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? – Bludhaven Begins

***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 #18
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story (Inkers), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1996-1997
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 1: Bludhaven

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is it. I’d argue these are the issues that would define Dick Grayson for the next two decades and beyond. And they’re good!

Pretty good, that is.

When a whopping 21 dead bodies float up river into Gotham Harbor, Batman and Nightwing trace them to Gotham’s sister city, Bludhaven. When the Dark Knight sends him to investigate, Dick Grayson quickly learns that in many ways, Bludhaven is worse than Gotham. What’s more, a mysterious new crime lord has seized control of the city. Thus, Nightwing must discover their identity and take on a city corrupt to its core. And he’ll have to do it on his own…

I credit Chuck Dixon as one of the more underappreciated architects of Batman’s world as we know it. So Dick was in great hands for his first ongoing series. As one would expect, Dixon spends a good portion of these issues laying groundwork. We establish where Dick is in his life, Bludhaven as a character in itself, his supporting cast, and by the end we have our main villain.

Long before the term “quarter-life crisis” was a thing, Nightwing was essentially a quarter-life crisis book. Not simply about a superhero in a new city, this book is about an early-20s Dick Grayson creating a life for himself without his mentor’s help. And we get to see him doing a lot of those “fresh start” things. He gets an apartment without Bruce Wayne footing the bill. He gets a day job as a bartender. He meets a cute girl. He explores his new city and learns to care about it. These are all things young, particularly college-age adults can identify with. Nightwing reached for a key demographic in ways that few superhero books do.

For the first 40 issues of Nightwing, our art team consisted of Scott McDaniel, Karl Story on inks, and Roberta Tewes on colors.  That’s a heck of a run. A downright historic one when you consider all it did for Dick Grayson.

Personally? I have no choice but to acknowledge this team got the job done, as the work still holds up more than 20 years later. But to be blunt: It’s never really been my cup of tea.

To me, Scott McDaniel’s art has always screamed, “Action!” If you want him to draw, say, a sequence where a helicopter takes off carrying a small building that has Nightwing and a bad guy inside, McDaniel is your man. He’s less suited, however, for quiet moments. A recurring nightmare sequence, for instance. Or a scene at Dick’s bartending job. Sometimes they work, case in point the scene in issue #1 where Dick gives a young would-be mugging victim some money to get the hell out of Bludhaven. But just as often they don’t.

What’s more, the coloring choices make the art hard to follow at certain points. For instance, look at the page below. I understand the effect they’re going for with the lighting. But the final product looks, quite frankly, like someone spilled lemonade all over the page.

On a random side note, it’s amazing to think the Black Mask character has lasted 35 years. Especially when you consider his original design looks like a Blue Man Group guy in a pinstripe suit. He makes a quick appearance in issue #1.

Robin/Tim Drake stops by for issue #6. It’s a fun exploration of the brotherly dynamic Dick and Tim have. It does more for Tim, which is a little bit backwards considering it’s Dick’s book. But putting Dick with the current Robin will always be interesting.

We’ll dive into who Bludhaven’s mysterious new crimelord is next time. It has its ups and downs, but the decision lasts almost 100 issues. So suffice to say it worked out for them. That’s emblematic of these first eight issues overall. They’re hardly perfect. But in the long run, they were exactly what the Dick Grayson character needed as he moved into the next phase of its life.

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

A Catwoman 100-Page Super Spectacular Deep Dive – Aliens and Feminism

TITLE: Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular
AUTHORS: Paul Dini, Ann Nocenti, Tom King, Mindy Newell, Jeff Parker, Liam Sharpe, Mindy Newell, Chuck Dixon, Will Pfiefer, Ram V, Ed Brubaker.
ARTISTS: Emanuela Lupaccino, Robson Rocha, Mikel Janin, Jonathan Case, Sharpe, Lee Garbett, Kelley Jones, Pia Guerra, Fernando Blanco, Cameron Stewart. 1940s variant cover by Adam Hughes.
INKERS: Mick Gray, Daniel Henriques, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Laura Allred, Alejandro Sanchez, Jordie Bellaire, Alex Sinclair, Steve Oliff, FCD Plascencia
LETTERERS:
Wes Abbott, Saida Temofonte, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Tom Orzechowski, Gabriela Downe
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: June 3, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

She’s undoubtedly the hottest 80-year-old woman you’ll ever see.

