Review: Nightwing Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows's Nightwing: Traps and Trapezes is a good book. The DC Universe has lacked a Nightwing series for a few years and it's been the lesser for it, and it's nice to have one back and one that competently presents Nightwing Dick Grayson, too.

Nightwing is the book that offers the everyperson perspective on the DC Universe, the closest thing to a Batman book that doesn't star Batman and can equally tell stories about small Gotham crime or cosmic Justice League-level events. Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder told great Dick Grayson-as-Batman stories, but Higgins reminds the reader it's not the same thing as a Nightwing story.

Higgins and Barrows's New 52 Nightwing must inevitably be compared, however, to Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel's over a decade ago. Then, a Nightwing-out-on-his-own title was revolutionary, and Dixon's blend of action and humor and McDaniel's Nightwing flipping from panel to panel defined what a Nightwing series should be. Higgins and Barrows do not redefine Nightwing, despite some origin secrets that Higgins reveals here -- theirs is perfectly in line with what Nightwing has been before, no worse but not necessarily any fresher. Nothing wrong with that, though the reader might hope Higgins dares more as the series continues.

[Review contains spoilers]

Kyle Higgins's biggest accomplishment in Traps and Trapezes is to demonstrate he understands Nightwing. Higgins's Dick Grayson is pitch-perfect -- his quips when he fights crime; his confident-yet-self-depricating narration; that in each adventure he inevitably ends up in someone's bed, not because Dick is a ladies' man necessarily, but rather a fairly honest person that everyone takes a liking to. (On one end of the "likable person" spectrum is Dick Grayson and on the other end is John Constantine, which would make a team-up fascinating.) That just about every character learns Dick Grayson is Nightwing before the end of the book is par for the course -- the same has been true for a bevy of Nightwing's adventures.

Whereas Tony Daniel's Savage Hawkman made some updates to the character but otherwise told a story that didn't center on Hawkman per se, Higgins's Traps and Trapezes truly utilizes Dick Grayson. By the end of the first issue, Dick's back with the Haly's Circus of his childhood; by the end of the second issue, he owns the circus; and by the third, he's traveling on the circus train, fighting crime wherever it might stop. There is an overarching story, of course, but Higgins's vision for the book is clear, how Nightwing can be his own person, remain abreast of the goings-on in Gotham, but also have easy opportunities to interact with the larger DC Universe at the same time.

This is most apparent in the book's fifth and sixth issues, which have the least to do with the ongoing "secrets of Haly's Circus" storyline. In the fifth, the Haly's train stops in Chicago just as Batgirl just-so-happens to track a shapeshifting assassin there, so a team-up naturally occurs. In the sixth, a demon controlled by a jilted lover kidnaps the circus's clown and Nightwing has to rescue him. These are fine reads, though the least effective of the book's chapters since they don't forward the larger plot -- but they emerge like non-mythology X-Files episodes, the kinds of things The Fugitive would deal with when he wasn't looking for the one-armed man. For a book that's about to subsume two Batman crossovers, "Night of the Owls" and "Death of the Family," that Higgins demonstrates Nightwing can handle one-off stories isn't a bad thing.

The tweak that Higgins (and likely "Night of the Owls" writer Scott Snyder) make to Dick Grayson's origins is quite brilliant. Rather than muck with Dick's past with Batman or his process of becoming Robin (something that's earned Scott Lobdell some ire with Red Robin Tim Drake in Teen Titans), Higgins reveals a secret about Haly's Circus that Dick didn't even know. It's unfortunately only that -- so far as the reader knows right now -- the Court of Owls never had a chance to influence young Dick at all; the idea that Dick would have inevitably become part of the super-universe -- that Court of Owls training allowed him to become Robin, or else he would have been an evil Talon -- is an interesting one.

In the conclusion, Higgins duplicates a scene from Snyder's Batman: Court of Owls, telling it from Nightwing's perspective -- not coincidentally, what turns into a heated encounter is the first appearance of Batman in Higgins's Nightwing series. It's subjective, but Higgins and Barrows handle this scene better than Snyder and artist Greg Capullo did -- or, at least, the fact that Nightwing calls Batman unemotional and Batman punches Nightwing in the mouth plays better here than it did there.

Perhaps it's because, in the scene in Court of Owls, Batman is largely unemotional, and his striking Nightwing is cruel when Batman is otherwise calm. In contrast, Barrows puts the camera on Nightwing, who's nearly raving with an anger that has nothing to do with Batman, and the punch helps bring him back to his senses. Nightwing and Batman as enemies is a story already told to tiredness, and hopefully that's not the direction here, but in telling the "other half" of the story, Higgins and Barrows help mitigate the controversy of the scene.

Eddy Barrows's art has trended too dark at times, as in issues of the pre-New 52 Teen Titans, and didn't quite mesh with the cosmic superheroics of the Superman titles and the New Krypton books. But roundabout Superman: Grounded, Barrows's lines gained a certain solidity, especially when simply depicting two characters talking -- and Nightwing is a perfect venue for all Barrows's strengths; plenty of night scenes, plenty of talking. These pages are so strong that it's immediately apparent when Barrows cedes to a guest artist -- though having former pre-52 Nightwing artist Trevor McCarthy here gives nice continuity to the volume.

Ultimately, Nightwing is in safe hands with Kyle Higgins. Nightwing: Traps and Trapezes does not break new ground and is a book largely in service to Scott Snyder's Batman book -- and it seems that it will be for the next volume or two, at least -- but for Nightwing fans who have been missing a Nightwing title, that just might be OK.

[Includes original covers. Sketchbook page by Cully Hamner and by Eddy Barrows]

Next week, I'll be popping up for some holiday conversation, but review-wise you will be in the capable hands of our guest bloggers Doug Glassman, Zach King, and Greg Elias. Happy holidays everyone!
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4 comments:

  1. The return of Dick Grayson as Nightwing has many people give some negative reactions to Dick feeling "down-graded" from Batman to Nightwing status. But hey, we can't be choosy.

    I enjoyed Traps and Trapezes quite a bit, which you pegged right in your review, CE. And yes, I agree, Dick's perspective from BATMAN #7 is better here.

    So although Nightwing isn't hitting it on the same caliber as Snyder's Batman, Batwoman, Red Hood, or Batman & Robin; Higgin's Nightwing is still a well-done book that I hope Higgins continues on in the future.

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  2. Everyone's entitled to their opinion but I don't consider Dick going back to the Nightwing identity as a demotion. Bruce was always going to be back as Batman, and having two Batmen running around was unlikely to be an acceptable long-term solution -- for DC. Rather, Dick is Nightwing again, having done a good job as Batman rather than flaming out or having to be fired in one way or another, and now we've got a good Nightwing series on our hands. And I like the red in the costume. So OK as far as I'm concerned.

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  3. My only issue with this book was the villains. Saiko, as interesting as his story was, just didn't have that "big villain" feel. I was glad to see that they fixed this in vol 2.

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    1. Which was the "big villain" for you in Vol. 2, the Talon or Paragon? I thought Higgins's "Night of the Owls" story was great, but I found the Paragon story a big disappointment, IMHO.

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