Today, Mark and Spencer are discussing Grayson 12, originally released September 23rd, 2015.
Mark: Grayson 12 is billed as Dick’s return to Gotham after quitting Spyral, and it is, but it’s also a continuation of the Grayson spy game. Dick truly intends to leave his life as international sex spy behind, but his hand is forced when the mysterious Agent Zero attacks him at Wayne Manor. Unless he returns to Spyral, she threatens, they’ll reveal to the world that Bruce Wayne is Batman. It’s a threat that’s been made in Bat Family comics forever, but it actually has greater weight here as Bruce is currently in no position to defend himself. Given 24 hours to “say hi and bye” to his friends and colleagues, Grayson visits each member of the Bat Family in turn (including Tim Drake! This actually threw me at first, since Tim is currently playing Batman in Batman Beyond, but it makes sense because that takes place in the future. Or at least I think that’s why it makes sense). After Alfred — I’m counting him as a member — and Bruce, Dick visits Jason and Tim, then Barbara, and finally Damian.
The most affecting of these, as it should be, is Dick’s face-to-face with Bruce. It’s been a long time since the two of them have seen each other (even if Dick is in a disguise and Bruce genuinely has no idea what’s happening). I don’t really understand why it’s necessary for Dick to wear a disguise. Is it in case Bruce’s memory is jogged? There’s a nice moment when Dick-as-Mr. Sparrow sits across from his best friend, his mentor and asks the one thing that matters to him: Is Bruce happy? Of course, even though Bruce is no longer Batman he’s still Batman.
Second most affecting, of course, is his visit with Damian. While Jason and Tim have been Robins and Barbara is Batgirl, Damian and Dick have the closest thing to the connection Bruce and Dick have. Dick has worn the cowl, with Damian as his Robin. Theirs is a totally different dynamic, and their dialogue reflects that.
All of this would make for a satisfying enough issue, but to top it all off in the end it’s revealed that all of Dick’s face-to-face meetings have served a second purpose: to relay a message to the Bat Family asking them for their assistance in unmasking Agent Zero. I have to admit I didn’t see this coming, even though when you go back it’s pretty obvious something is up from the moment Dick meets with Jason and Tim. After being removed from his family for so long, it’s exciting to see Dick and everyone working together again — even at a distance.
Grayson, for my money, is the best monthly in the DC universe at the moment. While Gordon plays Batman in DC’s other titles, even out of the cowl Dick Grayson is the closest thing we have. Spencer, how’d you feel about Grayson’s Gotham homecoming? I didn’t even mention the quotes that frame the page each time Dick meets with a new member of the Bat Family. I found it a neat way to emphasize the history these characters have with each other.
Spencer: It really is! Let’s take a look at the first of those pages, featuring Bruce, for a second:
While I recognized a decent number of these quotes, fellow Retcon Puncher Drew pointed me towards an invaluable resource for identifying them all that helped me recognize the sheer depth of the history writers Tom King and Tim Seeley mine here. You can click the link if you want to learn about every one of these moment, but as you can see, in the above image I highlighted a few choice entries for the purpose of our discussion. Here’s the key:
So what have we got here? Well, numbers 1 & 2 are two completely different versions of Dick Grayson’s origin. Number 3 is a tale from the height of the Silver Age (one made famous in Morrison’s run); number 4 is a Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths tale featuring Dick’s successor; 5 skips ahead into the New 52 and 6 to our current Grayson series itself; 7 is an Elseworlds story! We can see that King and Seeley are referencing stories from every era of Dick Grayson’s 75 year history, and it’s because the points they want to make about Dick Grayson, his importance to the Bat-Family, and their importance to him transcends any reboots, Crisises, or retcons DC throws their way.
Grayson has always been a series about Dick Grayson first and foremost. While the first eleven issues used spy genre trappings to test Dick — to tease out the best and the worst aspects of his personality — Grayson 12 finally gets a chance to instead explore Dick’s personality by playing him off his closest friends and family. Dick faking his death immediately puts him at odds with most of the Bat-Family, but that animosity just can’t last; Jason, Tim, Barbara, and Damian simply care too much about Dick to stay mad at him, and King and Seeley do an excellent job of highlighting why. Dick’s the one person who has always cared about and trusted these kids unconditionally, to the point where he’d leave his life in their hands without a second’s hesitation.
