Your nifty hypnos tech trick may make it so I can’t see Spyral agents’ faces, but I’d know that ass anywhere. Grayson.
Midnighter, Grayson 6
Patrick: Do you have any idea how many times Sherlock Holmes has been adapted? From George C. Scott to Benedict Cumberbatch, from VeggieTales to The Great Mouse Detective, there’s virtually no end to the twists and variations writers, actors and filmmakers can apply to this character. But no matter how the story is dressed up, the personality of Holmes himself always shines through. Dick Grayson, as it turns out, is very much the same way; whatever the genre, whatever the story, whatever the supertechnology trying to disguise him, we’re always going to recognize Grayson.
That’s fortunate, because Tim Seely and Tom King start off a weird issue on an even weirder note: Dick and Helena attacked by an orca with giant mechanical crab legs.
Editor Mark Doyle has the balls to slap a little note on this page, trying to explain why there’d be such a creature (something about nanocytes), but he’s hilariously linking us back to Blackhawks #1 — a series which launched with the New 52, but was canceled in that very first round of cancellations in April of 2002, just 8 issues into its run. That makes the series a relic — a weird glitch in the rebooting of the DC Universe. Seely and King have made a habit of mining some of the more obscure series for colorful details, and this issue starts off with a bold reminder of that practice. It doesn’t even come back up later in the issue: Dick and Helena are attacked by this monster, they fight it off, the end.
This is step one in Disorienting the Reader, a game Seely, King and artist Mikel Janin crush throughout the issue. When Dick and Helena happen upon a pile of corpses that used to be AWOL (a group made up of former henchmen who defected from their criminal organizations), and discover that one of them is still alive, Helena moves into interrogation mode. In typical Spyral style, the interrogation itself is heady, hypnotic stuff. To emphasize just how trippy the experience is (for both interrogator and interrogatee), Janin switches scenes a quarter of the way down the page. There’s a ton I love about this page.
The creative team is working in a number of subtle ways to try to create this “two-brain omelet” Helena describes in the first panel. Despite the handy location box letting us know we’re back at Spyral HQ, there’s very little linking these two scenes narratively, but Janin and Jeremy Cox insist on the redundancy of the spiral pattern. It’s more subtle on Helena’s face, partially obscured by the insanely high quality of Janin’s faces, but the subliminal connection between the first and final panels is super strong. I also love this awkward bar of pink dead-page-space near the scene transition. What is that? It’s unusual, is what it is — perhaps it’s reinforcing the brain imagery from the previous panel? Maybe it’s simply the closest thing to neutral on such a red-heavy page? It is pointedly out of place, and throws the whole reading into beautiful lurch.
When Spyder is introduced on the next page, the image is so strange, it’s almost hard to tell what we’re looking at. Three spider-people floating in a triangle? Their own narration does little clarify this:
“We are imperceptible and unmemorable to all save the director of Spyral. We neither perceive nor remember ourselves. We perceive only others, all others, no matter how subtle, like a fly touching upon the threads of the web.”
Thanks for clearing that up guys. But by this point in the issue, we’re knocked so completely off our game as readers that the weirdness of Spyder just sort of gets to be. Y’know, like it’s part and parcel of dealing with this kind of super-spy organization born out Grant Morrison’s fever-dream. That’s when the narrative skips back to Dick and Helena and the series asserts itself as something more meaningful than post-modern nonsense (not to decry post-modern nonsense, I love that too).
Through all the strange visuals and narrative noise, we can see Dick Grayson. When Midnighter pounces on him and drags him through a “door” onto “the garden” we should be more disoriented than ever, but Grayson’s M.O. remains simple, elegant and good-natured throughout. The centerpiece of the issue is a protracted fight between Grayson and Midnighter, and when the two of them are trading punches, the storytelling is remarkably clear. Dick and Midnighter even trade in easy-to-understand metaphors and refer to easy-to-access history about Dick (as Nightwing, as Robin, etc.) to move the encounter forward. It’s refreshingly clear in a series that refuses to be so forthright everywhere else.
Dick seems to sense this, too.
No matter what else happens to this character, he will always be Dick Grayson, and that’s a damn comforting thought.
