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.

 

A Kingpin #1 Review – Mr. Nice Guy

Kingpin #1, 2017TITLE: Kingpin #1
AUTHOR: Matthew Rosenberg
PENCILLER: Ben Torres. Cover by Jeff Dekal.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 8, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Considering Wilson Fisk used to be Marvel’s Kingpin of crime, he’s a pretty nice guy here. While you can use a lot of words to describe this character, “nice” has rarely been one of them.

But if you ask Wilson, he’s a man who has paid his debt to society, and is on a new path. Journalist Sarah Dewey is, to say the least, skeptical. Fisk nevertheless chooses her to write his biography, and spends most of the issue trying to win her over. But as one might suspect, things aren’t quite what they seem…

Take a moment and type “Kingpin, Marvel” into Google Image. What’s what thing he’s not doing in any of those pics? Smiling. The Kingpin doesn’t smile. At least not in a genuine, happy sort of way. But he does in Kingpin #1, and it catches you off guard. You’re expecting a grim and sadistic brute. Instead we get this warm and gentle teddy bear.

kingpin #1, 2017, Wayne DyerOur “gateway” character is Sarah, who Fisk seems to have an interest in based on her writing. There’s a purity to that which is almost heartbreaking. He’s also unwaveringly kind, even if that kindness is rather awkward at times. It’s a stark contrast to this cynical, down-on-her-luck journalist who, despite the quality of her work, is struggling to keep her head above water. You end up hoping this warmth he’s showing to her is sincere, and not some sort of ploy.

If your Google machine is still open, type in the name Wayne Dyer. He was a self-help author and motivational speaker who often appeared on PBS. At times, be Kingpin that Ben Torres gives us looks quite a bit like Dyer. Case in point, the bottom image on the page at right. Maybe that’s why he’s so happy. He read Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.

Torres handles the pencils and inks for this issue. I’m not very familiar with his work. But he’s a tremendous fit for this part of the Marvel Universe. As he goes in heavy on the inks, you can see some Frank Miller on this pages, and a little bit of John Romita Jr. There’s even some Eduardo Risso. The mood is precisely what it should be: This is a place where hope is in short supply. We’re now finding hope in the most unlikely of individuals. And even that is likely smoke and mirrors.

I can’t say I have a tremendous desire to come back for more Kingpin. Let’s be honest: We know how this story ends. The only real question is whether Sarah Dewey makes it out okay. But as for Fisk, it’s only a matter of time before the Kingpin is back on his throne.

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A Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1 Review – Street-Level Grit and Superhero Tropes

Daredevil-Character-Poster-Matt-MurdockTITLE: Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1
STARRING: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Toby Leonard Moore
CREATOR: Drew Goddard
RATING:
TV-MA
NETWORK: Netflix
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: April 10, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I was beyond excited when I the trailers for Marvel’s Daredevil first came out. Subsequently, I was beyond awed at just how immensely intelligent and incredibly produced this series is. I plowed through all 13 episodes in three days. It was better than I could ever have imagined.

Marvel has delivered what is quite possibly their best executed, best made superhero property since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Of course, it may not be entirely fair to compare the two, since Daredevil is an experimental internet television series and Winter Soldier is the second big screen solo outing of an established superhero. However, they share one common trait: They both raised the bar for not just Marvel movies, but superhero movies everywhere. But only Daredevil broke entirely new ground for what can be accomplished in internet-based entertainment.

Marvel's Daredevil, Matt Murdock, Charlie CoxMarvel’s Daredevil follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a lawyer blinded as a child but blessed with enhanced senses which allow him to “see” better than a normal person. By day, he works with his law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and his secretary and former client Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). By night, however, he patrols the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, fighting bad guys and saving innocents. And by “fighting,” I mean beating the bloody tar out of anyone he sees doing dirty deeds. But he slowly begins to come across loose pieces of evidence, things that don’t add up. Someone’s trying to unite all of the rival crime outfits under one banner. And that someone has a name.

(Here’s a hint: He’s played by Vincent D’Onofrio.)

I’ve heard this series called everything from “Batman Begins meets The Wire” to “dark and gritty done right.” It’s both, actually. But it’s also so much more. Daredevil explores a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we haven’t seen since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk: The grimy, broken down corner where the less-than-glamorous people make their home, where no amount of superhero bling and bang will change the real problems. Of course, this translates to a TV show about a blind ninja fighting a fat mobster whose big secret plan basically amounts to an evil gentrification scheme.