Moreover, as the “oldest child,” Dick is a cohesive figure in this family. The Bat-Family is rather scattered right now without Bruce around, but Dick is able to instantly reunite them and focus them on a common mission again. King and Seeley don’t hesitate to reference Dick’s last tenure as Batman, leading us to realize that Dick would probably once again take up the mantle if not for his “obligations” to Spyral. But even if Dick can’t be a permanent fixture in Gotham, he can at least reclaim a prominent role in the Bat-Family from afar. Nightwing may not be back, but Dick Grayson is, and I don’t think even Spyral can stop him from keeping in contact with his family.
King and Seeley also use Dick’s new leadership role to again highlight his strengths — and, in this case, how they make him different from his mentor. Throughout the issue Dick defends Bruce’s choice to fake his death, yet at the same time, he’s eager to undo it. Bruce was concerned with keeping Dick’s role in Spyral as secret as possible, but Dick works best with an audience, as part of a team; Dick’s simply better at keeping his family involved in his life and work than Bruce, both out of desire and necessity. Recent issues have highlighted how lost Dick’s been feeling; he’d lost his “lightning rods” and had nobody he could trust, not even himself. Reuniting with his family has not only given him control over the Hypnos, eliminating one of the greatest threats to his safety, but it’s also helped Dick regain his confidence. I think it just confirms that, despite his tremendous skill and charm, the true source of Dick’s confidence has always been the people who love him. He needs them as much as they need him.
This grand family reunion gives Mikel Janin and colorist Jeromy Cox an opportunity to tackle a number of exciting guest stars, but there’s a couple of minor missteps in the process. Janin falls into the same trap as many artists who have to draw multiple Robins in the same panel and gives Dick and Jason practically identical faces, and Cox makes a few coloring errors, painting the inside of Damian’s cape black instead of yellow and, sadly, depicting NoBody as much whiter than she actually is. Like I said, they’re very minor mistakes, but they’re ones that stuck with me me long after I finished the issue.
Otherwise, though, the art and colors are as fantastic as ever. I’m in awe of Janin’s acting throughout the first few scenes of the issue. Despite most of the scene being a simple conversation, Janin keeps Bruce and Dick’s meeting feeling brisk and exciting via tightly-shot close-ups that alternate between the two men, and the sheer range of expressions Janin runs them through is astounding. Even the surprisingly effective Mr. Sparrow disguise — which manages to alter Dick’s appearance without completely hiding all his features, as any disguise of its nature actually would — is impressive.
I think my favorite moment artistically, though, comes when Agent Zero breaks through the window of Wayne Manor (“Father, I shall become an Agent Zero!”) and attacks Dick.
While the tussle between Dick and Zero on the top half of the page isn’t exactly tightly choreographed, it’s not really supposed to be — it’s a rough and tumble move mostly powered by surprise and momentum, and Janin not only manages to capture that perfectly, but the way he breaks the attack down into six different steps even allows him to show Dick’s disguise getting knocked off in the most organic nature possible. The whole moment just feels natural.
Cox and the rest of the creative team also do some wonderful work with color here. Labeling Zero orange and Dick blue is a clever way to keep their movements clear even as they progress through a crowded environment, but its most effective in the bottom row of panels. Dick’s color has been consistently established as blue, but when Zero calls him back to Spyral and tells him that his home is no longer his home, his color suddenly shifts to green; it’s like Dick’s whole identity has been altered by Spyral, and that’s clearly Dick’s greatest fear. One could make an argument that everything else that happens in this issue — every effort Dick makes to hang onto the people he loves the most and the life he once had — stems from this one moment, and that’s some terrifically effective visual storytelling. Every aspect of Grayson cuts to the core of its protagonist’s psyche, and it’s a giant part of what makes this book such a compelling read.
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