Who is Nightwing? – The Villains Chapter

***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 #918, Nightwing Annual #1
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, Karl Story (Inker), Bob McLeod (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue (Annual: $3.95)
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1997-1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 2: Rough Justice

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This first volume of Nightwing has historically been collected in chunks of roughly 8-10 issues. Issues #1-8 are usually the first chapter, and this collection of issues #9-18 and the first annual can be seen as a second chapter. To that mindset, I’d call this the “Villains Chapter.” Dixon, McDaniel, and the team have set up Dick Grayson’s new status quo. Now it’s time to create some new villains for him to fight, as well as bring in some familiar faces from Gotham.

In issue #7, we learned the identity of Bludhaven’s new crime lord: Roland Desmond, a.k.a. Blockbuster. For my money, Blockbuster’s effectiveness as a lead villain largely depends on how much perspective you have as a comic book reader. If you’re simply reading these issues at face value, as I was when they first came out, then he’s fine. A big bad crime boss who, unlike a Carmine Falcone or a Rupert Thorne, can actually be a physical threat to our hero. But with the benefit of hindsight more than two decades later? He feels like an attempt to imitate Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin over at Marvel. But I’ll say this much: He’s a good imitation. And Scott McDaniel is great at juxtaposing this giant monster in a suit with the ultra fast and flexible Nightwing.

As the book continues to develop a mini-rogues-gallery for Nightwing, the book brings in a few icons to help hold down the fort. We see Man-Bat, Deathstroke, and the Scarecrow. The latter is particularly effective, as it doubles as an opportunity for readers to dive into Dick’s psyche and get to know him that much better. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but our former Boy Wonder is living with a hell of an inferiority complex. To that end, I love how Chuck Dixon incorporates Bruce Wayne choosing Jean Paul Valley to take his place as Batman during the Knightfall storyline. It’s a nice way to illustrate that despite wanting to be his own man, Dick still cares deeply about what Batman thinks of him.

We spend about an issue’s worth of pages experiencing these Scarecrow-induced hallucinations with Dick. Some of it’s played for surreal humor, which wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice. But it gets the point across. Less effective is Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, and Roberta Tewes’ visual take on the scenes. I said it last time, and I’ll reiterate here: This team is so much better suited for action scenes than the quiet, existential stuff. Our opening issue, which sees Nightwing evading gunfire in a shopping mall? A delightful read that has a great visual flow to it. Dick Grayson confronting his worst nightmares? Meh.

Another strike against McDaniel, along with other artists of this era, is what I’ll call “shoulder horns Batman” (shown below). For whatever reason, in the ’90s and early ’00s it was acceptable to put pointy horn-looking gimmicks on Batman’s shoulders. I think the idea was to make him look more menacing, and even a little demonic. But I’ve always hated it. Thankfully it gradually went away, and never made its way into any of the on-screen versions of the character.

On the subject of ’90s costumes, I didn’t even recognize Deathstroke at first. I’d completely forgotten about his black and blue suit…

Though it might be blasphemous to some, I prefer what Greg Land turns in on Nightwing Annual #1. The final product is cleaner, and makes for an enjoyable read.

These issues are also where we start to pick up the pace on the slow-burn romance between Dick and Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Chuck Dixon was one of, if not the master of writing the chemistry between these two. It’s not particularly subtle. Dick and Barbara are fairly flirtatious whenever he comes to her for help on a case. At one point, Dick practically talks openly about a potential romance with her. It’s more a case of Will they?/Won’t they? To his credit, Dixon is able to strike a really nice balance in these issues. He makes us want to see Dick and Barbara get together. But at the same time, he’s able to write in some chemistry between Dick and his building superintendent without making either character look like a heel. On paper it’s a very precarious love triangle. But Dixon pulls it off beautifully.

What’s more, it wouldn’t be long before Dick had yet another love interest. Sparks were about to fly as Nightwing crossed paths with none other than Helena Bertinelli…the Huntress!

