I think part of it has to do with popularity outside of comic book fans. Alot of people who don't read comics know who Nightwing is through cartoons such as BTAS and Young Justice. This recognition allows comic books to capitalize on that to encourage new readers to read comics. I know that is how I ended up liking Tim and Dick was through those cartoons. I also think it helps when a large part of their existence is connected to a household name like Batman as that gives them more exposure. But if you think about it, Batman had to go through a similar kind of process to become as famous as he has. It was through cartoons and live action shows and movies that popularized him outside of comic readers. It was the continual sharing of ideas between comics, movies, and cartoons that helped get him to the status he is at today.
I'm going to reorganize this into a list:
To me, this is how I'd break it down:
A List: Household names like Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Superman. These characters have had many appearances outside of comics and as a result, are well known beyond the comics.
B List: These characters have some recognition due to a few appearances outside of comics. Examples: Nightwing, Tim Drake
C List: These characters are well known to comic readers but have had only marginal recognition outside of the comics world due to few popular or not as widely viewed appearances. Examples would be Red Hood.
D List: These characters are only popular to comic book readers at the moment and have had no appearances outside of comics and therefore are unknown. Examples: Red Robin
E List: These characters aren't even well known among comic book fans let alone those who don't read them.
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