Review: Superman: Nightwing and Flamebird Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I enjoyed Superman: Nightwing and Flamebird, and at least one notable aspect is that this book demonstrates the sheer depth and forethought that Geoff Johns (despite that Nightwing and Flamebird is written by Greg Rucka) put in to the New Krypton storyline. However, I must say Nightwing and Flamebird seemed much more like filler in Superman's absence from Action Comics than did New Krypton's other super-spin-off, James Robinson's Superman: Mon-El; Rucka offers some nice moments in the book, but I'm not ready yet to call it essential reading.

[Contains spoilers for Superman: Nightwing and Flamebird]

One of my first experiences reading Greg Rucka's work was in his Adventures of Superman run, which featured a rather nebbishy Clark Kent and a Lois Lane who seemed somewhat eager to ditch her husband; in as much as I like Rucka's writing (more Checkmate, please!), his Superman ranks among my least favorite. Fortunately, Superman is out of the picture in Nightwing and Flamebird, giving Rucka, like Robinson in Mon-El, something of a blank Metropolis slate to work with. This time around, Rucka's Lois Lane is spot-on: caring, as when she's reunited with Nightwing, her foster son Chris Kent; and also tough-as-nails, as in the running joke throughout the story that Lois has everyone's phone number and isn't afraid to use them.

Rucka's Nightwing and Flamebird, themselves, are equally compelling. On one hand, Nightwing is believably a child in a man's body, dutifully following Flamebird's commands, at times fiercely emotional, and also awkward in his love for Flamebird that he can't quite express. Flamebird is equally conflicted, having gone from a traumatized childhood to military service to religious zealotry -- the best part about Nightwing and Flamebird is the way neither one knows which direction is up or down, short of their trust in one another. Flamebird's conversation with Lois, in which this grown woman must admit to a divinely-inspired love for a still-young Nightwing, is wonderfully awkward.

But Rucka embroils Nightwing and Flamebird in what's essentially a story-long slugfest, and while their fight with Nightwing's mother Ursa in the beginning is nicely brutal, their later fight with some nondescript Kryptonians just doesn't distinguish itself from your average superhero battle. Also the New Krypton timeline has begun to break down a bit between volumes, such that I'm unsure why the US military is using what looks like zombies to fight the Kryptonians, nor did I know who General Lane's latest mysterious meta-helper was (or if I was supposed to know). There's only so much snarling that General Lane can do before he comes something of a one-trick pony, and this is just about the moment that I got a little bored. I don't fault Rucka, necessarily; this is most certainly a danger of DC trying to tell a story with the same villain in three different titles (and then collecting them in halfsies).

What Nightwing and Flamebird unfortunately lacks, which Mon-El has, is a sense of place. Mon-El has the titular Daxamite, and the Guardian, and Steel, and Bibbo, and Dr. Light, and Atlas, and really the culture of Metropolis -- Rucka's book just has Nightwing and Flamebird, and unfortunately they don't quite hold the stage the way the Man of Steel does (it also doesn't help that this book has shifting artists chapter by chapter, which make it feel less "put together" than Mon-El). I appreciated very much, however, how the storyline Geoff Johns began way back in Superman: Last Son comes to fruition here (you know Johns was thinking of Nightwing since his Superman run began) which makes the last few years of Superman feel cohesive and is one of the reasons I wouldn't dismiss Nightwing and Flamebird entirely.

New Krypton continues on, and while I love the depth and scope of this storyline, this is the first time I felt like it was treading water a little bit. Nightwing and Flamebird next appear in Codename Patriot, however, and maybe teaming them with the rest of the Super-cast will make this aspect feel more a part of the fold.

[Contains full covers, text and Secret Files pages]
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