A Teen Titans: Beast Boy Deep Dive – Putting the “Teen” Back in Teen Titans

TITLE: Teen Titans: Beast Boy
AUTHOR: Kami Garcia
ARTISTS: Gabriel Picolo w/Rob Haynes, David Calderon (Colorist), Gabriela Downie (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: September 1, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Teen Titans: Beast Boy brushes up against something I desperately wish it had explored further, as it’s something we rarely if ever see examined in superhero comics: Male body image issues.

That’s certainly not to say men have it worse than women in that department. Particularly as far as depictions in superhero books go. But it would have been a great route to take with a changeling superhero, and one that many a male reader could have identified with.

While not great, Beast Boy still turns out to be pretty good. Nothing Earth-shaking as far as YA books are concerned. But if you’re a Teen Titans fan, and especially if you enjoyed Teen Titans: Raven by this same team, it’s worth your time.

At it’s core, Beast Boy is about a kid who wants to fit in and be accepted. You’d be hard pressed to find a theme that’ll resonate with high schoolers more than that. It why our main character Gar Logan wants to change his image, change his body, etc. And of course, there’s a girl he wants to impress. Those two motivations cast a pretty wide net, making Gar a particularly sympathetic lead. Even when he starts developing animal shape-shifting powers.

Still, the book is able to find a nice balance between Gar’s teen angst, and portraying him as the light-hearted jokey character people know from the comics and cartoon show. This is true in terms of both Garcia’s writing and Picolo’s pencils, which more than once feel very reminiscent of how Beast Boy was drawn on the cartoon (see above). That comedy/drama balance can be very tough to strike, and I give the book a lot of credit for pulling it off.

Strangely, there’s a subplot in Beast Boy about a character with a learning disability that amounts to absolutely nothing. I’m all for representation and talking about these kinds of things. But shouldn’t it amount to something a little more than someone saying they have dyslexia?

Beast Boy is a sequel/spin-off to last year’s Teen Titans: Raven. As such, comparisons between the two are inevitable. Upon flipping through Raven, what immediately jumps out at me is the difference in the colors. David Calderon, our colorist for both books, used a largely muted palette of violets on Raven. There are similar muted tones in Beast Boy, but Calderon is also more inclined to make the colors pop more often. Gar’s skin tone, along with the green accent in his hair, are the most consistent example. There’s also a supporting character with really bright blue hair, making her particularly distinct.

The book takes a risk when Gar’s animagus powers start manifesting: His human body starts to mimic the animal he’s either channeling or about to change into. We see it with a mountain lion (right) and to a lesser extent with a bear. Whether it works or not is subjective. But I’m happy they didn’t overplay their hand with this trick. It could have ventured into silly territory very quickly.

For a long time now, I’ve argued that DC’s main Teen Titans series has lacked a sufficient amount of that “teen” element that’s supposed to distinguish it from books like Justice League. What these books by Garcia and Picolo do better than anything is put that “teen” back in Teen Titans. It’s a crucial, yet somehow often overlooked ingredient in their recipe for success.

For more DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults, check out Shadow of the Batgirl and The Lost Carnival.

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

The Joker’s Animated History by Noah Sterling

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Our friend Noah Sterling is at it yet again! Having previously given his animated take on Green Lantern, Robin, and numerous other comic book icons, the Joker is the latest to get the Sterling treatment!

One thing’s for sure, there’s no shortage of ground to cover…

For more, check out Noah Sterling’s official site or his YouTube page.

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

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.

Who is Nightwing? – One Knight Stand

***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/Huntress #14
AUTHOR: Devin Grayson
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Bill Sienkiewicz (Inker), Noelle Gidding (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing: Vol. 3: False Starts

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Something feels off here.

Nightwing/Huntress was a four-issue miniseries, the sole purpose of which seems to be the creation of a brief romance (if you can even call it that) between the two titles characters. It was published at the same time the main Nightwing series was ongoing. What that likely means is that someone in editorial came to Devin Grayson, Greg Land, and this team and said, “Hey, we want Nightwing and Huntress sleep together. Can you do it in four issues?”

But of course, that’s just speculation on my part.

With Batman away, Gotham city is under Nightwing’s protection (So who’s watching Bludhaven?) when a mobster is framed for a murder. But the crime’s mafia connections also attract the attention of the Huntress. The two wind up working the case together, and passions flare when they discover they have more than an enemy in common.

