I lost track of Nightwing after I stopped reading New Teen Titans in the 1980s. I fondly (but indistinctly) remember an arc in the 1990s in which Nightwing (the original Robin, Dick Grayson) filled in for Batman after the big Zero Hour crossover event, but it was a short-term thing. Nightwing had his own comic that I picked up here and there during some mega-crossover, but as it was set in some town called “Blüdhaven” I immediately deemed it worthless of further attention.
This new Nightwing comic returns the character to his proper roots in Gotham City. Higgins uses captions to let Nightwing narrate his own story, which is a mostly upbeat affair about returning to Gotham after another stint replacing Bruce Wayne as Batman. I didn’t read any of those comics (which were apparently good and kind of a big deal), but the story Higgins told didn’t punish me for it. We get a sense that Nightwing matured during the experience, and that he has greater confidence in himself and his ability to handle whatever life throws at him.
And by life, I mean “Gotham”. For all its quirks and weirdness, Nightwing seems to respect the city almost as an sentient opponent, always ready to twist the things you love against you, to push you down when you’re feeling confident. You get a sense that he’s playing chess against the city itself. It’s a neat take on the character’s personality and his place in the city.
Higgins brings us back to the beginning with Nightwing by bringing the circus back to town. Way back when Robin was first introduced in 1940 his parents, the “Flying Graysons,” were killed by the mafia, who were trying to extort money from the circus. (Robin, by the way, has a ghoulishly similar origin to Deadman…) Dick Grayson was a member of that trapeze family team, and when Dick visits his old friends under the big top, he gets back on the swings and puts on a show. Eddy Barrows does an excellent job of emphasizing Nightwing’s acrobatic skills and grace with cool illustrations of flips and crazy tumbles throughout the issue, adding more distinction between Nightwing and Batman.
A fun scene about halfway through the book gives us Grayson’s own thoughts about the differences between himself and the Dark Knight. Dick prefers to keep an apartment in the grittier sections of the city he is trying to clean up, whereas Batman lives in a posh neighborhood or in the penthouses of skyscrapers. Grayson isn’t above pigging out on junk food, and as he picks up his costume off the floor, he adds “costume display” to the list of differences. It’s an amusing turn in the script that’s immediately followed by a circus scene featuring a white-faced clown complaining to management about having to wear a green wig at a Gotham City stop. Good stuff.
At the end of the comic, just when Nightwing seems to have outmaneuvered Gotham City and gotten some joy out of reconnecting to his past, a ninja-suited superspy acrobat guy with Wolverine claws pops out of nowhere and starts going to town on Dick Grayson. While the bad guy literally slices through two cops’ chests, necks, and faces (in one move) Dick ducks into an alley and dons his Nightwing costume. It really, really, really sucks to be a cop in the New DCU. When I’m done with my reviews, I’m going to go back over them just to see how many police officers were murdered, and I’m willing to bet the number will be higher than a dozen, and that’s not counting the entire precinct that were dismembered and beheaded in Batwing.
So Nightwing steps out of the alley, and the super-ninja is all “that idiot Dick Grayson is lucky to have a super-protector like you, Nightwing!” Which suggests that maybe the reason this guy wears glowing goggles is that he is OBVIOUSLY BLIND. Nighting, understandably, says “hey, wait, this Grayson guy is innocent!” The bad guy then says (and this one is an actual quote) “Grayson isn’t innocent. Dick Grayson is the fiercest killer in all of Gotham, and he doesn’t even know it.”
Is this a reference to the mystery story in Batman #1? I certainly hope so, as it would be interesting to see a major event in one of these books have an echo in another. So far the Batman books don’t have much cross-title continuity, and while that is probably very good for the readability of the comics on a one-by-one basis (and very much in the spirit of the reader-friendly relaunch), it’s a bit implausible that Grayson could be a stone-cold (albeit subconscious) murderer in one comic and not have it affect the other. Or maybe there’s something entirely different going on in both comics, and we’ll just have to see.
Based on the quality of the first issue, I’m willing to stick around to find out what happens next. Higgins has presented a lead character I’m interested in learning more about, and Barrows draws it in pretty pictures that are fun to look at.