Nightwing is a great leader, not just because Batman trained him, or because of how Alfred raised him, or even because he has a heart of gold—it’s because of his friends, and now that the Titans are in Blüdhaven with him, they can leap into the light together…which is perfect timing for the demon of darkness Neron to do something about it.
Nightwing #102 – written by Tom Taylor with art from Travis Moore, colors by Adriano Lucas, and letters from Wes Abbott – resumes Necron’s plot to abduct Blockbuster’s daughter, Olivia, who’s under the protection of the Titans. Nightwing has to break out of his makeshift grave in a morgue and gathers the Titans to rescue Olivia and beat down the fake Nightwing. It’s a quick fight and Donna Troy’s lasso makes for easy work to question the villain, and why Neron wants Olivia.
Last issue’s imposter is revealed to be a new villain, Disguise Master, who was a lame shapeshifter that couldn’t commit simple bank thefts. Neron comes to him and offers a deal for his soul, powering up the villain into the Grinning Man, who can replicate a person but is forced to always smile. The shapeshifter is a hired gun who has no idea why Neron wants Olivia, and has no problem killing Marcova’s King or kidnapping children. Raven and the team realize Olivia isn’t important in the long run, but this plot has been the demon’s attempts to restore his image after being beaten by the girl in a previous issue.
Taylor’s script is smooth and like clockwork at this point in the run, hitting a comfortable stride that does little to rock the boat. The first stretch of this run was to reestablish Nightwing and Dick’s life in Blüdhaven along with getting the vigilante in a place beyond Ric Grayson and the death of Alfred. It accomplished those goals and has shifted a primary focus to establishing the role of the Nightwing as leader of the Titans and the team’s place in the DC Universe going forward. The problem with this shift in focus is that the abundance of characters has made this solo title feel crowded, and the fun interpersonal relationships Taylor set up, such as the ongoing romance with Barbara, the family bond with his new sister, and even the professional relationship with Blüdhaven P.D. have faltered.
The announcement of a new Titans series launching from Taylor and Nicola Scott, informs the feeling that this issue (along with the previous one) feels like a stepping stone to that title. Taylor’s script splits its focus between the Olivia/Neron plot development and giving each Titan a fun but shallow moment to shine in the fight, ensuring that character or interpersonal drama never really comes out. It’s a frustrating change to the core ethos of a series that has oriented itself in that direction. Hopefully, this is just a temporary issue, and once the arc and Titans book launch, the series can return to its smaller, more focused beats Nightwing and his supporting cast.
Moore is a great choice for the Titans’ interlude issues, bringing a strong sense of style and direction for each hero and the respective elements they bring. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate multiple super-characters in team-up stories, but in the extended fight sequence, Moore’s art gives each Titan a chance to shine. Nightwing’s attack incorporates the instructional styling that series mainstay artist Bruno Redondo employs, showing how the vigilante’s escrima stick can launch gas pellets mid-combat (a similar sequence from Nightwing #97 below). The energy blasts from Starfire and Cyborg are overwhelming blasts of power, where Starfire can be a bit more relaxed while Cyborg puts his back into it. The Flash wraps up the fight, and Moore’s distinct use of blurring and lightning trails doesn’t overwhelm the page.
Moore shines in giving these characters a distinct style, but his other strength is the ability to render the creepiest of smiles. The Grinning Man’s design is simple, but terrifying thanks to the streamlined approach to his silhouette. When untransformed, he is just solid black with an over-exaggerated smile that looks like it belongs on the Joker’s face. There’s a reason that some artists can take the Joker and make his visage the stuff of nightmares, and Moore takes into that uncanny element that elevates it. It might be that the divots for his eyes are present but not overwhelming, and everything draws the eye back to the grin.
Lucas’s coloring works in tandem with the art to reinforce that twisted smile. The inky black of Grinning Man’s body is different from the uses of black on Nightwing or Donna Troy’s costume, as seen in the interrogation scene, or the background of the page. That comes through thanks to the highlights in the black, ensuring it is not a solid, uninterrupted stretch of black. Just like the divots on the face, the breaking up of the main element accents the main element of the design, which in this instance is the smile.
Elsewhere, Lucas’s colors continue to help define this book, giving it a high-flying feel while ensuring it still feels like a title. The shift in palette and tone is most evident in the Nightwing section of the fight, working to create the interesting visual of Nightwing engaging his escrima stick’s hidden compartments. It’s been seen before, but every time Lucas colors the sequences, it’s the most eye-catching moment on the page. The coloring of not only Nightwing’s weapon and hand becomes flat and simplified, but the background and gutters move into something different.
The backup for this issue continues Nightwing’s team-up with Jon Kent and comes from writer C.S. Pacat, penciller Eduardo Pansica, inker Julio Ferreira, colorist Adriano Lucas, and letterer Wes Abbott. The duo is investigating an attempted murder at a circus, making it personal for Nightwing. Superman agrees to stay on the case and learn from the school of Bat-deduction. Pacat’s script showcases the difference in approach that Nightwing takes compared to his mentor while showcasing the skills he learns from the world’s greatest detective.
The framework of having Dick guide Superman through it is an excellent choice to showcase these skills and reveals how well-adjusted but thorough the vigilante can be. Pansica’s art visually reinforces that interesting dichotomy, shifting a darker, pulpier style with Batman compared to the more modern approach of the present-day story. The shifts in style help to disorient the reader, and plays up the reveal at the end of the issue, even as it logically makes sense. Lucas’s colors reinforce that divide in style, playing up the cooler colors and halftones of the past while utilizing the palette of the current Nightwing book in the present.
Nightwing #102 is a well-put-together comic, even though it feels more like an extended preview for the upcoming Titans series. The focus on what DC is pushing at its premiere superhero team leaves little room for the established Nightwing supporting cast and the interpersonal drama that helped to establish this title. The scripting is never bad, just missing an element that hopefully will return in the next arc.
Moore’s art is suited for this arc, thanks to the ability to mold each hero and their powerset, along with the horror-leaning villain. Lucas’s colors reinforce the best parts of the art while maintaining the tone and look of the overall series while making the best moments pop even more. Fans of the Titans will love this story, but those who fell for the more contained look at Dick and his personal life may find the issue a little shallow.
Nightwing #102: Will the Real Nightwing Please Stand Up?
- Writing - 7/107/10
- Storyline - 7/107/10
- Art - 8/108/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10
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