Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Review / Commentary # 14 - Nightwing # 14: “Die for Me”

  • Writer: Tom DeFalco
  • Penciller: Andres Guinaldo
  • Inker: Mark Irwin
  • Colorist: Rod Reis & Pete Pantazis
  • Letterer: Dave Sharpe
  • Editor: Brian Cunningham
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
The cover to Nightwing # 14 is by the usual duo of Eddy Barrows and Rod Reis, but includes inks by series regular Eber Ferreira. It shows Nightwing and Lady Shiva in a nasty looking fight. While successful overall, the image could have benefited from the softer look that Reis' colors give to Barrows' inkless pencils as the fight takes place at night in the rain. Conversely, this cover's sharpness makes me wonder if the cover to issue 13 would have been better served by Ferreira's touch.
DeFalco and Guinaldo wrap up their two issue mini-arc in this one. Guinaldo impresses again with his work on the issue. Just like the last issue, he mixes up the layouts enough to pace out the story well and keep the pages from looking too static.
Speaking of the story, DeFalco keeps us firmly entrenched in Nightwing's recent history. He addresses the ribs Dick broke in his fight with the Republic of Tomorrow, his conflicted feelings about the daughter of his parents' killer, and the recent goings-on with Haly's Circus. DeFalco also shows him doing real detective work, narrowing down Shiva's potential targets and deducing her next intended victim. He also reminds us that Shiva is no slouch when it comes to her powers of observation. She realizes Nightwing is not fighting at 100% due to his injuries and tells him that it would not do her any good to kill him in his condition. She wants him to die at his best.
This brings me to my one real problem with this issue. Shiva's attitude and speech patterns make her appear much older than Nightwing. I pulled out her first appearance from Nightwing # 0 just to be sure, but again the speech would indicate an older individual. The whole thing makes Penguin's comments that Nightwing and Lady Shiva might be around the same age ring patently false. However, the revelation that Penguin was the one pulling Shiva's strings just to give him time to do some money laundry was actually pretty interesting.

Overall Impression:

Another solid outing from these pinch hitters. Guinaldo and Irwin do a great job illustrating a pretty good story from DeFalco. I especially dug seeing a daylight fight between Nightwing and Lady Shiva even though it totally contradicts the setting depicted on the cover. DeFalco nails the characters in this one. He also sets up the next story arc nicely by having Scott Snyder's super creepy version of Joker pop in on the last page. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review / Commentary # 13 - Nightwing # 13: “The Hunter”

  • Writer: Tom DeFalco
  • Penciller: Andres Guinaldo
  • Inker: Mark Irwin & Raul Fernandez
  • Colorist: Rod Reis
  • Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
  • Editor: Brian Cunningham
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
Nightwing # 13 starts off with a beautifully drawn cover by series regular penciller Eddy Barrows colored by Rod Reis. The crosshairs design perfectly illustrates the intentions of the foreground character, the assassin Lady Shiva. Shiva makes her Gotham City return this issue in her overly-designed, unrecognizable Kenneth Rocafort New52 costume first seen in issue # 0. (I'm generally a fan of Rocafort's art, but many of his New52 re-designs left me more than a little cold.) Nightwing dropping in behind Shiva looks great. He obviously plans to make her job a little more difficult despite the fact that we have no clear idea what her job actually entails.
Longtime comics creator Tom DeFalco handles the writing chores this time out, subbing in on this two issue arc for Kyle Higgins. Meanwhile, Andres Guinaldo picks up the pencilling duties in his best-looking fill-in work to date in the series. Guinaldo's panel designs retain the rectangular shape that he has used in his previous efforts. However, he mixes his layouts up far more and the images in the boxes just look better. Rod Reis' colors really help maintain the book's overall look, but for some reason he doesn't stick to the established color schemes for either Nightwing or Batgirl. Both costumes should be black with highlights, not shades of gray.
The story corresponds in time with Joker's return over in Snyder's Batman. Since Nightwing can't be allowed to exist as its own entity, Dick automatically assumes that Shiva's presence has to be connected to Joker's own. Dick also repeatedly tries to contact Bruce to ascertain whether the two are indeed connected, but to no avail.
DeFalco handles a cold interaction between Nightwing and Batgirl well. The two heroes argue over Dick following a case that doesn't directly involve Joker despite the fact that Babs can think of nothing else. DeFalco also deals with the Amusement Mile subplot nicely by continuing what Higgins had begun. He pushes forward with both the rebuilding and the “will they?/won't they?” relationship between Dick and Sonia Branch. Dick comes up against an interesting moral conundrum when he decides that he can't allow Lady Shiva to be murdered in a gangland ambush despite the fact that she is a murderer most likely in town to kill an unknown number of people. His valiant effort proves fruitless when the person he is trying to protect from harm happens to use the ambush and subsequent battle as a distraction while she accomplishes the task of killing her first target.

