Spencer: It’s hard to talk about Nightwing 29 without talking about the circumstances surrounding it. Forever Evil revealed Nightwing’s identity to the world and may possibly be killing him off; even if Dick survives, his life is going to be drastically different, as indicated by the cancellation of his title and the premature end of writer Kyle Higgins’ run. I admit that I’m a little bitter; Nightwing’s move to Chicago had rejuvenated the title, and I’m disappointed not to see the story of the Chicago Mask Killer resolved. I certainly can’t claim to know how Higgins feels about the decision, but if he’s upset, he’s not letting it show. Instead, he uses his final issue to create a highlight reel of his run, show us how it’s changed Nightwing, and ultimately, remind us why Dick Grayson is such an important, beloved character in the first place.
As such, the issue is actually a little light on plot. Dick’s roommate Joey has been watching Jen, the daughter of some of her friends, for a while; while there, Jen discovered that Dick was Nightwing. When Mr. Zsasz kills Jen’s parents, she steals Dick’s escrima sticks and chases after him. Nightwing arrives just in time to save Jen’s life, and, knowing what Jen’s going through, is able to help talk her through the worst of her grief.
It’s Dick’s talk with Jen that’s easily the most affecting part of the issue. As we’ve seen with Damian, Dick has a way with kids as it is, but the shared tragedy Dick and Jen have both endured connect them in an intimate way. Dick has first-hand experience with what Jen’s going through and is able to share his experience with her in a caring yet honest and no-nonsense manner.
I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Dick talks about how he “tried on different people” in an attempt to not be defined by the terrible thing that happened to him, and how he eventually found the right version of himself. The art on those pages shows that Dick’s specifically thinking of his transformation from Robin into Nightwing, but it’s easy to see how Jen might do the same someday (although likely in a less literal way). In fact, isn’t this what almost all of us do during our adolescence as we try to discover who we truly are?
It’s that relatability that’s always been one of the most compelling aspects of Dick Grayson, that’s made his transition from Robin into Nightwing such a popular story that’s been retold over and over. Higgins goes on to further sum up the appeal behind Nightwing as he continues his tale. You see, by talking to Jen, Dick doesn’t just help her, but he makes sense of everything he’s been through over the last few months himself. It’s a reminder for Dick that, for every tragedy he faces, there’s a moment of triumph to balance it out. It’s a reminder of what being Nightwing is truly about:
I can’t think of a better representation of who Dick is as a crimefighter. He’s not about vengeance or retribution; he’s the hero who lets the people he rescues hug him for hours on end as they work through their shock, the hero who talks a young girl through what might be the defining tragedy of her life. If this is indeed the end of Dick Grayson, then Higgins has done a stellar job of demonstrating his value as a character, making it all the more tragic that we may be losing not only the character, but Higgins’ take on him. The affection Higgins has for the character is obvious; he’s infused every page of this issue with it.
Artist Russell Dauterman is the perfect compliment to Higgins’ story. Just his style alone is well suited to Nightwing; Dauterman draws very “pretty” characters (for lack of a better word), and that’s a style that fits Dick better than most other male characters. I was most impressed by his layouts, though. This issue splits into roughly three segments, and Dauterman employs a different style of layouts for each.
For the scenes where Dick is talking to Jen or his roommates he keeps things simple, mostly using standard square panels and grids. When the action picks up though—such as during the fight with Zsasz—Dauterman shakes things up with oddly shaped panels that slope in various directions while leaving lots of empty space in the gutters, heightening the tension and representing the “anything can happen” stakes of a life-or-death fight.
Where Dauterman’s work shines the most, however, is in the pages devoted to recapping Dick’s past. He makes it clear from the very first page that we’re watching Dick’s memories by setting the panels on that page within a silhouette of Dick’s head, and from there things only get more inventive, eventually leading to my favorite page of the issue:
I love the way Dauterman frames Talon-Dick front and center, then uses the Court and the blood as borders between the panels. Colorist Pete Pantazis shines here as well; most of this image’s power comes from the striking contrast between the bleak black and white and the bright blood red. I won’t be forgetting this image anytime soon.
I won’t be forgetting this issue anytime soon either. Higgins didn’t get to finish his grand Nightwing story or even get to write the “end” of the character, but he turned that into an advantage, instead sharing his love of Nightwing with the audience and giving us one last chance to remember why he’s been such a great character for so long. Shelby, did this issue make you as emotional as it did me? What did you make of Dick reaching out to Sonia Branch? And honestly, while I think this issue works so well that I can overlook any inconsistencies, this one was really bugging me: how did Jen manage to track Zsasz down anyway?
Shelby: I was going to give a snarky, “I dunno, the Internet?” response, but that might actually be right. Zsasz has been arrested countless times I’m sure, and that’s all a matter of public record; it doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to think she looked him up and headed to his last known address.
What a beautiful good-bye to Nightwing from Higgins. Spencer, you are one hundred percent correct that Higgins really gets to the core of Dick Grayson. For me, it’s that last little bit of internal monologue: it’s always been about catching people when they fall. That really sums up the role Dick has played in the Bat-Family. He is The One Who Supports, and I love the way Higgins and Dauterman are closing this chapter of Dick’s life with that. They don’t hesitate to show us how difficult a role that can be, and they are happy to show us how rewarding it can be as well. This idea is reflected very elegantly in the structure of the book itself. Despite how personal and internal Dick’s looks back to his past may be, they’re not about him. He’s not just sitting around reminiscing or the hell of it; nearly all the “internal” dialogue we see over Dauterman’s beautiful splash pages is Dick talking to Jen. Even now, when we think we are getting an internal look at Dick and his motivations it turns out to be directed externally. It’s a subtle reinforcement of Dick’s character, and another testament to the talent of the team on this book.
I could talk about how frustrated I get with an industry where such high-quality work can be cut short by the work of another, work that I personally don’t care much about. I could also talk about how it’s wasteful to throw away such good stories like we’ve seen here, and how it’s unfair to the creative team and the reader. I could even talk about how nice it was to see a book take place in my home town, and how sorry I am to see it go.
But I won’t.
I’m going to take a page out of Dick’s book and think about the positives of this title. About how Dick’s parents would, in fact, be proud of him. About how nice it was to see him reaching out to Sonia, and how nice it is to see a happy ending for a character who’s just so gosh-darned likeable. And I’m going to close our coverage of Higgins’ delightful run on this book with my favorite page, the page that, for me, best captures Nightwing.
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?