If we were to put Nightwing collections on a scale where New Titans: The Judas Contract was a story most true to Nightwing's character, and Nightwing: Brothers in Blood (read our review) was the story farthest afield, I'd place Marv Wolfman's new Nightwing: Love and War right smack in the middle.
There's essentially two stories here--one, where Nightwing tries to solve the mystery of the armored Raptor, who's falsely accused of a string of murders; and the second, where Nightwing fights the supernatural serial killers Bride and Groom. Of these, I liked the first the best, as it was a more urban-style Batman-type mystery than the second. Wolfman does a superlative job tying Nightwing's outer and inner lives together; as Nightwing faces death from both Raptor and, apparently, a renegade Crisis on Infinite Earths Monitor, he's forced to reflect on the state of his life and his need for a secret identity. Some of this I feel we've read before, but I liked the solution Wolfman posits late in the book, that Dick Grayson become an acrobatics instructor in line with his circus upbringing.
On one hand, the Bride and Groom storyline felt to me like a Chuck Dixon Nightwing storyline--Nightwing up against a couple of super-powered assassins, a team of motley super-villains helping out in the end. On the other hand, the Bride and Groom section is a remarkably gruesome story--shockingly so, at some points--and it almost seemed like Wolfman was overreaching, using Nightwing in a story better left to the Shadowpact or the Spectre (though, admittedly, some of Wolfman's writing roots are in the horror genre). There are also plenty of faux curses in the book (the eponymous "!@#$") that just seem out of place for Nightwing--really, does Nightwing say "!@#$ me"?--as if, if Wolfman portrays Nightwing as a "mature" book, it'll in some way be taken more seriously.
To his credit, Wolfman--who, of course, essentially created Nightwing--writes a perfectly readable comic here, and moreover, it's a story that treats Nightwing with far more respect than the preceeding Bruce Jones run did. What problems arise here are ones that I think any Nightwing writer would face at this point: Wolfman's Nightwing is rudderless, trying to "find himself," and while this may be interesting for new Nightwing readers, longtime fans have seen this before, and we're ready for Nightwing to get over it. And while I'm a big fan of anything drawn by Dan Jurgens, his artwork gives this story an old-school feel that unfortunately contributes to making Wolfman's writing seem less-than-hip, too.
So whereas anything is an improvement over the recent Bruce Jones Nightwing run, I still find myself vaguely unsatisfied here--would it be so hard for someone to write a Nightwing without doubts, a Nightwing who knows what he's doing and does it? Perhaps Nightwing isn't meant for his own series, really--I mean, aside from Dick Grayson's occasional solo adventures as Robin, he's for the most part always been portrayed as either a sidekick or the leader of a team, and his various supporting casts outside of this have always seem forced; should Nightwing's only title be Outsiders, or Titans? Much as I enjoy the character, I'm not convinced a solo series really does him justice.
[Contains full covers.]
A review of 52: The Companion coming Thursday. Be good!