Overall Impression:
I dug this issue. Tom DeFalco has a pretty good grasp of all the characters' voices and motivations. His representation of Dick's skills working undercover in disguise and his instinctive desire to protect even a cold-blooded murderer like Lady Shiva shows that DeFalco knows the character pretty well. He even reminds us that Dick is a ladies' man when Sonia's assistant tries flirting with Dick only to be shut down by her boss with the implication that Sonia doesn't want her assistant infringing on her territory.
DeFalco also does an excellent job of making Shiva's presence felt throughout the issue even though she only appears in a single panel during the actual events being depicted and it's the very last panel of the issue. His one misstep might have been his allusion to her age. When Penguin says that she is rumored to be around Dick's age, he doesn't allow her much time to build her reputation as one of the world's deadliest assassins, a rep she already had when she first encountered Dick in his debut as Robin.

Guinaldo's art is far more impressive in this issue than anything else he's put forth so far in this series. I've often thought his facial work made his characters look kind of ugly. I saw none of that in these pages. He does a great job illustrating emotion and the battle sequence just looks awesome. I have previously held that Geraldo Borges did a much better job stepping in for Eddy Barrows, but Guinaldo more than held his own here, stepping his game up substantially.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Editorial # 7 - “Everybody Starts Somewhere”

This article is neither fully an editorial, nor can I truly call it a review. However, since the editorial heading provides me a little more wiggle room in regards to my own self-imposed content restrictions, I've decided that this format is most appropriate for the books I'll cover herein. At this point, you may be asking what the heck I'm babbling about. Bear with me for just a few minutes and allow me to explain.
A little over a month and a half ago, I took the plunge and placed my first Instocktrades.com order. Of the seven books I ordered, three were TKF-related - New TeenTitans: Games, Nightwing: Rough Justice, and Nightwing:Old Friends, New Enemies. The last of those is particularly relevant in this scenario since it includes material excerpted from Secret Origins, Vol.1 # 13, a 1987 comic I owned once upon a time in single issue format, where the main story was the origin of Nightwing in his own words as told to fellow Titan Jericho. (God Almighty, I hate Jericho!!!)
I hadn't realized when I purchased the trade that the Secret Origins material would be included, but when I noted its inclusion, I thought it would be interesting to compare this version of our hero's origin to that of the New52 as told in Nightwing issue #0, the next review on my schedule. A little digging through my other trades turned up Nightwing: YearOne covering the pre-Flashpoint origin story. A little bit of work from memory and Who's Who research gives us the pre-Crisis version. And lastly, from the New52 SecretOrigins #8, we get just a little more info than is presented in Nightwing #0.
Re-reading all this material and compiling my thoughts into something coherent has taken some time. And to be honest, finding time to write in between getting my newly-interested-in-Brazilian-Jiujitsu daughter to the gym, playing with the new baby (mostly) or playing on the PS4 I got as an anniversary gift (much less than with the baby, but more than I should have to stay on track with TKF) has been a bit more difficult than I would like to admit. Hopefully, any of you readers who've stuck with me will find the results to be worthwhile.
Prior to Crisis on InfiniteEarths, Dick felt that he'd outgrown the Robin identity and was no longer acting as Batman's full-time partner, spending most of his time working with the Teen Titans. He went through a short period of self doubt. He wondered if he would even continue to operate as a hero before the events of the Judas Contract forced him back into action to rescue his fellow Titans from H.I.V.E. He relinquished the Robin identity and took the name Nightwing from Superman. Supes had used the name years before while adventuring in Kandor as part of a Batman and Robin like team with Jimmy Olsen. Since bats and robins never existed on Krypton, the pair instead adopted the names of legendary Kryptonian creatures, the nightwing and flamebird. (Side note: When DC brought Bette Kane back out of mothballs in a Titans-centric post-Crisis Secret Origins annual, her Flamebird identity was created as a nod to Dick's adoption of the Nightwing nom-du-guerre. For more on this character, see TKF Editorial # 3.) For Dick, the Nightwing identity was, therefor a tribute to his stepfather (Batman) and his “favorite uncle” (Superman). Keep in mind that this was during the days when Batman and Superman were still written as best friends.
After the Crisis, especially after Frank Miller got a hold of the character, Batman was much less trusting of Superman's altruistic nature and less friendly in general. Additionally, John Byrne had eliminated Kandor from existence so there could be no connection between Superman and the Nightwing name anymore. In Secret Origins #13, Marv Wolfman glosses over the origin of the name, choosing instead to focus on Dick's beginnings as Robin and the status of the relationships that led to the split between the first Dynamic Duo. Wolfman describes Dick's choice to step out on his own. He willingly gave the Boy Wonder costume to Jason Todd, deciding that he'd outgrown it and would take on a new role, even though the more garish Robin suit might have suited his swashbuckler's heart a bit better. While the art by a then-very-new Erik Larsen does show a pretty tense scene between Bruce and Dick, Wolfman's dialog stresses that the two are on good terms and that their relationship just had to go through some growing pains before they could see each other as equals.
