Review: Nightwing: The Joker War hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

I think I’ve been more charitable than most about Dan Jurgens' run on Nightwing and the “Ric Grayson” saga in general. Whoever’s idea this was, I feel as though Jurgens made the best of it, positing both what Dick-Grayson-as-superhero might have been like without Batman’s influence and also offering a supporting cast of substitute Nightwings who were police and firefighters, likably “regular people” and without melodramatic angst.

But Nightwing: The Joker War is the nadir, a really poor showing, strongly suggesting the “Ric Grayson” saga is past its shelf life, and thank goodness this is the end. The McGuffin that Jurgens introduces to explain away Dick Grayson’s amnesia is itself alone a big letdown. And this book only further troubles the already beleaguered “Joker War,” making the Joker more faux-funny, groan-worthy clown than serious villain. I’ve suspected for a while that all the trappings of “Ric” would just be swept under the rug by the story’s conclusion and that seems to be the case; too bad, in the sense that I’m sorry this didn’t turn out better, but it surely seems in the end it would be preferable just to forget.

[Review contains spoilers]

I liked Jurgens' idea that the Court of Owls took advantage of Nightwing Dick Grayson’s injury to try to turn him to the Court. The Owls have tried to recruit Dick for a while, so this was logical and intrinsic to the character (even if it means Bruce Wayne hired an Owl to be Dick’s therapist, and so much for those detective skills). This hardly required a lot of comic book finessing — Dick’s doctor was an Owl, and through drugs or hypnosis or whatnot, she blocked his memory so he might be turned into one of the Owls' Talons.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

That such easy answers are available is what makes the “identity crystal” that Jurgens brings to the fore here so silly. “Drugs” and “hypnosis” obviously don’t make for a truly realistic story, but they’re more comprehendible and believable than a magic crystal whose origin Jurgens doesn’t even try to explain. In fact, so all-powerful is this magic crystal that the Joker can simply find it lying around and immediately know how to use it to layer another set of alternate memories on top of Dick’s two or three already, that of Dick as the Joker’s “Robin” instead of Batman’s. And this is how Jurgens chooses to resolve this storyline almost 25 issues long — that Dick looks into a magic crystal, then smashes it, and his memories are restored.

The crystal material alone is simply eye-rolling, but the greater indignity is when Dick is possessed by the Joker and takes on the persona of, no kidding, “Dickyboy.” As a one-off joke it might be one thing, but the name comes up again and again, even with other characters referring to him by it. I don’t even think it’s meant to be blue so much as, not wholly uncommon in Jurgens' work in my opinion, it sounded cool in the writer’s head but comes off as juvenile. That kind of inane humor that casts a pall over the Joker’s scheme; I’ll venture modern audiences want a Joker terrifying and powerful, and instead we get a Joker only as frightening as grade school humor.

It’s not the only moment when Jurgens seems off. We get five pages of a Jokerized Ric palling around with girlfriend Bea, far more than we need to get the point that Ric’s not “himself” and surely we could have been spared dialogue like “Awesomeness times one thousand comin' up!” As well, Jurgens' idea of long-time Robin Tim Drake is someone who would actually say “Nice to have you back, bro,” has to be lectured to about secret identities by Red Hood Jason Todd, and whose knowledge of disarming bombs extends only as far as cutting the purple wire “'cause I figured that’s what the Joker woulda done.” Jurgens has been around these characters for upwards of 30–40 years, so it’s hard to know to what to attribute these gaffes besides perhaps the swiftness with which these stories had to be wrapped up.

We all knew poor Bea would not last longer than the Ric Grayson story, any more than we still hear about Defacter Shawn Tsang from Tim Seeley’s run. At least Jurgens has the decency not to kill off the female character created only for the purpose of being a love interest, but instead Nightwing makes the choice, largely also outside his character, to break up with Bea in order to “protect” her. Without spoiling upcoming developments in Nightwing’s romantic life, I think it’ll be quite the lift to see how a writer can take Dick from just breaking up with Bea to where he’s about to end up in such a short space. As well, all the substitute Nightwings bow out from their roles without much fanfare or protest, which I guess is better than a “Night(wing)fall” but still seems less than they deserve.

The book includes art by Ronan Cliquet and Ryan Benjamin, among others. Cliquet is perfect for a Nightwing book, drawing a DC house style similar to Jurgens himself, with perhaps slightly more rounder edges. Benjamin has a tendency to distort the characters' faces, adding unneeded absurdity on top of absurdity, but does well with a couple of montage scenes as Dick’s memory returns.



All-in-all, Dan Jurgens was unable to stick the landing of the “Ric Grayson” saga in Nightwing: The Joker War, an unfortunate byproduct of this ill-conceived story that’s been flying without a net from the get-go. The good news of course is that Tom Taylor is on the way after the “Future State” break, a writer whose shown some good chops lately and I expect will have a good conception of Nightwing Dick Grayson. Surely it’ll be a relief to have “Ric” behind us.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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