Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Nightwing 1, originally released July 27th, 2016.
Michael: I find it kind of odd that as popular and enduring as Dick Grayson is, he’s constantly going through a series of status quo changes: Robin, Nightwing, Batman, Agent 37 and back to Nightwing again. Change is life, both in our three dimensional world and comic books’ two dimensional one. But the ground under Dick Grayson’s feet seems to shift moreso than other characters. Is it because comic-dom loves him so much and wants to keep him fresh? Is it because we don’t really know what we want for him? Nightwing 1 would have us believe that Dick’s always on the move because of his hectic circus upbringing, which is a plausible explanation, but I don’t know if I quite buy it.
After gallivanting around the globe as Agent 37, Dick Grayson returns to the role of Nightwing…sort of. Writer Tim Seeley has been shepherding Dick from the pages of the delightful Grayson and the not as delightful Robin War. Dick is now “working” for the Court of Owls’ big brother, The Parliament of Owls. The Parliament thinks they own Dick because they put a bomb in Damian’s head that has since been defused – it’s kind of convoluted but it’s easier to just roll with it. As Nightwing, Dick plays messenger boy for The Parliament of Owls but refuses to do any of the bad guy stuff: stealing and killing. After Dick says his goodbyes to his Gotham pals, he meets up with mercenary The Raptor, who has been hired to reeducate Nightwing on behalf of The Parliament.
Dick Grayson is a character that fans sympathize with as a contemporary, but I think that we’re as protective of him as if he were our own child. As a fan of the character I want Dick to outgrow the influence of Batman (which he has) but at the same time I always prefer sequences with him that involve the ol’ Bat family instead of new characters. I want him to be his own man but I don’t want him to wander too far from home. It’s a complicated feeling for a fictional character – one that I think that Seeley recognizes, as Nightwing 1 is full of Gotham scenes featuring Dick interacting with Batman, Robin, and Batgirl. Perhaps I cling so tightly to these types of scenes because the Bat family are the people that know him better than he might care to admit at times.
The scene where Nightwing watches/advises Robin as he spars with Batman is a fairly typical “batcave scene.” Dick’s internal monologue provides us with the universal story of returning to your childhood home with the eyes of an adult. Besides a few humorous moments with Damian, Dick has come seeking advice from Bruce, only to find that Bruce isn’t concerned with telling him what to do anymore. I think Dick is as confused as to what he should be doing as Nightwing as I am. Batgirl is probably on the same page as me as well. She questions Dick’s plan to once again “play spy” as he goes undercover inside The Parliament of Owls. I’m kind of hoping that Nightwing will take a sharp left turn early on and turn this Parliament of Owls plot on its head. With Damian’s head safe from being blown up and Dick’s refusal to get his hands dirty, there doesn’t seem to be much at stake here. Perhaps Raptor will “kick Dick into shape” for The Parliament as suggested though.
Did anyone else notice the editorial slip up in that Batgirl scene, or was that just me? After Batgirl and Dick agree to disagree on his spy games, she intercepts a call on the police scanner. Before we see Dick suit up and leap into action with Batgirl we have a page of Nightwing threatening a Russian dude for the Parliament. At first I thought it was an intentional use of time jumping but rereading it – especially with Dick’s description of “itchy feet” – it’s definitely something that slipped by editorial. Oh well, mistakes happen, but it was really confusing for a minute there.
All of my ponderings and predictions might make it seem like I didn’t enjoy Nightwing 1, but I don’t know if that’s exactly how I feel about it. I think my feelings about Nightwing 1 are as complicated as my feelings for Nightwing himself. Moving Dick from Nightwing to Grayson was a controversial move at the time, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Moving Dick back into the role of Nightwing – particularly this Parliamentary version of Nightwing – doesn’t feel like a step forward. Nightwing 1 has the joy and zeal of the life of Dick Grayson and a half-baked plot of Grayson.
What do you think Spencer? I tend to go harsher on things than you do, are you enjoying the Rebirth of Nightwing thus far? Do you agree with my parental feelings of Dick Grayson? What do you think about Raptor? From what little I know he reminds me of an overly dramatic Karnak.
Spencer: Before I answer those questions, Michael, I just want to address the editorial slip-up you pointed out. While that is indeed a problem in the digital version, that mistake isn’t present in the print copies — meaning, this might not even be an “editorial” issue as much as a Comixology issue.