At this point in her near 10-year run, the Huntress/Helena Bertinelli character had been established as someone too violent and impulsive to be endorsed by Batman. To her immense frustration, she was seemingly banned from Batman’s inner circle. Nevertheless, her own bloody history with the mob fueled her crusade to operate in Gotham with or without the Dark Knight’s approval.

Then you had Nightwing/Dick Grayson, who years earlier had struck out on his own. Yet he still adheres to Batman’s code, and is still very much part of his extended “family.” There’s lots of potential for some “opposites attract” chemistry there, and in fact that’s what this book is supposed to be.

The problem is that it jumps into the…shall we say, “physicality,” before we really have a chance to explore any of that chemistry. It all starts rather abruptly, with feelings that are exposited rather than shown. We don’t go on the ride with Dick or Helena. That’s the missing ingredient here. Instead we spend much of the book analyzing the fallout from the act.

One character I’m grateful has a presence here is Oracle/Barbara Gordon. She wasn’t a vital ingredient. But given the Will they?/Won’t they? dynamic they had in the main Nightwing series at the time, her inclusion and input adds valuable perspective and context to things.

On a site note: Bruce Wayne is a public figure in Gotham City, yes? And Dick Grayson was once his ward, yes? So to an extent that makes him a public figure, yes? So when Dick and Helena consummate their attraction to one another, with masks completely off, shouldn’t she recognize him? And thus, shouldn’t she then be able to deduce that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Or are we just ignoring that notion for convenience?

Greg Land is back with us here, delivering a product that I would say is on par with what we got in the miniseries. One of my favorite panels in the book is pictured above. Though when you consider the accusations lobbied against Land for his use of pornography as photo-reference, it definitely makes you wonder…

The coloring, on the other hand, is definitely an upgrade. Noelle Gidding turns in something suitably dark and moody. The miniseries, and for that matter the main series at times, looked a little too bright for my taste.

One redeeming element here is that the effects of Nightwing/Huntress would subsequently be felt in not just the main series, but the No Man’s Land crossover that would soon follow. So at least this story had a purpose and an impact. But sadly, the book itself under-delivers.

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

Weekly Comic 100s: Iron Man #1, Star Wars, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Iron Man #1
AUTHOR: Christopher Cantwell
ARTISTS: Cafu, Frank D’Armata (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Alex Ross
RELEASED: September 16, 2020

The premise of this book is that Tony Stark is going back to basics. Good ol’ fashioned super-heroing. He does this in his classic costume, which is pretty cool. Cafu and D’Armata give us an amazing page of him “suiting up.”

Cantwell’s dialogue, particularly between Iron Man and Hellcat, is pretty funny. It may get to be grating as the issues go on. But for now I dig it.

Cool use of sign language in this issue. It’s only one panel. But it’s memorable.

TITLE: Seven Secrets #2
AUTHOR: Tom Taylor
ARTISTS: Daniele Di Nicuolo, Walter Baiamonte & Katia Ranalli (Colorists), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer)
RELEASED: September 16, 2020

This second issue is basically a big exposition dump. But there’s some interesting stuff in here. Especially what basically amounts to a ninja school for youngsters. Then the emotional stakes raise when we start to see our main character, Caspar, interact with his parents.

In a perfect world, we could have spent the entire first arc of the book on the content in this issue. Whether the speed-through was worth it or not depends on the quality of the story they end up telling.

Meanwhile, Daniele Di Nicuolo remains at home in a story about youngsters doing martial arts.

TITLE: Star Wars #6
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Jesus Saiz, Arif Prianto (Co-Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by R.B. Silva and Guru-eFX
RELEASED: September 16, 2020

Six issues in, this book finally starts to get interesting here. We finally finish the ridiculous business of finding Luke an intermediate lightsaber, and then we jump right into something cool at an old Jedi temple.

Story notwithstanding, I certainly can’t complain about Jesus Saiz and Arif Prianto’s art. Saiz captures the likenesses of the actors very well. This issue in particular has a wonderful closing splash page.

TITLE: Giant-Size X-Men: Storm
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman
ARTISTS: Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson (Colorist), Ariana Maher (Letterer)
RELEASED: September 16, 2020

Emma Frost steals this issue within the first few pages. Storm laments the fact that she might be dying, and Emma lays into her for being dramatic. “After all, we’re just going to resurrect you, dear.”

