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.