In Nightwing: Year One (including Nightwing vol. 2., issues # 101-106), Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel show Bats flat out fire Dick as Robin after his Titans business caused him to show up late at Batman's side one time too many. Batman had summoned Dick to help him take on Clayface. Even though Robin did make it in time to help, Batman was none too pleased with the way his protégé had been splitting his focus. This was the cold, driven version of Batman who was almost as much of a sociopath as many of his enemies. Dixon's portrayal of this Dynamic Duo is very socially dysfunctional with Alfred as the glue keeping the two together. Interestingly, on the night Dick was fired, Alfred was about to present Dick with a new costume resembling that of the old (and at the time, out of continuity) Earth 2 Robin in order to signify his growth into a man.
Dixon also resurrects the notion of Superman inspiring the Nightwing name. This time, he tells Dick of a young Kryptonian man who became a hero after being ostracized from his family in a similar manner to the way Dick recently had. Big Blue also convinces him to reconnect with his roots which leads the young adventurer back to Haly's Circus. There he finds himself a prototype for his future costume in an adaptation of his father's old performance outfit. Having discovered his new identity, Dick returns to Gotham and realizes that he'll need to reintroduce himself in the new threads. Some of his encounters go better than others. Of particular note is the fact that in this version of the story, his first meeting with his replacement was far more intricately orchestrated and far less cordial. Dick's relationships with Bruce and Jason were characterized by much more resentment on Dick's end. Dick also carried that grudge for a long time afterward. As a nice kind of bookend retcon to the arc, it was Alfred who provided Dick with the “disco” Nightwing costume originally designed for the character by George Pérez and in which he first appeared in 1984.
Before I wrap up, I would be remiss in not discussing Nightwing's origin in the New52. First things first, Nightwing #0 really focuses on Grayson's evolution from circus performer into Robin with almost no emphasis at all on the adult Grayson's alter ego. Series writer Kyle Higgins introduced several changes to the character, turning the child into a teenage thrill-seeking parkour runner who plays “chicken” with trains. Higgins also gave his star an ability to read body language by which the boy was able to identify Batman as Bruce Wayne. (This was an ability associated with Cassandra Cain in the previous continuity. However, at this point in the New52, Cassandra had yet to make her first appearance and it was unclear whether or not she even would.)
The decision to give Dick this ability was met with some controversy, but not as much as the decision to change Dick's inspiration for the Robin name. Instead of having an affinity for Robin Hood as Bruce had for Zorro and the Gray Ghost, Dick took the name as a tribute to his deceased mother's favorite bird. In his “Fatman on Batman” interview which I have cited numerous times before, Higgins stated that, in retrospect, his choice to change Dick's reason for assuming the Robin title may have been a mistake; I personally agree. Higgins further stated in the interview that prior to issue #0, he had been writing the book full-script and that, by necessity, he had to allow series regular artist Eddy Barrows to draw the issue from a plot alone, thereby giving Barrows free reign to direct the flow of the action. Higgins then went behind and scripted the issue based on the art (a.k.a. “working Marvel style”). He said the art was so much more dynamic and impressive than his previous issues that he felt he'd been hamstringing Barrows by not giving him enough freedom to draw the pages the way he thought they should look as the artist. Again, I have to say that he might be right; the art is truly spectacular. Higgins' story ties Robin's first costumed appearance closely to that of assassin Lady Shiva. After weeks running around taking on criminals at night solo in his street clothes followed by months of training under the Batman's tutelage, Shiva's near murder of the mentor was the final straw that pushed the student into action. Unfortunately, due to the odd time constraints that DC editorial placed on the New52 timeline, this is really the only time we ever see Dick operate as Robin with Batman. (The current Titans Hunt mini-series is in the process of retconning some of the timeline, so we are now getting to see some glimpses of Dick's time in the Robin suit, albeit with the Titans and not Batman.) The only big problem I had with this issue is that Higgins and Barrows never actually touch on the events that led Dick from dropping his Robin identity and taking on that of Nightwing. In fact, the only image of his adult identity comes on the last page in a faint picture that only vaguely ties the two versions of the character together. A reader with no foreknowledge of the character might have a difficult time making the connection between them.
In the aftermath of the events of Forever Evil, Dick Grayson could no longer operate effectively as Nightwing for reasons I'm loath to discuss at this juncture. In Secret Origins #8, Helena Bertinelli (the post-Crisis Huntress now codenamed Matron), a high ranking agent in the Spyral spy organization created by Grant Morrison during Batman, Inc., tells her boss about her recommendation for her new partner. She briefly recounts some of the details from Nightwing #0, but sheds some doubt on the idea of whether the Robin persona came from Mary Grayson's love for robins or as tribute to Robin Hood as established in just about every version of the old continuity. She also states that Dick's split with his mentor was a matter of choice. Co-writers Tim Seeley and Tom King apparently restored the idea that Dick simply outgrew the role of sidekick. As in Nightwing #0, we also get to see the Flying Graysons in their performance costumes which resemble Dick's blue and black outfit, although in the New52, the family's costume has more of the bird motif characteristic of Nightwing's animated appearances. We also see Nightwing in the New52 version of the disco suit kissing Starfire, an idea which at this point had only been referenced in a couple of panels in passing in a single issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws.
I'll refrain from going into much more detail about Secret Origins #8 so as to avoid spoilers for the Grayson series which I intend to review in the coming months. The facts that I have revealed thus far are fairly inconsequential to Grayson, but obviously do serve to both expand on and partially contradict some of what was shown in Nightwing #0.

