Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Nightwing: Year One review

Nightwing: Year One

"I'll even let you swing first."
Writers: Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon

Artist: Scott McDaniel

Collects: Nightwing (2005) #101-106

Background Information:

In the 1980s, we got Batman: Year One. Though technically an elseworlds story, it’s considered the definitive, canonised origin of Batman. Well, once that happened, we wanted more Year One stories. And we got them. Wildcats, Green Arrow, Huntress, Robin and Batgirl all got stories that explained their origins for new audiences. Amongst them, Nightwing got a solo title all to himself.


Origin stories are always difficult; they need to be succinct, yet broad enough to be believable; somehow convincing us that heroes don’t happen overnight without boring us. And thankfully, Nightwing: Year One nails it.

Bruce auditions for Horrible Bosses.
So, Dick Grayson hasn’t been doing so well as Robin. Between the Teen Titans, his job as Batman’s sidekick and his own studies, it’s fair to say he’s stretched a little thin. Now Dick’s been late to the fight one too many times. Batman’s had enough, and now Dick has been fired from the role as less-cool sidekick. Lost and alone, Dick must find a new purpose. And sure, a new, fancy costume wouldn’t hurt either.

One thing you’re bound to notice about Nightwing: Year One is just how character-focussed the story is. Dick isn’t fighting a single villain in this one (I mean, he fights Killer Croc, but he’s more of an afterthought to the whole process), because that isn’t the point. The point is the character’s journey from boy to man, and that journey is a joy to read. Dick exhibits everything that there is to like about him; his joking attitude, trust of others and hopeless romanticism all come to play here. It’s less of a superhero story, more of a personal journey, and that brings a surprising level of depth to a genre that’s often criticised for being shallow popcorn-munching stuff.

There’s still plenty of popcorn-munching stuff, though. Nightwing flips around, dodges bullets and that final battle with Killer Croc balances fun and intensity perfectly. Like I said, the action is hardly the point, but it’s fun to see a few kicks to the face every once in a while.

Along with Dick’s transition to Nightwing: Year One gives us the origin of Jason Todd as Robin. Jason is in many ways the perfect foil for Dick. Angry, overly cocky and verging on criminal himself, Jason and Dick engage in near-perfect banter and the difference in their style becomes immediately apparent. The eventual respect that comes between feels rewarding because of it, and you can’t help but feel that Dick is vital to the Bat-family.

Batgirl also makes an appearance here, and it’s here that we revisit an oft-discussed part of Dick’s character- his love life. This arc makes reference to Dick’s relationship to both Barbara Gordon and Starfire, scoring an excellent double-whammy. The issue that highlights this may feel like a diversion, but again, this is about character development, not the defeat of a villain.

I'm pretty sure the first rule of that costume is "keep your
legs together."
Before I go on to talk about art, I have to mention continuity. Originally, Nightwing’s first appearance was in a Teen Titans story called The Judas Contract. Interestingly enough, writers Dixon and Beratty don’t retcon this story away; rather, they integrate it into the narrative. Reading the two stories together, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that these stories happen in tandem to each other- even to the point of explaining how Dick ended up with one of the most ridiculous males costumes ever conceived for the Teen Titans story. And to emphasise how impressive that is, there’s a difference in publication date of around twenty years!

The art is just about what you’d expect from a comic that’s ten years old. Not bad by any means, but definitely dated. I didn’t mind the cartoonish style, nor the sometimes over-thick outlines of characters. In fact, they help to give Nightwing a certain “bounce” about him- which, for a character who grew up as an acrobat, is a definite plus.

Nightwing: Year One is a book that no Dick Greyson fan should miss. It gets a four and a half out of five ridiculous male costumes.

**** ½

+ Works well within previous continuity.

+ Fantastic character study.

+ Excellent interaction with Bat-family.

- Art a little dated.

