Today, Scott and Shelby are discussing Nightwing 19-20, originally released April 17th and May 15th, 2013, respectively.
Scott: Moving to a new city is hard. Finding the right place to live, learning your way around town, making friends, it all takes time. Unfortunately, Dick Grayson doesn’t have much chance to settle into his newfound home in Chicago. He’s in the Windy City with a purpose- to find the man who killed his parents- and he’s hardly welcomed with open arms. Nightwing 19 and 20 serve as a beginning to a new chapter for Dick, away from the torpedo of death and depression that Gotham has come to represent for him. New life is breathed into Nightwing, courtesy of a gust of wind off of Lake Michigan, and it is something to behold.
Dick arrives in Chicago in time to catch the reopening of an elevated train station, where he catches a glimpse of the mayor and meets his new roommate, a local journalist. By that night, Dick is masked and ready to go, tracking down “information man” Johnny Spade, to ask for help finding Tony Zucco. The police come for Dick- Chicago has a strict “no masks” policy- and the ensuing chase results in an explosion at the reopened L-station. Meanwhile, tech-savvy villain “The Prankster” has graduated from computer hacking to torturing a sleazebag Alderman. Dick plays poker with Johnny Spade, who tips him off about Prankster. Dick crashes in on Prankster’s next scheme, but Prankster puts up more of a fight than Dick is prepared for, leaving Dick in quite a predicament. Concerned by Nightwing’s interest, police have joined the search for Tony Zucco, who is hiding in plain sight as the Mayor’s chauffeur.
Dick is in Chicago to deal with a deeply personal matter (he refers to it as “family”), but it almost feels like a vacation for him. Stepping away from Gotham, where he’s recently endured the death of Damian, the undoing of Amusement Mile, and strained or complicated relationships with almost everyone close to him, is a relief for Dick and Nightwing readers alike. I love this title, but in recent months I’ve come to almost dread reading it, as the subject matter became increasingly and relentlessly heavy. Dick isn’t exactly a carefree tourist in Chicago, but he isn’t consumed by grief, and he actually seems to be enjoying himself, bringing back fond memories of a fun character we haven’t seen much of lately.
The lighter mood of these two issues is accentuated by the artwork, which is consistently great throughout both issues, with the action sequences venturing into spectacular. The art team, led by Brett Booth, is firing on all cylinders, from layouts that seem to get more frenetic the faster Dick is thinking, to the coloring, which gives off the unmistakable feel of a foggy Chicago night. Check out the magnificent title page spread in Nightwing 19, which is impressive not only because of how it looks, but because of how much information it gives the reader. Any middle school teacher could tell you this image is a perfect example of how to establish the 5 Ws.
Full disclosure: I lived in Chicago for three years, and my familiarity with the city is surely reaponsible in part for the pleasure I took in reading these issues. Relatability is important to any story, and while Gotham feels as real as any fake city possibly could, there’s something about seeing intersections you’ve driven past, trains you’ve ridden on and museums you’ve visited that draws you so much deeper into the world of a comic. I laughed at Joey’s line about Chicago’s “humidity and freezing winters”, and it isn’t much of a stretch to think that Illinois’ many well-publicized seedy politicians could have inspired some of the these characters. Chicago, like Gotham, is a character in itself, and it’s nice to see a favorite hero inhabit a world so recognizable.
Nightwing 19-20 are everything I could have asked for with this series. It’s an amazingly fresh start for Dick, who is unburdened by the recent tragedies in Gotham, and introduced to more interesting characters- Johnny, Joey, Prankster and the Mayor- than I can remember at other point in the series. I’m particularly intrigued by Prankster, who operates in a realm of moral ambiguity that suggests he’s more confused than evil. He believes that he and Dick are alike, and the end of issue 20 teases that the two will become allies, but who knows what any of that means. Tony Zucco will need to come more to the forefront at some point, but I’m in favor of any obstacles that keep Dick in the midwest for a while. I’ve haven’t said anything that distinguishes these two issues from one another, but that’s because they feel like two parts of one really strong story, and I can’t wait for it to be continued next month.
Shelby, you’re a Chicagoan- how did you like seeing Nightwing roaming around (and causing horrible destruction to) your town? Are you as annoyed with the CTA as Mike is? Also, did it bother you that Kyle Higgins basically ignored everything that’s happened to Dick in Gotham, or did you, like me, find it to be a breath of fresh air?
Shelby: Well, at first blush, I was distracted by petty details, like how there’s no way the
Sears Willis Tower looms that large at Milwaukee and Fullerton. Then I realized that MY HOME IS IN A COMIC BOOK and I needed to get over myself. Honestly, I’m torn about the destruction; on the one hand, I have suffered through closed L-stations, and I hate it. On the other hand, though, I have suffered through the CTA in general, so I hope Nightwing destroys as many stations as he can. Only through fictional explosions will my hatred for the CTA be slated.
These issues feel like a big step backwards for Dick, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Higgins is taking this book back to some very basic comic book story-telling, and I think that’s what it needs. You’re right, Scott: Nightwing has been weighed down by Owls, by the Joker, by Damian. As a result, I feel like Dick Grayson was getting lost in the shuffle. We’re going back to basics here in two ways. Firstly, the Prankster feels like a traditional comic confrontation; Nightwing is caught in an elaborate trap, and needs to find a way fast to escape without removing his mask and revealing his identity. Very “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel,” though the hacking of his HUD is a nice, contemporary twist to it. Secondly, we have the meat of the story so far: the hunt for Tony Zucco. Zucco is definitely basics for Dick; without Zucco killing his parents, we’d have no Robin and no Nightwing. Zucco laid the foundation for what Dick would become.
The interesting thing about Zucco is that Higgins has made him a sympathetic figure. When the mayor confronts him about the gun he’s carrying, Zucco isn’t pissed or defensive, he’s just really bummed out.
That’s not the face of a wily mobster who’ll do anything for some quick cash; that’s the sad face of a man hounded by a masked superhero, forced to give up everything and desperate enough to do something stupid to prevent it from happening again. I actually feel kind of bad for him, and I love feeling bad for the bad guys. Sympathetic villains make for rich, complex story-telling, and we here at Retcon Punch eat that shit up.
Booth, inker Norm Rapmund, and colorist Andrew Dalhouse do a phenomenal job on the art. They’ve got a handle on the big, sweeping pages with Dick flying gracefully through the air as the sun rises behind the Chicago skyline.
They also, though, pay very close attention to little details. There are a lot of signs and posters in the background that actually have some sort of text on them, and hanging in Joey’s bedroom there’s a poster for, I think, Punk Rock Jesus, a Vertigo mini by Sean Murphy.
I don’t know if it’s a reference to the book, the band IN the book, or just a wacky coincidence, but it’s that attention to detail that makes this book so visually arresting.
Nightwing has been…fine these last few months. While it’s certainly not one of my favorites, I’m encouraged by the direction Higgins and the art team are taking it. Whether it’s seeing Dick going back to his roots, both as a character and as a comic book archetype, or the sheer pleasure of seeing a meet-up take place on the roof of The Congress, I’m looking forward to seeing where this story in my home town is going to go.
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?