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.

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 sour, but this Dick Grayson graphic novel falls short.

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

Weekly Comic 100s: Batman, Power Rangers, Magneto, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Been a rocky couple of weeks on the comic book front for yours truly. Wasn’t able to get to the shop a couple weeks ago. Then last week my local shop had a problem with Lunar Distribution, the company that now distributes DC in the wake of their split from Diamond. So there are still some holes left to be filled in my pull list. In the coming days, expect to see the most recent issues of Superman and Detective Comics, along with the final issue of Greg Rucka’s Lois Lane maxi-series.

But still, the train rolls along. I was even able to throw an issue of Batman: Gotham Nights in for good measure.

TITLE: Batman: The Adventures Continue #8
AUTHORS: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini
ARTISTS:
Ty Templeton, Monica Cubina (Colorist), Joshua Reed (Letterer)
RELEASED:
July 16, 2020

This one went by pretty quickly. But it does Azrael some nice justice. We put over the violent tendencies we saw all those years ago in the comics, while also tying yet another classic Batman villain into the story.

With few exceptions, Ty Templeton and the artistic team have been as consistent as you could hope for on this title. What we see is more or less what we remember from those old tie-in comics, and I’m not sure what more you could ask in that sense.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #51
AUTHOR:
Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Moises Hidalgo, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell.
RELEASED:
July 15, 2020

Not a huge fan of Moises Hidalgo on this book. I usually like my MMPR art on the crisp, clean side. His has a little more of an exaggerated look. And as nitpicky as this is, I don’t enjoy the way he draws Tommy or Rocky’s hair.

As good as it got at various points, I’m very happy to see we’ve mostly moved on from “Necessary Evil.” We’ve got Zedd back, as well as Lord Drakkon. Yes, I’ve heard about the upcoming “split.” But hopefully we can enjoy ourselves in the meantime.

TITLE: Giant-Size X-Men: Magneto
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman
ARTISTS: Ramon Perez, David Curiel (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Ben Oliver.
RELEASED: July 15, 2020

In this issue, Emma Frost recruits Magneto to find her an island where she can set up a base. Fair enough. If you want somebody to find an island for you, Magneto’s not a bad choice. Good call, Emma.

But yeah…that’s about it. Certainly not worth the $4.99 cover price. Completely and utterly skippable.

TITLE: Batman #94
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS:
Guillem March, Rafael Albequerque, David Baron (Colors), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey.
RELEASED:
July 7, 2020

Not necessarily the strongest issue we’ve seen from Tynion and the crew thus far. But I will say that this issue goes a long way in creating that vibe of foreboding dread that comes when an event comic villain really ramps it up.

Batman #94 is, for my money, the first time we really start to deal with the ramifications of Alfred not being around. Lucius is treating an injured Batman, and at one point laments that he can’t be as focused or single-minded as Alfred was.

No offense Lucius, but we knew you weren’t gonna cut it.

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #106
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (Story Consulting), Sophie Campbell (Story), Ronda Pattison (Script)
ARTISTS: Nelson Daniel, Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer).
RELEASED: July 15, 2020

This issue is refreshingly Turtle-centric. That sounds odd for a book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the TMNT have such a vast crew of supporting characters, it can work against them in that they feel lost in their own book. This issue gives us a chance to catch up.

Nelson Daniel is doing a fine job with the Turtles. I’ve said this before, but for some reason TMNT artists are make or break for me based on how they draw the bandanas in relation to the faces. Daniel does that very well.

TITLE: Something is Killing the Children #8
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS:
Werther Dell’Edera, Miquel Muerto
RELEASED:
July 8, 2020

This issue brings up an interesting question: How do you walk the line of good taste in a book about monsters eating and dismembering children? Or do you? If your book is already about that, do you just embrace the uncomfortable gore of it all?

Issue #8 shows us part of a dismembered corpse and a bloody shoe. As long as the art isn’t going for photorealism, I’d say that’s a nice balance. Werther Dell-Edera’s combination animated/painterly style works well with it too.

TITLE: Young Justice #16
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker
ARTISTS: Scott Godlewski, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer). Cover by John Timms & Eltaeb.
RELEASED: July 7, 2020

Now that we’ve taken a dive into what Conner Kent’s relationship to the space-time continuum is, this issue dives into Impulse’s. I’ll say this much: I didn’t expect it to involve Arkham Asylum.

It’s interesting that Bendis has continued to portray Superboy and Impulse as outliers from another reality. They don’t really belong. And as we’ll see next issue, he’s about to open it up that much further by bringing the in the Justice League. It gives this team an enduring misfit quality. That sort of thing is great if you like some teen angst in your superhero books.