I love when even the characters themselves know how death works in comics.

Actually, we wind up returning to the “Why not just die and come back?” question later. It’s the most interesting part of the story, but we don’t dive into it to any sort of satisfaction. By and large this book, like the other Giant-Size X-Men books, is very missable.

TITLE: Darth Vader #5
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
ARTISTS: Raffaele Ienco, Neeraj Menon (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letter). Cover by InHyuk Lee.
RELEASED: September 16, 2020

Some of the art in this book is really awkward. Case in point, a flashback panel where we see Obi-Wan cut Anakin’s limbs off in Revenge of the Sith. The figure rendering itself is fine. But some of the posing is just weird.

Thankfully, they do not in fact exhume Padme’s corpse in this issue. That’s where it looks like it’s going for a few pages…

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

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.

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.

A Three Jokers #1 Review – Too Many Smiles?

TITLE: Three Jokers #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS:
Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Black Label
PRICE:
$6.99
RELEASED:
August 25, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Alright, DC. You can have your “Joker War,” and you can have Three Jokers. But after these are both said and done, we put the ol’ Clown Prince back on the shelf for a little while. There is such a thing as too many smiles…

At last, more than four years after it was first teased in Johns and Fabok’s Justice League run, Three Jokers has arrived. Why’d it take so long? No clue. But I’ve gotta say, the end product was almost worth the wait. While he’s obviously used Batman in his larger DC stories, Geoff Johns hasn’t spent a lot of time on a proper Bat-book. But in terms of the overall “feel” of things, i.e. characterization, tone, the sense of sacrifice, and that lingering dread that comes with a great Joker story, Johns and the Three Jokers team absolutely nail it.

Three Jokers presents us with the notion that there are…well, three Jokers. When the Harlequin of Hate seemingly strikes three points in Gotham at the exact same time, Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood must figure out where the genuine article is. But certain evidence points them toward something more elusive: That three different men have played the role of the Joker over the years. And unbeknownst to our heroes, a fourth Joker may be on his way…

In a broad sense, I don’t really like the idea of there having been three Jokers. Rather, I like the notion that he evolved over time just as Batman did. But I’ve been around long enough to know these kinds of things often aren’t as they initially seem. So I’ll reserve judgment on the premise and simply judge the content on its own merits.

One thing I give this issue a lot of credit for is quickly and effectively establishing the Joker’s relationship to Batman, and also providing the character with dramatic weight he deserves. It’s all done within the first few pages, using very little dialogue. We see Batman’s scarred and mangled flesh juxtaposed with single images of his enemies corresponding to specific wounds. Characters like Bane, the Riddler, Scarecrow, etc. Then we get one for the Joker. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker yet again. Thus the reader, whether a Batman buff or someone picking up a comic for the first time, understands the Joker isn’t simply another villain. He’s the one who’s given Batman more scars, both physically and emotionally, than anyone else.

Also adding dramatic weight is the presence of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and the Red Hood/Jason Todd. Ask a casual comic book reader to name three Joker stories, and chances are two of them will be (for better or worse) The Killing Joke – Where the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara, and A Death in the Family – The infamous story where the Joker kills Jason. So having them around is a nice reminder of what the stakes are when dealing with the Joker. You’d think, with both breathing and walking, the opposite would be true. But both carry a heavy existential burden.

Jason Fabok gets to put his own little tweaks on all the iconic costumes for Three Jokers. The only changes of real significance are to Red Hood’s costume (shown above). Most of what we see is an improvement. The Bat emblem on his chest is thankfully gone. He’s now in a leather jacket with a red tunic that has, you guessed it, a hood. The tunic is supposed to look like the Robin costume. It even has an R on the belt buckle. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it’s grown on me. In fact, it’s probably my favorite take on the costume since Under the Hood in the mid 2000s.

I credit Three Jokers #1 with having one of the best, most cinematic chase scenes I’ve read in quite awhile. There’s not even that much to it. Just Batman and Batgirl trying to stop an ambulance, with Batman coming aboard and fighting inside. But Johns and Fabok made a more exciting sequence out of this than some creators can with four times as much.

