Review: Grayson Vol. 4: A Ghost in the Tomb trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 20, 2017

As I've mentioned, I'm pleased with DC Comics's decision to include Robin War #1 and #2 in Grayson Vol. 4: A Ghost in the Tomb. Their inclusion means one can read the entirety of Robin War across all the affected series' individual collections if one is so inclined. This is a far better case than Superman: Doomed, for instance, for which certain issues could only be found in the Doomed collection itself, meaning those reading the individual series had to double-dip to read all the parts.

The flip side of that, however, is that whereas Grayson Vol. 4 is technically a six-issue trade, the Robin War material is largely separate from the main Grayson proceedings and is even collected out of order in this collection because of it (Robin War #1, Grayson #15, and Robin War #2 preceding Grayson #13, 14, and 16). In terms of moving the main Grayson story along, then, Ghost in the Tomb is another enticingly, frustratingly short Grayson collection, really collecting just three issues proper. I still think DC made the right collecting decision (except perhaps they could have stuck the Robin War issues in the second We Are Robin collection, though the end of the story affects Grayson most of all), but this is another trade with more or less scant few issues of Grayson, regardless of what interesting things Tim Seeley and Tom King accomplish here.

[Review contains spoilers]

Another argument for including both Robin War issues here is that King writes both of them, making this fully a King/Seeley book even if the issues aren't all Grayson. And King does a fine job; as I mentioned in my review of Robin War, I enjoyed the crossover quite a bit. Though King stretches the metaphor of racial profiling a bit when Duke Thomas is arrested under "Robin laws" simply for wearing red shoes, his setup convincingly shows things in Gotham going from bad to worse, and his conclusion is smart and emotional particularly in regards to Duke and Damian Wayne. In between the Robin War issues, the Grayson tie-in is among the best of the crossover, contrasting what each of the Robins learned from Batman, plus a surprising betrayal by Dick Grayson and great Mikel Janin art. All in all, pretty good as partial collections of crossover tie-ins go.

That said, Detective Comics Vol. 8: Blood of Heroes, which included just its individual Robin War tie-in, also offered an explanatory Robin War text page. Grayson does not, which is a shame; even despite that Robin War #2 has something of an in-story recap, it's far from clear, and the jump from the Grayson issue to the Robin War issue is a jump from part 2 to part 6; the characters are in no way in the same place from one issue to the next.

Additionally, it's disconcerting at first reading Grayson #15 before issue #13; indeed the order that the issues are collected here works, but I wish we had a greater indication that Robin War's final cliffhanger -- Dick Grayson joining the Parliament of Owls -- will actually be followed up upon in Grayson (or there's always Seeley's Rebirth Nightwing series). That this book turns on the question of Dick becoming Nightwing again seems to indicate where the creative team's heads are, at least, though I for one have found Dick much more interesting as super-spy than superhero.

The three-part "Ghost in the Tomb" itself is boilerplate Grayson (meant complimentary), a weirdly-structured, twisty and turny jam-packed tale. As little space as the writers have here, they spend five pages with Dick fighting Scott Snyder's Tiger Shark (the two first met in Black Mirror) and another five pages with Dick chatting up Red Robin Tim Drake; that's half that issue down already. The second issues is told in part from the perspective of Leviathan's Otto Netz some time in the past; the third issue riffs in part on James Bond-ian action sequences, in part on James Bond-ian opening credits. And through all of that King and Seeley are able to show Dick losing faith with his former partner Helena Bertinelli, discovering the secret origin of Spyral, and taking down most of the organization with new partner Tiger. The writers even find room for references as eclectic and nostalgic as Tim Drake's former undercover name Alvin Draper and Wildstorm figure Ladytron.

I'm eager as always to see what happens next. Though I'd like for Dick's new role with the Parliament of Owls not to just be swept under the rug, I think it will seem a cop-out for Dick to take down Spyral using the organization he conveniently joined just a few issues ago. More likely Maxwell Lord and Checkmate will play a role, as the end of this volume suggests, though Max's inclusion brings with it no lack of mystery. Dick suggests he and Max have met before, though if so, the audience hasn't seen it; additionally the last time we saw Max (in Dan DiDio's OMAC series, another in a series of New 52 deep dives by Seeley and King), he was running Cadmus and unwittingly working for Apokolips, so obviously there's some explaining to do here.

Plenty of creative teams would have bowed under the weight of the interruptions and exterior factors affecting this title, but the fact that Grayson Vol. 4: The Ghost in the Tomb maintains this title's high quality level is a testament to Tom King, Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin, and the rest. I'm a bit bummed that the next volume is Grayson's last; honestly I think we all knew DC Comics couldn't keep Dick Grayson out of the tights forever, but I would have been curious to see what Grayson issue #50 or #100 would have looked like.

[Includes original and variant covers]
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10 comments:

  1. I read this review full of questions and I want to answer them, but I really don't want to spoil stuff for you.

    About how it's collected. Robin War always had to take place a bit earlier than the Grayson numbering would suggest, so I think it's good they did collected it in that way so we know for certain. But I'm still convinced that the only way to collect these crossovers correctly is as they're doing it post-Rebirth, The New 52 (and DCYou) way of partially collecting crossovers or forcing people to flip between books to get the full story is just wrong. (I got a full binder of printed pages to show me how to read this part of the DC history)

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    1. What would I need to read so you can ask your questions without spoiling anything?

      That DC is taking the crossover issues out of the paperbacks, but then putting them in the hardcovers, is an interesting choice. But so far we only know they're doing this for "Night of the Monster Men." Didn't it seem that Justice League vs. Suicide Squad would require double-dipping between the regular series trade and the miniseries trade? Or has that been changed?

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    2. Well both the last volume of Grayson and the first of Nightwing and even saying that might be a small spoiler. Let's just say that because Seeley stayed on the book no plot points are unsolved.

      I thought I read in one of the comment sections on your blog that "Justice League Vs Suicide Squad" would be completely separate and wouldn't have issues double printed.

      And looking at Amazon it will get the same treatment as Batman: Night of the Monster Men (first HC and TPB later). Some research shows that some of the Suicide Squad books numbering seems to miss issues, but more importantly that the parts that lead into Justice League vs. Suicide Squad of the issues that are posted twice are the back up stories. A bit like they did with the Shazam! book.

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  2. Hey collectededitions I just wanted to let you know for when you move on to nightwing rebirth make sure you read detective comics rebirth first because nightwing rebirth vol 1 has major spoilers for detective comics rebirth vol 1.

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    1. That is a timely suggestion; thank you. What would you say about which to read first, Nightwing or Birds of Prey, if you're familiar with the issues involved? Batgirl or Birds of Prey?

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    2. I would read batgirl's solo series before BOP because the story that takes place in the first trade comes before BOP chronologically and then I would read nightwing then BOP.

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  3. "Dick suggests he and Max have met before, though if so, the audience hasn't seen it"

    To clarify, Tiger told Spyral in the previous volume that Max Lord was the doppelganger who was murdering rival agents. So Dick thinks he's met Lord already.

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    1. Sure, though I read that conversation as having specifically met, not just that Max was framing Dick for the murders.

      In all I was satisfied with Vol. 5 of Grayson, but there's one point related to this very thing that confuses me. We'll talk about it later (or you can email me).

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  4. I recall Dick specifically references a line that the fake Dick says to him, something about "you don't know who you are".

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    1. I get it now, and you're right. I thought when Tiger said it was Max Lord and Checkmate, he didn't specifically mean it was Max himself getting his hands dirty, but I guess he did. Let's talk about this again once I post the review for Grayson Vol. 5; I'm a little confused as to who was planning what and who knew what when.

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