Who is Nightwing? – The End of an Artistic Era

***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 #3040, Nightwing: Secret Files & Origins #1
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1999-2000
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing Vol. 4, Nightwing Vol. 5

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

These issues represents the finale of a 40-issue consecutive run for penciller Scott McDaniel, inker Karl Story, and colorist Roberta Tewes on Nightwing. McDaniel will be back later in the series. But collectively, this team that ultimately set the standard for Nightwing as a series is playing its last inning here.

Fittingly, author Chuck Dixon gives them compelling and exciting stories to tell, starting with a visit from none other than Superman.

Issue #30 is one of my favorites in the entire series, as Superman pays a quick visit to Bludhaven. Admittedly, it probably does more for Superman than Nightwing. But that’s because Dixon is one of the few writers out there that really gets the Man of Steel. As such, it’s that much more interesting to see him in Bludhaven, which is so different from Metropolis.

Furthermore, the dynamic between Superman and Dick Grayson has always been interesting to me. Remember, Superman knew Dick when he was a child, or at least younger, as Robin. So they’re both old friends and respected colleagues in that sense. That mutual respect is very much evident here. To that end, we get a nice flashback sequence later on where we spotlight Superman’s role in the formation of the Nightwing identity.

Scott McDaniel is as good at drawing Superman as he is Nightwing or Batman. One thing that jumped out at me in this collection is what a sense of motion this art has. Though the lighter colors of Superman’s costume do bring to light the hyper-musculature of his heroes, for better or worse. Occasionally, McDaniel will also draw Nightwing in awkward positions while he’s airborne. Case in point, the page at right. That’s a trap many an artist has fallen into with Dick. I suspect it has something to do with his gymnast background, and attempting to make him look flexible.

This Nightwing series sees Dick take on a few different day jobs. But issue #31 starts him on the path to my personal favorite: Police officer. It doesn’t really bear any fruit this time around, as he’s just in the academy for a few issues. But I’ve always loved the idea of one of the Bat-family members being a cop by day, given Batman’s often hot-and-cold relationship with the criminal justice system. Dixon has to put an abrupt halt to it in issue #35 due to a tie-in with the No Man’s Land crossover. But thankfully he gets to come back to it down the line.

The crossover in question sees Batman send Nightwing to Blackgate prison, which has been ravaged along with all of Gotham by the events of No Man’s Land, to wrest it from the incarceration-obsessed supervillain Lock-Up. Sadly, Dixon only has a few issues to tell the portion of the story that takes place in Blackgate. Thus, it doesn’t even remotely live up to its potential as a tale of Nightwing infiltrating Lock-Up’s prison system and taking it down from the inside. It actually winds up becoming more of a head-on attack. But thanks to the events of No Man’s Land, Dixon and McDaniel get to play with some Arkham regulars. Most notably Scarecrow, the Ventriloquist, and Firefly. Nightwing also dukes it out with KGBeast, roughly two decades before the character gives Dick amnesia via a bullet in the head (long story).

Published alongside the main series during this time was Nightwing: Secret Files & Origins #1, which features a sort of interlude to the Blackgate story. As Dick is unconscious and hallucinating, the then-deceased Jason Todd becomes a Dickens-esque guide through his life as hero. We breeze through Dick’s time as Robin, his time with the Teen Titans, the formation of the Nightwing identity, and his arrival in Bludhaven. It’s not at all necessary from a narrative standpoint. But it’s a cool little sub-story. Note that this is how Jason’s death was framed for the 15+ years between the character’s death and resurrection. As the ultimate cautionary tale for Batman and his surrogate family, his memory and all associated flashbacks and supposedly spectral appearances were there to be provoke lamentation.

Dick’s Will They?/Won’t They? romance with Barbara Gordon finally comes to a head in issue #38, as Nightwing retreats to Oracle’s clock tower home base after the events at Blackgate. In nursing Dick back to health, the two finally start speaking plainly and at length about their feelings for one another. But of course, it can’t be simple. Huntress, alongside a faction of No Man’s Land era Gotham cops with (to say the least) questionable motives, storm the clock tower in an attempt to capture Barbara.

Issues #38 and #39 finally bear the fruit of seeds planted near the beginning of the series. They talk openly about their feelings, and Barbara comes out and explains the role her paralysis played in why their relationship never fully blossomed. Having Dick’s old flame Huntress in the picture obviously makes for an awkward triangle at certain points. But it doesn’t spoil anything between Dick and Barbara. These issues are pivotal in the saga of their romance, as it begins to transcend flirtation. These two are serious about each other. Or at least they could be…

It’s also worth noting that McDaniel sufficiently carries his load during those quiet, romantic scenes. Which, as I’ve said before, aren’t necessarily his strong suit.

Issue #40 sees team up with a World War II era superhero to take on a Nazi. Sort of. The issue involves a bit character Dixon introduced earlier in the series. An elderly novelist. Draw your own conclusions there.

Portions of the issue are supplemented with prose paragraphs. Some readers don’t like that sort of thing. Personally, I’m fine with it as long as it’s written and formatted well. What happens here is harmless.

Nightwing #40 is a bit of a strange issue for our artistic team to go out on. But it nonetheless marks the end of an era for the Dick Grayson. One that continues to impact the character to this very day.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

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