Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Nightwing #19

Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Brett Booth
Publisher: DC Comics

With last issue's revelation that his parent's killer (Tony Zucco) is still alive and loose on the streets of Chicago, Dick Grayson packs his bags and heads for the Windy City! A change in venue for any series can be risky, as that generally means uprooting an entire cast and trying to justify their presence in this new location. For some inexplicable reason, the one hero who seems to be friends with everyone, has zero ties to where he sets up shop. Just like when Chuck Dixon packed Dick up and sent him down the river to Bludhaven all those years ago, it really is as simple as hopping a bus. Nightwing has to be the most transient superhero in history!

To be fair, I think this latest volume has been blighted somewhat by it's reliance on the core Bat-books. While building the central mystery of Haley's Circus, the writer Higgins often got sucked into the crossover flavour of the month. Where Dick was meant to be reacting to his own problems, he instead had the consequences of "The Court of Owls", "Death of the Family" or "Batman Incorporated" to deal with. To any Nightwing fans not reading those other books, they must have been wondering just what the hell was going on. The move to Chicago and a healthy distance from the rest of the Bat-family will most likely solve these complaints, allowing Nightwing to be a hero in his own right.

Ironically, within these first few pages of being in Chicago,  I was struck by the similarity to Gotham. Not necessarily due to the style of building or even the people, but by Nightwing being chased across rooftops by the local Police. The sequence bore an uncanny resemblance to the opening pages of Geoff Johns' Justice League #1 from several years ago, wherein Batman was chased in identically framed panels by the GCPD. But the similarity ends quickly, as where Batman had the good luck to stumble across Green Lantern, who made short work of his pursuers, Nightwing is well and truly on his own. Taking two shots to the back for his troubles.

The story itself is mostly scene-setting, as Dick moves to this new city and attempts to set himself up in both his civilian and superhero guises. His hours as Nightwing are the relatively simple part, as hitting the criminal underworld where it hurts is what he does best. However, finding somewhere to stay in his off-hours is another trial entirely. Having made the journey to Chicago on such short notice, he's basically at the whim of whatever cheap listing he can find on the internet. Soon settling upon a simple sub-letting, future issues will inevitably show Dick having to deal with hiding his double life from a roommate. A genre staple if ever I heard one! Gail Simone's Batgirl has been dealing with a similar situation recently, but let's hope this roommate is as normal as they come, as I'm not sure we need another random transgender announcement any time soon.

The incoming artwork of Brett Booth is sure to be a major talking-point going forward. Up until this point, the series was anchored by Eddy Barrows' real world aesthetic, however if you've read an issue of Teen Titans recently, you'll know Booth is anything but. Don't fret though, as this isn't a bad change. Booth's art echos the vintage days of noted former Nightwing illustrator Scott McDaniel, who would always have the hero in mid-air, leaping over rooftops, pulling off daredevil acrobatic feats, even in his quieter moments. As such, Booth brings us our most athletic depiction of Nightwing since the New 52 began. He adds a few unnecessary flourishes to the uniform around the neck and waist, but I think that's just an effort to put his mark on the character.

The villain of the piece (and for the foreseeable future) appears to be the Prankster. We don't learn much about the new(?) rogue in this lone issue, merely how much of an inconvenience they've been to the Mayor of Chicago and his criminal cohorts. The costume doesn't do much for me and so far they're only pestering generic corrupt officials, ergo not the most revolutionary story ever told. I was hoping Higgins might've swung for the fences with these latest issues, having been freed from the constraints of Haley's Circus and essentially being gifted a new beginning. Nightwing's rogues gallery is especially in need of work, having been gutted over the course of several years worth of terrible DC editorial decisions. Not since the days of Blockbuster, Torque, Nitewing, Shrike, Brutale, Lady Vic, etc, has Dick actually faced a legitimate threat. But while Prankster may not be my cup of tea, I have high hopes for the returning Tony Zucco. You can't have a villain with more pathos than having murdered the heroes' parents in cold blood. If Higgins plays his cards right, he could have a Nightwing story for the ages.

7 out of 10

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