Spencer: I’ve been told that the key difference between introverts and extroverts is that interaction with other people drains introverts’ energy, while it recharges extroverts. I can believe that — I love spending time with friends, but if I’m around people too much it can be mentally exhausting, and I end up retreating to my room to charge my batteries for a few days. As an extrovert, though, Dick Grayson — the newest agent of Spyral — has the opposite problem: he needs people and personal connections to thrive. Dick certainly has the skills necessary to succeed as a spy, but his personality is much less suited to the job. Being alone is not Dick’s forte, and his need to connect could every well end up being his downfall.
We open on Dick and Helena Bertenelli getting a mission update from Spyral’s leader, Mr. Mynos, and even this simple premise gives artist Mikel Janin a chance to show just how good he is.
I got a good laugh out of Dick’s facial expressions and posture here — it’s like he’s purposely being as childish as possible, and even Carlos M. Mangual’s sound effects seem deliberately obnoxious. Of course, this is exactly what Dick’s doing — he’s been spending weeks trying to goad Helena into knocking that lollipop out of his mouth so that he can gather some of Mynos’ DNA. It turns out, though, that Mynos uses microscopic nanomachines to wipe out all traces of his DNA, and the revelation stops Dick in his tracks — the machines could be anywhere, even spying on him or preparing to devour him at a moment’s notice!
The first thing these scenes do is show how suited Dick’s particular skill-set is towards being a spy. Using a sucker as a DNA-collecting device is an idea so silly that it actually circles back around to being clever, but it still takes talent for Dick to pull his plan off — he has to be able to read Helena, know what pushes her buttons, gauge how much it will take to get her to smack the sucker out of his mouth, and then manage it all while in Mynos’ office. It should be impossible, but Dick pulls it off with aplomb.
Despite this success, though, Dick seems lost. He’s rattled by the discovery of the nanomachines — in fact, both Grayson and Batman actually seem frightened, which is pretty momentous. Moreover, Batman immediately has to run off to attend to some Batman Eternal-related mission, reminding Dick just how isolated he is from everyone he loves (Eternal is a particularly Bat-Family centric title, further emphasizing Dick’s isolation).
Meanwhile, a troupe of students from Hadrian’s Finishing School (the evil Spyral girls’ boarding school) decide to mount a “manty raid” against this strange, handsome fellow who has suddenly appeared on their campus.
Yeah, this is something Dick has experience with. After spending so much of the issue somber and reserved, Dick finally cracks a smile; he leads the girls on a merry chase, never once letting his smile fade. Dick is playing a game, having fun, something which has been pretty scarce around Spyral. Moreover, after being isolated so long Dick needs any sort of connection, even if it’s one as superficial as being chased after by college girls. After spending months undercover, constantly manipulating people and pretending to be someone he isn’t, it has to be a massive relief to just be an acrobat again.
Helena understands. She knows that Dick fears losing himself the way he’s lost everything else that was once important to him. All spies grapple with the prospect of losing themselves to the masks they wear and the parts they play, and as a fellow Spyral agent, Helena gets that better than most. So Helena proposes a new game, continuing the chase her students started, but this time with herself as the target. It’s a remarkably empathetic act (at least at first glance), and it makes Helena Dick’s only viable chance of having any sort of connection at Spyral.
But this is Spyral, so we can’t rule out subterfuge. The Futures End issue of Grayson showed that Dick and Helena had legitimately bonded five years into that possible future, but I don’t think we can accept that as a given, especially in a spy book; it’s likely Helena has ulterior motives. After all, Mynos tasked Helena with finding the source of a mysterious transmission being broadcasted from Spyral (which is, of course, Dick contacting Batman). Helena pins it on her students, but this is after she searches Dick’s room, and I think it’s notable that we never see how her search pans out. Could Helena just be getting close to Dick as an attempt to draw out his secrets?