Dick Grayson has been around for over 75 years now. His history as a hero has been pretty consistent in that time with a few big changes here and there to keep the character fresh for new generations. However, as numerous creators have portrayed over that time, Dick has always had the potential to be his own man outside of Batman's very long shadow. Maybe that has been the reason so many creators have always kept at least a splash of bright color in the costume. Stars shine bright and anyone who has ever read Batman: Hush know that Bruce has always known that Dick was always going to be a star in his own right.





Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review / Commentary # 12 - Nightwing # 12 “Inside Out”

  • Writer: Kyle Higgins
  • Penciller: Andres Guinaldo
  • Inkers: Raul Fernandez & Mark Irwin
  • Colorist: Rod Reis
  • Letterer: Dezi Sienty
  • Editor: Brian Cunningham
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
Nightwing # 12 picks up with the police investigation into Paragon's murder of his Republic of Tomorrow followers. He kind of let the cat out of the bag at the end of last issue when he approached Detective Nie about the case. Nie reveals that he no longer wants Nightwing for the Strayhorn murders before Paragon springs a trap that captures the police and separates them from himself and Nightwing. When Nightwing reveals to Paragon that he knows why Paragon murdered the Strayhorns, Paragon turns into a Bond villain delivering a ridiculous self-aggrandizing expository speech where we learn everything there is to know about him...except for what his motivations were or how he built a branded heavily-armed army with none of Gotham's roughly dozen vigilante detectives even noticing. His choice to focus his efforts on Nightwing seem to result solely from the fact that he lost the allegiance of his buddies the Strayhorns after Nightwing saved them.
I can accept that he would zero on Nightwing for personal reasons, but why was he against heroes in the first place? His followers had all lost something as a result of vigilante activities and he said he wanted to tear them down as false idols, but why? What had he lost that made him want to go after them to begin with? I also don't know what Paragon stood to gain from defaming the heroes. I'm not sure if Higgins was under the gun to finish the arc before getting roped into another event with the next issue's Zero Month (another tie-in with a Scott Snyder story), but I think this story could definitely have used another issue or two to nail down why any of this happened.
On the other hand, there are some serious pros to offset the aforementioned cons. The side story of Dick trying to move Haly's Circus to Gotham's old Amusement Mile and the hoops he has to jump through to make that happen works well. I was genuinely surprised to see that Detective Nie really was more interested in seeing justice done than railroading and framing Nightwing. I guess even the dirty cops in Gotham can sometimes see the light. The foreshadowing of Lady Shiva's return to the DCU for the first time in New52 continuity is also handled nicely.
I've beaten him up a lot in previous reviews, but Andres Guinaldo's art makes a quantum leap in this issue. While he could still do a little more to make his panel layouts more interesting, his facial work is actually really good in this one. Dick's face is consistently recognizable from page to page, panel to panel. There are no weird ethnicity shifts for any of the characters like last issue. In fact, the only character who might need some improvement is Paragon when he first removes his mask. For some reason, he looks like a vampire in the reveal. I also really dug Guinaldo's Penguin and the expression he drew on Dick's face as he's bandaging himself up communicated a great deal of physical pain while still managing to look fun and kind of goofy.

Overall Impression:
Unfortunately, I can't say that this was the home run ending I'd have liked to see for the People of Tomorrow arc. Whether dictated by outside forces or just not quite having enough meat to the main antagonist, Higgins failed to stick the landing on the main storyline. That said, I really like what he did in the B-story, introducing Sonia Branch/Zucco into Dick's supporting cast. I also like that Higgins shows Dick wanting to bridge his circus life and his Gotham City life by giving Haly's a permanent base of operations in town.
This arc had a lot of potential, but it suffered from an anemic villain and maybe a little too much to get done in too little page space. Paragon could make for an interesting recurring character. Unfortunately, much like Saiko, the main antagonist of Higgins' previous arc, Paragon never makes another appearance. However, the bad guy didn't die this time so there is still the possibility for him to make a return some time down the line. Hopefully, he'll have more reason to come calling if that next time ever does arrive.

***SIDE NOTE***:

The comments I made in the previous review for issue 11 about Sonia and Dick's partnership were a bit premature. I have been using my trade paperback of the issues as my reference for these reviews and must have mixed up the pages in my head. The two only have a very brief and terse interaction in issue 11. Their relationship, both professional and personal, is actually expanded in the pages of issue 12.

Review / Commentary # 11 - Nightwing # 11: “Tomorrow Can't Wait”

