Review: Nightwing Vol. 5: Setting Son trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 22, 2014

In the chicken-and-the-egg that is Nightwing Vol. 5: Setting Son, it's hard to say if the book's cancellation was spurred by the tepidness of the material, or if the impending cancellation ruined writer Kyle Higgins's plans such to result in the lackluster stories. Either way, though Higgins continues to have a good handle on the Nightwing character and writes Dick Grayson's voice well, this volume indicates it was about time to bring Nightwing to a close, though neither does it make the new Grayson series seem particularly appetizing.

[Review contains spoilers]

Setting Son starts well enough with a "Zero Year" tie-in story of young Dick Grayson. Probably an entire series could be based on "young Dick Grayson, Circus Detective," and this story of, essentially, the first Robin has a lot of charm. Higgins uses some characters from the Haly Circus days of this Nightwing title, though the real interesting player is C.J. Maroni, son of Gotham City mobster Sal Maroni. That Maroni was ultimately indebted to the Graysons for Dick saving C.J.'s life is interesting in view of the Grayson's subsequent murder by (rival mobster?) Tony Zucco, but unfortunately Higgins doesn't have the time or space to follow this up.

Next in the book is Higgins's Nightwing Annual #1, guest-starring Batgirl, which is worth a look for all the Dick/Barbara 'shippers. What I liked is that Higgin's reintroduces the Firefly villain as powerful and threatening, but also uses our pre-New 52 foreknowledge of Firefly to defy our ultimate expectations. There's a good mystery here, and that's on top of Dick and Barbara talking seriously about their relationship even as the case they're working parallels their emotional troubles. Indeed, Higgins probably takes Dick and Barbara's relationship farther than it has been short of Nightwing asking Oracle to marry him pre-Infinite Crisis, though the constraints of each character holding down their own title ultimately foils it.

The annual does well negotiating the Batgirl: Wanted story in acknowledging Barbara's boyfriend in her own title, though Higgins's dual responsibilities to Batgirl and his own story make Dick seem kind of a jerk, asking a woman with a boyfriend to move in with him. There's also some disconnect across the Bat-titles in how old Barbara Gordon is; she comes off older here and in other appearances than she actually does in her own title, which ought be the template (I'm curious to see how a variety of artists handle Batgirl's new costume, too, outside her own title).

But the annual is really the last story here to present the Nightwing title well. In the two-part Mad Hatter story that follows, again Higgins writes a perfectly respectable Nightwing, but the story of Hatter and his pseudo-Harley-Quinn Marionette doesn't demonstrate itself as a Nightwing tale per se; it feels like "just" a superhero story that could as easily be Batman's, Batgirl's, or Green Arrow's. And the subplots of Dick Grayson fighting with his roommate Joey about keeping the apartment clean is simply annoying; I no more want to hear two roommates bicker in real life than I do on the comics page, and further I tended to imagine that the New 52 Dick Grayson, even a little younger, might be at least beyond these problems by now.

The roommate subplot is Higgins's lead-in to the final two issues, where a little girl discovers Nightwing's identity just before Zsasz kills her parents, and in her attempt at revenge Nightwing sees his own childhood struggles. Higgins's final issue, #29, is a nice retrospective on his Nightwing run and indeed Nightwing seeing himself in the child is moving. However, it's all predicated again on Dick Grayson's roommate troubles, and Dick's first being unable to figure out how to open a locked window, and second not adequately hiding his Nightwing gear such that the girl sees it. All of this seems rather silly for the first Robin, trained intensively by Batman, even if Higgins brings it all to a good close.

Grayson writers Tim Seeley and Tom King write the book's final chapter, Nightwing #30, a lead-in to their series. A good majority of the story involves Batman and Nightwing quite literally beating each other to bloody pulps; I can't be certain of the artist, but it's entirely unbelievable how much blood is pouring from each of their bodies while they're still standing up. The entire premise of Batman letting Batgirl, Red Hood, even Alfred all believe Dick Grayson is dead is itself troublesome (leading inevitably to the day everyone finds out and gets mad at Batman for keeping secrets for the umpteenth time). But the strange angry Batman who cajoles Dick into playing dead, all the while hitting him with various parts of the Batcave, even as Dick begs him not to make him take on the mission, does nothing to make Grayson seem appealing.

As opposed to Higgins, who always seemed to "get" Nightwing, Seeley and King haven't yet demonstrated the same, nor that they'll be able to find ways to make Batman and Nightwing sympathetic despite their bad actions. I'll reserve judgment for the Grayson book itself, but this is not a good start.

DC is canceling a lot of series right now, some of which I'll be sorrier to see go than others. I liked having a New 52 Nightwing series after some years absence, and Kyle Higgins's first Nightwing collection, with Eddy Barrows, was quite enjoyable. But the series slipped at times, and with Nightwing Vol. 5: Setting Son, I'm not sure the team has sufficient stories left to tell. This book's replacement may not be an improvement, but I can't argue it was time for this title to go.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Later this week, a Green Lantern: Sector 2814 guest review. Happy holidays!
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  1. Haven't read this yet, so I can't comment on Seely's and King's Nightwing story, but I have been following Grayson monthly, and I enjoy it a lot. It's fun, sexy, and Dick sounds like the Dick Grayson we've always known. It has a different feel from the rest of the Batbooks out there, and the art by Mikel Janin is just great, every issue.

    1. Well, I'm glad to hear that, and that seems to be the general opinion, so I'm sure I'll be giving Grayson a try at some point. But the Seeley/King issue is nuts; in a couple panels Batman and Nightwing are literally covered in dozens of bleeding wounds, stretching believability and appetite.

    2. Yeah, that does sound nuts.

  2. Aside from the nice echo of Bats hitting Dick during "Court of Owls" (Rightwing's revenge?), Nightwing #30 left me cold and turned me off the Grayson monthly. Fortunately, my girlfriend has been getting it, and it's so good that I'll probably pick up the trade. I echo everything Joseph has already said above: "Grayson" is one of the most interesting things DC is publishing, right down to picking up a few threads left from Morrison's "Batman Inc."

    1. *Nightwing's revenge (not Rightwing, which sounds like an Authority-style political satire)

    2. That is an odd (and maybe unfortunate) bookend to the Nightwing series. You know offhand if there's any dialogue that calls back to the earlier fight (granted one is by Higgins, one is by Seeley and King) or is it just coincidence?

    3. I don't recall the dialogue from #30, but I remember a line from Owls where Dick jokes, "I owe you one." My sense of the echo came more from the setting and the choreography of the images, especially the way a few of the panels were staged.

  3. Kyle Higgins Nightwing was fun & good most of the time. Issue 30 was almost unreadable, both characters act nothing like themselves & the art is atrocius! Grayson is quite good which you couldn't tell from Nightwing #30, I suspect heavy editorial interference, especially since a different artist penciled the issue already & they didn't use any of it.