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Comic Book Review: "Nightwing: Traps and Trapezes"
Richard Grayson is one of the first sidekicks of comic books. He’s been through a lot in his 70 plus years and with the DC Comic New 52 reboot he’s about to go through more. His Nightwing costume’s changed slightly, this time with a red wing motif instead of the old blue one, and like all of the New 52 characters he’s de-aged: Richard is now 21 again as opposed to his mid-to-late twenties. Up to this point Richard has been Robin the Boy Wonder, Nightwing of the Teen Titans, and has, not once, but twice, graduated to the mantle of The Batman. He’s been portrayed by the likes of Burt Ward in the classic campy 1960’s Batman television show, and in the 1990’s Batman movies by Chris O’Donnell. All the while he’s always been a bit of a little-hearted, cheery and comical character. But this time around, at the start of his new adventures, he is a much more brooding, almost bitter, figure. Apparently, being Batman darkens a person’s mood significantly. He’s a bit down about his life and his place in the world and it looks like things are about to change for Richard Grayson as old friends from his past come back into his life.
As issue #1 “Welcome To Gotham” Richard Grayson is back in his Nightwing costume. He is beating up a mugger on the train. He is thinking about all that has happened over the last year. He used to be Robin the Boy Wonder, then he was Nightwing and recently he had to fill in as Batman for a year while Bruce Wayne (Batman) was “away”. As he’s heading home, he sees Haly’s Circus: his old home. He grew up as a circus kid with his mom and dad as The Flying Graysons before Boss Zucco killed them; then Bruce adopted him and his life completely changed. He’s thinking about visiting everyone at the circus again. But he’s afraid of how Gotham City changes things you care about and turns it against you. At the Gotham City Port Authority, a guy wearing pricey sunglasses gets off a bus. Two muggers approach him and demand his glasses. He quickly kills the two muggers. You can see that his eyes are completely black (hence the glasses). He simply walks away casually afterwards. Richard goes to visit Haly’s Circus. He’s happy to see all the old gang: Bryan, the new owner (his father was the old one), Jimmy, who’s dressed up like a clown and Raya Vestri, the redheaded acrobat (it seems that Richard and her have a bit of a past together), and there’s someone new: Marc, the new catcher (a hint of jealous appears). Raya introduces him to Richard. Marc says he’s heard all about him and he’s sorry about Richard’s parents. Raya talks Richard into trying the ropes again. As he’s swinging on the trapeze, he realizes that he feels at home doing it again. Richard fakes a fall to not look too good. He’s happy to see everyone and the circus again. On his way home, he’s thinking about Raya: he likes redheads; he’s daydreaming a bit. Suddenly, a full- body armored and bladed guy attacks Richard. He’s saying that he’s been looking for him. The cops start firing. Richard hides from sight as he changes to Nightwing. The attacker kills the cops. He rushes the attacker, who quickly leaps up the side, and onto the top, of a building. Nightwing is asking why he’s after Richard Grayson. He says that Grayson is “Gotham’s fiercest killer” he just doesn’t know it yet. This attacker is fast and dangerous. He gets the upper hand and explodes a water tower behind Nightwing. Richard falls off of the roof and the attacker jumps down on top of him ready to finish him off.
