***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***
TITLES: Nightwing 1/2, #19–29
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, Karl Story (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE: $1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED: 1998-1999
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN: Nightwing: Vol. 3: False Starts
By Rob Siebert
So Nightwing has had its first chapter, its “Villains Chapter,” and we had what I’ll call the “Huntress Chapter.” In keeping with the sequence, this would have to be the “Guest Stars Chapter,” as it’s largely held up by guest appearances from other characters. We see Huntress again, along with plenty of Robin, some Batman, among others. Thankfully, these are still Nightwing stories at heart.
Most of these issues were published while the big No Man’s Land crossover was happening in all the Batman books. So a couple of them tie in. When word reaches Bludhaven that a massive Earthquake has struck Gotham City (They didn’t feel anything over there? I thought Bludhaven was just down river…), Dick rushes to his former home to help with the relief effort. In issue #19 we get his initial reaction to all the destruction, and spend a little time with a mother and her young child trapped underground. Naturally, Nightwing eventually has to come to their aid. Then in issue #21 he reunites with Oracle and Robin, and repels into what remains of the Batcave.
Chuck Dixon writes the hell out of these quake issues. The stuff with the mother and child in issue #20 is especially strong. He makes you care about these one-off characters you’re never going to see again, while also driving home just how dire the situation is.
As I’ve said previously, Scott McDaniel’s strengths, at least on this book at this time, were action scenes. The quieter and more emotional stuff is hit or miss, given his style. For instance, the panel at the top left of Nightwing and Robin reacting to the state of Wayne Manor and the Batcave? I’d call that a miss. It’s obviously not supposed to be a funny moment. But I’d call those faces, particularly Dick’s, unintentionally funny.
On the subject of Robin/Tim Drake, the best issue in the collection is the one where he and Dick get some quality time. They’re blindfolded on top of speeding trains. But everything is relative, I suppose.
We see enough of Tim in this collection that he almost becomes a series regular. But issue #25 stands out because Dixon has a chance to do some great character work with two heroes he knows about as well as anybody. It’s not just their mutual experiences as Robin that bring them together. It’s the brotherly relationship they have. Tim legitimately wants Dick’s advice (“My girlfriend’s pregnant.”) and Dick legitimately cares. The speeding train scenario also plays right into Scott McDaniel’s strengths.
Issue #23 is part four of a five-part crossover with Green Arrow (Conner Hawke’s book), Detective Comics, and Robin. Amazingly, Dixon was writing all those books at the time. It’s not much of a read if you haven’t seen the first three issues. But it’s cool to see how Dixon write Dick’s rapport with Tim and Conner. We even briefly see both Batman and Black Canary, which is fun.
In issue #27, Inspector Dudley Soames, a frienemy of Nightwing’s we’ve been following since early in the series, completes his transformation into the villainous Torque (shown left). Torque is comic book ridiculousness at its most glorious. He’s a man whose head has been twisted backwards, and finds vengeance by pumping his enemies with a whole lot of lead. You won’t find Torque on any “Best of” lists. But you’ve got to begrudgingly respect him, right? I mean, try doing anything with your head twisted around like that. Just sayin’. Can’t be easy.
As for Dick and Huntress/Helena Bertinelli, there’s some inconsistency between her demeanor here and what we saw in Nightwing/Huntress. That four-issue mini was flawed, but it was also pretty good at being self-contained. Dick and Helena had their fling, decided things wouldn’t work between them, but ultimately still worked together as heroes. Issue #29 however, implies she’s still holding out hope they can be together. It feels like there’s a desperation there that doesn’t look good on her. (Example shown below.)
Still, I came away from these issues with a new appreciation for what DC was trying to do with Dick and Helena. They’re those two people that are so wrong for each other, but are still incredibly attracted to one another. So they keep falling into the same trap and hooking up again and again. But they just can’t make it work as a relationship. They’re too different. Dick and Helena didn’t have an ongoing thing. But otherwise, I’d say that description fits them to a T.
One of the elements that goes a long way in distinguishing Dick from other members of Batman’s surrogate family is just how well he gets along with the superhero community at large. He’s not quiet, moody, and broody the way Batman is. If anything, he’s the opposite. As such, people gravitate toward him. Rarely will you find that on display better than in some of these issues.
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