Review: Nightwing: Fear State hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

I’d thought it was a little silly that DC didn’t number the Nightwing: Fear State collection as “Vol. 2,” leaving perhaps the less-informed to go straight from issue #83 to issue #87 without direction.

But having read it, while enjoyable, the Nightwing “Fear State” volume really does feel like a tangent from Tom Taylor’s Nightwing proper, and especially without series artist Bruno Redondo in tow. It’s in some ways more of a backdoor pilot for the new Batgirls series than it is a Nightwing story proper, and there was probably an argument to be made for cutting the Nightwing Annual and Batman: Urban Legends stories from this book and including the “Batgirls” backups from the Batman book instead.

(While Batman and Nightwing don’t quite intersect in “Fear State”, Nightwing and the “Batgirls” backups in the “Fear State” issues of Batman do. See my review of Batman: Fear State Saga; a “full” collection of “Fear State” — perhaps-too-long, but reasonable to read — might’ve included Batman #112–117, including the “Batgirls” backups, plus Nightwing #84–86, probably give-or-take some Catwoman and Harley Quinn issues, instead of the lightly related Secret Files DC populated the book why instead.)

Anyway, Nightwing: Fear State is fine, allowing Taylor to plumb or create some Nightwing history, at the least. I’m impatient for DC to get on with collecting his Nightwing run proper.

[Review contains spoilers]

I feel we’ve seen the “Nightwing has to reconnect with estranged friends” story before, not in the least in the midpoint to aftermath of the (great) Grayson series. It’s not Taylor’s fault necessarily — he inherited the clean-up from the “Ric Grayson” saga, and this is all perfectly logical if it’s not your second or third time around as a reader.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But it does feel like Taylor’s trying a little hard what with Nightwing thanking Batman for saving him from an ambush and then Nightwing wide-eyed in the background when Batman calls Nightwing his “son.” I get both that Taylor has to reestablish the relationship for Nightwing readers and also that Batman’s emotional maturity is in a constant state of flux based on the needs of the story du jour, but at some point this foster father and his foster sons caring about one another feels like it should be less of an event and more a given, especially given how many times it’s been treated as an event.

That extends too to what seems like it’s supposed to be a climactic moment in the story, where the reader has been treated to Batgirl Barbara Gordon’s fear gas-induced nightmare (but not Nightwing’s concurrent nightmare, strangely). Each has apparently seen the other die, and they reunite in a kiss — an awfully small panel, also strangely, for what seems like it’s meant to be big, given Tim Drake’s “Oh, finally” and additional references to the kiss later on.

But, given what of many things seems to be back in continuity, as upheld by this volume — Robin Dick Grayson’s short pants, the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, and so on — isn’t this a Dick and Barbara who were almost at one point engaged? Who kissed as recently as the last volume (and with more fanfare by Redondo)? Similar to Nightwing getting a jolt from Batman’s kindness, Taylor’s “finally” feels unearned, an exercise in going through the major Dick Grayson motions, the culmination of a will they/won’t they story without establishing any of Barbara and Dick’s old or new foibles along the way.

Still, again, I see the theme of Taylor’s “Fear State” foray is teammwork — Nightwing fighting alongside Batman, Nightwing fighting alongside Barbara, and then Barbara and Dick in the lead of Robin Tim Drake and Batgirls Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain. Those pieces haven’t all totally been in the same place in about a decade, the closest reflection of the much-loved post-No Man’s Land status quo we’ve seen yet. An event tie-in side-trip is a good time to cement that kind of thing in general, and also without taking away from the Nightwing forward action any more than “Fear State” is already doing.

Guest artist Robbi Rodriguez has a sketchy, almost blurred line style that reminds of Rafael Albuquerque and works well when reality gets dubious amidst the fear gas. No complaints either about Cian Tormey and Daniel HDR on the annual, with a particularly nice stop-motion panel of Nightwing and Red Hood leaping across an airplane, and Christian Duce’s depicition of the New Teen Titans in the Urban Legends story. (Though I’m less impressed with Duce’s long-hair-and-party-dress Kate Kane. The editors ought know better.)

The Nightwing 2021 Annual by Taylor is fine if not wholly notable; mostly I like that it reflects recent developments for Red Hood (and also demonstrates Taylor’s encyclopedic Clayface knowledge). I took more umbrage with Tini Howard’s Urban Legends story, which sees Barbara chide Nightwing to stop saving people’s lives and come to her holiday party instead, and also posits New Titans' Nightwing moping on his bed in full costume because Bruce didn’t call to wish him a merry Christmas even as Starfire and the others party around him. Both of these show a lack of meta-awareness about the characters and story that would be more worrying if Howard were the main Nightwing writer.



In total, however, given Nightwing: Fear State, one could do far worse (and has in the past) than Tom Taylor reestablishing Nightwing as a friend and leader among his peers. I’m still eager to see how Taylor plays out Dick Grayson’s social agenda in a dramatic way on the page, and hopefully we’ll get back to that soon. Perhaps coincidence, but both Taylor’s annual and Tini Howard’s story saw Nightwing using Wayne Manor’s abandoned Batcave as his base of operations; I wonder if that’s a hint at a development yet to come.

[Includes original and variant covers, Batgirl new costume design]


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