At the beginning of issue #2, “Haly’s Wish”, Nightwing electrocutes his bladed attacker. The villain throws a grenade at a passing car and, as Richard is helping the passengers, he gets away. Richard runs home to change and go after him, but Raya shows up at Richard’s apartment telling him that he needs to take her to Atlantic City, right away. They take one of Wayne’s private jets. She tells him that old Mr. Haly is dying from cancer and he needs to see Richard in person. Outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, there is an old warehouse where Mr. Haly has been keeping all the circus stuff he’s collected throughout the years. Richard finds him inside. Haly’s knows all about Richard really being Robin and Nightwing because he watched him grow up and “learn to fly”. He gives Richard the deeds to the circus. He says that he had intended to pass the circus over to Richard’s parents, but now he’s passing it all over to Richard. Now, back on the plane, Raya and Richard get intimate. Their attraction to each other has been building. Suddenly, there’s phone call for him. It’s the killer, calling himself “Saiko” (psycho); he says he knows all about Richard: Robin, Nightwing and Batman. He’s beaten it out of old Mr. Haly, and that unless Richard can stop him he’s going to kill Mr. Haly. The plane turns around and Nightwing goes back to the old warehouse. A fight ensues between Saiko and Nightwing. A fire breaks out in the warehouse. Richard manages to find Mr. Haly; he’s really beaten up badly and gets him outside. Richard doesn’t see Saiko get out though. As Mr. Haly dies from his injuries from Saiko’s brutal interrogation, he tells Richard that there’s a secret of the circus; “at the heart” of it all.
At the beginning of issue #3 “Past And Present”, Richard is remembering the past and C.C. Haly as the “fun uncle”. In Iowa, 5 years earlier, Raymond, Zane, Richard and Raya are sitting around a campfire after the circus, playing around. Haly gives them the keys to his pickup truck to go see a movie, and tells Richard that Raya wants to sit in the back with him. At Present, in Atlantic City at his funeral, everyone who is at the funeral is from the circus. C.C. Haly’s son, Joe, in a drunken rage, tells Richard that the circus isn’t his just because his dad’s dead; he can’t protect him anymore. Joe crumbles to the ground weeping. In Gotham, Raya and Richard are talking about Saiko and she tells Richard the police should talk to Zane because he, rumor has it, “books” contract killers in Chicago. Things at the circus fell apart after Richard’s parents were killed and Raymond drowned. Everyone went their own ways. She says that Richard didn’t seem to care and didn’t even go to Ray’s funeral. In Chicago, Illinois, Nightwing is tracking down Zane. After he finds him, Zane attacks Nightwing with some kind of brain wave. Richard is seeing hallucinations of his parents dying at the circus (they’re costumes mimic Nightwing’s first 1980’s costume), Raymond’s funeral, Raya crying and C.C. Haly’s death. Zane calls himself Feedback; he can use radio signals to disorientate people with emotional memories. Nightwing, using his suit’s electronics, reverses it back onto him. Nightwing demands to know who hired Saiko. Zane says he doesn’t know, because if he did, he’d kill them. Later, on the Circus Train to Philadelphia, Richard tells Raya that he was at Raymond’s funeral. He had snuck out of Wayne Manor and took two buses, but he couldn’t say good bye again to her and everyone then; so now, he’s going to take over the circus just like C.C. Haly wanted. She’s very pleased. Joe Haly is drunk in a dark room saying that the past is not supposed to come back. Grayson isn’t supposed to be part of the circus. He asks Saiko if he plans to kill Richard. He says when the time is right, he will.
As Issue #4, “South Beach Connection” opens, in Gotham City, Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) is chasing Spinebender, a shape-shifting thief, who has stolen 2 dozen microchips. He gets away by changing shapes and running into crowd. In Miami, Florida, the next day, Richard and Raya are in bed talking. He wants to do things with her as a couple from now on, but she doesn’t see their affair as a permanent thing: After he finds out who hired Saiko, he’ll go back to his old life as she, hers. Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door. It’s Barbara Gordon (she and Richard used to have something). She’s dropped by to see Richard. She’s on a vacation from the snow in Gotham. She meets Raya; there’s a little hostility/jealousy in their eyes as they shakes hands. Raya gives Richard the cold shoulder as she leaves. Barbara says she’s really in Miami to work a case and she could use his help. Richard is more than happy to oblige; he’s missed her. At Hotel Sunrise, they find the buyer, Asimov, for the microchips Spinebender stole. They wait three hours for him to show up. They start talking about Raya and what she means to Richard. He avoids the conversation by saying he’s going to have a closer look at the Asimov gang. Spinebender hasn’t show yet and Nightwing figures it out that he knows he’s being followed there. Nightwing shows up behind Batgirl and picks up a boulder to hit her with. Suddenly Richard rushes Nightwing (Spinebender in disguise) and a fight ensues and it spills over into Asimov henchmen. Babs and Richard use teamwork to take out the thugs. They use electricity on Spinebender and he turns to glass. Back at Richard’s apartment, they change out of their costumes and talk about Spinebender. The microchips got fried, and S.T.A.R. labs might be able to fix him. She says he looks happy now with Raya. There is a bit of a sad romanticism as she leaves. She runs into Raya. She tells her that she makes him happy and that’s important. Raya almost knocks on his door, but chooses against it and leaves. Meanwhile, Richard is thinking about what C.C. Haly said about “the heart of the circus”. Maybe, he meant it literally, not figuratively. He goes to the circus, and finds a wooden tent pole with a removal panel. He finds a ledger with names: William Cobb, Benjamin Haldman, Alexander Staunton, Henry Ballard, and then Richard Grayson.