That’s right, folks. Like several other pillar characters in the DC Universe, Catwoman turns 80 this year. So like those characters, she got her own 100-page celebration. I can’t say she doesn’t deserve it. In terms of feminist icons, there are some who would place her in Wonder Woman’s orbit. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but one simply can’t dispute how iconic she is. Thus, DC assembled a brilliant assortment of talent for her big birthday celebration.

We kick things off with Paul Dini, who is always welcome in the Batman universe. Though I can’t say this is one of his most memorable outings. He uses his eight pages to introduce is to a villain called the Taxidermist. That, as Selina herself says in the story, is very “Gotham.” The Taxidermist seems like the kind of idea that was good on paper, but in actual execution…meh. I wouldn’t expect to see him on a best villains list anytime soon.

On the plus side, what little the Taxidermist offers looks absolutely gorgeous. Emanuela Lupaccino, Mick Gray, and Laura Allred give us something truly worthy of Catwoman’s 80th. It’s funny, I wondered why I was so reminded of Mike Allred, despite him not being credited. Once Laura Allred’s name popped up, it was all quite clear.

We dive into Batman Returns territory for “Now You See Me,” as Robson Rocha quite obviously draws Selina in her stitched black leather costume. We even get a brief appearance from the Penguin. Thankfully it all looks pretty. Though the story itself, about Catwoman duking it out with a dirty security guard, is pretty forgettable.

Much less forgettable is Tom King’s follow-up to his “Some of These Days” story from Batman Annual #2. It presents a scenario where a (presumably) married Selina and Bruce Wayne get pregnant and have a baby. Ironically, Selina once had a canonical daughter, though not with Bruce. Poor kid got retconned out of existence by the New 52.

It’s a pretty story that puts King back with Mikel Janin. That chemistry between Bruce and Selina was always his greatest strength during his Batman run. That two-issue “Rooftops” story from issues #13 and #14 will go down as one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories ever published.

My only complaint? We get at least one night of a pregnant Catwoman fighting crime with Batman, costume and all. Ladies? If you happen to be expecting, please don’t try this at home. (As if you needed me to tell you that…)

Our old Batman ’66 friends Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case return for a story about Catwoman and…aliens? I’m sure it’s happened before. But it’s still such an odd match-up. Which, of course, is the point.

Parker and Case take full advantage of the absurd premise, giving us absurd aliens with absurd names and looks that could easily have come from the original Star Trek series. Not to mention the absurdity that the world gets saved by a villainess. Because wouldn’t ya know it, aliens just happened to land when Batman was out of town. Don’t cha hate when that happens?

Things get surprisingly bloody for “A Cat of Nine Tales,” written and drawn by Liam Sharpe. Once again, we have Catwoman and a security guard. When confronted, Selina proceeds to tell the poor guy about nine ways this scenario can end. Most of which involve somebody dying.

I’m not sure the Selina Kyle of 2020 would be this chatty. But I can’t find it in my heart to sling too much mud at this. Aside from Wes Abbott on the lettering, what we see here is all Sharpe. And he manages to tell a coherent story in only three pages. So while by no means perfect, this story is still an achievement.

“Little Bird” is written by Mindy Newell and drawn by…LEE GARBETT!!!! When was the last time he was in Gotham? I’ve still got such fond memories of his work on the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series from…what was it, a decade ago?!? And the man hasn’t lost a step since, as he turns in some fine work here. He and colorist Alex Sinclair do a fine job channeling Batman: Year One. We get a scene where Selina is in similar…er, we’ll call “escort gear” as we see in that story. They also do a hell of a job on the gray David Mazzucchelli Catwoman costume, tail and all.

I was, however, initially confused. The story involves Selina stealing an old mezuzah that belonged to a woman who cared for her as a child. It took me a moment or two to figure out what a mezuzah is, and the identity of this elderly woman in a nursing home. I initially thought we might have jumped into another alternate future for Selina…

Still, they stick the landing. The story speaks to the idea that underneath all the theft and crime, Catwoman has a heart of gold. A great destination, even if the road to get there was a little rocky.

Chuck Dixon, one of the unsung heroes of modern Batman lore, returns alongside Kelley Jones for a Clayface story. Though I hate to say it, this isn’t one of his better outings. Not much to this one. I assume they went with Clayface to suit Jones’ horror strengths. Catwoman finds him, a confrontation ensues, rinse and repeat. I get the sense the only real purpose for this story was to have Selina be in the purple costume from the ’90s.

I know Kelley Jones has his crowd. I’ve just never really been one of them. I will say, though, that his Catwoman is very expressive here. I was pleasantly surprised to see that from him.

