Today, Mark and Michael are discussing Grayson 11, originally released August 26, 2015.
Mark: Grayson has always been a series towing the line between following genre tropes and undermining those tropes at the same time. It’s a remarkable case of having cake and being able to eat it too, and the fact that Tom King and Tim Seeley have been able to pull it off consistently for a year is remarkable. The threads they’ve been able to tie together time and time again, while at the same time keeping each issue fresh, is impressive, and Grayson 11 continues that trend.
An international spy being framed for crimes he didn’t commit is well-worn territory (isn’t that the plot of at least three Mission: Impossible films?), and there was never any doubt in my mind that Dick Grayson was innocent of the murder of his fellow Spyral agents, but even being armed with that knowledge doesn’t take away from the excitement of the first pages of the issue. We know that the “Grayson” looming over Tiger isn’t Grayson at all, but there’s still a good bit of fist pumping when our Grayson shows up. Since plot-wise Seeley and King have brought us to such well-worn territory, the fun of the Grayson vs Grayson confrontation is in the banter between the two. In the beginning our Grayson is overconfident, spouting quips about Clayface and Killer Croc and kicking ass, but literally as you turn the page the tides turn and Impostor Grayson takes the upper hand. Whoever it is knows everything about Dick Grayson, including the code word to incapacitate him completely.
As cool as Dick Grayson is, and as hard as this series has leaned into his ridiculous perfection, the most badass moment of the issue comes from Tiger. With Grayson out of commission, Tiger rips the Hypnos implants out of his eyes so he can see his attacker’s true form.
Blood streaming from his eyes, Tiger sees the truth—the killer is his old partner, Agent 8, presumably killed back in Grayson 3. It’s kind of a deep cut, but one that I appreciate. Yes, back in Grayson 3 her death served a greater thematic purpose, but you can’t really say that Alia was a super well-formed character. I mean, basically she had sex with Dick and then got shot. So bringing her back in a pivotal role is a great bit of narrative sleight of hand.
Just like we knew that Grayson couldn’t really be murdering his fellow agents, we also knew that Grayson couldn’t work with Spyral for ever, and as the issue ends he walks away (for now). We’re treated to yet another heartbreaking one-sided conversation between Grayson and Batman, and Dick’s ready to come home to Gotham.
I have to admit I don’t entirely understand Tiger’s motivation for concealing the true identity of the killer. In the final epilogue we see Agent 8 talking to Dr. Netz and reporting that Tiger agreed to lie and place the blame on Maxwell Lord and Checkmate, but why? The last panel of the issue, focusing on Rome’s famed Capitoline Wolf, probably tells us a lot of what we need to know. Netz and her sister, Kathy Kane, are the Romulus and Remus of our story, and things don’t end well for one of them. Still, why would Tiger agree to get involved? For some reason that’s one cliffhanger that rubs me the wrong way.
What’d you think Michael?
Michael: The reveal of faux-Dick being Agent 8 was indeed a deep cut; one that I definitely didn’t understand right away. Rereading Grayson 3 however, there are a few signs that Agent 8 is the one behind the hypnos – she refers to Agent 1 as “my Tiger” and Dick as “Wing-Knight” for example. It’s fitting that Grayson 11 serves as a companion piece to Grayson 3, because both issues deal with Agent 8 telling Dick that he’s not a superhero anymore. Despite the tragedy of Agent 8’s “death” at the end of Grayson 3, Dick remains steadfast in his identity; the conclusion of Grayson 11 sees that faith shaken. Grayson 11 is an issue that is all about Dick’s self-awareness. King and Seeley give us a comic book doppelganger fight that has the protagonist commenting on the sheer predictability and absurdity of the situation. Batman couldn’t make these kinds of quips and jabs, but it is perfect for everybody’s first Robin. And of course, the creative team gives us yet another Dick Grayson butt joke.
The majority of the book has Dick fighting with “himself” – an inner struggle manifested outward. From what’s presented here, Agent 8 knows everything that Dick knows about himself, especially his shortcomings. I always find it satisfying that, in a story where two characters are physically fighting, the most severe wounds are simply the ones that are true statements. Once Agent 8 starts with the verbal assaults, Dick Grayson’s trademark cheekiness is gone for the rest of the issue. Agent 8 – and consequently the writers – are challenging the very concept of Dick Grayson. “Who even are you? WHAT even are you?” That’s a question that we with in some capacity throughout our entire lives.
As we grow we all shed new identities/personalities in favor of newer ones; something that isn’t applicable to every comic book character, but certainly is for Dick Grayson. Superhero dramas (Batman ones especially) like to focus on the often tormenting identity crisis involved with putting on a mask and becoming someone else. The hero of Grayson has been Dick Grayson, Robin, Nightwing, Batman (I love that King and Seeley don’t try to sweep that under the rug btw) and now Agent 37; that’s a hell of a lot of different identities to take on for someone under 30. Dick’s coveted charm and sense of humor also comes under fire here, being reduced to nothing more than overcompensation. Humor is such a potent deflection that diffuses the harsh real world with refreshing levity. Agent 8 is calling bullshit on Dick here as well, saying that it’s just another piece of the sad puzzle that is Dick Grayson. Often times in comics, banter is used by the likes of Dick, Deadpool and Spider-Man to distract their opponent. Here that notion is flipped around as Agent 8 stops Dick dead in his tracks with a trigger word, adding “You see, Dick you’ve been so busy laughing. You didn’t see you were losing.”
Grant Morrison utilized Dick’s performer background as a strength for becoming Batman. King and Seeley asks us if Dick’s “act” is instead a sign of weakness; being what we want nothing more than what we want him to be. This was a powerful issue that plays excellently into the world of Batman post-Endgame. Not only is Dick full of doubt in himself and this organization that he has pledged himself to, but Batman is M.I.A., leaving him in the wind. Though Dick has been his own man for years, in the pages of Grayson he’s always had “Mr. Malone” to talk to at the very least; now he doesn’t even have that. And like so many of us when we feel a sense of loss or uncertainty, Dick resolves to go home to lick his wounds and heal. That last sequence where Dick decides to return to Gotham almost broke my heart you guys. Dick has been betrayed and on some level feels like he has failed. He doesn’t have any idea of what’s going on with Batman except that he’s not responding to his calls. I can only anticipate him being further wrecked when he goes home and finds Bruce in his current state; ugh, the feelings! While I know that our plucky Dick Grayson will eventually bounce back from all of this, I still feel for the guy as he hits such a low in the run of this book.
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