Pull List: The Rebirth of Nightwing

Pull List is generally a pretty positive column. It’s my chance to sing the praises of such-and-such new series and indulge my comic book nerditry. This month, not so much. I mean, of course you should at least check out Nightwing. If you loved Grayson, this won’t fill that hole but it’ll suffice. But within the context of Rebirth, it just doesn’t work for me. I have months worth of pent-up grumbling to do about the not-a-reboot, so strap in, kiddies. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Tim Seeley and Tom King’s Grayson is a high bar to beat, and Seeley’s solo turn on Nightwing does a decent job carrying the torch. The best Dick Grayson stories are where he’s dealing with all his personal baggage while getting sassy with his latest relationships (platonic or otherwise). In Nightwing, Dick returns to Gotham to infiltrate the Parliament of Owls before moving to Blüdhaven in a much-needed restart of his personal life. He’s still trying to figure out who he is as a man and a superhero, which, given his soap opera-esque complicated backstory is harder than it sounds. Family, or more specifically, the Bat Family, is hugely important to him, as is finding his place within it. And as interesting as that is, it’s territory already thoroughly explored in Grayson. Locations are new, but the themes are a copy-paste job.

Dick’s charisma isn’t enough to carry a series; he needs a layered, meaningful plot to keep him occupied. So far, it’s not the stories that are the most compelling but Dick’s troubled relationships within them. His team ups with Damian, Batgirl, Raptor, and Huntress are cool, but are rooted in the past. It’s his new life with the Defacer/Shawn Tsang and the Run-Offs that offer more engaging stories, largely because the dynamics are so, well, new. Shawn has the spark and verve that Dick always finds attractive in women, but she isn’t a reboot of Barbara or Helena. She has her own unpleasant history with the Bat Family that affects their relationship in ways neither expects.

As a side note, it’s unwise to build a story around vilifying characters who destroy monuments to Gotham’s past. Even though the battle over Confederate monuments is especially heated right now and it’s tempting to give Seeley the benefit of the doubt of unfortunate timing, POC have been having this monument conversation for ages. So when Batman denounces Pigeon and the Defacer as “‘art terrorists’ who thought they could rewrite Gotham’s history by destroying its monuments to the past,” it comes off as more than a little tone deaf. Batman, my dude, monuments aren’t the sole repository of history, and destroying or removing them doesn’t suddenly erase the person or event from all of historical knowledge. If that’s the kind of guy Batman is, then I’m glad I don’t read his comics. (Also not super pleased at all the dudes cluttering up the production. Nightwing would benefit from some female input, particularly regarding Shawn and Huntress.)

Javier Fernández is the main artist for the series. Although I personally don’t love his art style, I can’t deny that it mostly fits with the tone of the book. His panel structure is interesting and impressive. Fernández favors heavy, dark line work that often overwhelms facial expressions. It’s a style that works well on the “Nightwing Must Die!” arc with its dream sequences and shadowy action, but less so on quieter moments between Dick and Shawn. I definitely preferred Marcus To and Minkyu Jung to Fernández. Jung’s work is energetic and acrobatic, particularly his fight scenes. They’re brutal and fast-paced, and so well done. But it’s To’s work I love the most. He so perfectly gets Nightwing and Nightwing. His backgrounds are a little too sparse, but he soars on action sequences and facial expressions. I want a whole Nightwing series with Seeley and To.

Chris Sotomayor’s colors are spot on. Lots of jewel tones and bold colors. No matter what artists he works with, he always nails the coloring. Carlos M. Mangual does yeoman’s duty with the constant narration. Seeley can get a bit text-heavy in Nightwing, but Mangual keeps the speech bubbles and text boxes orderly and the story flowing.

I’m one of those comic book fans where if I don’t dig both the art and the writing, then I don’t bother reading it. And it’s more than just liking the art and writing styles. I want them to work in concert with each other, for the text to add to the art and vice versa. The art and text should together push boundaries and be creatively unique. With DC Rebirth, I haven’t seen enough on that front to keep my interest. It’s not as bad on Nightwing as it is on some other titles (looking at you, Wonder Woman), but the constant shifting around to me shows a disregard for both the story and the artists. Artist rotation feels almost random rather than dictated by who would best tell the story. Many readers aren’t bothered by the lack of stability, but for me it’s downright unpleasant. It makes buying by the issue nearly impossible – why pay for an issue full of art I don’t care for just to stay current? – and in a trade it’s jarring. Moreover, it’s made me wary about going back to other DC characters I like.

To be clear, this isn’t just a DC problem (Marvel suffers from a lack of artist respect, too) nor is a publisher-wide issue (James Tynion and Marguerite Bennett’s Batwoman is phenomenal). Adding to my DC annoyance is the twice-monthly release schedule. Just catching up for this review felt like a Herculean task. I hadn’t read any Nightwing since the Rebirth issue last July, which meant I had TWENTY-SEVEN issues to plow through. Post-Rebirth, DC has gotten even worse about releasing trades in a timely fashion. Only two volumes of Nightwing are out thus far, and they only get you to issue #15 (minus the two-issue “Night of the Monster Men” miniseries which are in an entirely separate trade volume), meaning just to stay up-to-date requires a solid financial investment and a willingness to buy by the issue.

As much as I enjoyed catching up with Nightwing for this Pull List, I don’t know that I have the stamina to keep reading. New titles dropping twice a month is costly enough both in money and time, but having to wade through a metric ton of rotating artists I don’t like to get to the one or two I love, plus relatively unadventurous storylines is too much for me. Looks like I’m back to checking out trades from my local library.

Writer: Tim Seeley, Steve Orlando (issues #5-6); artist: Javier Fernández, Roge Antonio (#5-6), Marcio Takara (#9), Marcus To (#10-14), Minkyu Jung (#11, 23, 25), Fernández and Jung (#18-19); colors: Chris Sotomayor, Marcello Maiolo (#9); letters: Carlos M. Mangual; pencils: Miguel Mendonca (#22, 24); inks: Vicente Cifuentes (#22), Diana Conesa (#24). Issue #21 Flash crossover: writer Michael McMillian; artist: Christian Duce; colors: Chris Sotomayor; letters: Carlos M. Mangual. The series rebooted in July 2016, and issue #28 will be released by DC Comics on September 8, 2017.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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