Review: Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Just when a book like Teen Titans Vol. 2: Rogue Targets makes your faith in mainstream superhero comics begin to falter, a book like Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis comes along to restore it. Whether you like or don't Tom King's Batman, Grayson is assuredly he and Tim Seeley's masterpiece. A gripping roller coaster, Nemesis begins as a straight-on spy story, though one that ultimately turns on its head one of the book's heretofore most wrenching moments. It ends with a pair of probably the most continuity-heavy and faithfully nostalgic issues in recent memory, demonstrating that despite how set-apart and in some ways post-superheroic Grayson has been, it's underlied by the writers' deep, abiding, and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe. Grayson continues to be something special, and Nemesis is just more proof of that.

[Review contains spoilers]

Dick Grayson's work with the spy organization Spyral in Grayson has been rife with paranoia, but the third volume -- the first in DC's "DC You" relaunch -- sees Dick now himself on the run from Spyral. That's not a situation that lasts long, but this man-on-the-run/Mission Impossible-esque (the first Tom Cruise movie, the good one) story marks a nice "DC You" break from the meta-human-hunting of the first two volumes. And King and Seeley do effectively shake up the series's status quo by the end, with Dick no longer believed dead by his allies and the revelation of the true boss of Spyral; there's definitely a sense that one chapter of Grayson has ended and another has begun.

Indeed, Nemesis offers fabulous twists within twists. Someone has been killing agents of Spyral's rivals, trying to frame Dick; initially, it seems clear his former partner Helena Bertinelli is on his side and that "Tiger King" Agent 1 might be (but probably isn't) the culprit. But in the second issue the writers use Lex Luthor's status as all-around bad guy/current Justice Leaguer well; when Lex arrives in the thick of things, Dick is suddenly unsure who's leading him on, Helena or Lex or possibly no one at all.

Things get stranger, when Dick is felled by what turns out to be his former love interest Agent 8, who we thought died quite tragically in Grayson Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral (that the writers planned far enough to use Agent 8's death for dual purpose shows how wonderfully insidious this book is). That last part is known to the reader but unknown to Dick, as Agent 1 blames current Checkmate head Maxwell Lord instead. The reader holds more information than Dick, but even we don't know what of we've seen or heard is actually true, making for quite the compelling mystery.

If the "Nemesis" story is spy gold, however, then this volume reaches peak DC fandom in the fourth chapter, Grayson issue #12. The writers reunite Dick with Batman: Superheavy's amnesic Bruce Wayne, as well as the Red Hood, Red Robin, Batgirl, and Robin Damian Wayne. The writers lead off each of these meetings with a page of word balloons -- like, twenty to thirty -- taken from issues as far back as the 1960s (if not earlier) and as recent as the New 52 (see a run-down at Batman Universe). It's a staggering feat of research that probably no one would have missed if the writers hadn't done it, but makes this a Grayson-Nightwing-Robin issue for the ages because they did, and certainly befits the specialness of Dick Grayson figuratively rising from the dead.

But setting aside that by dint of the quotes the writers reference "A Lonely Place of Dying" -- which ought not have happened in the New 52 -- they outright shoehorn back into continuity Chuck Dixon's original Birds of Prey #8, considered the modern start of the Nightwing/Oracle romance. The issue was an instant classic at the time; again, King and Seeley had no obligation to use it here, but the fact that they did reveals just how much they care about the characters, on par with their readers. Now, at the same time I rather thought they wrote Damian too emotional (two panels of Damian with his face pressed against Dick Grayson in an embrace?), but I'm willing to overlook it for the Batgirl sequence.

Equally enjoyable is the Grayson annual collected at the end, which intersects Batman's "Superheavy" and Superman's "Truth" mini-events as Dick runs into the newly de-powered Superman. Though the writers have the two refer to each other as "man" three times in four pages (at least), this is a charming resurrection of the Dick/Superman friendship, which I don't recall we've really seen in the New 52. There's plenty of good Grayson humor here, and the writers also explain well the convolutedly complex reasons why Lex Luthor doesn't believe the Clark Kent is actually Superman despite his newly-revealed identity. The writers even give a nod to Rob Liefeld's short-lived New 52 Hawk and Dove series, a pretty deep dive into continuity in and of itself.

I must say my expectations for the forthcoming Robin War crossover are considerably higher given that the series with seemingly the most involvement is Grayson (given that both Robin War specials proper are collected in the next Grayson volume). Again, Grayson is up there with the best of DC's modern series (the series surely deserves omnibus treatment) and Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis is well worth your time; I hope Tim Seeley does equally well with the Rebirth Nightwing series.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]
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6 comments:

  1. I really liked this book (well I liked the whole series). The way they write Dick Grayson, the way they give Dick back some of his history that was missing since the new 52 and the writing/story is just so good. As glad as I am that I'll soon read Dick as Nightwing again, I'll miss him being a spy. The way this series was written it worked so well. And let's not forget the amazing job that they did in writing Spyral and all the other characters in the series.

    Btw I disagree with you with Damian hug being out of character. If you remember Batman, Inc (the post flashpoint one) Grant Morrison clearly stated that Dick was the closest Damian had as someone to relate to. Here's a quote from the issue were Damian dies: "So far I'd say you've been my favorite partner. We were the BEST, Richard. No matter what anyone thinks." Those were the words of one of the most self absorbed people in the DC universe, written by the person who created him. A kid that barely can expres his emotions and has so much issues that he over attaches to his pets. He just learned that the one person he had a real bond with is still alive, I don't see why this hug was to much.

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  2. Best series of the New 52 hands down, in my opinion. Every issue by King and Seeley was so well written, and the art by Mikel Janin was spectacular. These guys absolutely get why Dick Grayson is (IMO) the heart and soul of the DC universe.

    And I agree with PeterB about the hug. I didn't think it was out of character at all. I thought it was the best part of that whole incredible issue.

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    1. For two whole panels? Maybe it was just the way it was drawn. Well, seems like I've got the minority opinion; I guess we'll agree to ... hug it out!

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    2. I'm up for a hug, but we'll need a 2 panel one if we want to make a quip at the end. :)

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  3. I think this was the peak of the series. The next two volumes are still good, but they start to run into a few problems. Robin War kind of comes in from nowhere, and the ending got rushed by the fill-in creative team (not their fault, though).

    Seeley's Rebirth Nightwing is still great.

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    1. Sorry to hear the next couple volumes have problems -- based on the starts of the Robin War tie-in books so far (Robin, Son of Batman; We Are Robin; etc.), I'm really looking forward to that crossover. Best news is that you recommend the Rebirth Nightwing.

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