Review: Nightwing: Burnback trade paperback (DC Comics)

December 15, 2019

Surprising as it is, even to me, the ill-conceived adventures of former Nightwing "Ric" (nee Dick) Grayson have yet to be so bad. We're not talking about the operatics of Christopher Priest's Deathstroke or the post-modern art of Tom King's Batman, but for something that seems questionable on paper ("Ric Grayson and the Nightwings!"), the result is better than a couple other books I've read lately.

Among other things in Nightwing: Burnback, the supporting cast is decent; as easy as it would have been for the writers to populate this book with "the angry Nightwing," "the smart Nightwing," etc., they've actually got some personality, explored particularly in this volume. Second, artists Travis Moore and Ronan Cliquet bring a particularly clear-eyed, attractive vision of Nightwing and his pseudo-hipster world to the page. This buffets the book even when the story lags, and the consistency between Moore and Cliquet bridges a change in writers that makes the transition almost seamless.

It's hard to get excited about what seems like an obviously temporary status quo change destined to have no impact once all is said and done. But with this book's cliffhanger, I find myself anticipating the next volume (again) and assuredly that says something.

[Review contains spoilers]

To get it out of the way, Nightwing: Burnback largely does not work in its A plots, the battles of heroes versus villains. Given what I thought was particularly astute work by Scott Lobdell on Joker's Daughter over in the DC You Red Hood/Arsenal, I anticipated that he would write her well in this book's first story. Unfortunately, under Lobdell and co-writer Zack Kaplan, Joker's Daughter is back to begin a crazed McGuffin, a poor man's stand-in when both Joker and Harley Quinn are otherwise occupied. Yes, the Joker's Daughter takes up the plight of the disenfranchised here and there's some effective gore as depicted by Moore, but not much depth for a character that Lobdell paralleled so well with Red Hood Jason Todd previously. This could have been Anarky or what have you as much as Joker's Daughter.

The villain of incoming writer Dan Jurgens' first arc is no better. Over three issues (which could, perhaps, have been two), Jurgens sees Ric and the Nightwings battle a giant fiery monster, whom they first believe is a manifestation of the daughter of a comatose police officer with a grudge (based on one offhand comment she makes), before they discover the monster comes from the comatose man himself. The kind-of supernatural threat is something of an odd fit for the Nightwing title, for one thing, and while I did like learning about "Nightwing Red"'s connection to the police officer, the sheer coincidences of the situation felt like a reach. Jurgens too stretches the bounds of even comic book pseudoscience when hospital doctors can immediately, instantaneously test the comatose man for the metagene, for instance.

But those gripes aside, as with Knight Terrors what carries this book are the scenes of "Ric" not fighting villains. There's quite a few sequences of basic team-building — Ric debating the ins and outs of crimefighting with "Nightwing Prime," the police detective leader of the group, or training with Nightwing Red, the firefighter with a tragic past. It's been a while since Dick Grayson was a beat cop, what I still maintain was his best secret identity; he is not one here, but this taxi-driving Ric palling around with the police feels more natural than gym teacher Dick Grayson or card dealer Dick Grayson.

Ric's decision to reveal his identities to new girlfriend Bea was also remarkably un-angsty, far less than I expected it to be. To be honest, despite how long I've been a fan of Jurgens, I was concerned his "Ric" would err in the direction of his recent Jimmy Olsen and others, a forced, slangy "cool" that comes off anything but. I had no great qualms when reading the chapters themselves, however, and indeed Ric's interactions with Bea are nicely grown-up, and artist Cliquet helps to give Jurgens' work modernity.

All of that culminates in a one-off "day in the life" issue that ends with a Court of Owls Talon stalking "Ric" and "Year of the Villain"'s Lex Luthor on the scene. Though this thoroughly betrays the "new beginning" aesthetic of the "Ric Grayson" arc, not to mention telegraphing that "Ric" won't be "Ric" forever (as if we didn't already know), bringing in a Talon is a delightful way to tie Nightwing old and new. The inherent conflicts are obvious, the Talon wanting Dick Grayson to become someone that Ric doesn't even remember he ever was. It feels like the beginning of the end of this — I'm rather sure it is — but again it makes me eager for the next volume when once I dreaded any of this ever starting.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Nightwing: Burnback

We comics fans have probably grown too cynical, to the point we know Ric Grayson will go back to being Dick Grayson some day and I'm pretty skeptical the big doings going on in the Superman title will stick forever, either. For my money, leave the basic historic tenets of the superhero alone and then tell a good story, and spare me the cynicism of knowing "everything will eventually be the same!" That said, midway through Nightwing: Burnback, I thought to myself that there's probably a good omnibus here, this twenty-something issue story of how Nightwing lost his memory and regained it. I'm optimistic, actually, that Dan Jurgens might stick the landing here. Huh. Go figure.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Nightwing: Burnback
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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