Things get downright meta for author Will Pfiefer’s return to the book, as he takes Selina to a comic book convention. He creates a world where the characters themselves are the autograph-signing, question-answering celebrities.

As someone who’s been to a number of these conventions, I found this story charming. Once I got the hang of it, that is. I initially found it difficult to get my bearings. But its a nice little anniversary story, and Pia Guerra’s art is very accessible.

I confess budget constraints caused me to fall off the monthly Catwoman series, so I’m not sure if her sister Maggie has been a regular or not. I have to assume she is, as “Addicted to Trouble” is about the sisters road tripping back to Gotham from Villa Hermosa. Naturally, it’s got a cool car in it. Hijinks ensue.

Thanks to the actions of Black Mask in an early 2000s story by Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart (who oddly enough are on the next story), Maggie is unable to speak. But she still makes a nice road-trip buddy for Selina, and we even focus a little bit on that inability. I wish they would have at least mentioned Black Mask in passing, as he wound up being one of Catwoman’s most-hated rivals.

Brubaker and Stewart evoke memories of 2000s Catwoman the same way Kelley Jones does 90s Batman. So their closing story, “The Art of Picking a Lock,” is an automatic sentimental favorite for yours truly. This book wasn’t cheap, but seeing Stewart draw Selina, Holly, and Slam Bradley again is almost worth the price of admission by itself. And as you’d expect, Brubaker’s pulpy writing style is right at home in Gotham City. God damn I miss him being on a Bat-book.

I wouldn’t call this collection memorable. But it’s a nice little tribute to Catwoman with some A-listers contributing, and a couple of nice nostalgia trips to boot. If nothing else, it should make Selina’s fans smile. I certainly did.

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

A Nightwing #10 Review – Back in Bludhaven

Nightwing #10, 2016, cover, Marcus ToTITLE: Nightwing #10
AUTHOR: Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Marcus To
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The cover may say “Welcome to Bludhaven,” but don’t be fooled. NIghtwing has been here before. It’s been about a decade. But these are his old stomping grounds…kinda.

Bludhaven (pronounced “blood haven”) was the setting for Rightwing’s original solo series, which first hit stands in 1996. Compared to Gotham, Bludhaven was poorer, dirtier, and at times more violent. As writer Chuck Dixon described the city in issue #1: “As bad as Gotham is, Bludhaven’s worse in a lot of ways. If it’s too coarse or too vile or too awful for Gotham, it winds up here.” Yikes. Now, after a hint from Superman (who, remember, is from that New 52 Earth), our New 52 Dick Grayson is checking out this world’s version of Bludhaven. As it turns out, not much has changed. Dick and Nightwing are making Bludhaven their new home, even though the city doesn’t look highly on those that wear capes and masks…

Tim Seeley is essentially using the formula for the old Nightwing book, with the New 52 iteration of the character. As an older fan, that’s a nice treat. We’ve got the Bludhaven name, the black and blue suit, and Dick is trying to “figure out who I am,” as he tended to do back in the day. He’s even got a new gig as a volunteer for teens affected by violence. How many friggin’ jobs did he have in that old series? He was a bartender, a cop, a gymnastics coach. A true renaissance man, that Dick Grayson.

nightwing #10, 2016, Marcus To, splash pageWe get a nice same-but-different vibe from the city. It’s not depicted as violent or dirty, thus far. But there’s a definite air of corruption and danger. What’s more, this is a Bludhaven that’s concerned about tourism. In future issues, Nightwing will apparently become a mascot of sorts for the city. That’s intriguing, considering he’s more of a covert-style vigilante. It’s certainly a far cry from people thinking he’s dead.

Seeing Marcus To on this book makes me smile. Years later, I’m still bitter about the Red Robin book he worked on being cut short. He’s worked for DC since then, but having him back on an ongoing Bat-book feels like justice of sorts. He and colorist Chris Sotomayor give us an awesome Nightwing. What’s more (as Meg Downey pointed out on Twitter), To gives us subtle variations between Dick as Nightwing, Dick in public, and Dick in private. The way he dresses is obviously different, but the way To plays with his hair is the great part. As Nightwing it’s a bit wilder, in public it’s styled neatly, and in private it’s unkempt. Sadly, you don’t always notice that kind of thing the first time through. But I give To a lot of credit for it. His character acting is also very natural, and again, subtle at times. Case in point: The page that strictly consists of shots of Dick sitting in a chair talking. To makes each of them different, while other artists might go for panel duplication.

