Nightwing and the Titans realize the only way to save Olivia is to…go to hell! Seeing how ineffective his punching was when he last confronted Neron’s demons, Nightwing is temporarily powered up by magic in order to make it through the depths of hell alive…literally. Then, in the backup: Nightwing and Jon Kent find an important clue as to who’s behind the circus murders, and that person may be connected to Dick Grayson…
Faustian bargains and deals with the devil are essential elements of superhero comics, touching everything from Ghost Rider to Spider-Man, and even the entire DC Universe in past events. In most instances, it’s a matter of choice to enter the bargain, but Tom Taylor flips the script and forces his character into it with the current Nightwing run. It’s a compelling well of conflict and serves as an opportunity to highlight a character’s moral fortitude, or failings while dramatizing the search for a character’s needs or wants.
Nightwing #104 – written by Tom Taylor with from Travis Moore, colors by Adriano Lucas, and letters from Wes Abbott – brings the battle between the former sidekick and Neron to an end, partly thanks to the villain’s classic hubris. Neron gifts Nightwing powers on the level of Superman for two hours in a desperate act to tempt the hero into signing away Olivia’s (Blockbuster’s daughter) soul. Once Neron explains the boon, Nightwing departs immediately, flying to Themyscira to rescue Olivia and the Titans from Neron’s supercharged villains like Gorilla Grodd and Doctor Polaris.
Back on Earth, Nightwing meets Superman and offers his thanks, meeting the Kryptonian as an equal thanks to the powers. With the new powerset, Nightwing quickly works on the villains and shifts his attention to making the most impact with the new abilities. Meanwhile, Trigon appears to Neron in Hell and threatens the villain, explaining that he’s on thin ice and there will be eternal suffering as a reward for failure. In one last desperate play, Neron launches a horde of demons at Themyscira to take Olivia to speed up Nightwing’s fall from grace.
The moment leads to Nightwing noticing the attack on Paradise Island, where he saves Olivia and is forced to face Neron again. He defeats Neron with some previously established magic, and Olivia decides to stay on Themyscira to train her super-strength. Nightwing refuses to keep the powers and sacrifices Olivia’s soul, affirming the lessons he learned from Superman and Batman. In a postscript for the issue, the hierarchy of hell in the DC Universe has changed with Neron out and Blaze now in power.
Taylor’s script sticks the landing on every level, taking this arc as an opportunity to affirm Grayson’s heart of gold and wrap up the Blockbuster plot. It’s a well-made, organic ending to the story that doesn’t promise a massive status quo shift or deconstruction of the character, which in modern comics is refreshing. Instead, it walks a highwire of fanservice and payoff to ensure all the boxes are checked, but it feels like a natural conclusion. The highlight of the script is Nightwing and Superman’s conversation, which serves as an excellent beat to reinforce the overarching theme of this run.
Whether inheriting a fortune from Alfred, becoming brother to the Mayor, or gaining superpowers, Nightwing never loses sight of the little person and does everything in his power to help everyone. AtTaylor’s writing captures the wonder and awe of Superman and the swashbuckling confidence of Nightwing and blends them to excellent effect. The moment, Superman offers a perspective to Nightwing that Batman never could, and it’s a great reminder the former sidekick has grown out of his mentor’s shadow and is ready to step forward and lead the superhero community.
If there is any weakness in this issue and the more extensive run, it’s the feeling that much of the story has threaded with the Titans to mixed effect. Much of this is because a new series has just launched, also from Taylor, and it felt like this arc was built to be a backdoor pilot. Usually, there’s nothing wrong with crossovers in superhero comics, it’s the nature of the genre, but at times the Titans have felt inconsistent with the story Taylor is trying to tell. It’s not as obvious here, but other than a quick moment with Wally West’s Flash and a teaser with Raven at the end of the book, the team felt relegated to minor cameos in the issue.
It’s a shame that the other heroes felt disconnected from the issue as Moore’s art continues to excel at depicting the larger team. Thanks to a strong splash page featuring Titans vs. Demons on Themyscira, every character gets a moment to shine on the page. Moore not only makes the powers of Starfire, Raven, and the Flash distinct and unique but adds another layer thanks to the Neron twinged abilities of Nightwing. The layout is vibrant and kinetic, overflowing with energy while never obfuscating the subjects or losing sight of the people wielding these godly powers.
Moore’s style, rounded out by Lucas’s colors, does wonders to ensure character and emotion always come first, resonating with the story and theme Taylor brings with the script. While seeing the action and fantastical elements is fun, nothing comes close to the sequence of Nightwing and Superman talking. Under the direction of Moore’s linework and Lucas’s palette, it captures the quintessential nature of the character’s hope and optimism. Even against the beautiful planet’s backdrop, the heroes’ close-ups and expressions are distinct and sell the emotion of the dialogue, ensuring the eye never wanders away from what’s important.
Rounding out the issue and the thematic relevance of a Superperson and Nightwing dynamic is the last installment of writer C.S. Pacat, penciller Daniel Hor, and inker Jonas Trindade’s backup story. The trio, along with series colorist Lucas and letterer Abbott, come to the end of the circus bombing mystery. The duo locates a disgruntled employee caught lurking around the grounds and dismantling the remainder of his explosives. It wraps up with Nightwing encouraging Jon Kent to make good on his promise of giving a young child a new teddy bear and enjoying the fair.
The backup is a mediocre end to a story that has shifted in quality and is full of thematic and emotional ambition that the plot and art could never quite reach. The change in the art for this issue was sudden and unexpected and feels inconsistent with the harsher linework of previous installments. It never gels with that established look of the story and is a detriment to the overall story. Pacat’s script feels like it had to stretch to conclude, throwing in a last-minute twist to justify the end of the mystery and ensure this issue had something to hang its plot on.
Nightwing #104 is a strong conclusion to the current arc, utilizing its wider arc structure to also tie up loose plot points from across the run. It’s a satisfying conclusion that feels weakest when having to seed the new Titans book but allows Taylor and Moore to showcase their strengths during a quiet conversation between Superman and Nightwing. The issue offers plenty of action alongside those quieter moments of reflection and gives Moore and Lucas a chance to show their range of craft. With that spinoff launched and Olivia safe, hopefully, the book will return to Blüdhaven and recenter Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon for the next story.
Nightwing #104: The Last Temptation of Grayson
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10