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

 

Who is Nightwing? – Prelude to Solo Stardom

***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 #14
AUTHOR: Denny O’Neil
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Mike Sellers & Nick Napolitano (Inkers), Cathi Bertrand (Colorist), John Costanza
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$2.25 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1995
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 1: Bludhaven

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Dick Grayson officially adopted the mantle of Nightwing in mid-1984 in the pages of Tales of the Teen Titans #44. The move was meant to remove Dick from Batman’s shadow and make him more of his own man. That’s why it’s so surprising in retrospect that the character didn’t get his own solo series until 1996, 12 years later.

Granted, there were one-off issues where Dick would get the spotlight. For a short time in the mid-’90s, he even stood in for Bruce Wayne as Batman. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Nightwing got his own book, and even his own city to protect. After more than 40 years as Robin, and over a decade as Nightwing, Dick was finally spinning off into his own adventures.

DC Comics would test the waters, and ultimately set the stage for a Nightwing ongoing series with a four issue mini published in 1995. Written by legendary Batman scribe Denny O’Neil, the story sees Dick revisit his past while preparing for his future. He also gets a new costume in the process.

Dick starts the story by doing something you probably don’t want to do before you start your own solo series – He quits. Handing his costume over to Batman, saying he’s realized “I’m not you. I was never you. I don’t want to be you.”

And what does Dick want Batman to do with the costume? He has some ideas…

“Put it in a trophy case. Give it to the Salvation Army. Burn it.”

Indeed, Dick Grayson is giving up on superheroics, opting to live a more normal life. A little abrupt? Sure. But I like this idea for Dick. He was and is the most outgoing among Batman’s surrogate family, which makes him the most naturally likable. So as readers, we want to see him happy and fulfilled.

Of course, it can’t last. The poor guy barely makes it to the next morning before he finds an old letter to his parents, threatening them for something they apparently saw in the despotic nation of Kravia. Naturally, he has to investigate.

Our penciller is Greg Land, who’s faced a lot of criticism over the course of his career for his use, and perhaps abuse, of photo reference. He’s been accused of lifting, and even flat-out tracing, images from sources as lewd as hardcore pornography. As far as I know, this Nightwing story pre-dates those allegations. I don’t see anything that stands out as blatantly lifted from somewhere else. Though there are a few images that are a little suspect. Case in point, an image in issue #1 of a briefs-clad Dick Grayson on a bed. I can’t bring myself to complain about that from a sexualization standpoint, given how female characters are often drawn to this day. But it makes you wonder.

There’s also the image above, where Dick, posed like a catalog model, is standing in what has the distinction of being the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen in a comic book. He unfortunately wears that for much of the second issue.

While he’s unquestionably one of the all-time greats, this is hardly Denny O’Neil’s best work. He has to inject a decent amount of narrative convenience into things to get the story going and to fit it into four issues. The despot in Kravia just happens to remember who Dick is. The assassin he then sends to kill Dick is able to find him very quickly, which provides our hero with a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to the villain. Makes me wonder why they didn’t keep things a little more simple than a story about whether a dictator was involved in the plot to kill Dick’s parents…

On the upside, this mini is where we see Nightwing’s black and blue costume (shown below) for the first time. His original suit, affectionately called the “disco suit,” worked for a colorful superhero team book in the ’80s. It was later changed to the sleeker, darker-yet-somehow-also-brighter outfit shown above. It was changed again here, presumably because tonally Nightwing was moving into territory closer to Batman. Dark, avenging hero of the night, and all that.

This is the look that practically all subsequent takes on the Nightwing outfit were based on. With Dick’s previous two outfits, especially the first, it feels like there might have been pressure to give the character something with a grandeur befitting his legacy. As it turned out, they were better off keeping it simple. Black with a touch of blue. It’s almost a minimalist’s superhero costume. The black costume also gave Nightwing a certain cool factor he maintains to this day.

At face value, this Nightwing mini isn’t much to write home about. The story is overdone, the villain is generic and forgettable, and by the end the whole thing seems all for naught. But it nevertheless holds an important place in the character’s history as the tale that gave him his new costume, and set him down a path to solo stardom. For that alone, it’s worth a look.

