‘Grayson’ #1 Satisfies The Need For More… Nightwing [Review]
Dick Grayson is one of those characters that's been rumored to be on DC Comics' chopping block for well over a decade now, so like a lot of readers, I expected his unmasking in Forever Evil to be followed by a quick and ignominious death at the hands of, I don't know, Deathstroke or Harley Quinn or somebody. When it was announced that it would instead be leading into a new series where he'd be ditching the Nightwing identity and joining up with Spyral as an international super-spy, I was actually pretty excited. There's a lot of possibility there, and if it was done right, it could take advantage of what the New 52 reboot had to offer by doing something that we hadn't seen before with that character, something that would be fresh and exciting even for a major DC character who's been around since 1940.
With the first issue of Grayson, Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin and cover artist Andrew Robinson have done their level best at doing just that, and they've pulled it off. This is a book that jumps straight into the action, that's not afraid to drop some really, really weird stuff on you right in the first issue, and the end result is one of the strongest new titles since the New 52 got its start in 2011.
Despite the excitement of seeing a fresh take on its title character, what appeals to me the most about Grayson is that it's not quite the entirely new idea that it's billed as. There's a long tradition of Batman stories that cast the caped crusader as a world-traveling adventurer who was less grim vigilante and more masked James Bond, and I love that idea. The simple notion that there's no crime so big that he won't go after it and that Batman exists beyond borders of jurisdictions is a big part of what I love about the character. The thing is, while that type of story hit its high point in the '70s -- and made me imagine Roger Moore running around in a Batman's costume, which is maybe the most pleasant mental image I've had all week -- DC has largely moved away from it in recent years, and it's hard to really fault them for that.
The best Batman stores of the past twenty, even the past thirty years have all been rooted in the idea of Batman waging his war on crime in Gotham City. Even when Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert launched their run as a tribute to the "hairy-chested love god" era of Batman stories by sending him to England to fight a bunch of ninja Man-Bats, it always came back to Gotham. Morrison even underscored that idea with the reintroduction of the Club of Heroes and Batman Incorporated, rooting Batman in Gotham City and assigning the rest of the world to other heroes. And again, I love those stories.
Dick Grayson, however, is different.
While he has been around as Batman's sidekick for 74 years, the drama of the modern Dick Grayson has always been driven by how he's different from his mentor Bruce Wayne. If Batman has been rooted to Gotham City, Dick's become a traveler, moving from Gotham to Hudson University to Blüdhaven to New York to Chicago, trying his hand at a variety of civilian jobs, and even taking on the identity of Batman himself for a while. He's not tied to any one place, which means he can go anywhere, and when you combine that with his established characterization as a handsome, charming, athletic crime fighter, the move into filling that world-traveling, Bond-esque corner of the Batman mythos seems like a pretty natural one to fill, especially with Janin's beautiful rendition of Dick's first adventure as a superhero-tinged spy heist on a train through Eastern Europe.
And really, that's the first issue's greatest strength. Seeley and King's script has a great understanding of Dick Grayson as a character, and they go to great lengths to show that those strengths come from the ways that he's not like Batman. It's not the training or the athleticism that show why he is who he is, but the friendliness and honesty, the understanding of people. Those are the things that have formed his character, and those are exactly what they're highlighting.
Of course, there's one similarity that they keep intact.
When the art for Grayson was revealed and showed Dick as a gun-toting spy, there was more than a little consternation for readers about Batman's longest-tenured protege violating his code against firearms. To be honest, aside from my usual reluctance to see superheroes using guns, that didn't particularly bothered me -- the guns are a thing for Bruce Wayne specifically because of his origin. As I told Seeley in his ComicsAlliance interview, it would only really bother me if former circus acrobat Dick was running around garrotting people with a snapped trapeze wire. That said, I definitely don't want to see him killing people, and I was pretty overjoyed when the first few pages of the book involved him using the gun as a big heavy batarang rather than for its intended purpose.
I know I've been giving Janin short shrift so far, but part of that is because there's a character design so great in this book that I don't even want to come close to spoiling it. I'll just say this: It's exactly the kind of superhero creepiness that I love to see in comics like this, and I laughed out loud with the pure fun of it when he showed up at the end.
Combine all that with the fantastic art (and Grayson's fantastic eyebrows, which are on some next level jazz under Janin's pencil) and hints at a larger spy mystery that echoes the best parts of books like Checkmate, and the end result is something that lives up to the high hopes that I had for it and has me interested in this new take on a character that I'm already predisposed to like. Which is, you know, the stated goal of the New 52.
To be honest, the only thing that I didn't love about Grayson #1 was that the Midnighter shows up, but that's not really because of anything that happens in this particular book. His appearance is actually done really well, and serves as a reminder that there are other super-powered espionage acts floating around this version of the DC Universe that will need to be contended with. Plus, Dick's dismissive "I know the type" is a pretty solid burn for the Batman analogue recently transported over from the Wildstorm universe. The thing that gets me about Midnighter's presence here is that it serves as a reminder that thew New 52niverse is a bizarre little hodgepodge of different pieces that haven't really come together yet, in which Batman and his family exist alongside characters created as parodies of Batman, to the point where Midnighter's even got the same wingy thingies on his gloves, but are now meant to have just existed alongside him forever, as though he innovated that style of wingy gloves completely independently of Batman.
But really, that's the most minor complaint that I could possibly offer up about this comic. Everything else about it is so strong, so engaging and so fun that I cannot wait to read the next issue. Good things are happening in these Batman books, and I could not be more excited about that.