Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Nightwing 5-6, originally released January 18th, 2012, and February 15th, 2012.
Patrick: I realize that I know a lot about Dick Grayson, but I don’t know all that much about Nightwing. I’m comfortable with him in the Robin role – that’s the Batman I was raised on, after all. And Dick wearing the Batman cowl is a compelling enough story that even with my limited exposure to that arc, I feel like I get it. But I don’t have a solid grasp on how Nightwing operates, what he stands for or what the world’s perception of him is. I don’t know who his rogues are (unless he’s borrowing from Batman’s incredibly deep bench), and I don’t really know where he usually fights crime (venturing a guess: Gotham and Blüdhaven? Wait, which one is Blüdhaven?). Relying only on this series, I’m not totally convinced I know what tone the Nightwing character is supposed to strike.
Which isn’t to say that I dislike it. But I do get the distinct impression that this series is discovering the character at the same rate I am. Reading Batman or Aquaman or Flash, I can tell the writers are a few steps ahead of me in revealing aspects of the characters’ universes to me. But Nightwing – both the series and the character – appear to be improvising. Issues 4 and 5 revolve around one-off villains of increasing levels of supernaturalness.
The plot for issue 5 is razor thin: Nightwing rescues Jimmy (the clown) from a demon summoned by his ex-wife to kill him. Oh and Saiko is revealed to be Raymond (who I didn’t recognize until going back and rereading issue 3 – where’s my editors note?) By comparison, issue 6 is jammed with incident. It opens with Nightwing battling a cybernetic cowboy named Shox. Dick has to get through this thug so he can interrogate a hit man booking agent with loose ties to Saiko. After getting a tiny morsel of useless information, Dick goes on a stroll with Raya. Things have been awkward since his not-technically-erotic-but-still-totally-sexy visit from Batgirl in Miami. Raya informs him that they’ve planned a Flying Graysons tribute show in Gotham City. We know that Raya is working with Saiko, and Dick starts to suspect that the show is a trap. But the circus-folk seem passionate enough so Haly’s heads for Gotham. After a moving speech about his families – both old and new – Dick realizes me needs to spring into action and battle Saiko in an exciting big-top-brawl. Oh, and incidentally, it looks like someone is framing Nightwing for the murder of some street criminals – you think that’ll come up in future issues?
Here’s another question: what’s the justification for holding the Grayson tribute show in Gotham? Sure, Dick’s parents were killed there, but I never got the impression that they were from Gotham. It may be the only immobile place Dick can call home, but that development didn’t come about until well after the Flying Graysons were murdered.
Yet another question: wasn’t Dick just in Gotham City to talk to Bruce about the Court of Owls? Yes, this is me complaining about continuity AGAIN. Nightwing 6 makes a point of mentioning Bruce’s disappearance, the editor incorrectly citing Batman #4 and #5 (it should be #5 and #6). Oddly, Dick appears in Batman #4, the very issue referred to in the editor’s note. I suppose that encounter could have happened after Haly’s funeral in issue #3… Why I let this sort of thing bother me is beyond me. I’m reading different books by different authors with the same characters, can’t I just get over it? It’s like putting together two puzzles simultaneously and being upset that I can’t use all the pieces interchangeably. Whatever complaints I may have about the muddled chronology are rendered irrelevant in light of Kyle Higgins’ tirelessly inventive baddies.
Like, how about that voodoo demon in issue 5? I like that Nightwing travels to a variety of locations and fights culturally relevant rogues in each of these American cities. He fights the robo-cowboy in Austen and the voodoo demon in New Orleans. He also fights Spinebender in Miami, so the pattern isn’t 100%. I wish that Dick could keep traveling the country fighting more and more bizarre and imaginative villains. The concept of a traveling superhero leaving his stamp all over the country is pretty cool, and allows us to see some real-world locations, which is generally not something the the DC heroes do. They tend to stay in Gotham or Metropolis or Coast City or Central City or Keystone or whatever. Six issues in and Nightwing’s been to Chicago, Austen, New Orleans, Miami, Atlantic City, Philly, Gotham and (by way of flashback) a cornfield in Iowa. But Dick’s adventures are pulled back to Gotham – I suspect because no one can escape the gravitational pull of the Night of Owls.