  • Writer: Kyle Higgins
  • Penciller: Andres Guinaldo
  • Inker: Mark Irwin
  • Colorist: Peter Pantazis
  • Letterer: Travis Lanham
  • Editor: Brian Cunningham
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
The cover to issue # 11 of Nightwing gives us a pretty good preview of the opening battle Dick faces in the first few pages. Once again Barrows and Reis are sans inks on the cover, the pair's only contribution this issue and one of the weakest covers the two have provided so far in the series. Portions of the drawing just seem much less refined than what Barrows has put forward in the past and the colors appear a bit too washed out, although the use of white highlights to define the folds in Paragon's trenchcoat is a very nice touch.
Inside the book, Kyle Higgins starts things off with a bang. Picking up from where last issue left off, Nightwing is kind of on his heels. He got caught snooping around the Republic of Tomorrow's clocktower HQ by their leader, Paragon, and attempts to trash-talk his way out of what he anticipates will be a massive fight with the small but heavily-armed army. Needless to say but the attempt fails miserably. Instead, he lights up taser charges on his escrima sticks and jumps into the fray against the members of the Republic taking a brief but damaging advantage before Paragon gets him from behind with his plasma ring/whip weapon. When the gunmen recover and start firing wildly, Nightwing loses the momentum of the fight. His attempt to utilize a sonic weapon in order to return the tide of battle to his favor backfires when Paragon knocks the entire clock loose of the building to fall onto any unsuspecting bystanders on the street below. Nightwing destroys the clock before any civilian can be injured but loses track of the Repulic members in the process. The overall fight lasts for almost half of the issue.
Higgins sheds a little more light on Detective Nie and why he has it in for Nightwing. He also enlightens us as to the Republic of Tomorrow's motivations and shows what happens when those motivations are no longer enough to keep members from wanting to leave. A brief interaction with Damian in the Batcave gives us a glimpse of Nightwing employing his skills as a detective wherein he appears to solve the mystery behind the murders he has been investigating recently. Lastly, Higgins expands on the budding business relationship, and maybe a little more personal as well, between Dick Grayson and Sonia Branch, aka Sonia Zucco, daughter of his parents' killer.
The art team for the issue puts forward a satisfying effort. Andres Guinaldo's cartoonier style works better at some points in the issue than others. As with his previous work on the series, faces are the least successful aspect of Guinaldo's pencils mostly due to their inconsistency. Guinaldo catches a break for a few pages since the Republic of Tomorrow wear helmets that fully cover their faces. All the characters seem to fluctuate between solidly caucasian and vaguely Asian at various points throughout the issue. On the other hand, his figure work is excellent. The backgrounds get a little sparse here and there, but very few panels are totally lacking in this department. The washed out appearance of the cover continues through the majority of the issue even with a different colorist. Someone might want to remind Mr. Pantazis that all the characters' costumes in the book skew more black than grey.

Overall Impression:
Issue 11 does its job well as the middle issue of a three part arc. Higgins advances all of the subplots pretty nicely even though we don't get much, if any, resolution in the issue. The only things we learn for certain are that Paragon holds little attachment to his followers, being all-too-willing to kill them himself, and that Dick and Sonia will be working more closely with one another over the coming days. The latter fact brings with it a surprising revelation that could have some interesting character implications.

 On the art side, Guinaldo proves he can handle the action and emotion of the book very well. Both are communicated nicely, even though I'm not totally on board for his facial work. He might get a little more punch out of the action by emulating Eddy Barrows' non-standard panel layouts as Geraldo Borges did last issue, but his cartoonier style shows the beginnings of some of the strengths I highlighted in Trevor McCarthy's work from issue # 4. I would also like to have seen what impact Rod Reis could have had if he'd colored a few of the pages. I think it might have worked to give a smoother transition between the art teams from issue to issue.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Review / Commentary # 10 - Nightwing # 10: “The Tomorrow People”

  • Writer: Kyle Higgins
  • Penciller: Eddy Barrows & Geraldo Borges
  • Inkers: Eber Ferreira & Ruy José
  • Colorist: Rod Reis
  • Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
  • Editor: Brian Cunningham
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
We start a new arc in Nightwing # 10. That new start begins with a beat-to-hell Nightwing on the cover by Eddy Barrows and Rod Reis, as usual. This time there's a twist. Eber Ferreira inked the cover over Barrows' pencils. The inks lend a stark quality to the image emphasizing the danger Nightwing faces, especially given the image of his assailants reflected in the pool of mixed blood and rainwater.
Inside, Kyle Higgins finally gets to begin unraveling a mystery that he first hinted at during issue # 8. Nightwing doesn't have much to go on in the way of clues, a pair of identical brandings on two brothers who were apparently murdered using one of his escrima sticks. The fact that the murder weapon is tied to a member of the Bat-family and being kept out of the media (revealed in issue 8) makes him think there maybe something more to the story. In the meantime, we also meet several new characters: Detective Travis Nie seems to have a vendetta against the whole Bat-family, but a particularly nasty personal grievance with Nightwing. He even sends a SWAT team, guns-blazing, to take Nightwing at the victims' apartment, disregarding the potential collateral damage to other residents of the building. Surprisingly, we also find that Nightwing has earned the support of a high-ranking city official whose life he saved during the Night of the Owls attacks. Higgins teases out more information as the issue continues and Nightwing uncovers a small army of self-styled revolutionaries calling themselves the Republic of Tomorrow led by someone calling himself Paragon. The last big surprise that we get (humongous actually) comes in the form of a business venture Dick has been exploring with Lucius Fox and Lucius' revelation that the only bank that might be interested in the proposition is run by Sonia Zucco, daughter of the man who killed Dick's parents.
Barrows and Ferreira give us plenty of great art between the covers, continuing to deliver excellent character and background detail with dynamic page layouts and interesting panel designs. Unfortunately, the only page of theirs I don't love is the issue's title/splash page featuring the single largest drawing of our main character. His body seems too skinny; an acrobat of Nightwing's caliber should have significantly more developed lats. Additionally, the position appears as though it would be awkward for any character except maybe Spider-Man. On the other hand, the fight sequence in the apartment and Nightwing's dramatic escape from the situation looked fantastic. His loft's armory is equally impressive.
Sticking with the art, Geraldo Borges and Ruy José do an excellent job picking up where Barrows and Ferreira leave off. It helps that Borges' layouts and pencils share a very similar-looking aesthetic with Barrows' own. The second art team gets an additional leg up from colorist Rod Reis who brings a unifying element to the visuals that was lacking in the transition from one team to the next back in issue # 9. The only really big dip that the art takes in the book comes in the less-detailed backgrounds compared to Barrows and Ferreira.