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

The Fanboy’s Closet: Nightwing Crew Socks

***”The Fanboy’s Closet,” I pull a geeky item of clothing from the closet, snap a pic, and then see what subjects it takes us into. Why? Why the hell not?!?***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I post pictures of socks here now. What can I say? I’m a sock enthusiast.

I picked these suckers up at C2E2 last weekend. From the fine folks at SuperHeroStuff.com. Pretty good quality.

Once in awhile, somebody on Twitter will ask if people prefer Nightwing with the blue V-stripe or the red one. Or as I call them, Blue Nightwing and Red Nightwing. It’s not even a question, really. Blue Nightwing is the only Nightwing.

To me, Red Nightwing (i.e. the New 52 version) evoked Robin too much. Red is so closely identified with that character and that costume. A major part of Nightwing’s story is that he gave up being Robin to break away from Batman and become his own man. That independence is extremely important to the fabric of the character, and putting red on him almost takes part of that away.

Red Nightwing first appeared in 2011’s Nightwing #1, drawn by Eddy Barrows. While I really enjoy his work (he’s currently on Detective Comics), that pose on the cover (shown below) will never look natural to me…

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

A Nightwing #9 Review – The Adventures of Superman and Robin

Nightwing #9, 2016TITLE: Nightwing #9
AUTHOR: Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Marcio Takara
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: November 16, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The dynamic between Superman and Dick Grayson has always been interesting to me. In most continuities they meet each other fairly early, as Dick is just starting out as Robin. As a youngster, he’s still in a position to stand in awe of the grandeur of Superman. But in a way, they’re also peers. They fight a lot of the same enemies, and both have their own unique relationship with Batman. As such, they have an inherent chemistry that people tend to forget about.

Nightwing #9 taps into that chemistry to establish Dick’s relationship with the new Superman (new to him, at least), and set him on a new course: Bludhaven. (Again, new to this Nightwing. Ugh. This is needlessly complicated…)

Keep in mind, the Superman we’re seeing in all this DC Universe Rebirth stuff is the pre-New 52 Superman. He’s married to Lois Lane, has a son named Jon, and has all sorts of memories of things that happened before the New 52 reboot. Nightwing #9 shows us he’s actively on the hunt for enemies that existed in his reality, but haven’t shown up in this one yet. One such enemy is Doctor Destiny, a supervillain who can turn dreams into reality. Using Kryptonian tech, Superman detects his old enemy haunting Dick Grayson, and comes to his aid.

Nightwing #9, 2016, SupermanThis issue puts Dick on a path toward the city of Bludhaven. Longtime fans recognize Bludhaven has the setting for the original Nightwing series in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Once again, DC is appeasing some of its older readers by restoring certain pre-New 52 elements. I don’t know how much bringing Bludhaven back does to entice readers. But in theory its fine. What I’m not a fan of is how it’s done.

I’ve talked before about the downside of having the old Superman back. It’s a thrill for fans who’ve been around for awhile, but it also makes things really convoluted. I love the way Dick has been influenced by both Batman and Superman (the Nightwing name originated in a Superman story), and I give this issue credit for continuing that tradition. But Dick only learns of Bludhaven’s existence when Superman shows it to him in a dream, and tells him about the connection with the pre-New 52 Nightwing. That’s a cheap shortcut. Tell me a story and take him there organically.

While I didn’t appreciate the way it was facilitated, there’s promise in Nightwing heading back to Bludhaven. In the ’90s, Chuck Dixon and his cohorts gave that city it’s own  feel and identity. It would very much behoove this team to do the same thing, whether it’s a similar feel or not.

As much of this issue takes place in a dream, it’s fitting that artist Marcio Takara and colorist Marcello Maiolo’s work has a sort of soft, dream-like vibe to it. Takara’s characters are very expressive, which helps tremendously when Dick gets a little help from some old friends. In one panel he’s downright overjoyed, which is something we don’t see too often from our friends in Gotham. We also get a really nice splash page of Dick and the wide array of DC heroes he’s connected to in some form.

nightwing #9, 2016, Superman, Marcio TakaraThat’s really the theme of Nightwing #9. Dick Grayson may have been raised by a notorious loner, but this little adventure with Superman reminds us he’s hardly a loner himself. He and Batman are so much alike, yet so different. Tim Seeley gets that dynamic, and it’s one of the reasons he’s had such a solid solo run with Nightwing thus far. This wasn’t his best issue. But there’s a lot of intrigue on the horizon.