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, black costumeBut like Batman Begins before it, victory is in the execution. Unlike Batman Begins, however, Daredevil knows when to be smart and when to be comic-bookish. Probably the most comic-bookish sequence in the entire series is when Matt fights somebody who’s dressed in red-and-black ninja garb. It’s awesome. Then again, the sheer amount of blood and gore on this show probably offsets it quite a bit. But there’s a lot more to this show than any of that.

What makes Daredevil unique boils down to two things: The first is that it addresses real world problems in an intelligent and thought provoking way. Take Wilson Fisk’s evil gentrification plan, for example. In the real world, many reformers are concerned about the possibility of gentrification displacing poor people. While this fear may or may not be misplaced, I’ll grant you this series was intelligent and bold enough to take such a prickly issue and make it the focal point of the plot, and to great success. As a result, Daredevil has been catapulted into the upper echelons of TV entertainment.

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, fightThe second key to the series’ uniqueness is how it explores common superhero tropes and plot lines. How did Matt procure his costume? How does he function with all the injuries he sustains while fighting bad guys? What moral justification does Matt, a lawyer sworn to abide by the law, have to engage in violent vigilante justice? As Matt’s priest, Father Lantom (eagle-eyed comic book readers will recognize the character from Brian K. Vaughan’s The Runaways) says, “Another man’s evil does not make you good.” This last issue is brought to the forefront most excellently in the episode “Nelson vs. Murdock,” a particularly enjoyable installment. The show doesn’t always bother to answer the deep questions it raises, but like BBC’s Sherlock, it stands out as one of those rare TV shows that forces you to think.

Wilson Fisk, while never actually called “The Kingpin” as he is in the comics, is more than a match for our hero. Vincent D’Onofrio gives us a definitive version of Wilson Fisk. Depicted as a psychopathic murderer and cunning gangster with the mind of a child, D’Onofrio portrays a very human Fisk. Fisk here is a man who, like Matt, is haunted by a traumatic childhood. When Fisk and Matt collide, it only gets better. Fisk’s lady love, Vanessa, is a classy, wise woman who plays a pivotal role in shaping his development in the second half of the series. (Incidentally, Vanessa is played by Ayelet Zurer, who also portrayed Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mom, in Man of Steel.)

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, Wilson Fisk, Vincent D'OnofrioD’Onofrio may be the definite stand out, but the rest of the cast also know how to pull their weight. Cox brings a strong degree of realism and emotion to his portrayal of Matt Murdock, making us wonder if he’s fighting for good for goodness sake, or because it’s how he gets his kicks. Charlie Cox even worked with actual blind people in order to learn tics and habits characteristic of the blind. Elden Henson is a great Foggy Nelson. He provides good comic relief, but also has an excellent capacity for a wide range of emotions. He’ll go down in the history books with Carlos Valdes’ Cisco from The Flash and Kat Dennings’ Darcy from the Thor movies as one of the great comic relief characters in superhero cinema. And what appraisal of acting talent would be complete without mentioning Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple? Both are exceptionally acted, interesting, and well-written characters. I can’t wait to see Dawson again when she comes back to reprise her role for the Luke Cage series.

This show is also great from a purely technical sense. The lighting on this show is beautiful. I mean, look at it! Most of it comes from street lamps, car headlights, police sirens, etc., enhancing the show’s gritty, street-level feel. The sheer innovation behind such effects is staggering. And then there’s the production design. Not a single set in this show looks cheap or reused, even the sets that are used repeatedly. Every time an old set reappears on the screen, I feel like I’m seeing something new in it. The look of the show matches the tone of the story, and that’s an element that works wonders when pulled off right.

Netflix's Daredevil, Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann WollThe only thing that really bugged me about this show is Karen Page. She’s portrayed as a bit more than your average damsel-in-distress. She’s knows her way around a gun, and gets a chance to kick some butt. But she really didn’t hit home for me as a character. She’s not superfluous or anything. She’s important to the plot and gets a lot done with Ben Urich, but I just have difficultly connecting with her as a character. I don’t immediately like Karen Page the way I like Matt or Foggy or Claire. I just don’t get Karen.

Two final things I’d like to highlight are the action sequences and the show’s portrayal of organized crime. Much praise has been heaped upon Daredevil’s realistic yet cool-looking fight scenes. The fight scenes here are choreographed very differently than from what you might find in Winter Soldier or The Avengers. The TV-MA-earning blood and gore aside, the fights scenes here have Matt and his enemies stopping to get back up off the ground and take on the other guy before he’s finished recovering from the last brutal attack. Matt takes more punishment than he dishes out half the time. But man, does he know how to fight! These scenes are structured in a way that casts the combatants as breakable humans, not titanic, superhuman bulldozers.

