Review: Nightwing Vol. 4: Second City trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I was sorry to see artist Eddy Barrows leaving the Nightwing title, apt as his art was for that book. I was especially sad to see Barrows going to Teen Titans, where I hadn't favored his work previously, and to see Titans's Brett Booth coming to Nightwing; Booth's wild, cartoony style worked for the Titans, but his early Nightwing covers seemed to distort the character in a way I didn't like.

With Nightwing Vol. 4: Second City, however, writer Kyle Higgins and artist Booth breathe new life into an already successful book. To an extent it feels like the Nightwing title has been waiting from the beginning to get to this point, and it's only a shame it took almost twenty issues to do so, especially with the title about to be cancelled. Away from both Bat-continuity and Bat-crossovers, Nightwing soars telling its own story; Booth's work and even his new touches to the Nightwing costume give the title a vibrancy we never knew was missing.

[Review contains spoilers]

The last time a writer moved Nightwing to a new city, it was Chuck Dixon and Bludhaven, arguably the most lasting new city of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era until it was destroyed to rubble. Higgins, therefore, has big shoes to fill moving Nighting to Chicago; it's a double threat, since Higgins has to create essentially a new locale in the New 52 while still hewing generally to what we know of real-world Chicago, and without just cloning Metropolis or Gotham.

Higgins succeeds on all counts by making Chicago the New 52's "anti-vigilante city." Sure, the police might shoot at Batman some times, but Higgins's Chicago mistrusts superheroes from the politicians down to the regular people, and the city itself even bears some scars of previous metahuman action. At once, Higgins gives this New 52 Chicago both a clear character and a complex back-history, and both of these serve to establish Chicago as a prime DC Universe setting, hopefully for a long time to come.

Higgins's villain of the piece, Prankster Oswald Loomis, is perhaps a somewhat obscure Superman villain, but as a long-time Superman fan I'm actually quite familiar with him. I hadn't seen pictures of Higgins and Booth's masked Prankster until this book, and I was initially taken aback by the differences between the new Prankster and old. But despite the "Ha"-ridden Nightwing #19 cover, this Prankster leans more toward hacking and torture than whoopie cushions and joy buzzers, and I think that works for Nightwing; the Prankster is an exuberant but serious threat, not in any regard a "silly" villain for Nightwing.

Indeed though the Prankster ultimately has ulterior motives for his crimes, there's a point in the book where the Prankster strongly reminded me of Alan Grant's Anarky, and both his appearance and seeming motivations back that up. Anarky has reappeared elsewhere in the DC Universe, so I hear, but this resemblance helped warm me to Higgins's Prankster, that he's convincing as a Bat-villain -- with some precedent, even -- despite his origins as a Superman villain.

The New 52 Nightwing title has worked best when Higgins's stories revolve around Nightwing's own character, as both the "Night of the Owls" and "Death of the Family" stories did, and less so when it's just Nightwing versus a villain (i.e. the "Paragon" storyline). Second City is thankfully the former, as Higgins never loses sight of the story's real conflict, that of Nightwing Dick Grayson hunting his parents' killer, Tony Zucco. Second City's conclusion, quite aptly, turns on Nightwing having to team up with Zucco against the Prankster, and Higgins does well with Nightwing's mixed feelings when Zucco is finally arrested.

Higgins refers a couple of times to Nightwing's earlier encounters with Zucco, which haven't been shown in the New 52 and which were fuzzy even in the pre-Flashpoint universe. I recognize Higgins is off Nightwing now in favor of the new Grayson team, but I'd be curious to see Higgins write some New 52 "Nightwing: Year One" stories some time, especially as it relates to Nightwing and Zucco. Was it Nightwing who finally arrested Zucco, or Robin? Does Zucco have some sense of Nightwing/Robin's identity? All of this seems worthy of further exploration to me.

I had been concerned about an abstract, distorted Nightwing under Brett Booth's pen, but what Booth presents is a fairly restrained yet fluid Nightwing, somewhere on the scale closer to Scott McDaniel's Nightwing than Eddy Barrows's. Certainly Booth is right for this more widescreen Prankster story than Barrows would have been, and especially in making the Prankster's costume outlandish but still realistic within the confines of the story.

What really struck me, however, were the little details Booth added to Nightwing's costume. There's red accents now on the mask, as well as the return of Nightwing's finger stripes, and also it seems some additional red at the waistline. That Nightwing should wear red makes more and more sense to me, homage that it is to his Robin costume, and Booth makes the costume pop in these pages in a way that's a real credit to the artist.

In Nightwing Vol. 4: Second City, writer Kyle Higgins finally gets six uninterrupted issues to tell his own story, something I don't think we've seen since volume one. With a great new status quo for the character, a credible villain, a cogent mystery, seeds hewn for stories to come, and a distinct look for the title courtesy Brett Booth, Nightwing hits all its marks here. Pity the book ends with the next volume, but it seems like it's going out on top.
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4 comments:

  1. These six issues were among my favourite representations of Dick Grayson ever, the creative matched a lot of my ideas about what makes him tick, but that haven't to my knowledge been written about before.
    I'm sad things are changing but looking forward to what's next for Dick.

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    1. I'm curious, what were some of the things you felt were covered in this volume that hadn't been written about before?

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  2. By far, this has got to be the best we've seen in Higgins' Nightwing. After reading "Death of the Family" I became pretty well convinced that the only thing to save the series was for Dick to become severed from the Batman series and was SO relieved to see that volume 4 wasn't called "Zero Year" (although, I would pay good money to see the transition between Robin and Nightwing revisited for the New 52). This one really gave us a chance to see a full Nightwing story that didn't feel like filler- something that's been missing for so long.

    I'm curious to see if this can keep up in Vol. 5. I've still got a bad taste in my mouth from other "series enders" that I've read (most notably Justice League International and Scarlet Spider- even if I did absolutely love that series), so I'm apprehensive to say the least.

    Still gonna buy the hell out of it, though.

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    1. I, too, would like to see the Robin-to-Nightwing transition played out in the New 52, and I think Higgins should be the one to write it.

      I have some hesitation about the final volume given that Higgins didn't actually get to write the final issue, but I guess that makes a good transition to Grayson. I'm more enthusiastic about the Animal Man conclusion, written like the rest of the series by Jeff Lemire.

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