Review: Nightwing Vol. 3: Death of the Family trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Unfortunately the New 52 Nightwing series still fails to live up to the promise of the first volume, though there's always next time. Nightwing Vol. 3: Death of the Family, while drawn well specifically by artist Eddie Barrows, seems six issues really only in service of one or two big moments, with lots of filler in between. Writer Kyle Higgins offers another great cliffhanger that's likely to bring me back for the fourth volume even though the second and third didn't impress, though that's a trick I'm only likely to fall for so many times.

[Review contains spoilers]

The six issues in this collection (plus the mostly-generic Young Romance short) make up three stories: Nightwing vs. Lady Shiva, by guest-writer Tom DeFalco and artist Andres Guinaldo; the "Death of the Family" tie-in, by Higgins and Barrows, and then an epilogue and "Requiem" tie-in by Higgins and Juan Jose Ryp. The book's strongest story, not surprisingly, is by the title's regular team, though this volume marks Barrows's final issues in the series.

The New 52 debut of assassin Lady Shiva ought be a momentous occasion, but it seemed to me DeFalco's approach was too subtle on this one. In the first part, Nightwing perceives a drop-off in criminal activity, so he goes to ask the Penguin why, and Penguin straightaway tells him that it's because Lady Shiva is in town. Nightwing learns about a mobster trying to preemptively kill Shiva, except after a four-page gun battle it turns out Shiva's never there at all.

Shiva barely appears in the issue, and essentially her entire reputation for the reader is built on her past incarnations and hearsay -- as when Penguin emotes, "A wildcard is headed for Gotham -- an elite assassin who gives nightmares to even the sickest sociopaths! Lady Shiva," like something out of a Silver Age narration box -- rather than actually showing Shiva on the page. When Shiva does appear in the second part, her ten-page fight with Nightwing is impressive, and DeFalco wisely connects Shiva's goals to Nightwing Dick Grayson's own life. The two-parter, however, comes off as a fluffy one-parter that could have been shorter, and this is a trend that continues into the "Death of the Family" tie-in.

With the third issue, Barrows returns, and his dark, detailed art is perfect for the the story's late-night setting (DeFalco's Shiva battle took place in the day, which seems "off" for the Bat-family). But even as the first part of the "Death" tie-in is drawn nicely, Higgin's story lacks weight. Nightwing has to fight Raya, an old friend who betrayed him the first volume; though she never displayed any fighting prowess in that story, now she chases Nightwing around the room with knives. Higgins doesn't make Raya's inclusion about anything, other than simply being someone Dick knows; maybe that makes this story more reader-friendly for new readers, but to me it felt like a wasted opportunity. Raya here could as easily be Sonia Branch or Paragon from the second volume, and again this suggests to me the whole encounter is mainly filler to pass time for the second "Death" issue.

That second tie-in issue, Nightwing #16, is Higgins and Barrows's crowning triumph in this collection. Finally we get to the real (gruesome) meat of the story, in which the Joker "Joker-izes" Haly's Circus and the Amusement Mile that Dick has worked so hard to build. The purpose of the supporting cast Higgins has built of late, including the Sorranos family, comes clear as the Joker uses then all against Nightwing ... and then wholly destroys the circus. Kudos to Higgins, who has deftly built up Nightwing's life with no hints that he'd be wiping it all out; Barrows's splash page of the falling Ferris wheel captures the moment perfectly.

Ultimately Higgins's "Death of the Family" story is not as fraught at Gail Simone's Batgirl tie-in, nor does Barrows quite achieve the horrifying depiction of the Joker that Patrick Gleason does in Batman and Robin, but certainly this second issue is sufficient to show that Nightwing doesn't get out of "Death of the Family" unscathed.

The final two issues deal with Nightwing's guilt first over the destruction of the circus, and second over Damian Wayne's death over in Batman, Incorporated. These are two good issues, though reading this in a collection the flashbacks between the second and the first don't quite work; Damian is shown to be saying the same thing he just said, for the reader, two pages earlier.

For me, that these issues don't come off stronger has mainly to do with guest-artist Rip, whose characters' faces are wooden and unreadable (see Dick and Sonia in the coffee shop, sixth page of the final chapter). Also, Higgins risks sending Nightwing back into Black Mirror territory, and what was a wholly frightening villain under writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock seems run-of-the-mill now; rather than gaining strength from referencing Black Mirror, Higgins's use underlines how much less effective this story is than that one.

And then, Higgins hits us with the cliffhanger. I knew Nightwing would be moving to Chicago though I wasn't sure why or how Higgins would differentiate nighttime Chicago from Gotham, necessarily, but the book's last pages explain everything. Resurrecting Dick's parents' killer Tony Zucco might seem a cheap trick -- in essence, this gives Higgins license to tell "Robin's Reckoning" all over again -- but I'll be darned if seeing Nightwing track down Tony Zucco isn't just as much fun as Batman in Joe Chill stories. I have not been enthusiastic about this book's last two volumes, but oh, Nightwing versus Tony Zucco. It is a hard decision.

The titular portion of Nightwing Vol. 3: Death of the Family is good -- not great, but good. This is one, frankly, you might be better off reading in the Joker: Death of the Family collection than in Nightwing, and by and large you won't miss much. This is a case where I like the character but the series hasn't been thrilling me; what to do?

[Includes covers, Young Romance short; no bonus materials]

Later this week, Joe Harris's X-Files Season 10! 
Collected Editions 2016 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

1 comment:

  1. I think the constant need to tie Bat-Family titles to Snyder's Batman has hurt Nightwing more than helped it. As such, even though I wasn't too fond of this volume, I'm enthusiastic about Nightwing's future in this series.

    ReplyDelete