Eddy Barrows loves using multiple images of Nightwing to depict the character in acrobatic motion. There’s a really fine example of this during his battle with Saiko that also throws in some extra panel-frames to indicate the sequence of events. The coloring in the active frames is slightly brighter than the inactive space in the image. It’s the kind of thing I’ve grown used to seeing in The Flash or Batwoman, which should give some indication of how effective I think it is.
I’m making my way through Flashpoint right now – reading all of the side books. It’s exhausting, and most of it is pretty crummy. One mini-series I did enjoy, however, was Deadman and The Flying Graysons. I think there’s a lot of fun stuff to be mined from the setting of a traveling circus. Once it escapes the Owl Orbit, I’d like to see Nightwing embrace the Carnivale-with-super-heroes vibe it’s been rocking for a while. How about you, Drew? Any specific direction you want to see this series go in? Are you excited about Dick’s inevitable run-in with the Court or are you dreading it?
Drew: I’m a bit surprised to hear that you’ve been enjoying these one-off villains, as I’ve found them to be a little goofy. Perhaps more importantly, the stories they’ve been featured in have felt a bit like wheel-spinning. I was happy to forgive those faults in issue 4, where the appearance of Batgirl was fun (and substantial) enough on its own, but I can’t pretend like there’s a lot of pathos to be mined out of Jimmy the clown (who?) and his marital problems. Higgins tries to stick the landing by tying it back to how we choose to confront our pasts, but I wasn’t particularly convinced. In the end, all I really got out of issue 5 was the closing twist. It was kind of a big twist, but not enough substance to carry a whole issue.
I suppose the marital problems of Jimmy the clown would have interested me a bit more if his ex-wife were depicted anything other than bat-shit insane, but she lost her sane sticker when she decided to summon a demon as her marriage counselor. We do get to see the after-effects of Barbara’s visit in Miami, and some details about how Dick is managing to keep his dual life secret on the circus train, but the majority of this issue is given over to magic with kind of vaguely defined rules. Dick is able to defeat the demon by guessing what some of those rules might be, but lucky guesses don’t make for particularly fun (or clear) action sequences.
The final scene gets us back on track, and reveals that Raymond and Raya are somehow invested in Dick’s discovery of the book of names, the origins and meanings of which are still kind of mysterious. It also reveals that Raymond is still alive, and that he’s got weird, scarred-up eyes. The scarring around his eyes looks kind of similar to the scarring Zane has on the side of his face, causing me to speculate as to whether or not they had gotten them in some sort of accident (maybe the accident that allegedly killed Raymond), until I remembered that Zane had those scars in that flashback to Iowa, where Raymond was both alive and unscarred.
Anyway, after two issues that advanced the plot incrementally (mostly in final page reveals), it was good to get something a little more substantial. As Dick is discovering that Saiko’s interest in him is personal, we get a glimpse that Raya may be having second thoughts about their plan. She even seems to have been won over by Dick’s off-the-cuff speech at the tribute show, but given that their plan involved detonating a bomb in a crowded theater, I’m going to have trouble seeing her as any kind of sympathetic “just caught up with the wrong crowd” kind of character. Raymond’s justification for wanting to kill Dick is that he’s “as responsible as anyone” (so watch out, anyone, he might be coming after you next), but I’m not really sure how that justifies killing masses of innocent people. It’s almost like the character that calls himself Saiko isn’t totally well-adjusted.
Saiko has been calling Dick “the fiercest killer in Gotham” since he showed up, and in this issue, we get a little more on that story. Apparently, the murder of Dick’s parents somehow led to Raymond being kidnapped and tortured. Why Raymond would hold Dick accountable for any of those events still isn’t totally clear, let alone how this ties in with the book of names, but it’s an intriguing mystery.