Overall Impression:
Higgins introduces some very interesting character dynamics using the supporting characters in the book. Why is Nie so vehement, to the point of recklessness, in his pursuit of Nightwing? Since when does any city official besides Commissioner Gordon have any interest in repaying a member of the Bat-family for saving his life? Are Dick and Sonia really going to be able to put aside the fact that her father murdered his parents in order to work together? And how much more awkward is it that he thinks she's cute?

I love the possibilities that this issue represents. I'm also ecstatic to see Higgins be able to tell his own story with Nightwing in the main seat, as opposed to riding sidecar to Batman in the former's own series. Nightwing # 10 is a pretty good beginning to an arc meant to bring some clarity to a mystery that's been building for a long time. Discounting the one page discussed above and single small panel in the corner of one of Borges and José's pages, the art is really good to excellent. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Editorial # 6 - “The Future Looks Bright for a Certain Gotham Knight"

For even casual fans of DC Comics, it will come as no surprise that Dick Grayson's time as a super spy is soon to be ending. As revealed during DC's Rebirth panel atWonderCon, our hero going to be back in costume as Nightwing and that costume is going to be black and blue! The biweekly book will at least partially spin out of events in the current Grayson series and helmed by current series co-writer, Tim Seeley. Fans of Grayson should find that a comforting thought. I'm only familiar with one of the two series pencillers. Marcus To is fantastic! If you need proof of that, check out the pre-Flashpoint Red Robin series, the Huntress mini-series, or some of his fill-in work for Francis Manapul on the Flash. I don't know Javi Fernandez' work, but I do like the couple of images I have seen, so I'm going to be cautiously optimistic.
Dick will also be hanging out with his Titans pals in a new monthly series spinning out of TitansHunt. That one's by Dan Abnett and Brett Booth. Abnett has been keeping my interest piqued on Titans Hunt, so I'm fairly certain that I'll be okay with the writing. Booth's abbreviated run on the New52 Nightwing series was really good. I found it to be vastly superior to his more recent work as the artist on the Flash or his earlier work on the first New52 Teen Titans series. The preliminary images of Titans look pretty good, so...fingers crossed?
So how will all this affect TKF? Since I still intend to review everything since the start of the New52, I will continue to work on the already existing books. However, at my current rate, I realize that if I stay totally chronological, I won't get to the Rebirth books for many months. Therefor, I have decided that once Rebirth hits, I will review the new Nightwing and Titans books in as close to real time as I can and continue to catch up the previously existing series when I'm not working on the new ones.

Lastly, I'm still planning to get to work on the original superhero concept that I mentioned in my first TKF editorial. I'm not sure how that will affect the overall output on this project. Once that's ready, I'll have to make any necessary adjustments on the fly. I have a little research to do first, but hopefully I can have that up and going by late May or early June. We have a new baby in the house, so time and consciousness don't coincide a lot right now. I will have reviews for Nightwing # 10, and possibly # 11, up by Saturday. I've already written them in my head. Just need to get them typed out. Anybody reading, I hope to hear from you soon. Later, Fliers! (If there really is anybody out there reading these brain droppings, that's what I call you in my head. Let me know what you think.)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Review / Commentary # 9 - Nightwing # 9: “The Gray Son”

  • Writer: Kyle Higgins
  • Penciller: Eddy Barrows & Andres Guinaldo
  • Inkers: Eber Ferreira, Ruy José, & Mark Irwin
  • Colorist: Rod Reis & Peter Pantazis
  • Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
  • Editor: Bobbie Chase & Brian Cunningham
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
Nightwing # 9 features an intense battle on the cover between Nightwing and his great grandfather, the Talon named William Cobb. The figures are dynamic, especially Talon's, and the scene is dramatic even though Nightwing looks like he'd be equally engaged (if slightly less bloody) as a drummer in a metal band. One sort of wonky thing is that both characters' upper bodies appear too big to be supported on the relatively puny legs Barrows draws for them.
Inside the book, the creative team continues its work from the last issue progressing the battle and relating Cobb's origin through numerous flashback sequences. Cobb's origin, as well as that of the Grayson family line, is deeply tied in with one of the five leading families of old Gotham, Haly's Circus, and the Court of Owls.
Barrows handles the art chores for roughly two thirds of the issue. His pages are as good as ever and the panel layouts contribute nicely to give the action more of a sense of motion. Andres Guinaldo's pages are generally well-drawn. However, his more traditional layouts are visually less interesting. Additionally, and I don't know if this is because of the multiple inkers and colorists involved in completing the issue, some of Guinaldo's facial work looks pretty rough. In all likelihood, Guinaldo and company were just in a rush to get the pages done in order to back up Barrows who might have gotten behind. The art shift is more disappointing because of the extremely lush background work Barrows put in. Again, he was probably under a time crunch, but Guinaldo's pages just don't have a comparable level of detail although his action work is still pretty spectacular. His action work looks its best in his first few pages showing Cobb at the beginning of his career as a Talon.
Higgins uses the fight scenes to good effect in order to provide meta-commentary about the criticism directed toward Nightwing by, not only other characters in the DCU, but also other members of the larger comics fandom who might view the character as a poor man's imitation of Batman. Higgins responds to the criticism via the dialog between Nightwing and Talon while also pointing out that Cobb's view of the city is both myopic and dated. He also does a fine job resolving the battle in such a way as to highlight Nightwing's degree of skill and strategy.