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A Nightwing: Rebirth #1 Review – Better in Blue

Nightwing: Rebirth #1, 2016, coverTITLE: Nightwing: Rebirth #1
AUTHOR: Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Yanick Paquette. Cover by Javier Fernandez.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 13, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This issue should really be called Nightwing Returns. For yours truly, that’s what it is. Not just in terms of Dick Grayson putting the costume on again. It’s as simple as him wearing blue.

I can’t even tell you how hung up I was on that New 52 costume. I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating: Nightwing should never wear red on a permanent basis. Red is a Robin color. In switching from Robin to Nightwing, the change from red to blue was more important than many people realize. The shift to the opposite end of the color spectrum was a visual representation of his shift toward independence. To put him in red moves him back toward Batman, intentional or not. Plus, when you realize Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne all wear red and have dark hair, the whole legacy of Robin starts to look like a creepy cult. All in all, everything is better when Dick is in blue.

With his secret identity now restored, Dick stops and smells the proverbial roses with his Spyral cohorts and surrogate family members before moving on to the next phase of his life. The Parliament of Owls (a larger version of the Court of Owls) continues to target Dick. The time has now come for Dick to infiltrate the group using the identity they tried to corrupt and make their own: Nightwing!

Nightwing: Rebirth #1, Yanick PaquetteThis issue tells us Dick’s identity is now a secret again.  To the best of my knowledge, this happened off page somewhere. As I recall, Helena Bertinelli told Dick that Spyral could use its tech to make the world forget what they saw in Forever Evil. This kind of trick isn’t new. You’ve got to get the genie back in the bottle somehow, of course. I just wish we’d actually seen it happen. We don’t even know for sure it was Spiral that restored Dick’s secret. Let’s hope he didn’t make a deal with Mephisto…

The whole stopping by to talk thing is a very Dick Grayson thing to do. We’ve seen it a bunch over the years. His talks with Tiger King and Midnighter feel like a transition out of the Grayson era. Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him team with the latter again soon. He briefly speaks with Helena through a door, leaving us longing for a sense of closure between the two. Though Yanick Paquette treats us to a splash page of her in the Huntress costume, practically guaranteeing they’ll meet again down the line. Paquette is also on cover duty for Helena’s adventures in Batgirl & The Birds of Prey, which is a nice connection between the books. Oddly enough, the variant cover by Babs Tarr gives us another Nightwing/Batgirl connection. That can’t be accidental, can it?

So…does Lincoln March die in this book? He takes an arrow through the eyeball, so that’s definitely the implication. If this is the end for him, that’s a disappointment. His big quarrel was with his alleged brother Bruce Wayne. There was unfinished business there. Even factoring in his Grayson role, to see him snuffed out in a Nightwing book feels like a whimper. I’m hoping the Owls restore him, keep him in stasis, or something to that effect.

Nightwing: Rebirth #1, Dick and Damian, yanick PaquetteI’ve been high on Yanick Paquette in the wake of Batman #49. But some of his renderings of Dick and Damian are weirdly off in this issue. For instance, the image at right. What, pray tell, is wrong with Damian’s face? Is it contorted because his eyes hurt? Is he rolling his eyes at the thought of Spyral being on the side of the angels? At certain points he also looks like he’s hunching.

On the plus side, he ends on a splash page of Dick in the Nightwing suit, and it instantly satiated my craving for blue Nightwing. Well done, sir.

Just to clarify, I’m not downing Kyle Higgins, or anyone who worked on the red Nightwing book. Eddy Barrows did some nice work with Dick, and I was pleased when Higgins moved the setting to Chicago. Grayson also turned out better than many of us imagined. But this issue feels like a homecoming. Just as so much we loved about the old DCU has come back in this Rebirth initiative, so has the Nightwing we know and love.

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