The issue starts out with a one-page scene (shown below) in which Batgirl and Robin briefly talk about Dick. We also get a shot of Batman. It’s not immediately apparent why this is in this issue. Though when you take into account the talk about Dick finding himself, it makes some sense. In this scene we see Bruce, Barbara, and Damian. But the trio used to be Bruce, Barbara, and Dick. And of course, when beginning a new chapter in Dick’s career, beginning with a Robin scene always seems fitting.

Nightwing #10, 2016, page 2Seeley does give us one groaner of a line. Via Dick’s inner monologue: “You gotta keep it sexy and exciting… Like Nightwing.” I’m far from a sexiness expert. But the truly sexy don’t have to tell us they’re sexy, do they?

But all in all, this is cool. Putting Dick in Bludhaven doesn’t inherently make this a good book, but it’s a nice treat. On its on merits, this Nightwing book has been fairly strong. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change in the near future.

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A Grayson #12 Review – A Hero’s Homecoming

Grayson #12 (2015)TITLE: Grayson #12
AUTHORS: Tim Seeley, Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 23, 2015

***Unfamiliar with Grayson? Check out our review of the very first issue!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Full disclosure: I’ve been absent for the past few issues of Grayson. That’s not to say the series has necessarily taken a downturn. But lately, the arrival of certain other books (Secret Wars, We Are Robin, Black Canary), pushed it down the priority list.

This issue, however, merited a look. After deceiving the world into thinking Dick Grayson/Nightwing died during the events of Forever Evil, Dick returns to Gotham City to come clean to his surrogate family. This includes the amnesiac Bruce Wayne, who as Batman, was the one who sent Dick to infiltrate Spyral in the first place. And speaking of Spyral, they’re not going to let Agent 37 leave without a fight.

Grayson #12, Mikel Janin, Bruce WayneSeeley, King, and Janin use a unique device in this issue. Each time Dick reunites with someone, we get a splash page with a black background and various pieces of actual dialogue from the 75-year history of Batman’s world. Naturally, they correspond with Dick’s relation to that character. This not only gives the reader a very real sense of what the dynamic was between Dick and the character in question, but it’s a fitting substitute for the repeated and redundant “You’re alive!” moments we might have seen under a different creative team. It’s also extremely cool that actual dialogue is used. These quotes can actually be traced back to specific issues. You certainly can’t say effort wasn’t made in terms of research.

The device works best with Bruce, who due to events in Batman, has no memories of his time in the costume. The original Dynamic Duo look like a distant memory here, which is fairly sad. But the Grayson team makes good use of its time in the Snyder/Capullo sandbox, particularly when Dick has to protect his former partner, using the very skills Bruce taught him years ago!

The reunion between Dick and Damian is the only one that bucks the “You’re alive!” moment pattern. Apparently, Dick had no idea Damian had been resurrected. From an in-story perspective, that’s really weird. Dick knew Bruce was trying to bring Damian back. He even made a brief appearance in the Robin Rises story. How could he not have known? Is Dick feigning surprise for some reason?

Birds of Prey #8, 1999, Greg Land, Nightwing, OracleWith the splash page/quotes device, this issue harkens back to the pre-New 52 continuity in a way that still maintains a certain fluidity. But surprisingly, Seeley and King harken back to something very specific in the reunion between Dick and Barbara: The trapeze scene from 1999’s Birds of Prey #8. Written by the great Chuck Dixon and drawn by Greg Land, the issue saw Dick take Barbara on a date of sorts to Haly’s Circus. In an empty tent, Dick and the partially paralyzed Barbara go swinging on a trapeze, in a sequence that culminates with a kiss. To my knowledge, this is the first time this event has been mentioned in the New 52 continuity, and it’s really cool to see them show this moment such reverence.

On the flip side of the memories coin, this issue has plenty of flashback images featuring “Red Nightwing,” a.k.a. Nightwing in the red and black suit. If we’re using quotes and plot points from the pre-New 52 continuity, can we at least acknowledge that Nightwing wore a black and blue suit at one point? Yes, I understand it’s probably an editorial mandate. But still, you’re killin’ me…

The conclusion to this issue does the Dick Grayson character a lot of justice. While Bruce Wayne is a natural loner, Dick is a people person, and is more than comfortable as part of a team. In Grayson #12 we see that is a strength, not a weakness. Not only did Seeley and King nail the character, they showed us that with Bruce on the sidelines, Dick Grayson may in fact be the glue that holds the Bat-Family together.

Image 1 from craveonline.com. Image 2 from comicbookresources.com.

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