This book is also beautifully colored. The palette Brad Anderson is working with feels like it can explode into a bright, beautiful blaze at any moment. But instead we get colors that are very full and that pop, but also feel like they’ve been dipped in darkness. The way Fabok and Anderson capture Gotham City feels definitive. Like this is what it’s supposed to look like.

Jason Todd is really the star of this first issue. That’s mostly because of the climax and a deliciously emotional, character-defining moment between a killer and his victim…

Three Jokers #1 straddles an interesting line. I totally disagree with its premise, yet I can’t deny this is a great comic book. Normally I can’t stand it when even oversized comics are priced above $5. But I can say with full confidence that this one is worth the price of admission.

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

The Lost Carnival Deep Dive – Nightwing, is That Really You?

TITLE: The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel
AUTHOR: Michael Moreci
ARTISTS: Sas Milledge, Phil Hester, David Calderon (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
May 5, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic  Novel isn’t really a Dick Grayson graphic novel. Or at least it doesn’t feel like one. It’s more like a YA novel about a lost carnival forced into the graphic medium that they slapped the name Dick Grayson on for brand recognition.

All that being said, it’s still a pretty decent book.

The Lost Carnival introduces us to a teenage Dick Grayson, a traveling circus performer with his parents, the Flying Graysons. But the struggling circus is being walloped by a carnival that’s opted to set up shop nearby. Dick, however, soon discovers all is not as it seems. The carnival, and a mysterious young magician named Luciana, are linked to the past in ways Dick could never imagine.

My biggest problem with some (not all, some) of these original DC graphic novels is they don’t necessarily feel like they’re trying to tell a story about their main characters. Rather, it feels like the story was concocted first, and the character pasted on to it. For instance, a story about a girl in a band? It’s obviously about Black Canary! Girl in a wheelchair solving puzzles? Oracle! And if you’ve got a story with a carnival/circus theme, it’s got to be Dick Grayson. (I’m not making any accusations here. I’m just saying that’s what it feels like.)

For a book that claims it’s “redefining Dick Grayson for a new generation,” there’s not much in here that necessarily feels specific to Dick. He’s got a love interest, a best friend, a crush. He’s rebelling against his parents, and ultimately learns a lesson about holding on to those dear to him, All pretty standard YA stuff. Yes, he’s in the circus. But outside of the magic element, the book doesn’t play with that too much. An opening scene with Dick and his parents on the trapeze is about it.

But who is Dick Grayson, exactly? As Robin, he’s essentially the yin to Batman’s yang. He’s the plucky and exuberant light that keeps the Dark Knight from journeying too far into the proverbial darkness. Unlike Bruce, Dick also thrives when working with others. He becomes the leader of the Teen Titans, and develops close friendships with virtually all his teammates. He’s also quite simply an easy person to like and get along with.

Lots of teenagers struggle with not fitting in. The feel isolated. So in Dick’s situation, why not make that literal? The Lost Carnival tells us he only travels with his parents in the summer. But that’s a missed opportunity. Why not make him a year-round circus performer who’s home-schooled, and thus doesn’t know a lot of kids his own age? Thus, his connection to Luciana isn’t just your standard “boy crushing on girl” story.

The book gives Dick a best friend named Willow, a magician and fellow circus performer who will ultimately play into the book’s climax. But why not have the two start the book as virtual strangers, with Willlow having recently joined the circus. Then by the end of the book, Dick has something he didn’t have at the beginning: A new friend his own age.

Y’know. Just a thought.

The pencils and inks are credited to Sas Milledge with Phil Hester. Not quite sure how that breaks down. The figure rendering in this book has the tiniest bit of fluidity to it. It’s not much, but enough to make things feel a little bit off. Still, Milledge’s version of Dick Grayson manages to be pretty strong. Faithful enough that it reminds us of Nightwing, but unique enough to be her own.

The book plays with different color tints for different scenes, with everything else staying black and white. I can’t say it works amazingly in terms of setting a mood or a tone, or even separating parts of the book. But it’s a way to go. David Calderon’s colors look nice at any rate.

I won’t say The Lost Carnival is utterly forgettable. It works as a story about a magic carnival, but it underachieves as a story about a young Dick Grayson. There’s a certain authenticity that’s missing. The Flying Graysons may soar, but this Dick Grayson graphic novel falls short.

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