Again, it's always a good thing to see Marv Wolfman, verily the creator of Nightwing, take the reigns on this character's series. And in Nightwing: The Lost Year, as with Nightwing: Love and War, Wolfman tries hard to address and explain some of the factors that have made the Nightwing character feel somewhat aimless of late, and contributed to what many would agree is an overall decline in the book. Unfortunately, while Wolfman tells a story that felt to me far more natural to Nightwing than Love and War did, I was still left with a sense of having seen most of it before.
In Nightwing: The Lost Year, Nightwing must discover whether Liu and Metal Eddie, members of a ninja gang Dick Grayson joined while estranged from Bruce Wayne, have returned to crime after being released from jail, or whether they're being targeted by a new Vigilante with ties to the old Teen Titans foe. What follows is two parallel stories, one of Nightwing solving the mystery in the present, and the other of a conflicted Dick Grayson falling in love with Liu and sorting out his conflicted relationship with Batman.
With help from a Nightwing Annual by Marc Andreyko at the beginning of this trade, the story argues that Dick Grayson's betrayal by Liu during these formative years became the basis for his later faulty relationships with Starfire and Barbara Gordon. In the way in which Wolfman delves into Dick's unrecorded past in order to try to explain his present, it's a creative, well-intentioned try.
Unfortunately, what Wolfman attempts here has the effect of moving Nightwing backward, even as it tries to move him forward. We've already discussed how Bruce Jones's Nightwing in Nightwing: Brothers in Blood is hardly the kind of guy you'd want to spend time with; Marc Andreyko's Dick Grayson in this trade is also pretty sleazy, if well-intentioned. When you couple that with Marv Wolfman's contention that Dick's youthful indiscretions with Liu lead to his later failed relationships (Wolfman even puts to question the old chestnut that Starfire was Dick's first sexual experience), the argument becomes that it's not that Nightwing's become a little lost lately, in this retcon he's actually been lost all along. I realize DC's flailing in trying to reconnect the Nightwing character with audiences, but this feels like the wrong direction.
Wolfman returns as well to another of his creations, that of Vigilante. I wasn't familiar with the Vigilante most referenced here, Adrian Chase, and even my recollection of Pat Trayce (who used to hang out with Deathstroke) is a little spotty, though I think the character's costume and concept is interesting overall. On one hand, Wolfman doesn't require detailed knowledge of Vigilante for the reader to enjoy this story, but on the other, what few clues we're given about the Vigilante's identity absolutely require detailed Vigilante knowledge. Moreover (to spoil it), the identity of this new Vigilante is not revealed at the end of the story, which did feel to me like a letdown. It's another way that Nightwing: The Lost Year tries very hard, but ultimately can't break out of the weakness that's lately affected the Nightwing title.
What Nightwing: The Lost Year has going for it is that it's, for the most part, a straightforward Nightwing story. Wolfman, perhaps knowing how many issues he had to play with before the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul crossover, eschews the one- or two-issue stories he wrote in Love and War; in that way, this book reads more as a graphic novel than a collection of issues. Second, the story is more an urban vigilante mystery than the super-heroic, sometimes supernatural tales in Love and War, which feels more suited to Nightwing overall.
Birds of Prey was a comic that, amazingly, rebounded after creator Chuck Dixon left, becoming even stronger under Gail Simone; Robin is a title that's had fits and starts since Dixon left, but ultimately remains strong. Nightwing, unfortunately, has just never regained the oomph that it had under Dixon, but I remain hopeful that maybe the next team will be the trick. Hopefully.
[Contains full covers.]
On now to the final volume of 52, the next Robin trade, and then perhaps some Shadowpact. Be there or be square!