Peter J. Tomasi offers the most respectful, appropriate rendition of Nightwing that we've seen in a long, long time in Nightwing: Freefall. It still strikes me as another in a series of entirely misguided takes on the character, and it's hardly surprising that, a few trades from now, DC Comics has decided to cancel and/or relaunch this title. But Tomasi, at least, has his heart in the right place; this is the Nightwing that DC should have started with after Infinite Crisis.
Freefall finds Nightwing on the trail of someone snatching superheroic corpses, a scheme tied up in the war between Talia al Ghul and her recently resurrected father. It's an investigation Nightwing joins largely by accident, and I wondered at times whether this was truly a Nightwing-specific story, or one where any hero could play the title role. What I found is that, were this a Batman story, the Dark Knight would be so tied up in mixed feelings about Talia that the story couldn't help but deal in melodrama; with Nightwing, Tomasi's instead able to give us a straightforward, more upbeat superhero detective story without all the strings attached. Here, Nightwing isn't Batman-light but Batman-lighter; Freefall offers the action without the grim and gritty.
Tomasi writes Nightwing as I'd like him to be (if not exactly where and why). Considering the sleazy Dick Grayson we saw in Bruce Jones's Nightwing: Brothers in Blood, Tomasi's Dick Grayson is a saint, charming around his new co-workers and love interest, and moreover friends with the entire DCU Universe, from the Bat-family to Superman, the Titans, and the JSA. This was Batman's object lesson in changing his ways during Infinite Crisis (legend has it that Dan DiDio halted Nightwing's Infinite Crisis death sentence for this reason also), and it's on display here. Tomasi's Dick Grayson acts normal, and it's hard to understand why others writers couldn't pose him the same.
Great credit for this story must also go to Rags Morales, who drew an emotional Nightwing in Identity Crisis and does an equally nice job here. Much of this far-more-proper Nightwing comes through in Morales' clean lines, detailed architecture, and renditions of New York City. Morales is also the perfect pick to draw the great assembly of DCU characters who appear here; Morales, in my opinion, still draws the definitive Dr. Mid-Nite off his pivotal scene in Identity Crisis.
And yet, Tomasi's Nightwing, for all its respectfulness, doesn't hit the mark either. Dick Grayson, as head curator of the Cloisters? Not only is Dick suddenly gleaning all the knowledge necessary to head one of the foremost medieval museums in the county more far-fetched than a man dressed as a bat fighting crime, but it's also completely and totally out of character. I far sooner see Dick as a police officer or gym instructor (as lacking in dramatic tension as that may be) than a museum curator.
Not a little of Dick's new job seems to be in service of Tomasi's determination to make New York city a main character in his stories. As with Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps issue of The Sinestro Corps War, it seems Tomasi has literally mapped out how a superhero might get from here to there in New York City, and then populates the story accordingly. This is on one hand a lot of fun (I liked Nightwing swinging past Lincoln Center), and on the other hand incredibly annoying and beginning to get repetitive. When Nightwing talks about obscure New York landmarks, Tomasi loses the character's voice in favor of his own, and it drew me, at least, out of the story (though I learned a lot!).
Chuck Dixon wrote what I think will ultimately be remembered as the definitive Nightwing, positing Dick Grayson as a down-to-earth twenty-something with an urban home base fighting police corruption, up to and including Dick becoming a police officer himself. Of the writers who have come after, none of their renditions have quite achieved my own imagining, at least, of what the original Robin might be like as an adult--not reluctant mobster, not damaged playboy, not soul-searching gymnastics instructor, and not museum curator, either.
But I give Peter Tomasi credit for writing a comic--and a Bat-family comic especially--that is deeply steeped in the DC Universe, and one that puts a bit of shine back on the original Robin, to boot. Tomasi's got me for the next volume, no question.
[Includes full covers]
Next up in the Bat-verse is Robin: Violent Tendencies, with the return of ... ?