Spencer, I thought this was a great issue, and I was kind of thrown by the cliffhanger at the end. Are we cued up for some more serialized storytelling going forward? Also, I was struck by this message of “I will always be Dick Grayson,” and it reminded me of something Kyle Higgins said about Nightwing when I interviewed him for his final issue on the series. He said:
“Every writer is critical of their own work, especially when you pull in stories that could have been. More often than thinking about what I did for Nightwing, or what Nightwing did for the fans, I think about what Nightwing did for me. Dick Grayson made me a better writer.”
So, the question I’m posing to you is: what makes Dick Grayson such an accessible character? Why is it that we can see him in the middle of a confusing spy story and just be glad we’ve made contact with the one thing we know and trust? It can’t just be the ass.
Spencer: Of course it’s not, though admittedly the ass is a huge plus in Dick’s favor. Honestly, I think Dick Grayson’s so accessible because he’s just so nice, so funny, so genuine; he’s got all the crimefighting prowess of Batman, but a bazillion times more social skills. When thinking about the appeal of Dick as a character I can’t help but be reminded of something that Hawkman of all people said back before the reboot:
Dick combines all the best traits of Batman and Superman, DC’s two most popular characters; how could he not become a fan favorite? I think another reason he resonates so deeply is because we watched him grow up, watched him transform from a young sidekick to a hero in his own right. Nowadays we seem to have a Robin-graduation every other day, but back in the 80s this was positively transgressive; in a medium where most characters hadn’t aged in 40+ years, Dick Grayson became the first teen hero to grow up. Readers got to see him as the pun-loving young boy, the angsty teenager searching for an identity of his own, and the charming, confident man he eventually became. Dick fought like hell to reach a point where he could be as secure in his own identity as he is in Grayson 6, and I’m sure a lot of readers can see themselves in Dick’s struggles.
It’s why Dick’s fans are so possessive of the character, and why many Nightwing fans were so quick to criticize Grayson when it first arrived on the scene. I can’t necessarily blame them — after the death teases in Forever Evil and the misleading ads featuring a gun-toting Grayson even a reader as open-minded as myself was worried about the direction this title would take my favorite former-Robin. Fortunately, Seeley and King proved the naysayers wrong from their very first issue, focusing each new installment more and more on Dick’s steadfast morality, on the tests of character he faced as a spy and the ways he refused to give into them.
Grayson 6 is the culmination of all that character work, and Dick is in rare form throughout the entire issue, firing off groan-worthy puns and pop culture references but also showing genuine compassion even for his enemies.
All of this, though, is just leading up to that final image Patrick posted. Despite being tested and isolated within Spyral, Dick’s survived it all with his identity intact, enabling him to triumphantly declare that he’ll “always be Dick Grayson.” Seeley and King are practically bursting through the fourth wall to ensure their readers of Grayson’s immutability, and they’ve laid the groundwork over these past six issues to decisively sell their claim.
This also makes the Midnighter an apt choice of opponent for Grayson. In some ways the Midnighter may be in the right — Spyral are certainly not the good guys — but his methods are rigid and far too extreme. Dick’s trying to take down Spyral too, but he also cares deeply for all the agents he’s met in his time there and doesn’t take too kindly to the Midnighter’s threats against him. Dick’s victory may be validation of the grayer morality he’s been forced to adopt as a double agent, but it also represents Dick’s innate compassion and morality once again winning out over vengeance and needless violence.
Mr. Minos too is an appropriate villain, serving as a bit of a contrast to Dick in this issue.
Here Minos represents the danger of Dick losing himself to his spy work. Minos gave up his name and face, much as Dick has given up large chunks of his identity (such as the name Nightwing) to become an agent of Spyral. Minos, though, has only his pain to hold onto (handedly represented by the expansive red void behind him), while Dick has a much more solid grasp on his morals and identity. Still, Minos shows how dangerous Dick’s assignment is, not only by being an all-seeing enemy authority figure but by showing what could happen if Dick ever fully embraced his work at Spyral. Of course, after this issue the chances of Dick losing himself are slim-to-none, but it doesn’t make the possibility any less frightening.
Patrick’s right, though. While I doubt Seeley and King will shift their focus from Dick Grayson any time soon, with their thesis statement clearly presented they’ve already begun to transition to a more overarching storyline. There’s some blissfully surreal stuff going on in this title that I can’t wait to see explored further, but if I’m being honest, the main reason I’ll be back next month is to see more of Dick Grayson being Dick Grayson. What can I say? It’s what Grayson does best.
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?