Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review / Commentary # 4 - Nightwing # 4: “South Beach Connection”

  • Writer: Kyle Higgins
  • Penciller: Trevor McCarthy
  • Inkers: Trevor McCarthy
  • Colorist: Guy Major
  • Letterer: Wes Abbot
  • Editor: Bobbie Chase
  • Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert

Detailed Impression:
The cover to Nightwing issue # 4 gives us our first shot of another hero guest appearing in the series while also foreshadowing the battle with the issue's main villain. Nightwing and his long time on-again, off-again love interest Batgirl, are shown embroiled in a brutal in a brutal fight with... Nightwing?!?! Barrows's pencils are sharp as ever. But unlike the stark difference between Nightwing and the circus folk on issue # 2's cover, this time Reis's colors don't seem to separate the characters quite enough from the background city scene. I don't want to make it sound like the colors are bad by any means, maybe just a few too many warm to hot tones. It makes the characters appear to be a little muted.
Inside, Higgins starts things off with a wild chase scene. Batgirl is on the hunt for a shape-shifting thief whom she refers to as Spinebender. Right off the bat, we see that the art by Trevor McCarthy is drastically different from what we've had so far on the series. McCarthy's style is distinctly more cartoony, with a much greater graphic illustrator flair than the more naturalistic art that has been the norm on the book. That statement should not be misconstrued as a condemnation or an endorsement of one style over the other. Both styles are equally valid and have their places in the medium; it's just an observation.
McCarthy has some history with our main character, dating back to the Pre-Flashpoint DC universe. He first cut his Dick Grayson/Nightwing teeth as the regular penciller of the previous ongoing series during the police officer Grayson days. McCarthy himself has said that he was still very raw at the time. His run on the title was not generally well received although I must say that I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Much later, Higgins and McCarthy teamed up on the Gates of Gotham miniseries starring Dick as Batman. Gates of Gotham went on to become a New York Times bestseller when it was reprinted as a trade paperback. The trade also included the duo's first pairing as writer and artist in a two-part backup featuring their original character, Nightrunner, the Muslim French Algerian Batman of Paris (now there's a mouthful). Interestingly, after Bruce Wayne recruited Nightrunner for Batman Incorporated, he had Grayson train him due to their similar skill sets.
Needless to say, McCarthy is more than comfortable drawing the character. Dick has a consistent, dynamic look throughout the issue. McCarthy seems less comfortable drawing Barbara, though his Batgirl is dynamite. Unfortunately, he makes Babs look a little too much like Raya, Dick's current romantic partner. Although the colors by Guy Major look good and complement the art well, it's like one of the circus members says when Babs first shows up in shadow, Dick has a type. The flatter, more animated look of the art and colors could lead to some confusion between the two ladies for someone just picking up the book. There's no way they could look so similar by accident. I have to imagine that Higgins always intended for Barbara to show up at some point just to highlight their different personalities.
Higgins clearly defines the relationship between Dick and Raya in this issue. She flat out tells him that they have a shelf life and she wants to keep things simple between them. This contrasts sharply with the long term, complicated nature of his relationship with Barbara.
Taken as a single story, I really like this issue. It's got a decent plot. The dialogue generally reads as fairly natural and none of it has that canned feel I complained about in issue # 3. That doesn't change my feeling that this was a filler issue. Bringing Babs in was a nice touch. Her inclusion does help to tie Nightwing back into the rest of the Batman line. The problem comes in that besides bookending an argument between the two of them in her own title, this story really could have been told at any point in the series. If the series were a video game, this issue could be a side quest; fun but not totally necessary in any greater context. Spinebender seems like he could be a pretty cool villain if he is given time to grow as a character. Unfortunately, I don't think he will see much time in the spotlight in the near future. He only shows up once or twice total over the entire rest of the series.

Overall Impression:
I might have seemed to be down a lot on this issue, but the truth is, I really did like it a lot. I think that means a lot considering that much of it could be seen as fluff material meant to pad out the arc so DC could reach that crucial sixth issue for purpose of reprinting as a trade. I appreciated seeing a Bat family member in the book and it makes sense that Higgins would pick Barbara given their history together. The Babs/Raya comparison went a little too far for my tastes but did play well overall.

Nothing against any of the other artists to work on the title, but this is what I think a Nightwing book should look like. McCarthy's art is stunning. His action is fluid and dynamic. The cartoony quality gives a little bit of lightness that balances nicely against the dark tone of the story Higgins is telling. The colors by Major had a few minor missteps, but I thought they were a hit overall.

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