Overall Impression:
Issue # 9 of Nightwing is not perfect. It is very good, but hindered by multiple art teams. The situation is exacerbated by inconsistent coloring; not that the colorists are incapable, but having a single colorist could have provided a unifying element to smooth out the differences between the two pencillers and three inkers.
I don't know if Cobb's origin story was Higgins' creation or that of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo who had first developed the character. I do recall Higgins stating, in his “Fatman on Batman” interview, that he came up with the origin of the Grayson family name which I found to be really cool.

I've complained ad nauseum about Snyder's Batman overshadowing many other stories occurring in the Bat-family of books. After Night of the Owls, Snyder relents for a short while. This allows Higgins and company to do address their own story arc over the course of the next few issues developing some plot points they established over all of their previous issues. We'll see how that works out for them in upcoming reviews.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Review / Commentary # 8 - Nightwing # 8: “Bloodlines”

  • Writer: Kyle Higgins
  • Penciller: Eddy Barrows
  • Inkers: Ruy José
  • Colorist: Rod Reis
  • Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
  • Editor: Bobbie Chase
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
Nightwing # 8 sports a cover by series regulars Eddy Barrows and Rod Reis which nicely previews the dual stories being told between the pages. The drawing is pretty fantastic, even if it is a bit misleading. The Talon in the foreground is central to the story, but only makes a brief appearance in the issue. Barrows' hyper-realistic style makes the whole piece look spectacular and is especially on display in the depiction of the owl sitting on Talon's shoulder.
Barrows' work seems particularly suited to the events, dress, and overall style of pre-modern eras. That's mostly to the benefit of this issue since a good part takes place in the early 20th century. However, unlike the cover or previous flashback scenes in the series, the flashback sequences in this issue are fully inked. The effect lends a harder, less dreamy feeling to the flashbacks, but still work equally well.
Higgins uses these scenes to tell the story of a poor Gotham boy who made a life for himself as an entertainer thanks to a chance encounter with the ringleader of Haly's Circus (which we learned in the last story arc is a front for a Court of Owls recruitment program.) This being the first of a two-part tie-in to the Night of the Owls, we are initially led to believe that the Talon Dick fights in the present day story is the same child, now grown up and serving as an assassin for the Court which most Gothamites still consider to be an urban legend. The battle between Nightwing and the Talon is brutal and well-illustrated. Higgins switches between past and present well and Barrows lays out the pages in a manner that enhances both stories nicely.
The revelation that another Talon is involved and has actually been the one in the flashback sequences comes as no small shock. The fact that he is not concerned with hunting a member of the Gotham City upper crust, but is instead focused on killing Nightwing, whom he knows to be Dick Grayson, is even more of a surprise.

Overall Impression:
There isn't a terrible lot to say about issue # 8 of Nightwing beyond the fact that it is really, really good. The majority of the issue is dominated by the two stories discussed above, both of which tie back to Scott Snyder's Night of the Owls arc in the main Batman series. Higgins, Barrows, et. al., do a remarkable job extending that story. The only real drawback to the issue is that, as stated in my previous review, Snyder's story takes precedence in a book that he doesn't actually write. In fact, only one page of the entire issue is dedicated to pushing an ongoing Nightwing-centric plot forward.

As we'll see in the next issue, the Court of Owls and Night of the Owls storylines do revolve around Dick Grayson to a certain extent. However, they ultimately don't really matter much to the character at this point (although Tom King's Robin War revives the connection much later on). The teaser page for the next arc does a nice job of building enough suspense to keep readers intrigued and interested in seeing how the mystery of Nightwing's weapon being used in a murder will be resolved.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Editorial # 5 - “Playing Catch-Up”