TITLE: Marvels X #4
AUTHORS: Alex Ross (Story), Jim Krueger (Story and Script)
ARTISTS: Well-Bee, Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Ross.
RELEASED: July 8, 2020

This issue gives us a nice old-school Avengers moment. It’s very Alex Ross, with the heroes in their classic outfits. Well-Bee’s style darkens it. But that makes the colors pop that much more.

There’s an exchange in this issue that I love between Kraven the Hunter and Captain America. It’s about how anyone can put Cap’s costume on, and it’s simply a disguise. But of course, that’s not true. The costume is part of something much larger than the sum of its parts. Again, very Alex Ross.

TITLE: Batman: Gotham Nights #12
AUTHOR:
Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
V Ken Marion, Sandu Florea (Inker), Andrew Dalhouse (Colorist), Troy Peteri (Letterer)
RELEASED:
July 7, 2020

A nice little Robin reunion that I was at one point convinced was drawn by Brett Booth. Is it common knowledge among supervillains which heroes used to be Robin? That’s what this issue seems to suggest. And if so, why? How would they know?

Interesting that they put Spoiler among this little alumni group. I was under the impression Stephanie Brown’s tenure as Robin wasn’t canon. I won’t complain, though. It’s actually rather refreshing to see.

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

Robin’s Animated History by Noah Sterling

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Awhile back, we looked at Noah Sterling’s animated history of Green Lantern. Or rather, Green Lanterns plural. There have been a lot of Earth-born ring-wielders in the 80 years since Alan Scott first graced the page.

Thankfully for us, Sterling is also well-versed in the history of Robin, who also turns 80 this year. And the iconic sidekick of all sidekicks got an animated treatment that’s every bit as fun as what Green Lantern got…

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.

A Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days Review – Bruce Wayne Against Batman?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS:
Lee Weeks, Matt Wagner, Tony Daniel, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Danny Miki (Inker)
COLORISTS: Elizabeth Breitweiser, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS:
Batman #5157
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
December 19, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A while back, I did a “Panels of Awesomeness” on a couple of the pages in Cold Days. It’s the scene in Batman #51 when Bruce Wayne snaps and rips a urinal out of the wall (shown below). People may criticize Tom King’s writing on this series, but I believe he has the distinction of being the only writer to have Batman do that.

But you can’t blame the guy, can you? If your wedding had gone that way

1. One Angry Man
As if things weren’t already crappy for him, Bruce Wayne gets jury duty in the titular three-issue story that kicks off Cold Days. Mr. Freeze stands trial for the murder of three women. On paper, it’s an open-and-shut case. Not only did Freeze confess to the murders, but Batman examined the forensic evidence, discovering a detail the police missed. One juror, however, believes Freeze is innocent: Bruce Wayne. Why? Because as Batman, he beat Freeze to a pulp, unintentionally forcing a confession.

This Batman series may have a tendency to go off the rails. But credit where credit is due: I love this story. In fact, it’s the high point of Tom King’s entire run. It cuts right to the core of who Bruce Wayne is, as he’s forced to do something he’s not accustomed to: Confronting a mistake, and making good on it. “Cold Days” even examines the notion that Batman is infallible, at least in the eyes of the public. But as we see all too clearly, he’s not infallible. He’s just a man. A man in a tremendous amount of pain.

The last time we saw Lee Weeks on this book was in Batman Annual #2, illustrating a story set early in Batman’s career. What he turns in here, alongside Elizabeth Breitweiser and Clayton Cowles, is every bit as good, if not better. One of the qualities that makes Weeks’ work so special is that he feels very much at home on a more “grounded” story like this one, without any super-powered exploits. And yet, he can also thrive working on a character like Superman.

King uses “Cold Days” to touch on a subject we rarely touch on with the Dark Knight: religion. He talks about how his father was Christian, and wanted Bruce to find spirituality as well. As one might imagine, that didn’t happen. What we learn is that Batman more or less became Bruce’s religion. And in the eyes of many, Batman has become the equivalent of a deity. It’s a really cool sequence, and I credit King for having the guts to go there.

We also get a fantastic page in issue #51. While Bruce is serving on the jury, Dick Grayson is filling in as Batman. We get a page on the roof of police headquarters where he’s talking to Commissioner Gordon. The following dialogue ensues…

Gordon: “You’re not him. You’re that other him.”
Batman: “What’s the problem, Commissioner? How can I help?”
Gordon: “Is he alright?”
Batman: *pauses* “No.”

