arrival happened to coincide with Dick Grayson’s stepping back from his role as Robin and his replacement by Jason Todd. This Jason Todd wasn’t the pubescent problem child awaiting a reader-demanded date with the business end of a crowbar, but the pre-Year One cipher who was little more than a carbon copy of his predecessor.
To liven things up (providing your definition of “excitement” is pegged to daytime soap operas), the new Boy Wonder was thrown into the middle of a prolonged custody battle between Nocturna and Bruce Wayne, with the former eventually becoming his adoptive mother.
For Nocturna, it was a strategy to coerce the Batman into something more long-term than the occasional booty call. For Batman, it presented a problem he couldn’t punch or buy his way out of. For Young Andrew, it was a weird contrivance that couldn’t even meet the very low bar my suspension of disbelief supported at the time.
I mean, two high profile media figures battling it out over some random orphan? As if that wouldn’t be front page news, even regionally? And that scrutiny wouldn’t lead even the most oblivious folks to put two and two together in terms of who the people involved actually were — especially when a supposedly reformed Nocturna and Robin were going out and fighting crimes together?
There’s enjoyably dumb and then there’s downright stupid. (Not to mention that my takeaway from it at the time was “women will use kids to entrap guys,” which wasn’t exactly a healthy message for a boy entering the maelstrom of full-bore puberty.)
Nocturna’s efforts to become a law-abiding parental figure came to naught after Nu-Robin discovered she was still thieving on the side. Meanwhile, her jealousy-deranged ex, Anton, got himself involved in all manner of hijinks including dressing up like Batman and convincing everyone the Caped Crusader was a criminal — despite the prominent ‘stache and goatee protruding from under his cowl.
It ended in the manner one would expect from an editorially mandated clean-up job. Anton took a fatal fall while fighting Catwoman (who showed up to enforce her trademark against the newcomers) and Jason Todd dumped the wounded Nocturna in a hot air balloon in an act of mercy (whether towards her or to the readers is anyone’s guess). The balloon then exploded in the Crisis-wracked “red skies” and Nocturna was presumably swept up into a wave of multiverse-obliterating antimatter.
And here I thought killing MASH’s Colonel Blake in an off-screen helicopter crash was a harsh kiss-off.
She was never seen again — unless you count the introduction of a vampire character with the same codename and basic look a few decades later. I certainly don’t, but I’m not going to tell you what to think.
Looking back at this period of Bat-history, I’m most amazed at how long the Nocturna era lasted. It ran from 1983 up through Crisis on Infinite Earths two years later — an incredibly long stretch of time by contemporary funnybook standards — and it unfolded between both of Batman’s monthly solo titles. That’s a whole lotta paper, ink, and effort dedicated to a storyline, and yet it has been obliterated from memory by the reboot(s) that followed it.
The same could be said about most of DC’s mid-Eighties revamps, but not nearly to the same extent. I’ve seen and heard more discussion about Superman and even Wonder Woman in their immediate pre-reboot days than I’ve encountered about the Batman solo titles (with the exception of the short Barr/Davis run). The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, and The Killing Joke hit so hard they blasted all of it from popular memory.
The pitiful and pale Nocturna just happened to be at ground zero.
Recommended listening: Vicki Sue Robinson – Nighttime Fantasy (from the Nocturna OST, 1979)
I’m not saying Nocturna would’ve fared better if she was the disco-dancing granddaughter of Dracula like in the 1979 movie, but I’m not saying she wouldn’t have, either.