In issue #5, “Til Death Do Us Part”, outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, Zohna, daughter of Jeremiah and Ciara, summons a demon from a grave to bring her someone from Haly’s Circus. Things are weird for Richard at the moment: Raya doesn’t talk to him, Joe hates him for “stealing” the circus, and he is having nightmares about his parents and Raymond. In New Orleans, Jimmy (the clown) is reading a letter from someone telling him they “are destined to be together”. Marc says they need to pour cement so they can put up the tents. Since she is “the head of the department”, Raya goes to get approval from Richard. He tries to talks to her; saying they can just start fresh again. She kind of agrees. Later, during the show, Jimmy is kidnapped by the demon. Richard/Nightwing goes after them. The demon delivers Jimmy to Zohna at the graveyard. She plans to have the demon bind their souls together forever using a ring. Nightwing interrupt them and fights the demon. He tricks it into going back into the grave he came out of and he returns to hell. Now, he can’t bind Zohna and Jimmy. She angrily attacks Nightwing. He subdues her. Nightwing asks Jimmy if the ring had any real power over him. He says kind of, it used to mean something. The next day at the circus, Richard asks Jimmy what happened: he was at the circus and suddenly was gone. Jimmy tells Richard that sometimes the past needs to stay in the past; Jimmy throws the ring down a storm drain. In a secluded area, Saiko is talking to Raya. He’s asking her about Richard finding the book with all the names in it; if he has any idea what it’s really for. She says, “No”. He tells her that she needs to make sure the circus gets back Gotham. She replies that she can. She committed to the plan that she and Saiko, revealed to be Raymond (who’s not really dead), have put together. Then they kiss.
In Issue 6, “Good Girl Gone Bad”, in Austin, Texas, Nightwing is beating up Shox (shocks) who is the right-hand man of Terrence Clark, a “booking agent” for hired killers. He’s trying to find out info on Saiko. Nightwing defeats Shox and integrates Clark. He says that he has an old number for Saiko, but it’s been dead for months; he seems to be on a personal mission. Raymond and Raya are discussing their plan. He says that he promised Bryan Haly the circus once Richard is dead, and Raya shouldn’t felt guilty because Richard only came back for the circus, not her. Later, on a walk, she tells Richard that the whole circus has planned a tribute to the Flying Graysons for the anniversary of their death, to celebrate their lives. They are going back to Gotham for the big show. He asks if anyone else has known about the plan. Richard realizes that Saiko hasn’t come after him again, because he’s waiting for a big stage: the tribute show in Gotham. He tries to cancel it, but Joe angrily protests. In Gotham, two police detectives find two dead bodies with one of Nightwing’s escrima sticks. With the circus back in Gotham, Richard is scoping out the place to see where Saiko plans to attack, setting up a security perimeter with his smart phone. Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s butler and Richard’s old patriarch) shows up. He tells Richard to remember to enjoy the show as well as protecting it. It’s his parents’ tribute and they would want him to enjoy it. Later, during the show Richard is backstage checking him phone for security breaches. Jimmy grab his phone, tells him that he can text later, and shoves him out to give a speech to the crowd. Richard says that although he lost his parents, he never lost his family (the people at the circus). Raya asks him, backstage, if he really meant what he said about the circus being his family. He says, “Of course” and checks his phone. He sees that Saiko has slipped in during his speech. He runs off to change into Nightwing. Saiko attacks him and they fight. Saiko reveals that he’s actually Raymond. He blames both Richard and Haly’s Circus for his “death”. He sets off a huge explosion inside the circus tent.
