Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nightwing: Freefall

Dick Grayson has been a favorite of mine for almost as long as I've been reading comic books. I loved Marv Wolfman's work on the character up until the '90s, and his return to Nighwing with Love and War showed promise. However, The Lost Year was dreadful on every front, leaving the next creative team with nowhere to go but up. I've gone on at length about The Trouble With Nightwing, and was somewhat heartened on starting this trade paperback that writer Peter J. Tomasi seemed to share some of my concerns. In his initial run, he wrote a lighthearted Grayson that could never be confused with Matt Murdock, frequenting the Batcave as he pleased, and fraternizing with his replacement as Robin. This Nightwing carried over old foes from his Boy Wonder days, took advantage of his fortune to enable his heroics, and began building a new lair of his own. All this, and drawn by Rags Morales to boot. What's not to love?

A bit too much, I'm afraid. Most of the trade is devoted to entanglements with Talia, mother of Batman's bastard child. However, Talia was usually a reluctant aid against the schemes of her father, Ra's al Ghul, meaning Nightwing is stuck with the suddenly villainous but mostly dismissible daughter of a far more worthy foe. Alternately, there's mad scientist Creighton Kendall, a leftover from the largely forgotten Black Condor series Rags drew in the early '90s. These do not inspire confidence in the abilities of our hero.

Next, there's Grayson's new role as a museum curator, not unlike Hawkman, from another series drawn by Rags. This development comes out of nowhere, is highly derivative, and poorly suits the lead character. How about his new librarian girlfriend Deborah, separated partly by his old librarian girlfriend Barbara Gordon by (snicker) blond cornrows? Cameos by Superman, Flash, and the JSA show how easily Nightwing can network, but they're used so casually, and without canonical support, that they seem out of place. There's repeated references to Nightwing skydiving that just take up space. The cavalier script reads like a more graphic retread of old '70s comics, the second coming of Gerry Conway or Mike W. Barr. The story itself veers into bad Roger Moore Bond territory. The final battle is especially ridiculous, as Nightwing relies on lightning precognition to place an unimpressive villain right where he needs him at the exact second. Plus, Don Kramer has to pick up the ball for Rags routinely, leaving the art inconsistent.

There's no weight here, and Nightwing remains firmly on the B- List. Shoudn't having been one of the most recognizable heroes in the world once still mean something, or will he always remain in the shadow of not just the Batman, but even the latest Robin?

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