Last month, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month three of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writers: Tim Seeley
Artist: Javier Fernández
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letters: Carlos Mangual
Kyle Pinion: Last week, we podcasted a bit about our mutual admiration of Tim Seeley and Javier Fernández’s first team-up on the first issue of Nightwing proper. Lo and behold, here we are again talking about the adventures of Dick Grayson, and his current struggle with the Parliament of the Owls and their hired-gun Raptor. I knew we’d be getting these books quickly, one after the other, but I had no idea they’d be coming this fast. We’ll call it a fluke in the schedule.
But heck, when they’re this enjoyable, I can’t complain much.
This issue gives us just a little more room to work with in understanding what Raptor is all about and just what sort of moral dilemma he may stir up with our title hero. I felt like readers were treated to some solid interplay between the two figures, and as per usual Grayson works best as a leading figure when he’s got someone to verbally spar with. Raptor remains a man of mystery, but at least he’s a relatively verbose one and fills in the gap that the very much missed Tiger left when this title shifted back over to Nightwing. I have to assume the mounting conflict will be somehow tied into why Raptor is involved in the Parliament in the first place, and just how far is Dick willing to go before he fully falls into outright villainy in order to achieve his undercover aims. Basically, it’s the set-up we expected, but it’s being pulled off with aplomb, and this continues to be one of my favorite titles of the entire Rebirth launch. For example, just how fun was that attack on Kobra? And given how it clearly demonstrates the fighting evil with evil hook that Dick will be likely enduring throughout the Better than Batman storyline, I see myself looking forward to more morally compromised missions and personal sacrifices from my favorite Gotham vigilante.
One other little nugget that scratched the part of my brain that’s obsessed with continuity, I really dug Barbara’s reference to Batwoman’s team and the Gotham twins, somewhat underscoring just why she went overseas in the first place, and tying all of these disparate Batman family titles into a nice little bow. I also just loved everything to do with Barbara here, much like last week. Seeley knows how to write that relationship in a way that pulls me in. It’s been awhile since that’s happened for me with these two.
Alex, how was your second, or really third, go-round with the newly christened Nightwing title? Are you still as high on it as last week? Is Raptor clicking better with you?
Alex Lu: I gotta say, Kyle, Seeley and Fernández have really sold me on their book in record time. Nightwing #2 was even better than the first issue of the series, in my opinion. I completely agree with everything you said about Barbara’s presence in this story, which is ultimately ancillary to Nightwing’s main plot but provides a lot of character shading to both characters that raises the stakes for the arc to come. DC’s editorial hand seems to have relaxed its grip since Rebirth began, and while Barbara’s reference to the other bat-books might reek of brand synergy interference in conceit, it’s executed with a deftness that makes the line feel totally natural. Hats off to Seeley, everyone.
And yes, Kyle, I do think I’m enjoying Raptor more now that we’ve begun digging into what makes him tick as a character. I like the additional ambiguity that’s added to his motivations and allegiances throughout this issue as we watch him do terrible things in the service of the Parliament of Owls while simultaneously agreeing to help Dick undermine them. Seeley’s dialogue remains the standout feature of Nightwing and here it helps emphasize what, exactly, Raptor means to Nightwing’s development as a person.
In one scene, Raptor rants about how everyone’s superhero costume is a symbol, created in deference to the “beast” of marketing that dominates life in Western society. It’s not a brand new argument but it is one that’s pertinent to Nightwing, who has always struggled to some extent to separate himself from his mentor, Batman. Batman is horror incarnate, as is emphasized by the scenes he shares with Dick Grayson in this issue where he tells his mentee that criminals’ “fear is more important than your trust.” Batman has meaning. Even the Parliament of Owls draws meaning through symbols, establishing a sense of prestige and legacy from the avian masks they appropriated from Gotham’s original Court of Owls.
On the other hand, Raptor is an empty vessel. He’s appropriated the imagery of a superhero for the sake of his mercenary role. It allows him to do certain things normal people wouldn’t be able to get away with such as garner immediate trust from refugees he ultimately ends up sending into enslavement. In a way, this makes him similar to Dick because Nightwing’s symbol is only seen by Raptor, the Parliament, and many at large as a “hip” new version of Batman. However, Dick is characterized as rejecting Batman’s utilization of fear as power, so if he’s not Batman 2.0 we have to wonder– what does Nightwing stand for? I think that question is what lies at the heart of this arc, and it’s going to be a fun one to explore.
The journey is even further aided by Fernández’s artwork, in my opinion. I think where he most succeeds is in establishing a sense of scale, placing characters in huge places that emphasize their power or lack thereof. In particular, the scene where Nightwing and Raptor meet with the Parliament at their Greek headquarters is quite lovely, as Fernandez dwarfs the story’s leads with an endless tower of masked faces that hold their lives in their hands. There’s also a more forlorn moment where Dick misses his date with Barbara and they are both presented in a similar manner on opposite pages– two small figures dwarfed against the vastness of a cityscape, so close to intimacy, yet ultimately alone.
Despite my praise here, I do think there’s a discussion to be had about how sketchy Fernández’s art can appear at times. While he puts in the detail where it counts such as in the scenes above, I feel like there are other panels that grab me less such as the fight scene between the mutated merman and the oddly paced scene where Nightwing and Raptor tackle some Alien-esque monsters. What’d you think about those moments Kyle? Do you wish for more detail there like I did?
Kyle: You kidding me? Those are the best looking moments in the issue. There’s a bit of similarity to David Aja sometimes, at least to my eyes, in the more sketchy moments that Fernández displays. Granted, that could just be the similarity in appearance between Raptor and Iron Fist somewhat driving that comparison for me, but I definitely get the sense that Fernández has, much like Aja, studied his Mazzucchelli well. I like the heavier-lined moments, and the action sequences that felt the most memorable were the very two you cited. I adored the look of that Kobra snake creature, and the conclusion of that battle that brought a few sharks into the mix. It’s just such a beautifully crafted sequence, and the panel to panel transitions underscored the threat of the creature and Raptor’s struggle specifically, in what might be my favorite pair of pages this week.
I will admit to some confusion on the latter example, where Nightwing pushes away the examining table and is hunched over, yet seems to be in a trance? Maybe not? But I’ll allow it in order to get that quick zip across the page that we see Fernández employ Raptor with.
This is such a good looking book. Fernández doesn’t quite pencil in the idiosyncratic style we see in Superman and Green Arrow, but of the artists that play in that more-common superhero storytelling mold, I think he offers one of the more exciting efforts on the stands. I mean, look at that punch on page 18 or so, that’s frame-worthy action!
I think we’ve said all that can really be said about this one. Seeley is playing with a solid concept, with some underlying themes to keep it all fresh enough to make it worth the approach, all the while being wrapped up in lush visuals. That’s as much of a must-buy as this week is going to get.
Alex: Indeed. Buy and pick up an extra for the person who you think needs some more Dick butt in their life.
Final Verdict: Buy!!!!!!!!!