I love that Gordon isn’t written as an idiot, and how this harkens back to pieces of the Knightfall and No Man’s Land stories from the ’90s. Frankly, I wouldn’t have a problem if he called him out as Nightwing.

2. The Dynamic Duo
In the last 20 years or so, writers have made Bruce and Dick a little too friendly for my taste. Until recently, there were times when Dick was acting more like Robin than Damian, the actual Robin. I always liked the idea that when Dick struck out on his own, he developed his own methods and philosophies that at times put him at odds with Batman. He wouldn’t be the estranged son. That role should be saved that role for Jason Todd. I’d simply have Dick be his own man. But when the chips were down, he’d be there if Bruce truly needed him.

That’s precisely the scenario we have in Batman #54. As Bruce tries to power his way through his grief over Selina, Dick simply hangs out. A constant source of levity. And indeed, there’s a fantastic moment where Batman actually does break, and Dick is there for him. This is all intercut with various moments from Dick’s early days at Wayne Manor. It’s one of King’s better written Batman issues.

Our guest artist for issue #54 is none other Matt Wagner. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed him working on Batman. What’s so special about Wagner is that he can capture whatever tone you want, with whatever character you want, while still injecting a sense of fun into his art. It’s never not fun to look at a Matt Wagner book.

3. The Beast Unleashed
As much as I disliked Scott Snyder’s Zero Year story, I loved the way it revitalized the Riddler. King, to his credit, continued that revitalization during his run. But one can also argue he did a little revitalizing himself. With, of all characters, KGBeast.

KGBeast, real name Anatoli Knyazev, first appeared in the late ’80s as yet another to stake claim to the DCU’s “world’s deadliest assassin” title. (Think Deathstroke, Deadshot, Lady Shiva, etc.) His most prominent character moment came when he cut off his own arm to allude capture by Batman. But since then, he’s been mostly relegated to what I’ll call the villains ensemble, i.e. somebody to put in a scene where Batman has to fight a bunch of bad guys. Heck, Snyder did it recently in All-Star Batman.

But in Batman #55, the Beast does the unthinkable. As Batman and Nightwing are continuing their father/son bonding of sorts, he uses a sniper rifle to put a bullet in Nightwing’s head. With Dick alive, yet devastatingly wounded, Batman does the only thing he can do: go Beast hunting.

In re-reading this “Beast of Burden” story in trade format, I picked up on something I missed in the single issues: the father/son theme. After carrying out the hit on Nightwing, Knyazev tracks down his father to a remote cabin in “far east” Russia. It may as well be the planet Hoth, as it’s seemingly just miles upon miles of snow, some trees, and that one cabin. We learn that like his son, Vasily Knyazev was once a killer for the KGB, and trained Anatoli to be the same. Seeing the two interact after what has clearly been a long time apart, it’s obvious Vasily was a callous and heartless excuse for a father. And yet, he loves his son in his own unique way…

But Bruce can be cold and callous too. He’s about as dark and withdrawn in these pages as he’s ever been. But he’s not heartless. He showed a great deal of compassion for Dick, and cared for him in the best way he knew how. I suspect that’s why we got the flashback scenes in the Matt Wagner issue. To illustrate the differences between these father/son duos. That makes for a really cool story.

Thankfully, unlike Deathstroke vs. Deadshot in The War of Jokes and Riddles, in this book we actually see the damn fight between Batman and KGBeast blow by blow. It’s easy to follow and project yourself into. It ends with Batman pulling off a maneuver I’m not sure we’ve seen from him before. It’s shockingly merciless, as is the book’s ending.

Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey set the mood perfectly. I’m reluctant to use The Empire Strikes Back as an example again, but the art evokes the same sort of grim, foreboding mood we see in the opening moments of the film. I could almost hear the John Williams score…

Intercut amongst the fight sequences is a folktale Vasily would read to the future KGBeast when he was a boy. Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy tag in for pages that are fittingly drawn like a storybook for a young child. Though it’s certainly more violent and bloody than any book you’ll pick up off shelves today. Or for that matter, any era. There’s a thematic connection of course, and it’s certainly unique to see these cartoony animals drawn alongside this brutal fight.

The only major negative I can find in “Beasts of Burden,” is that it serves as the inciting incident for the “Ric Grayson” stuff in Nightwing. I haven’t purchased a Nightwing comic since, as that story just doesn’t interest me. But that’s got nothing to do with Tom King or this series, so I can’t hold it against this book.