Maybe it's the nostalgia of youth; maybe my memory has been colored by listening to one too many comics podcasts or reading too many blogs. I remember the Justice Society and the greater world of Earth 2 as being a place where the heroes always won, even if victory came at a cost. It was a place of light with characters you could look up to. Even after the Crisis, when they had big parts of their histories rewritten, the JSA survived. In fact, they more than survived. They thrived.
Crisis on Infinite Earth really hit Earth 2 hard. For all the good that Marv Wolfman and George Pérez did for the DCU with Crisis, it still created more than its share of problems. The Golden Age Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman no longer existed. That alone would have a pretty big impact since the characters had already had so many adventures over the previous 50 years, but the influence those three had on other characters was huge and also had to be dealt with. Catwoman of Earth 2 didn't exist either, so she obviously couldn't marry the non-existent Batman and give birth to the Helena Wayne, therefore Huntress is gone (for a while anyway). Superman and Lois Lane weren't there to raise Power Girl who did still exist but now had no family or past and her origin was rewritten badly to say the least. Wonder Woman's daughter, Fury, no longer had a mother but Fury was still an active member of Infinity, Inc. and involved with Silver Scarab, the son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The entire series of Young All-Stars was basically created to patch some of the holes that Crisis left in DC continuity.
Oh yeah! How is all this relevant to TKF? No Golden Age Batman meant no Golden Age Robin either. Dick Grayson of Earth 1 still existed as Nightwing with his character history left mostly untouched, so 10 year-old me was pretty okay with things at the time. But good ideas are good ideas, so DC slowly brought back Earth 2 and its characters over time through a variety of events culminating in the New52 Earth-2 series. I reread the series as well as its follow-ups, Earth-2: World's End and Convergence this last week. I'm shocked by how much they could do well when they got so, so much of it wrong.
Earth-2 was still defined by being a world at war, but this time World War II had nothing to do with the story. Right out of the gate the reader gets introduced to new look versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman in a five year flashback to a war with the armies of Apokolips and they were dead by the end of the first issue. This time Helena Wayne was back, but she was her dad's Robin, again ending up as Huntress. Once again, Dick Grayson was nowhere to be seen. Dick never even showed up in Earth-2 until issue # 29 after first being introduced during Earth-2: World's End # 1. Where do we first see Dick? He's a reporter in a hospital room, standing next to his pregnant wife, Officer Barbara Gordon of the Chicago Police Dept.
Fast forward a few years in the comics, a couple of weeks in real time,and the happy couple is fighting for survival in the second great Apokolips war with their son, Johnny, in tow. Their story is one of several subplots followed through World's End and, just like most of the stories from that series and its parent series, the Graysons' story is one of tragedy.
However, the Grayson family tragedy is mostly one of poor writing and editorial decisions. Barbara protects her mostly helpless husband long enough to lose their son, find him again, then die trying to keep the two of them alive. Dick manages to lose track of the boy again and learns to fight from TedGrant, who had only been seen previously as a name on a marquee. Somehow, an afternoon with Ted turns Dick into a competent enough fighter to allow Dick to recover his son, Tommy. (That isn't my mistake. For some reason, the writing team couldn't be bothered to keep the boy's name straight from one issue to the next; they flip-flopped between Johnny and Tommy at least four times.) When he found himself unable to secure a place for the two of them on an escape vehicle, Dick ended up entrusting his son to a woman dressed in robes. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Dick, the woman was Barda, the disgraced leader of Darkseid's Female Furies, with her traveling companion the Fury of War. Dick also went on to meet the second Batman of Earth-2, Thomas Wayne. Another series of events led to Dick learning of his alternate selves' connection to the legend of Batman. He adopted the symbol after Thomas' death. As of the current Earth-2:Society (E2S) series, he has fully adopted the mantle of Batman and is still looking for his son.
I have a lot of problems with the handling of the Earth-2 characters. Turning Terry Sloane from the original Mr. Terrific that inspired Michael Holt into a megalomaniacal super murderer is one of the problems. I have always been a fan of Mr. Miracle and Barda as a couple. That's out the window now as Barda is a total villain; not cool. I don't have any real attachment to Barbara Gordon, but her death was used as little more than a plot device. Neither Ted Grant nor Yolanda Montez gets to be Wildcat? Something is wrong there. Jay and Joan Garrick used to be the fun grandparents of the Flash family. Making them younger wasn't a big deal but having her coldly break up with him in their very first appearance was absolutely wrong. Connor Hawke's personality was written as pretty much the opposite of his previous incarnation. AlPratt and Alan Scott were jerks through most of the series. The majority of the whole cast were just meaner, and these were the heroes.
There are some bright spots. Except for the Atom, I really like most of the redesigned costumes. The artists have generally done a magnificent job illustrating the various books. Hawkgirl was and continues to be consistently awesome. Despite how badly his relationship was handled, Flash is generally still well-written as a hero. Huntress' solo mini-series was pretty good. Worlds' Finest wasn't bad with Huntress and Power Girl in the lead, although sales led DC to turn the series into another Batman and Superman showcase. However, the two ladies were heavily featured in World's End, Convergence, and currently in E2S, albeit in a somewhat diminished capacity. Dick Grayson is now the third Batman of Earth-2. I actually think he's suited for the role, but I hope some more of his training will be fleshed out as the series progresses because the guy I'm reading in E2S now is not the same one from a year ago.

Dan Abnett has recently taken over the writing chores on E2S. Much like his other project TitansHunt is doing for the classic Titans team, Abnett's E2S run has the enormous task of trying to fix the problems that his predecessors created. If he can inject some heart into the book, then a lot of the other problems might go away. The characters of Earth 2 were never meant to suffer the ringer that they have been put through since being introduced in the New52. Hopefully, we'll get an Earth-2: Rebirth once the current series ends. There is still a lot of potential and many new stories to be told with these characters that have endured for the last 70+ years.