A new energy has swung into Nightwing as if by flying trapeze (sorry), bringing relevant plotlines, complex characterizations, and storied Bat Family dynamics that we haven’t seen of late. Bludhaven is slimy again, Dick Grayson is earnest-yet-super-dreamy, and there’s a distinct feeling these stories could only happen to the adult Boy Wonder, rather than to generic Batman-lite, which is what Nightwing tends to be when written too meat and potatoes.
And this thunder is being brought by new creators: writer Benjamin Percy (Green Arrow) and artist Chris Mooneyham with Klaus Johnson inks and Nick Filardi colors. It’s only two issues (#44 and #45), but I’m aflutter, aflutter! And obviously since I’m using words like aflutter, I’m incapable of clearly articulating why...so I picked five panels from Wednesday’s issue to explain.
Let’s do this!
Panel 1 - Nightwing's Narration
Panel 1 shows off one of the book’s core strengths—Percy’s Dick Grayson narration. For me, stuff like this really clicks: “I mean...Babs? As in Babs? I don’t accidentally fall into bed with anyone, but especially not her. Our lives are too complicated for either of us to believe in soul mates...but she’s close.”
Gah! There’s so much to love. Dick is just earnest enough, just good enough, and just aware enough to know his life is challenging and weird but that he wouldn’t have it any other way. Nightwing is also a rare comic character that has aged, and Percy embraces that, hinting at a real past, present and future, as well as at real chances for growth.
Panel 2 - Shared Grotesquery
This panel shows how cohesively the creative team is functioning. I’ve read all Percy’s novels, which are loaded with depraved grotesquery. I don’t often hold those ideas for long in my mind’s eye, but if I did, images like this are what I'd probably see. Mooneyham visualizing this cadaver evokes Percy’s prose, whether it’s deliberate or not, and that tells me all I need to know about their shared sensibilities, frighteningly hairy as they are.
It’s also a good fit for Bludhaven. Percy has said his “darker sensibilities” would play well here, and he’s right.
Panel 3 - Some Funny
Humor in violent superhero comics sometimes be preening, but Six-pack McPretty? Hi-larious.
Panel 4 - The Larger Bat Universe
I’ve felt a disconnect between Nightwing and the rest of the Bat Family recently, maybe as far back as Grayson (2015), within which Dick was a secret agent. Percy wasted no time fixing that. The involvement of Barbara Gordon is especially welcome, and Percy has a real knack for writing her, much as he did with Black Canary, depicting both characters as independent from yet also vital to the lives of the male heroes.
(Oh, and the Killer Croc bit here is also a funny moment that backs up Panel 3...the spittle and Croc's pomeranian's name really got me.)
Panel 5 - The Surprise!
This panel is perhaps most illustrative of why Nightwing has worked under its new creators. It’s a key moment in a story about the power of tech over individuals (searingly relevant these days). It also depicts the seriousness and terror Percy et al. bring while adding a twist that ups the stakes for next issue.
Plus, it made me contemplate which would be worse: a robot spider crawling into my throat or said spider emerging later with my deepest secrets. Truly unnerving, and, perhaps most importantly, unnerving in a different way than most Batman stories, which are are far more allegorical. Overall, this Nightwing is vibrant, unpredictable, well-characterized, funny, and connected to the Bat Family while still feeling uniquely Dick Grayson.
But Not So Fast
If I have one concern it’s that Percy sometimes gets overextended. I mean, he writes comics while rapidly churning out nouveau Stephen King novels, short stories, and even a recent writing guide. Plus he has young kids, which I understand is a time suck. So yeah, I’ve seen inconsistency here and there, even during his all-time great run on Green Arrow, and I’d wager overextending is the culprit.
But this is a celebration! Two months ago I was on the verge of dropping Nightwing, and now? It’s one of my favorite superhero books. That’s no small feat for two issues. I hope Percy and his collaborators get a run that matches or exceeds his 50+ issues of Green Arrow. I’d love to see his novelistic approach to comics played out in this book.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.