Marvel's Daredevl, Netflix, costumeBeing a crime buff, I loved the way they portrayed the organized crime entities in this show. They even give us a decent explanation of why the traditional Italian mob is nowhere to be seen. You’ve got the Russians, there’s the Yakuza, and the local chapter of the Chinese Triads. We also see a couple of characters pulled right from the comics: Leland Owlsley (Bob Gunton), a money launderer, and Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan), a two-bit thug with lousy luck. They’re all portrayed fairly accurately, with the foreigners speaking in their native tongues when English-speakers are not present, and each having their own individual quirks. They all have their respective motivations and agendas independent of Fisk. They’re all testaments to the show’s devotion to good characterization.

On the whole, Marvel’s Daredevil is an amazing show. It has great acting, great writing, great everything. I was psyched to hear that it has been renewed for a second season, to be released in 2016. I look forward to re-watching the first season and absorbing all the threads and grooves that made it so enjoyable the first time. Mind you though, this is definitely TV-MA. Make sure the kids don’t find this on your Netflix account. Save it for later. Much later. Trust me, they’ll love you for that when the time comes, because this series is otherwise incredible.

RATING: 10/10

Image 5 from nypost.com. All other images from rottentomatoes.com.

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A Secret Wars #1 Review – A Noob’s Nightmare

Secret Wars #1 (2015)TITLE: Secret Wars #1
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman
PENCILLER: Esad Ribic. Cover by Alex Ross.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: May 6, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not a Marvel noob by any means. I’ve been a reader for a long time. But full disclosure: I’ve been out of the loop lately. As such, Secret Wars #1 was bewildering to me on a number of levels. But my God, if it threw me for a loop, imagine what it must have done to those poor noobs…

You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on the first of the month, then came out to the comic shop several days later to see what the hell these Marvel comic books were all about. And low and behold, they found this: A book that pits the primary Marvel Universe against the Ultimate Marvel Universe in a desperate fight to survive as the multiverse collapses. And what’s more, it’s wrapped in a gorgeous Alex Ross cover (Oh hell, they’re all gorgeous.) very much reminiscent of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Secret Wars #1, 2015But indeed, a new Marvel Universe is about to be formed. And to  be fair, Marvel is doing what it can to keep everybody in the know. The book has a plain white expository page that simply says: “The multiverse is dying. Only two universes remain. Today, Earths collide.” That’s a pretty simplistic view of something that’s not simple at all. But it states things pretty plainly. We also get cast page, that diagrams almost everybody in the issue. Hell, the issue even comes with a giant foldout of Battleworld, which as I understand it, is where much of the story will take place.

The issue also has a pretty damn good hook, as Doctor Doom, Doctor Strange, and Molecule Man come face-to-face with the Beyonders, as an unknown narrator talks to us about God, and what happens when we die. Heavy stuff. But appropriate I suppose, considering, you know, it’s the end of the universe. When we circle back to it at the end, it’s fairly strong.

If you’ve been following the Ultimate books and the main Marvel stuff, there are some cool moments to be found here. Captain Marvel and Ultimate Iron Man face off. We see the Triskelion fly into primary Marvel Manhattan. Both versions of Spider-Man seem to simply be caught up in the mayhem, which I find fitting considering their standing within their respective fictional universes. But most of my cool points go to the sequence with The Punisher in the bar (see below). Talk about a scene with a punch line…

Secret Wars #1, Punisher, bar sceneStill, the issue jumps around so much between different characters that it can almost be frustrating, especially if you’re not familiar with who’s who. It’s understandable, considering the scope of what’s happening. But in the span of one issue (An oversized issue, but still a single issue.), we jump from Luke Cage and Iron Fist, to the Guardians of the Galaxy, to Storm and Thor, to Captain America and Iceman. And that’s just one page (shown above in part)! Throw in the fact that some of these characters don’t look the way mainstream culture knows them, i.e. Thor being a woman and Sam Wilson being Captain America, and the cyclone of confusion only gets stronger.

Both Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina deserve much credit for the much-needed epic feel they inject into the issue. While we don’t see a great deal of it here, Esad’s rendering of the Doctor Doom mask is awesomely intimidating. The desperation, terror, and determination he draws our heroes with is a beautiful thing. And Svorcina makes the issue a beautiful blaze of color, particularly in the way she reflects the colors in the sky off the various costumes. The issue as a whole is a lot to take in. But once you do, you know it’s gorgeous.

Regardless of how you rate the issue, between Secret Wars and Convergence, I’ve officially got event comic fatigue. More specifically, multiverse fatigue. No matter which worlds survive these respective crises, I can honestly say I’m ready to go back to my regularly scheduled comic books. Anybody else up for a non-event comic or two?

Image 1 from pastemagazine.com. Image 2 from gaish.tumblr.com.

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