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? – 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.

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.

Weekly Comic 100s: Darth Vader, Batman, X-Men/Fantastic Four, 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: Darth Vader #1
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
ARTISTS: Raffaele Ienco, Neeraj Menon (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Variant cover by Chris Sprouse.
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

After the events of Empire, Darth Vader starts investigating Luke’s birth/origins. He journeys back to Tatooine (again). He then goes to Padme’s old apartment on Coruscant, which remains more or less preserved after 20 years. As if it’s a crime scene or something. Based on the ending, I assume we’ll learn more next issue.

I understand it from a storytelling perspective. But in-universe, it’s always a little too convenient that these landmark places all essentially look the same no matter when we see them. That Lars Homestead will still be standing 30 years later

TITLE: Batman #88
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Guillem March, Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel.
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

I wasn’t very nice to Guillem March last time. In fact, I’m rarely depict his work positively. But to his credit, he won me over with this issue. At least a little bit. His rendering of Catwoman in a graveyard on a rainy night is damn near beautiful. The scene with Batman, Penguin, Deathstroke, and the others is also very strong.

At more than one point, it seemed to me like this issue was laying the groundwork for the long-awaited Three Jokers book. Remember, we’re building toward a story in the pages of Batman called “Joker War.”

TITLE: X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Chip Zdarsky
ARTISTS: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson (Inker), Dexter Vines (Inking Assistant), Karl Story (Inking Assistant), Laura Martin (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

I’m terrified of X-Men comics. Specifically, the decades worth of continuity and characters. But to this book’s credit, it’s fairly accessible.

Franklin Richards, the mutant teenage son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, is summoned by Charles Xavier to live with Earth’s mutants on the island nation of Krakoa. This doesn’t sit well with Reed. Naturally, conflict and teen angst ensue.

I’ve been looking for a bridge back into the Marvel Universe. X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 might be it, as it does a nice job setting up both teams, and giving us a compelling main character in Franklin.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Simone di Meo, Alessio Zonno, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Igor Monti (Color Assistant), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Dan Mora.
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

We get a fight between Rita and Shredder in this issue. It’s a relatively lengthy battle. And you know what? I’m just going to come out and say it: I wanted this to be one of those fights where the guy and girl hook up at the end. You know how it goes. The passion overcomes them, etc. These two have a lot in common, after all.

What that says about me and these characters from my childhood, I’ll let you decide.

Oh my God. What if Shredder, not Zedd, was actually Thrax‘s father?!?!? Mind blown!!!

TITLE: Young Justice #13
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker
ARTISTS: Michael Avon Oeming, Mike Grell, John Timms, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

Well hey there, Mike Grell! It’s been too long! What’s more, Grell gets to once again draw a character he created in Warlord. Warlord and Superboy actually have a pretty nice dynamic in this issue. The experienced elder statesman offering calm words of wisdom to an upset Superboy.

For the moment at least, the Young Justice cast has expanded greatly. If these additional characters stick around, it’s a lot to balance. But it’s still damn good to see a couple of them.

TITLE: Lois Lane #8
AUTHOR: Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Mike Perkins, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Simon Bowland (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

As much as I’m enjoying having Greg Rucka back at DC, I’m wondering if this needed to be a 12-issue maxi-series. This entire issue felt mostly like filler.

For instance, there’s a scene in this issue where Superman shows up after an attempt on Lois’ life. We take four pages to see husband and wife re-united, and then to see the attention the Man of Steel gets from the local police.

Am I missing something? Why are we seeing this?

On the upside, the assassin that comes after Lois has a pretty cool look.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.