Anyway, I agree with a very minor point you made, Michael, about Nightwing 1‘s similarities to Grayson. That’s to be expected, what with Grayson co-writer Tim Seeley helming the series, but what surprised me going into this issue were how many similarities there were in terms of plot, not just character. Dick may have returned to his Nightwing persona, but he’s still undercover, and still facing many of the same dilemmas he did when he was Agent 37.
In theory, this should be a good thing, especially considering all the “undercover” stories we likely missed due to Grayson‘s seemingly truncated run, but in execution, it doesn’t quite pan out. “Superhero goes undercover in a villainous organization” is a pretty common trope to begin with, but it’s been done to death lately (Grayson and Silk immediately spring to mind), making it feel a little stale this time around.
The biggest problem here, though, is that the Parliament of Owls just aren’t a compelling organization. Maybe I’m still Owl fatigued, but my issues with the Parliament from Robin War 2 haven’t gone away. What do the Owls even want, besides to push around Dick Grayson? Yeah, we know the Owls are bad news, but that’s almost entirely based on knowledge from earlier storylines. The Parliament doesn’t feel like an urgent threat, and that’s a problem when Dick doesn’t need to infiltrate them at all. Their leverage — the bomb they implanted in Damian — is gone, meaning that Dick is willingly infiltrating them because they pose such a threat. It’d be nice to see more of what that threat entails to anyone who isn’t a Gray Son of Gotham.
While this is a problem that needs to be rectified, especially if the Parliament is going to be a long-term part of Nightwing, Raptor does help to mitigate it, if only slightly, by providing a more personal and urgent challenge. Michael, I can definitely agree with your assessment of Raptor, although I might slightly edit it to “Karnak if he was an even bigger dick.” We don’t know this character well enough to judge yet (which is perfectly acceptable for a first appearance), but I almost get the impression that Raptor just enjoys psychologically torturing people, with no apparent motive behind it. I mean, he’s only working with the Owls because they’re paying him — why should he care if Dick’s bad at his job? Like I said, total dick. I’m curious to see what more there is to this character (if, indeed, there is more).
Much like Grayson (especially the later issues), where this issue really shines is in its depiction of Dick Grayson as a character.
The jokes and flippant attitude, and especially that cocky grin (props to Javier Fernandez on that one)? Yeah, that’s Dick Grayson all over.
Unlike Michael, I also fully buy the idea of Dick Grayson having “itchy feet.” That wasn’t always a part of Grayson’s personality — in fact, I don’t think it became a common interpretation at all until after Bludhaven was destroyed in 2006 and DC subsequently had no idea what to do with Dick for a few years — but it feels natural in the New 52/Rebirth universe, especially at this point in Dick’s life. He’s the oldest child of the Batfamily, who still feels a responsibility to his home town, yet doesn’t quite fit in there anymore; figuring out his place in the world is going to take a lot of time, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a bigger element of Nightwing going forward than even Dick’s undercover double-agent shenanigans.
The one bit of characterization that fell flat for me, though, was when Raptor targeted Dick’s “insecurities.”
Goading Dick by picking at his relationship with Batman? Of course! Dick losing his cool over being called a virgin? Much odder. Maybe I’m still hung up on Mikel Janin’s take on the character, but I just can’t picture Dick Grayson being at all insecure about his own sexuality or romantic prowess, and certainly not enough to fall prey to such a stupid taunt! Sure, you could make an argument that Dick’s girl issues or affection for Barbara Gordon are a weakness or even a source of insecurity, but this issue never does so, even with the Nightwing/Batgirl scene. This is just a very very odd panel.
I have similarly mixed feelings about Fernandez’s art. Just on an aesthetic level, he draws Nightwing’s mask and chest-logo far too thin for my tastes, and the faces of his male characters often look strange and skewed (Batgirl’s face, in contrast, looks spot-on in every single panel). Despite all that, though, he’s rather great at capturing Dick’s natural acrobatic athleticism, and at using his layouts to emphasize Dick’s momentum.
Dick’s somersault in the first panel directs the reader’s eye across the page to the second panel, and from there, Dick’s kick and the tilt of the windowsill direct their eye back to the left — Carlos M. Mangual’s narration boxes work in concert here to achieve this goal as well. The effect is that it feels like you’re really following Nightwing as he leaps and bounces across the page, and that’s a plus for any book starring DC’s greatest acrobat (take that, Deadman).
I guess this is a fairly mediocre review, but to be fair, this is a fairly mediocre issue. Seeley still writes a great Dick Grayson, and there’s some interesting conflicts at hand, but for every element that sings, there’s another that just frustrates. Nightwing has the potential to be a really strong title — let’s hope Seeley and Fernandez can fully draw that potential out in upcoming issues.
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