Friday, July 21, 2017

Nightwing: Better Than Batman (comics)

Writer: Tim Seeley
Artists: Javier Fernandez, Yanick Paquette
Collects: Nightwing Rebirth #1, Nightwing (2016) #1-4, 7-8

I don't really care about Nightwing.

Dick Grayson as a character is fine, serves an important role in the DCU and can fit wherever you need him, but his solo always made me roll my eyes. For all the bitching he's done over decades of comics about how he didn't want to be Batman, he was pretty content to be the Diet version ever since Chuck Dixon first brought him into his own ongoing. He had his own Gotham - which, at times, writers hilariously tried to sell as "worse than Gotham", as if that made Dick look good or something - went on the exact same type of adventures, took the same type of cases and fought the same kind of villains, though his were half as interesting and rarely stuck. Tim Drake has the exact same problem, arguably worse. What Dick had going for him was a slick costume and his character. Admittedly, that's probably more than enough for most people.

So, I wasn't exactly excited about the Rebirth series. It's basically reverting him to his "classic" role when, frankly, it wasn't that interesting to start with. Especially coming on the heels of a reinvention that seemed to suit him, namely as the DCU's James Bond. By the time I'd been looking to check Grayson out, this was on its way. Go figure. But DC won me over with just about everything it's put out under the Rebirth banner thus far, so Nightwing got a chance too.

It impressed me enough to continue, but it admittedly had a low bar to clear and I'm not sure just how much of that relates to hold-overs from Grayson.

The Rebirth issue is a good primer for the series. It catches us up nicely with where Dick is in his life, what happened in the last series and details what he has to deal with now. What it's supposed to do, basically. I haven't read a lick of Dick Graysons adventures in the New 52 era and felt like I knew more than enough to go on by the end, so I'd say it did its job well. I'm not wild about the way it seemingly dispatches a villain, but whatever; it's the cool thing to kill off minor guys these days and he's a member of a group whose whole deal is coming back to life anyway, so it's fine.

From there, the show is put on the road. The gist is that, near the end of Grayson, a global off-shoot of the Court of Owls - the Parliament of Owls - blackmailed Dick through his brother, Damian Wayne. They planted a bomb in his head, basically, and if Dick didn't do what they wanted, brain matter went flying. But Dick has flipped the script without their knowledge and is working to take them down from the inside. He's paired up with a new ally, Raptor, and made to do their bidding. Only Raptor likes the Owls exactly as much as Dick does and wants to take them down too.

There's no way this guy isn't trustworthy, right? This will end well.

The volume is as much about Raptor as it is Dick, setting up common ground, saving some personal revelations for the big moments and positioning him up as a top villain for Nightwing going forward, possibly the first good one he's had. The connection between the two is as convenient as all get out - nothing makes things personal as easily as involving parents - but that sort of reveal is a thing because it tends to work. They've also got a direct clash of ideals and methods stemming from their upbringing; Raptor believes Batman made Dick soft, while Dick has a far better perspective and outlook on the Bat taking him in.

Speaking of the relationship between Batman and Nightwing, it's as natural as its ever been. One of the things I've never liked about Dick Grayson since he became Nightwing is exactly how up his own ass he became about being his own man. While the child becoming resentful of their parents is a thing that does happen in real life, with these two it went to extremes. There were times he'd blame Batman for things that were outside of his control or seem almost bitter about being tied to Gotham in any way. Batman, for his part, seemed mostly supportive even during the dreaded 90's, when he was a raging asshole, leaving Dick to his own devices and trying to keep from dragging his ward back into Gotham as best he could.

Here, they're far warmer to each other and the dynamic feels real. Batman does his very best to let Dick do things his way, but even if they aren't related by blood, they're father and son, and it's never quite that easy. He messes up and Dick is agitated at Bruce saying one thing, but still not completely trusting him to make the right choice. Even that exchange doesn't feel overblown, despite Dick having some harsh words for Bruce. Later, there's a short conversation with Alfred right before he's kidnapped where Bruce laments the fact that for all his attempts, he still ended up blaming Dick for how hard it was to let him go. The words and his general demeanor suggest disappointment and regret. It feels very real, very honest, and far more impactful than most of the tension I've seen in countless Nightwing comics. Batman reacted as you might expect a father to and it created a small rift between them. But when push came to shove, Dick comes for his father figure, values the lessons taught and values Bruce.

It's a hell of a lot better than the pissing matches or angry "I don't want to be him" monologues.

If there's a downside to all this, it's that the book seems like it really wants to put the whole "Parliament of Owls" thing to bed. It started in Grayson, a book that is obviously over, but it's an interesting state of affairs and could easily have held up a full twelve issues worth of comics in Nightwing. Instead, it's mostly wrapped by the end of this first arc. I don't think for a moment that the Owls won't show up again, in Batman or even here, but still, it feels shuffled off too soon. They're not even the main antagonists by the close.

Yanick Paquette does the art for the Rebirth issue, but sadly it's kind of a guest star thing, because he's not the ongoing artist. I say sadly mainly because I could always go for more of his artwork. Javier Fernandez, however, is more than capable, and puts in some fine work, capably illustrating everything from fights to quieter moments. I really enjoyed how he showed Bruce Waynes subtle displeasure in the aforementioned scene, looking the slightest bit forlorn in the panel he put voice to his worries.

So far, Nightwings Rebirth era is a winner. But we'll see how well it holds, because most of the holdover from Grayson has probably been spent here. The next volume has him transition back to Bludhaven, so there's an unfortunate chance we're headed back into territory I've never particularly liked to begin with. I'll give it a chance, as Seeley and Fernandez earned that much with this volume, but it might be hard to keep me.

My Opinion: Read It

Heartwarming Batman Moments: There are a couple, mainly related to him acting as a father. He does his best to let Dick off the leash, but can't help but be concerned when Dick does something he wouldn't, which leaves things a bit tense. He's actually a bit dismayed at it even. At the end, when things look dire for him, Bruce seemingly falls towards his death, which Nightwing naturally saves him from. When Nightwing tries to beat himself up about it and apologize, Bruce explains that he didn't fall, he jumped, because he believed in Dick and knew Dick would be there to catch him.

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