Patrick: Drew and I like identifying themes. Oh the curse of the liberally educated! When we first started this comic-review-practice, we both quickly picked out the theme of “you can never go back” from the pages of Nightwing. It’s a potent concept and one that hits double-hard for recent college grads that insist and transplanting themselves thousands of miles away from their friends an families. Boo hoo, Patrick, we all have problems. Since our initial 3-issue write-up, the thematic and narrative focuses have broadened, usually to the detriment of the storytelling. But Nightwing #7 reclaims the series’ former glory by addressing its central mystery and staying emotionally on-point. Oh and a cameo from the Batman don’t hurt none, either.
It always takes me a minute to get my bearings when an issue starts mid-action sequence. Luckily, this issue eased me in with a flashback to Dick’s parents’ death. Interestingly, the caption in the upper left corner of the page reads “Gotham City. Then.” It’s a beautiful antecedent to the consequent “Gotham City. Now.” that appears on the next page. And just like that, the clearly stated theme of the past dictating the future is established.
Nightwing and Saiko were locked in combat high over Haly’s Circus when Saiko set off a chemical explosion. Through the course of the ensuing explain-fight, Saiko reveals that he was taken in by Mr. Haly as some kind of deranged child soldier. Only, Raymond was a consolation prize, the intended deranged child soldier was Dick. By the grace (or… yeah, let’s stick with grace) of God, the accident that killed Dick’s parents put him in the care of one Bruce Wayne, who had a slightly-less-deranged child soldier plan in mind. The big top action ends with Raya saving the day and Saiko falling to his death. Naturally, this leaves Dick feeling unfulfilled and confused, so when Alfred mentions that Master Wayne could use a good cheering up, Dick jumps at the opportunity to see a friend.
But he ends up getting a whole lot more. Back at the Cave, Batman is examining the remains of Talon, a soldier deployed by the Court of Owls. If you read Batman #7 (or just our write-up of Batman #7), then this is going to be familiar to you. The startling reveal here is that Talon is a Grayson – Dick’s great-grandfather, and the secret deranged child solider program that Nightwing and Saiko were just fighting over is actually at the heart of what Batman has been investigating for weeks. The Court of Owls has used Haly’s circus for centuries to recruit, train and magically preserve the bodies of young killers, to be resurrected at a later date to do their bidding. Having heard too much for one day, Dick calls “bullshit” and Batman knocks a fucking tooth out of his face. I loved seeing this action beat in both titles this week.
The tooth in question has the insignia of the Court engraved on it, and the two characters take this as very different signs. Batman sees the inevitability of the Court’s control, reaching further than he ever dared dream, while Nightwing recognizes that he escaped his destiny, and that nothing is inevitable. Alfred alerts Nightwing to the murders that are being made to look like his handy work, and Dick – now resolved to accept all the challenges his life throws his way – takes to the streets.
I liked this one. I’ve hemmed and hawed my way through defending the last couple issues. They’ve been fun, if a little scattered. But this issue sets up such a clear premise and delivers on such a nice set of reveals that it’s hard to consider any of the previous 3 issues as little more than dicking around. I’m really sorry to see Raymond die in this issue, though, as he makes an excellent foil for Dick. Saiko has most of the same moves and a lot of the same history – in the action sequence at the top of the issue, the two characters almost appear as pixel-swaps of the other, Nightwing in red, Saiko is green.
But, come to think of it, Saiko’s death shouldn’t be the final word on the character, should it? If he was indeed set-up with all the same features of a Talon-in-training, then that surely includes a reboot switch for the Court of Owls to flip at a time of their choosing. Mark my words – we’ll see Saiko again, but amped up and wearing the Talon mask.
There’s lots of good spectacle in this issue too. Eddy Barrows delivers on the big-top acrobatics/heroics and really sells an exciting scene wherein Nightwing make the scoreboard drop to the floor. There’s this chaotic layer of spreading fire, dust and smoke in nearly every panel of the big fight sequence and it’s really an impressive display. But it’s the quieter moments in flashback that struck me most. As Saiko is telling the grim tale of his forced recruitment to Team Owl, Barrows gives us very lightly inked images in washed-out colors that depict this too-horrible-to-imagine scenario.
I’m having a great week as far as comics are concerned. This and Batman are at the top of their game, Cliff Chiang is back on Wonder Woman, hell, even Justice League was pretty good. For the first time in weeks, I’m all smiles where the New 52 are concerned. Let’s put those Owls at the center of the Bat-universe and let them all slug it out for the fate of Gotham. I’ve never been more ready, and it seems like Dick agrees with me.
Peter: When you think about it: was Haly’s Circus the only circus that was supplying Talons? Could there be other Saiko-like characters out there that didn’t make the cut? An interesting question if I have ever heard one. But seriously, I love that this book is embracing the crossover element of the Night of Owls to the ultimate degree. There are literally panels of art and story that are 99.9% the same between this and Batman 7. You really just don’t see that anymore, and I am glad that Higgins got on board with Nightwing.
The number of connections in this book is staggering, but was it always meant to be this way? I am a ‘What If?’ kind of person, and I would like pose this: that Higgins didn’t really know his story was going to converge with the Night of Owls. But then the cross-over was announced – so what was the original plan that he had to scrap? The Nightwing story and the Batman story were really far apart until this issue, and the overall sudden change makes me a little wary. But, as they say, everything happens for a reason, so I don’t think anyone will be dwelling on it that much.
I have to give top-notch props to the art team on this book. The paneling alone is stunning and really gives the feel of acrobatics and highwire action that would play out in a circus fight. The panels literally flip around, and it CANNOT get better than that. Nightwing continues to be one of the best laid out books of the New 52, with the editors really going the extra mile to reflect Dick’s style in the structure of the book itself. It helps convey the story on a much grander, and overall more involved scale, and I love it. I really do.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?