A standout for DC Comics this week, part of the company’s ongoing “Rebirth” line of titles slightly revamping the continuity that was itself revamped six years ago in the company’s “New 52” revamp, is issue #10 of Nightwing, in which the fan-favorite character moves to the seedy city of Blüdhaven with which he was so firmly associated back in the 1990s (DC is also currently issuing omnibus collections of those great old issues, with scripts by Chuck Dixon and incredible artwork by Scott McDaniel). In the “Rebirth” continuity, Blüdhaven is still corrupt from its sewers to its rooftops, but this Nightwing has never lived there before – it’s a city without a superhero.
Nightwing has always been a puzzling superhero no matter where he hangs his domino mask. In his everyday civilian identity of Dick Grayson, he was introduced to comics readers by Bill Finger and Bob Kane back in 1940 as Robin the Boy Wonder, a cheerful, youthful sidekick to Batman. In that simpler comic book age, no questions were raised inside Batman’s fictional universe as to why a burly adult crime-fighter would want a young boy as a sidekick in the first place, and for forty years or so there was likewise no question of Robin actually getting any older.
But once Stan Lee introduced a modicum of realism into superhero comics, that started to change. Robin the Boy Wonder became Robin the Teen Wonder (who still wore a skimpy bikini-bottom and pixie boots and yet was somehow taken seriously by friend and foe alike), which in turn started to feel awkward. Then in 1984, in something of a first in the superhero world, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez had Dick Grayson shed his Robin booties and adopt a new superhero costume and code-name, Nightwing. No bright yellow cape this time – instead, the costume featured a popped collar and plunging V-neck … and although the character caught on with readers and has steadily grown in popularity for the past thirty years, the puzzlements remain.
After all, this is a character who’s derivative in every conceivable way. He’s an orphan who grew up to become a crime fighter, but Batman was that first. He’s now a costumed urban vigilante stalking criminals by night, but Batman was that first and will always be that better (every adult comics fan in the world recognizes the name “Nightwing” … but every adult person in the world recognizes the name “Batman”). Even his superhero codename isn’t original – “Nightwing” was a folkloric hero of Superman’s homeworld Krypton.
Far from being obstacles, these things have instead inspired Nightwing writers over the decades to differentiate the character from the crowd of spandex-wearing acrobats in the most enjoyable way possible: not through external circumstances but through character traits. Nightwing gradually became not just a jokester and light-hearted adventurer but also, again in something of a first at least where male superheroes are concerned, an unabashed sex symbol (it’s no coincidence that the cover of this latest issue gives us a nice unobstructed view of the character’s pert derrière).
Puzzling or not, the character has just about as fanatical a fan base as any superhero property in the DC roster (the only group more fanatical, fans of the Legion of Super-Heroes, currently has nothing whatsoever to cheer about at DC, but that’s a rant for another day), and one of the central tenets of DC’s “Rebirth” line has been to reward that kind of fan loyalty rather than ignore it, as so many of the “New 52” titles seemed to do. So not only do those fans get in Nightwing the version of the character they most love, but in Nightwing #10 they get their favorite character back where they want him most, in Blüdhaven.
This first issue of the new arc is written by Nightwing vet Tim Seeley and drawn by Marcus To, and it uses a very deliberately laid back pacing in order to ease readers into this locational change for the character – Dick Grayson is slowly, tentatively getting to know his new home, and something of that tentativeness is reflected in the largely static feel of the first half of the issue, where Dick interviews for a day job and unpacks his belongings.
The issue’s climactic action sequence picks up the pace, of course (although absurdly – a combat-trained human acrobat cannot defeat a gorilla in hand-to-hand combat; a combat-trained human acrobat would last about two-and-one-half seconds against a gorilla), but Seeley goes easy on the tempo and the complications in this introductory chapter. The plot complications aren’t the point in this issue anyway, he seems to be saying: the point is that for Nightwing, the changes and upheavals of the “New 52” character revamp have now been effectively wiped clean – Dick Grayson is Nightwing again, and Nightwing is back in Blüdhaven again. In the roster of “Rebirth” gifts to reward loyal fans, this ranks right up near the top of the list.
Meanwhile, Legion fans will just have to keep waiting …
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