Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Grayson 9, originally released June 24th, 2015.
Michael: I think the majority of comic-book-dom would agree that Dick Grayson is awesome. I mean, I love Dick Grayson but some people loooooooove Dick Grayson. There is something inexplicable about certain corners of fandom and their obsession with the former boy wonder. There is the fact that he is the first (some would argue best) Robin, holding the role for over 40 years. But it’s not just that – Dick Grayson has become something of a sex symbol in the Bat-fan community. Dick Grayson fans are very vocal about this fact, using social media to express their interest to see more “butt shots” of Mr. Grayson to various writers including Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and current Grayson writer Tom King. There is of course the easy/stupid pun involved in his name – which I will ignore – but fans of all genders and sexualities are all about Dick Grayson. With Grayson – issue 9 especially – Tom King has not been afraid to give the people what they want.
The story of Grayson 9 is a fairly simple one; fleshed out by King and co-plotter Tim Seeley with time-jumps, more spy tropes and Mikel Janin’s pinpoint sequential art. Helena Bertinelli is now the top dog at Spyral and she’s faced with the possibility that someone in her organization is killing other spies – and the evidence is pointing towards Dick as the culprit. Meanwhile Dick and his new partner Agent 1 pull a snatch-and-grab mission in Madrid that Dick turns into a James Bond movie. It was of course delightful.
Okay: quick recap is done. Let’s get back to the sexy Dick Grayson booty talk. King and co. indulge fanboys/girls and answer their prayers and serve up our hunky hero on a platter. After they enter the Prado Museum, the first thing Agent 1 says is “All right, Dick Grayson, get your clothes off.” Notice the punctuation there – this is not just a cheeky line of dialogue, it’s a proclamation/concession from King. It’s as if King was announcing the next dancer to come onstage before a crowd of Magic Mike-hungry audience members. Sadly for them, we do not get a gratuitous Dick-bod moneyshot (yeah, I typed that – so what?) but a mere glimpse of the dashing young man in a state of undress. While he is putting his clothes on, Dick’s dialogue boils down to how much of a burden it is for him to put clothes on. (Side note: I typically find these types of scenes annoying, because, like, learn to tie a bow tie Dick!) Then of course comes the true Dick-bod moneyshot:
A full page of Dick suave with the only words being “Am I straight?” I feel like there is so much to this moment beyond the obvious or the intended interpretation. A) The intended interpretation: is this goddamn bow tie on right? B) The “literal” sexual interpretation: is Dick’s sexuality in question? C) King and co. winking at/thanking all of the gay fans of the character who want more of that sweet sweet Grayson booty. D) The cheeky James Bond double-entendre vibe that this spy book has always gone for. Or of course there’s the option I used way too much when I didn’t know the answer: E) All of the above. I am very fascinated with the infatuation/sexualization of Dick Grayson; one that I feel is not as often extended to the more prominent characters in the DC pantheon. But honestly, who wouldn’t be infatuated with Dick Grayson? The sequence where he fearlessly dances with the duchess is enough to make a straight man swoon; 007 chic. Also, the song playing while they dance is the love song from the musical Gypsy, which itself has become something of a staple in the gay community.
As for the actual plot specifics of “Dick suspected as the Spyral traitor,” I’m still a little fuzzy to be honest. So… we saw the blonde dude who offed Nemesis in the opening scene yes? Meaning we know what he looks like. Why then, are the rest of the murders committed with “a stick” framed so the killer is anonymous? Is blondie bear a red herring? And while we’re on the subject, what’s this crap about rival spy organizations not being allowed to kill each other? I call bullshit on that one. Was that Checkmate that confronted Helena? I feel like I’m in the dark on a lot…
Here’s a fun factoid I looked up to make me look smart: the painting that we see as Dick and Agent 1 enter the museum is called The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya. The painting represents the Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s occupying armies during the Peninsular War. It shows a French firing squad preparing to open fire on a group of innocent civilians; ya know, with a little Christ imagery in there too. So I posit that Agent 1 is the sacrificial lamb/patsy that is about to meet the firing squad by being falsely accused of being the traitor. Patrick! What did you think about Grayson 9? Do you have any Dick-bod theories? Would you like to instead comment on Gypsy in your reply? I actually have not seen it.
Patrick: Oh rats. I didn’t know know there’d be a quiz on musicals! Normally, I’d be so game, but I also have a blindspot for Gypsy. That’s okay, we’ll have to keep writing about thrilling spy heroics and Grayon’s smokin’ body.
Actually, while I totally agree that King and Seely are writing to show off the series’ sexiest asset, I’m not wholly convinced that asset is the lead character. Dick Grayson is actually something of a convenient vessel for Janin’s impeccable art work, which in turn is flawlessly shaped and shaded by Jeromy Cox’s coloring. Michael, I think you’re totally justified in being left sorta confused by the spy stuff — I’ve always loved how little explanation King commits to the page in the form of dialogue or narration. But that does mean that the majority of the narrative-heavy-lifting is left up to the art team. That title-page sequence, which seemed to throw Michael, is a direct reference to the very first issue of the series. The blonde man is actually Dick in a wig. I don’t always have the best memory for things that happened in comic books a year ago, but King and Janin delightfully recreate one of the coolest moments from that issue.
I love that those last four panels are directly re-used (although, recolored to better match the green titles, as opposed to the red titles in issue #1). But as cool as it is to see that throwing-the-gun-through-the-panels trick again, it’s also fascinating to consider the differences. Notice how the perspectives in the original are meant to put us in Dick’s shoes – that first panel, we’re in the air with him, second panel we’re face to face with him, even able to hear Matron on the other end of his radio. Compare that to the same panels in issue #9. Dick’s tumbling on to the train, but the camera’s already there, waiting on the roof of the train car. Then in the second panel, we’re actually behind the bad guy, looking a the intruder from afar. And this time, we don’t get Matron’s response.
There’s simultaneously just enough of the old material to trigger my recall, but also enough new stuff to establish this scene are markedly different from how we saw it play out the first time. I absolutely adore the page that follows, which has the task of setting up the whole conceit of the issue totally without copy.
First, we linger on the image of a man knocked unconscious. It’s like the camera stayed around after the scene was over. There’s a distinct sense of expectation here, as the reader asks “why am I still looking at this random unconscious bad guy?” Then that second panel drops and we go into horror movie visual cues for a second. You can always hear the loud, bassy string music cue as the killer enters the frame. The angle is low and both the murder weapon and the victim are in the center of the panel. Then we stay with the weapon — another horror trope — as it’s raised for the fatal blow. I love the coloring effect in the last two panels here — it’s almost a page out of Marcelo Maiolo’s book, only it specifically signifies something horrible happening.
As I mentioned earlier, that’s what I find the most sexy about this series: Janin and Cox. They’re both so fucking good at using their skills to present story, but I’m also constantly floored by the quality of their close-ups and the subtlety of their acting. Michael already included that “Am I straight?” page, which communicates sex appeal largely through Dick’s charming personality. That’s a damn feat right there. Let’s take a second to admire another example of flawless acting in this issue.
Look how the subtly the shading changes on Dick’s neck to communicate his head leaning forward. Or track the small movements of his mouth from closed, to open, to enraptured smile. Or her eyes – first they’re up a Dick’s eyes and then down to the pending kiss. This is the sexiest scene in the book and it’s all done with out bare chests, jokes about taking off clothes or even a shot of dat ass.
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