Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Nightwing 9, originally released November 16th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: If you go back and read my reviews of recent Nightwing issues, I’m on record as calling this run “grim” more than once. I’m still a bit puzzled as to why writer Tim Seeley has filled Dick with so much angst, but at least Nightwing 9 is an acknowledgement of this trend, and seemingly an active move away from it. It’s a refreshing look at why Dick Grayson is such a powerful character in the first place.
Nightwing’s dreams are being invaded by Doctor Destiny (at the command of Kobra, not that the “whys” really matter all that much), who is specifically targeting Dick’s “weaknesses” by showing him visions of his friends and family torn to shreds. The readers aren’t necessarily supposed to think of Dick’s many friends as “weaknesses,” but it is an acknowledgement that making those connections obviously means that it’s going to hurt when you lose them.
Mainly, I’m just happy that Dick’s weakness Seeley and artist Marcio Takara identify here isn’t the (frankly, less compelling) one they focused on early in the Raptor storyline, the insecurities surrounding Dick’s relationship with Batman. I know their issues are famous, but they’re also played out, and Bruce and Dick have moved past them even in the shorter timeline of the New 52. Dealing instead with Dick’s connections with heroes from all corners of the DC Universe keeps the narrative focused on who Dick is now, in the present, and all that he’s accomplished as Nightwing and as Agent 37.
It also helps to retroactively justify why Dick’s been so unusually angsty throughout this run. With a “new” Superman flying around, I admit that I’d kind of forgotten about the death of the New 52 Superman and what it might mean to those around him, but as this issue shows, Dick’s been positively shaken by the death by one of his closest friends and greatest role models. Throw in the death of Red Robin as well and you’ve got a the perfect recipe for some sad, sad times.
I’m less enthused with this explanation, though. Sure, it’s mostly a joke, and as I did with the several other jabs towards the New 52 in this issue, I laughed at it, but there’s a part of me that resents laying the blame on the New 52. It’s not necessarily wrong, or at least not fully wrong — both of Dick’s tenures as Nightwing since the reboot have been grimmer than usual — but it’s not fully right either, as proven by Grayson, which might just have represented the most lighthearted, optimistic take on the character in recent history. More importantly, it’s a choice made by writers and artists and editors — and even one Seeley made himself throughout the first eight issues of this title that he didn’t necessarily make with Grayson — not an immutable aspect of the character, regardless of what universe he’s in.
Thus, I’m less interested in the explanation/excuse as to why Nightwing’s adventures have been so grim, and more interested in where Seeley plans to take him next. In a way, Takara’s art in this issue may show us the answer.
Smiles! Look at those smiles! The return of the New 52 Superman and Red Robin isn’t permanent, but it’s the pick-me up Dick needs. It’s a reminder of how much Dick is loved and respected by just about everyone in the DC Universe. Considering how much that point is emphasized throughout this issue, it can’t help but feel like Seeley and Takara’s new mission statement as well.
“I have a lot of friends” is a fantastic mission statement, and in a way, it’s already been the cause of many of the best moments of this run of Nightwing (such as Dick’s interactions with Damian and Barbara or even Tiger). If Seeley sticks close to this idea in the future, then consider me a happy man.
This spread also feels like it’s right out of DC’s pre-reboot era, which is also clearly what the creative team is going for by returning Dick to Bludhaven. I’m going to have to wait and see how Seeley handles this direction to fully form my own opinion of it. On one hand, Dick’s time in Bludhaven was an era when he had his own identity and direction separate from Gotham or the Titans, which is something he could really use right about now. On the other hand, just going back to what worked before (with even the in-continuity reason boiling down to “Superman said I was really happy in Bludhaven in the old timeline”) feels like a cheap way to achieve this, especially when DC had already achieved it by having Dick join Spyral in Grayson.
Still, for whatever concerns I may have, I find the acknowledgments Seeley makes about Nightwing as a character and his own handling of him refreshing; I’m looking forward to the lighter take on Nightwing that this issue suggests, and hope that whatever path the creative team takes to get there is successful. Mark, what about you? And hey, I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the “new” Superman (who essentially co-stars in the issue) or to dig more into Takara’s art; do you have any thoughts on either?
Mark: I love the image you shared, Spencer, of Nightwing being backed up by the memory of his friends. Takara’s art reminds me of Bruce Timm’s work — and not in a derivative way — which to my mind is high praise. And if the rest of the issue doesn’t always hit the same highs as that single page, it’s consistently strong throughout.
The further we get into DC’s new reality, the more I wonder how necessary it was to kill off New 52 Superman. DC has managed to reposition most of its heroes in the post-Rebirth era without resorting to such drastic measures, and it feels especially futile in moments like this where classic Superman is functionally interchangeable with New 52 Superman (outside of the obvious plot complications).
Isn’t this dude supposed to be older?
Grayson was one of the most straight-up fun series in the New 52, so it’s been a bizarre flip to have Seeley’s Nightwing be so dour just as the rest of DC’s line adopts a lighter tone more in line with its predecessor. It’s a step back that doesn’t feel particularly motivated, either. That it took nine issues for us to basically return to the status quo we left Dick Grayson at at the end of Grayson‘s run is a little frustrating. Seeley being an integral part of Grayson‘s success makes Dick’s rough transition from super spy back to masked hero all the more puzzling.
Truthfully, Grayson 9 reads like the Nightwing Rebirth issue we should have received in the first place. For that reason, Nightwing 9 is my favorite issue of Nightwing so far.
That’s true even if much of the issue itself is a heightened illustration of the things that have rubbed me the wrong way in the series overall. Much of the issue is dedicated to images of Nightwing’s friends being eviscerated in his nightmares. Even Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is menacing, with strange tentacle-like cords and ominous dream pods that seem more appropriate in The Matrix than the respite of Kal-El.
But if it’s darkest before the dawn, maybe this slog through the mud will prove to be Nightwing’s lowest point — for the character and for the series.
So if I’m a little down on this issue, I’m bullish on Nightwing‘s future. From Seeley’s work on Grayson there’s no question he understands the appeal Dick Grayson, and recapturing Dick’s optimism and generally cheerful attitude goes a long way in making me look forward to what happens next.
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