The threat of Dick’s cover being blown looms large over this issue; every tease ends up being a false alarm, but that doesn’t detract from the tension. You see, while Grayson is a spy book, it’s only nominally about actual spy missions. Turns out this book is more about the toll being a spy takes on Dick Grayson as a person. We know Dick’s missions are going to succeed, but we can’t be so sure about who he can trust, whether his cover will hold or not, whether he’ll stick to his morals, or how this mission will change him. Writers Tim Seeley and Tom King are able to build legitimate tension by posing questions with no easy answers, and it makes for an absolutely engrossing read.
Drew! I know I’ve been talking up Grayson for a while now, so I’m more than a bit eager to hear your take. Did you enjoy this look into what makes Dick Grayson tick as much as I did? What about the other characters? I kind of skimmed over the girls who chase Dick (a NSFW title if I’ve ever heard one), but they actually take up a significant amount of this issue’s real estate; did you find them interesting, or did they feel like a bit of a diversion from the main themes of the issue?
Drew: Spencer, let me start off by saying you were absolutely right — this series is a lot of fun. My biggest apprehension about the idea of this series was the incongruity of Dick Grayson being a high-flying spy, but not only do Seeley and King acknowledge how awkward the fit is, they’ve actually made it a central theme of the series. Which is to say: they get the character. I do think I have enough fondness for Dick to pick up any well-written series about him, but the other big draw here is Spyral, the bizarre throwback spy organization loosely (and bizarrely) sketched out by Grant Morrison.
Actually, Seeley and King have cannibalized a number of fun Morrison ideas to create their own version of Spyral bent on exposing the secret identities of all known superheroes. St. Hadrian’s was originally introduced as funneling it’s best girls into Leviathan, decidedly NOT something Spyral would do (you know, unless they were double agents or something). Whether Spyral acquired St.Hadrian’s after crushing Leviathan, or if that first appearance was simply retconned away in the reboot (Leviathan Strikes makes a point of saying that it takes place before the events of Flashpoint), it’s a brilliantly weird setting for Spyral’s headquarters.
It seems Spyral is still running St. Hadrian’s in secret, though. I had assumed the school was now a training facility for female agents, but Bryce suggests that she’s there to be trained to take her father’s place in Israeli intelligence. More importantly, Dick is chewed out for blowing his cover, suggesting that it isn’t common knowledge that Spyral houses agents on the St. Hadrian’s campus. I suppose it’s spy agency 101 that you would keep the location of your headquarters a secret, but I’d somehow missed that detail until now. What that means for Dick is that he’ll now be teaching two aerobics classes a week, so I definitely think the time Seeley and King give over to the students this month was well worth it. I have a feeling they’ll be key players in this series going forward.
Anyway, back to how weird Spyral is. Some of the details have been there from the start, from the Philip K. Dick-inspired face scramblers the agents — and most notably, the director — all have, but Seeley and King never waste an opportunity to add more bizarre wrinkles to the organization. Nanobots that consume any trace DNA evidence Minos might leave behind? Brilliant. Students getting extra credit for spying on their teachers? Hilarious. My favorite little madcap detail, though, has to be that Dr. Ashemore is acting as their grief counselor.
Spencer, I think you’re right to question the fact that we never see the end of Helena’s search. Seeley and King seem to delight in misleading us about what she found (or didn’t find), but the fact that we don’t know may hang over the events of this series for a LONG time. Those are the kinds of questions that hang in the back of your mind in a series like this until they come roaring back to significance when you least expect it. Also in this category: the thought that we might recognize Minos whenever we finally discover his identity.
Oh, and I also want to echo your praise of Janin here — the paneling is often innovative, but always clear, and the action is incredibly dynamic. I also want to praise colorist Jeromy Cox, whose rendering work always adds an important level of depth and form to Janin’s pencils. These two are frequent collaborators, and that familiarity absolutely comes through in the quality of their work.
So, again: you were right, Spencer. I like the writing, the art, the characters, the setting, and the mood of this series. I don’t think I would have believed you if you told me a week ago, but Grayson has quickly become my favorite new series of 2014.
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