Also intriguing is the apparent frame-job of Dick. Higgins has devoted a panel or two each issue to setting up stories down the line, including his introduction of Jimmy the clown (as the clown who mopily reads letters) in issue 3. Looking back on issue 3, Higgins also introduced a pair of angry blondes at Mr. Haly’s funeral.
There’s no indication of who those people are, let alone their grudge against Mr. Haly, but it’s too weird of a thread to have just put there arbitrarily. I suspect we’ll see more of them before Dick’s time with the circus is over.
And I do think these circus adventures will be over soon. It was kind of neat to have stories set around the country, but Dick has been fighting crime in Blüdhaven and Gotham for over 15 years of publication history (and first left Batman ten years before that). I’m not sure how that’s supposed to translate into time in Dick’s life, but I’m not sure he’d consider himself all that rootless.
I know we’ve talked about this before, but looking back at issue 3 got me thinking about this again: how old do we think Dick is? Issue three posits that he was still with the circus five years ago, and pre-relaunch history holds that Dick was 12 when his parents were killed. Clearly, Dick is not 17 now, and he is not 12 in that flashback; he’s hanging around with someone old enough to drive, and seems excited to hear about Raya’s romantic interest in him. I’ve already mentioned how insane I think it is that Dick’s entire character history could have been crammed into five years (let alone the history of Robin — Bruce would be going through sidekicks at just under one a year), but I’d also like to point out that a longer time away from the circus actually makes for a more compelling homecoming story. It’s weird that DC is sticking to this “no superhero has been around for more than five years” narrative, since it doesn’t always work for the characters.
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Yeah, the “how old is Dick Grayson supposed to be anyway?” question should make your head hurt. The same questions can probably be asked of Barbara Gordon with similarly head-hurty results. The timeline just doesn’t work – like everything after the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. We nerds just gotta learn to deal.
I too found the Naw ‘Leans demon to be overly silly. I had originally decried this character as too supernatural, but then I withdrew the comment. I prefer my nonsense to be at least a little grounded, but I always feel like a jackass for saying that a comic book villain felt too magicy (especially when I go around championing Animal Man or Green Lantern).
Good catch on the pouting blondes. No idea what their deal is supposed to be.
Oh, but I would totally read a mini-series that featured Shox.
Well, maybe I’d pick up the first three issues and only read two…
I’m happy to accept that the timeline doesn’t really make sense, I just wish DC would stop laying the “no super hero has been around for more than five years” stuff on so thick. The way I’m choosing to make sense of this is by ignoring the five-year caveat altogether.
I realized I completely forgot to address your question about Dick’s impending run-in with the Court of Owls, but I’m really looking forward to it. I’m loving the Court story Scott Snyder has been building on the Batman title, and I think I’ll like seeing that world interact with more of the bat-family. It sounds like the crossover issues may end up being one-offs for their respective titles, which I’m totally fine with, but I actually wouldn’t mind spending more time with the Court.
Bruce needing to call-in all of his friends for help is a pretty compelling story, but I’m especially interested in how Dick responds to that call. It’s kind of weird that he doesn’t really blink when Alfred mentions that Bruce has gone missing, since the last time that happened, Dick stepped in as Batman. Anyway, I really like seeing Dick interact with Bruce, Babs, Damian, etc, so I’m happy to know that he’s heading back into the fold.
I have to agree with Drew here. I really don’t like these one-of villains. While it fits the story of Dick traveling around with the circus, and not staying in any one place to build a hero-villain relationship, it doesn’t give this book a lot of consistency. That coupled with the overall slow moving story of Saiko, is dragging this book down. I do like the interactions we are seeing with Dick and the other members of the Bat-Family, but even those seem a little short-lived. Some of Nightwing’s best stories where when he was in Bludhaven fighting Blockbuster and his gang, ending with him being forced to kill Blockbuster. Dick really needs a solid set of villains, something that will last, and right now Saiko isn’t really filling that hole.