Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – Guest Stars Galore!

***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, #1929
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
Fanboy Wonder

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.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Epic Covers: Gotham Knights by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

When you hear the name Brian Bolland, especially in the context of Batman’s world, you think of The Killing Joke. That’s understandable. Nearly 30 years later, DC still goes to great lengths to make sure none of us forget it.

But Bolland has revisited the Dark Knight at various points since, usually via cover work. Such was the case in late 1999/2000, when DC called on him to do the covers for their new Batman series, Gotham Knights. Between April of 2000 and January of 2004, almost every issue of Gotham Knights was adorned with a Brian Bolland cover. Thus, Bolland got to cover a lot of ground he likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. We saw him draw characters like Nightwing, Huntress, Spoiler, and even Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. While Gotham Knights was essentially a third string series, during that timeframe is boasted some of the best covers in all of comics.

While great many of them would most certainly fit into the “epic” category, I’ve picked my five favorites for this space today.

Issue #18 – Aquaman and the Giant Penny.

Brian Bolland is widely known as the man who drew Barbara Gordon getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So when one thinks of his art, the word “funny” doesn’t often come to mind. And yet, here we are.

Gotham Knights #18 is about Batman summoning Aquaman for help retrieving some Batcave artifacts that went underwater after the big earthquake in Cataclysm. Bolland uses this premise to to get a little cutesy with iconic Batcave set piece. Aquaman is a character that gets played for laughs a lot. But what I appreciate about this piece is that it’s not necessarily making fun of Arthur, or using the whole “he talks to fish” bit. Arthur is in on the joke. Bolland doesn’t draw him in a cartoony way, but the combination of the shrug and the expression on his face almost evokes a Looney Tunes vibe. It’s difficult not to smile when you see this thing.

Issue #25 – Batman in Handcuffs.

Most people associated those bladed gauntlets with Batman, and that iconography is what makes this image work.

Gotham Knights #25 tied in with the Bruce Wayne, Murderer? storyline going on at the time, which saw Bruce go to prison. Bolland captured the spirit of that story perfectly by placing Batman in handcuffs. And don’t discount the iconic symbolism of those either. For better or worse, handcuffs are a symbol of American justice. With this relatively tight image, Bolland tells us that Batman is now entrapped within the system he’s supposed to be serving.

Issue #32 – The Grandfather Clock

I wouldn’t call this a famous image. But it’s gotten a decent amount of additional exposure over the years. It’s easy to see why.

While issue #25 took place as the Murderer? storyline was beginning, Gotham Knights #32 was part of the wrap up. It showed us 24 hours in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. So it’s fitting that Bolland’s cover show is the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave. The unofficial threshold between billionaire playboy and caped crusader. And you have the great juxtaposition of both identities standing back to back. An awesome cover for an awesome issue.

Issue #43 – Batgirl Debuts

Another piece that got a good amount of play after the fact. Bolland delivers an epic tip-of-the-hat to the classic Carmine Infantino cover for Detective Comics #359 from 1967, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s “million dollar debut!” The classic never dies, kids.

There’s a sentimental aspect to this one, of course. Bolland wasn’t very nice to Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. So for him to render here like this, in her crowning moment, is pretty cool. It’s almost a sense of justice for the character. Though ironically, the issue was more about Jason Todd than Barbara herself.

Issue #45 – Man-Bat’s Close Up

Oddly enough, I remember not liking this one when it came out. It’s so damn gruesome and detailed. Look at the nose. The ears. The fangs.

But of course, that’s the point, isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of epic Man-Bat covers. But this one definitely fits the bill.

This one also has a great Universal monster movie vibe to it. Between the lighting from below, the positioning of the head and neck and the wide-eyed expression, it brings to mind the promotional art for the original Wolfman or Mummy movies.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.