Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nightwing: Love and War

Plus Side: Marv Wolfman made me a fan of Dick Grayson from a young age, specifically with 1983's The New Teen Titans Annual #2, alongside George Perez. I'd never cared much about Robin up to that point, but then I read the scene where the mob boss' bimbo says, "Gee. I thought he was a boy, but he's a man." She knew it, I knew it, and we both dug it. "The Murder Machine" was one of those great stories where lots of stuff is happening to characters that don't really matter, but you're made to care in short order regardless.

Once Nightwing appeared, he became one of my favorites. I was never going to have a build like Batman, but Nightwing's form seemed an attainable ideal, which I strive for to this day. Obviously he was much more of a ladies man, which is another goal I've failed at miserably. He was a brilliant strategist and wonderful with team dynamics, at least until “Titans Hunt.” Character, writer, and book all seemed to lose their way around that point, actually. After years of monopolizing Nightwing, Wolfman had him stripped away for use in the Batman family titles, and eventually his own series. By my reckoning though, not only did Chuck Dixon treat Dick as unquestionably inferior to the Dark Knight, but in many ways an underachiever outshone by even Tim Drake. I couldn't bear to follow the series for longer than spurts because of this realization. Devin Grayson had a better handle and more regard for the character, but she was saddled with an artist I really can't stand, and she took Nightwing to places that could unfortunately be described as Daredevil Lite. I barely touched her run until Phil Hester came aboard, but by then it was too late to really turn the ship around. Bruce Jones? Passed.

So, after better than a decade, Wolfman came back to Nightwing, and I enjoyed his story better than any other starring the character in at least that many years. I tend to hate when street-level heroes battle flying cyborgs and such, but Wolfman sold the story well enough that I didn't mind a bit. The compelling script, or perhaps just working more to his element, improved Dan Jurgen's game as well. I always preferred his Batman work to the lengthy Superman run, despite Jurgens having is career defined by the Man of Steel. He was done a disservice with three very different inkers on Nightwing though, with one especially overpowering the pencils to detrimental effect. Jamal Igle and Paco Diaz contribute attractive art to the second story arc, as well. I’m very glad I took the chance on “Love and War,” as it was thoroughly enjoyable for this longtime fan.

Minus Side: That said, why won’t Wolfman allow Nightwing to step up into the Big Leagues, where he belongs? Robin was the first kid sidekick in comic book history, and easily one of the most recognizable heroes in the world. Dick Grayson was the first “child star” to grow up and assume a new, adult identity for himself, becoming a fan favorite character in the process. Wolfman was largely responsible for that evolution, yet has hobbled the character ever since. It was pretty much his decision not to allow Nightwing his own series in the 80’s, allowing him only guest appearances, short runs under his pen in Action Comics and Titans spin-off books, and of course his co-starring within the Titans main title. Nightwing was rightly taken from Wolfman just as the Titans book reached its creative nadir, and eventually sold the character out as an also-ran amongst the Batman family. All those years since the estrangement of character and revitalizing creator, with two intriguing stories lovingly drawn, and where does their reunion ultimately lead? Nightwing is still punching people in the dick, a move I found amusing in his later “Teen Wonder” days, but seems a bit too dirty today. His new foes, while interesting, aren’t particularly impressive. Even still, Nighrwing fails to actually beat any of them. In fact, Dick Grayson fails at almost every undertaking in this trade:

  • Fails to safeguard his new henchman.
  • Fails to save Raptor.
  • Is beaten and buried alive by mysterious iTunes assassin, and never faces him again in the trade.
  • Fails to stop the second Raptor, who is conveniently killed by his own suit prior to Dick doing the same.
  • Fails to uncover the masterminds behind the string of murders, who are dealt with by a superior Dick never discovers.
  • Fails to hook-up with any of the new supporting cast members, despite trying.
  • Attempts to lead and protect a new super-team, only to fail them to the tune of multiple deaths and a horrific impairment.
  • Fails to save Raptor’s family from grisly murder.
  • Fails to capture Bride and Groom.

    It’s a credit to the creative team that I enjoyed the book regardless of its hero being an impotent loser, but I’d really prefer to see the character redeemed before Dan Didio reconsiders sacrificing him to another crossover event.

    Also, while all the artists were good, they were also very different, which massively alters the tone of the trade over its course. While both the story arcs are probably more violent than necessary, Dan Jurgens is clearly still drawing a super-hero book, where Jamal Igle crosses over into Tales From The Crypt. Again, I like gore as much as the next guy, if not more, but things might be getting out of hand once people’s intestines start making appearances. Wolfman does love his horror, and he’s good at it, but hopefully someday he’ll figure out that this degree doesn’t really suit Titans characters well.

    I’d still recommend “Love and War” to just about any Nightwing fan. I just hope the next collection allows the hero a chance to succeed at, well, something?

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