TITLE: The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel
AUTHOR: Michael Moreci
ARTISTS: Sas Milledge, Phil Hester, David Calderon (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
RELEASED: May 5, 2020
By Rob Siebert
The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel isn’t really a Dick Grayson graphic novel. Or at least it doesn’t feel like one. It’s more like a YA novel about a lost carnival forced into the graphic medium that they slapped the name Dick Grayson on for brand recognition.
All that being said, it’s still a pretty decent book.
The Lost Carnival introduces us to a teenage Dick Grayson, a traveling circus performer with his parents, the Flying Graysons. But the struggling circus is being walloped by a carnival that’s opted to set up shop nearby. Dick, however, soon discovers all is not as it seems. The carnival, and a mysterious young magician named Luciana, are linked to the past in ways Dick could never imagine.
My biggest problem with some (not all, some) of these original DC graphic novels is they don’t necessarily feel like they’re trying to tell a story about their main characters. Rather, it feels like the story was concocted first, and the character pasted on to it. For instance, a story about a girl in a band? It’s obviously about Black Canary! Girl in a wheelchair solving puzzles? Oracle! And if you’ve got a story with a carnival/circus theme, it’s got to be Dick Grayson. (I’m not making any accusations here. I’m just saying that’s what it feels like.)
For a book that claims it’s “redefining Dick Grayson for a new generation,” there’s not much in here that necessarily feels specific to Dick. He’s got a love interest, a best friend, a crush. He’s rebelling against his parents, and ultimately learns a lesson about holding on to those dear to him, All pretty standard YA stuff. Yes, he’s in the circus. But outside of the magic element, the book doesn’t play with that too much. An opening scene with Dick and his parents on the trapeze is about it.
But who is Dick Grayson, exactly? As Robin, he’s essentially the yin to Batman’s yang. He’s the plucky and exuberant light that keeps the Dark Knight from journeying too far into the proverbial darkness. Unlike Bruce, Dick also thrives when working with others. He becomes the leader of the Teen Titans, and develops close friendships with virtually all his teammates. He’s also quite simply an easy person to like and get along with.
Lots of teenagers struggle with not fitting in. The feel isolated. So in Dick’s situation, why not make that literal? The Lost Carnival tells us he only travels with his parents in the summer. But that’s a missed opportunity. Why not make him a year-round circus performer who’s home-schooled, and thus doesn’t know a lot of kids his own age? Thus, his connection to Luciana isn’t just your standard “boy crushing on girl” story.
The book gives Dick a best friend named Willow, a magician and fellow circus performer who will ultimately play into the book’s climax. But why not have the two start the book as virtual strangers, with Willlow having recently joined the circus. Then by the end of the book, Dick has something he didn’t have at the beginning: A new friend his own age.
Y’know. Just a thought.
The pencils and inks are credited to Sas Milledge with Phil Hester. Not quite sure how that breaks down. The figure rendering in this book has the tiniest bit of fluidity to it. It’s not much, but enough to make things feel a little bit off. Still, Milledge’s version of Dick Grayson manages to be pretty strong. Faithful enough that it reminds us of Nightwing, but unique enough to be her own.
The book plays with different color tints for different scenes, with everything else staying black and white. I can’t say it works amazingly in terms of setting a mood or a tone, or even separating parts of the book. But it’s a way to go. David Calderon’s colors look nice at any rate.
I won’t say The Lost Carnival is utterly forgettable. It works as a story about a magic carnival, but it underachieves as a story about a young Dick Grayson. There’s a certain authenticity that’s missing. The Flying Graysons may soar, but this Dick Grayson graphic novel falls short.
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