Nightwing #18: An (Out of Context) Comic Review
I wouldn’t say that I was offended by the New 52, DC Comics’s massive line-wide reboot of their superhero universe, so much as I was disappointed. It’s almost been two years since the reboot started all their comics back at issue #1 and the main problems with the reboot have been hashed and rehashed by people other than me numerous times, so I’m not here to necessarily trod old ground. I would have vastly preferred the reboot not occur and that decades of continuity was more or less wiped out, but at the end of the day, I have all my old comics and I don’t care that the stories didn’t happen anymore. They still happened to me, so I don’t particularly care that there was never a Teen Titans that existed before Red Robin started the group or that Stephanie Brown was never Robin IV or that Roy Harper never had a daughter. It’s stupid that they were all wiped out, yeah, but I don’t have any big regrets. It just means less comics for me to buy. I don’t mind that at all.
Well. Mostly. While I’m not too up in arms about the examples mentioned above, the biggest tragedy to me is that Dick Grayson’s character development was neutered in a pretty massive way. For those not in the know, Bruce Wayne died back in 2008 and Dick Grayson, the original Robin who had grown up to form his own identity as Nightwing, became the new Batman. Anyone with any knowledge of how comics work knew that it wouldn’t be a permanent change. Superman didn’t stay dead, neither did Captain America, and if you really think that Peter Parker won’t be back among the living by the time that Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out, you’re out of your mind. Bruce Wayne was always going to come back to life, and sure enough, it turned out he wasn’t dead but simply displaced in time by Darkseid’s Omega Beams and he became a caveman, a pirate, and a computer program. Or something. Comics are weird.
But an interesting thing happened here. Dick Grayson proved to be a fantastic Batman. He wasn’t as Crazy Prepared as the original, but in many ways he was a more interesting Batman. He was constantly afraid that he wasn’t up to the task of replacing Bruce and he pushed himself to constantly be the best protector of Gotham City that he could be. What’s more, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of his character arc, was how he interacted with his own Robin, Damian Wayne. The interplay between the two of them was fantastic, as Dick was able to take a 10-year old child trained by the League of Assassins and mentor him in a way that Bruce, the boy’s actual father, was never able to. Damian was a petulant pain in the ass, a 10-year old with skills that matched full-sized assassins, and he and Bruce never got along because Bruce didn’t have a clue what he was doing. Dick, on the other hand, quickly learned that he could not treat Damian like a surrogate son or even as a child; instead, he treated him like a little brother. And they worked well together. Dick Grayson grew into his own as Batman and when Bruce came back from his trip through time, he was allowed to remain as his own Batman beside the original. Starting as Robin, honing his skills as Nightwing, Dick Grayson was meant to become Batman.
And then in the reboot, everything regresses. I tried out Nightwing #1, because I love the character and everything he represents, but it lost me twenty seconds in when he declares that Nightwing was who he was always meant to be and he’s glad not to be Batman anymore. To which I say: bullshit. That was the end of my experience with Nightwing in the New 52.
So why am I reviewing Nightwing #18? Well, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Damian is dead, murdered by his own clone in Batman Inc. I found myself curious how Dick was going to react to that and I figured his own book was the place to start. All the Bat-Family books have the Requiem logo plastered on the cover and all the books deal with the characters reacting to the loss of one of their own. I had high hopes for this book. I wasn’t looking for a Book of the Year or anything, but I still had some expectations.
Full Disclosure: the only New 52 books I read are Batman Inc., Batman, Action Comics, and Earth 2 (and Action Comics and Earth 2 are probably nearing the end of their time with me). So it’s possible that Damian and Dick have had character growth in the other dozen books they appear in over the last two years that I am missing. If that is the case, feel free to tell me below. I’m approaching this knowing I am missing a lot of backstory, like Sonia Zucco and why she’s in Dick’s life, and I don’t hold that against the book; that’s not a failing of the book, it’s mine for jumping in midway through a story.
What I do want to complain about however, is how wrong this book feels when it comes to Dick and Damian. The book opens with a flashback and I am instantly rubbed the wrong way by Kyle Higgin’s interpretation of Damian. Damian is giving Dick a pep talk after the recent events of the Joker’s latest rampage and nothing that comes out of his mouth sounds like Damian Wayne. To be fair, Grant Morrison’s writing of the character is my primary point of comparison and Morrison is very, very good at what he does in his own stylized manner, but if you compare how Damian speaks in Batman Incorporated #8 to how he speaks here, you’d swear they were two different characters. Later in the issue, when Damian starts dropping hints that he wants to play the latest Swordstalkers video game (available on the XBAX 480; Good Christ, stuff like that drives me batty and takes me out of the story), I wonder what bizarre universe I was dropped in to. Damian, the assassin-turned-Robin, wants to play a video game? No, thank you. Not helping the matter is that Chris Burnham drew Damian like a child (which he is) and Juan Jose Ryp draws like someone in their mid-teens.
I can’t help but feel that the ball was dropped here. If this had occurred prior to the reboot, Dick’s reaction to Damian’s death would have warranted much more than 8 pages. It’s really more like 5 pages, because 3 of them involve a meeting with Batman where the death of a central figure in both their lives isn’t even touched on. It’s supposed to represent the fact that Batman has closed himself off emotionally, harkening back to the early days when Dick first became Nightwing and relations between him and Bruce were strained, but once again: bullshit. To think that Nightwing, who even in this continuity was Batman for somewhere between six months and a year, has gone from someone who was able to talk to his father-figure as equals to this twerp who won’t broach the subject if Bruce won’t, is mind-numbing in its stupidity. That Dick’s reaction to Damian’s death is to realize that he isn’t going to change who he is because of outside influences, a scene manufactured specifically for this comic and occurring probably a week or two prior to the events of this issue, timeline wise, is just insulting.
The rest of the issue was fine. It seems to be continuing a storyline wherein Dick has gotten in touch with Sonia Zucco, the daughter of the man who killed his parents way back when, and they are developing some kind of relationship. Interjected is another confrontation with The Dealer, a criminal who runs black-market auction of tragedy items that Dick ran into back when he was Batman (I guess all that is still in continuity?) and the ensuing conflict is well done. Although I ragged on Juan Jose Ryp for his depiction of Damian earlier, I do appreciate the guy’s work and the rest of the issue looked mostly solid.
What it comes down to, for me, is wasted potential. And Nightwing #18, and the New 52 in general, is wasted potential.