In Issue #7, “Turning Points”, Raymond explains to Richard that Haly used the circus to recruit young killers. He faked Raymond’s drowning and “They” locked him way and tried to make him an assassin. It didn’t work, so they just left him in a forest for dead, as birds pecked at his eyes. Raymond’s explosion was created using oil (so water won’t put it out), and he locked the door so everyone will burn to death. Richard realizes sand will put out the fire. He cuts the giant score board down. It knocks a hole down to the sand filled catacombs and the fire drops into the hole. Joe is yelling at Raya saying “this wasn’t the plan”; only Grayson was to die. Raymond tells Richard that getting the circus was his and Raya’s plan; for revenge against the circus and Richard. Raya can’t stand the guilt and unlocks the doors letting everyone out. Raymond tells Richard that after he went away with Bruce Wayne, “they” came for Raymond instead Richard, whose name was in the Selection Book. Everything was Richard’s fault. They start fight again and Saiko falls down the crater created by the score board. Nightwing tries to save him with a rope, but Raymond cuts it, refusing Richard’s help, and falls to his death. Later, after Nightwing changes back into Richard Grayson, he ask Raya, as the cops are taking her away, why she agreed to be a part of the massacre. She doesn’t answer, but gives him a cold stare. At Wayne Manor, in the Batcave, Bruce Wayne/ Batman explains to Richard that Haly’s Circus has always been a front for the Court of Owls. Every ten years The Court would pick a new Talon from the children at the circus. Richard was their choice. But after his parents, John and Mary were killed, Bruce took him in. So, The Court had to find someone else; they picked Raymond. Even Richard’s great-grandfather, William Cobb, was a Talon. Richard takes the revelation poorly and lashes out at Bruce. Batman punches Nightwing, knocking out one of his teeth. He picks up the tooth and hands it to Richard: it’s a metal molar with the Court Of Owls insignia on it. He tells him that since he was incarceration by The Court he’s learned a lot of things aren’t what they seem. They aren’t the way they should be. Richard says, that just because The Court of Owls got the better of Batman doesn’t change who he is and knowing that Richard was planned to be a Talon (an assassin for The Court) doesn’t change who he is. Richard knows himself, and no one can tell him otherwise. As Nightwing leaves, Alfred informs him about the double murder and his escrima stick being found with the bodies. Richard, riding away on his bike, muses that in Gotham City there is always someone or something to challenge you.
This first Nightwing story arc, written by Kyle Higgins with art by Eddy Barrows, Eduardo Pansica, and Trevor McCarthy, is quite interesting. The concept of making a usually easy going character into a darker, brooding character is quite a change. It’s normal to update a character’s origins to make them more accessible. In the case of Richard ‘Nightwing” Grayson, they’ve changed the entire meaning of his life. The Court of Owls had planned his whole life for him; making him an assassin. In a way, it changes the dynamic of his character. Richard Grayson has always been a great character and all these new revelations about the past just weave more intricacies into the tapestry of his life’s story. It makes the readers stop and think about what could have been. The story is about who Richard Grayson is and what defines him and his life. If Richard’s parents had lived, he would’ve been taken away to The Court and formed into a Talon; just like Raymond was. The ramifications of that act would change everything about his life and others around him: Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth and Tim Drake. Richard begins the story questioning who he is and where his place in the world is, by the end he realizes that his place is where he chooses to be, not what the past says it should be. It’s his choice; and he’s stronger for it.
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