4. Bright Spot for the Dark Knight
Cold Days is indeed the high point of Tom King’s Batman run. A bright spot in an often bizarre series of issues. The “Cold Days” story is outstanding on its own. But the issues with Nightwing and KGBeast were much better than I remembered. The art is consistently gorgeous. Lee Weeks stole the show for yours truly. Though I’ve certainly got a soft spot for Matt Wagner.

I take no joy in saying much of Tom King’s Batman run is skippable. I do, however, take joy in telling you Cold Days is a must-read for fans of both Batman and Nightwing. Outstanding character work mixed with great action. In the end, you really can’t ask for much more.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, Bride or Burglar?, and The Wedding.

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Epic Covers: Nightwing #50

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So yeah, they shot Dick Grayson in the head. That’s one of the latest stunts over at DC. Hey, at least he wasn’t a Heroes in Crisis casualty. Don’t think they wouldn’t have done it.

The gunshot wound leaves Dick with amnesia, and no memory of his life as a superhero. It’s too early to tell if this story is going to be any good. But it does have a lot of potential to make a statement about what Dick means to the DC Universe, not to mention the Batman family as a whole.

This cover is low-key epic. Amidst all its colorful competition, it didn’t exactly jump off the rack. But once you get a closer look, you see that it’s all in the details. Specifically, the scar itself…

I’m hardly an expert on scar tissue. Specifically as it relates to bullet wounds to the head. But this was convincing enough to convey that impact and awe that the cover is shooting for. The texturing, the look of the fold in the skin, the colors. It’s striking.

The big drawback? For the cover, they made the scar look like the Nightwing insignia. Lame.

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Micro-Reviews: Justice League, Batman, The Man of Steel

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not a good week for publisher diversity at the Siebert house. Four from DC and one from BOOM! Studios. To be fair, funds were tight this week. Otherwise this list would have been at least twice as long. But minuscule as it looks compared to previous weeks, this is what’s in my stack.

Justice League #1
Notwithstanding my prior gripes with Scott Snyder’s stuff, I enjoyed Justice League #1. As he almost always does, Snyder goes big. That’s how it should be with the League. They’re going with the classic Justice League vs. Legion of Doom story, which is always a good draw.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Metal, but one thing I did enjoy was Snyder’s world-building. He continues that here. The way he uses the Hall of Justice and the Source Wall are fun. But I’m partial to the Psychic Conference Room myself.

Batman: Prelude to the Wedding – Nightwing vs. Hush #1
I was expecting a very personal, street-level fight from this one. We got that. But there was a cosmic element that I didn’t expect. Some interesting stuff. I just didn’t expect to see it here.

Also, there’s an exchange between Bruce and Dick in this issue that rubs me the wrong way. Dick tells Bruce that when he broke off on his own, he didn’t mean to distance himself personally. I call BS on that. The friction there was part of Dick’s development as a character.

This may sound odd, but I didn’t realize it was Batman and Catwoman that were getting married as opposed to Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. From a secret identity standpoint, not having Bruce marry Selina makes sense. She’s a publicly known criminal. But then what’s the point? How is it even a wedding? Are Batman and Catwoman getting a marriage license? Is the state going to recognize them as married? How does that work?

Batman #48
Is it possible to make the Joker too Jokey? Or maybe to quippy? Tom King pushes it in that respect with Batman #48. The whole issue is basically a big, nonsensical talking scene. You can get away with that to an extent, because it’s the Joker. But it got to be grating. On the plus side, Mikel Janin’s art is great as always. The visual of someone as evil as the Joker in a church is disturbingly awesome. Or awesomely disturbing.

The Man of Steel #2
I’m worried that Bendis’ use of “Bendis Banter” will wear on me as his run progresses. But for now it’s charming. Superman and Green Lantern have a refreshing exchange in this issue that feels like a genuine conversation between friends. On the flip side, we see Perry White confide in Clark about the pressures of surviving in the journalism industry. As a former journalist, that’s really interesting to see.

The pencilling in this issue is split between Evan “Doc” Shaner and Steve Rude, with two pages also done by Jason Fabok. It’s all great. But Rude steals the issue as far as I’m concerned.

Go Go Power Rangers #10
The Megazord we see on the cover is called the Gravezord. It’s made from the remnants of destroyed zords, specifically the Thunderzords. Kind of like Typhonis in MMPR: Pink. Dan Mora’s awesome art aside, I can’t decide how I feel about it.

For yours truly, the highlight of this issue is Jason having to ask Zordon to do something very personal for him, and Zordon having to tell him why he can’t. Well done, Ryan Parrott.

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

The Fanboy’s Closet: Nightwing Crew Socks

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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