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Bludhaven

Start the same Nightwing volume at the beginning.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Nightwing Vol. 1: Bludhaven Review

Nightwing Vol. 1: Bludhaven

And here is the most iconic picture in
Dick Grayson's history.
Writers: Dennis O’Neil and Chuck Dixon

Artists: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, Greg Land (ewwww…) and Mike Sellers

Collects: Nightwing (original mini-series) #1-4 and Nightwing (1997) #1-8

Background Information:

So, the New 52 Nightwing is cancelled, but that’s okay, right?


What, no? You want a Nightwing series?

Well, to celebrate Dick Grayson’s 75th year, I’m giving you two Nightwing reviews!


“I’m really getting sick of Nightwing.”

Is something that I’ll never say.


And the first time Dick Grayson looked awesome.
There’s something just awesome about a sidekick rising to the occasion and forging his own path. More to the point, Dick Grayson really feels like the emotional core of the DCU in any of its versions; a character that the entire DCU knows and cares about. His mentors have included Batman and Superman, he’s been leader of the Teen Titans, and the unofficial president of the former Robin’s club. In my view, it doesn’t get any better than Nightwing, and doesn’t get more exciting than the orginal 90s series collected in Bludhaven.

So there’s two things happening in Bludhaven, in the original mini-series, Dick finds out a disturbing secret that may give new clues to the death of Dick’s parents which takes Nightwing to Kravia with a new (now iconic) black and blue suit. This story isn’t the best, but I can admire it for one reason; it was definitive proof that Nightwing could hold his own in a solo series.

And by the time the ’97 series comes around, that proof results in something grand. Dead bodies have been washing up in Gotham Harbour. The bodies belong to gangsters from Bludhaven- Gotham’s ugly step-sister, so Batman sends Down downriver to see why gangsters are being knocked off and by whom.

I started reading about Nightwing with Kyle Higgins’ New 52 series. Reading this one, I was amazed at how consistent the character was between both books. This wasn’t an old, outdated version of Nightwing, but the exact character I read about in Higgins’ book. He cracked jokes, was genuinely nice to people and exhibited joy at being able to do what he does.

But what this series has over the New 52 is that, excluding the mini-series and first issue of the ongoing, there is no sign of Batman. There wasn’t much sign in the New 52, but Nightwing was continually in the bat’s shadow. Here, Dick feels like he’s truly his own man. He takes responsibility for Bludhaven and it’s a joy to read.

On top of that is the inklings of a supporting cast. There’s no Jim Gordon, no Harvey Bullock, no bat-support in a 10-mile radius of this book. That lends a lot to making this book both accessible and appealing. This isn’t “not-batman”, this is Dick Grayson showing every reason to like him.

The villains in this book are mixed bag. You have great ones like crooked cops and the man who is truly running Bludhaven, the ordinary ones like the false facers…
This is Lady Vic. Yes, she's from the 90s, why do you

And then the plain horrible ones like Lady Vic.

She’s really the only downside to the writing in this trade. A stupid, too-busy costume design and a go-nowhere story don’t endear her to anyone, but the worst part is the name. See, Lady Vic reveals that the “Vic” part of her name doesn’t stand for “Victoria”, which would actually make sense, the name stands for “victim”. Yep, “Lady Victim”… I’m not as terrified by that name as writer Chuck Dixon thinks I should be.

But that’s a small downside to a trade that feels both accessible and exciting. Bludhaven gets a four out of five “Lady Victims”… urgh, I feel dirty just typing that.


+ More than “Not-Batman”

+ Great for those who got to know Nightwing in the New 52

+ Hugely accessible

- The mini-series isn’t so great

-  “Lady Victim”… really?

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Traps and Trapezes

Another new-reader friendly Nightwing series.

Nightwing Vol. 5: Setting Son (The New 52) Review

Nightwing vol. 5: Setting Son (The New 52)
Dan Didio just squealed like a schoolgirl.

Writers: Kyle Higgins, Tim Seely and Tom King.

Artists: Will Conrad, Cliff Richards and Russell Dauterman.

Collects: Nightwing 25-30 and Nightwing Annual #1

Background Information:

Okay, to understand this, we need to explain some things about Forever Evil. So, yeah; SPOILERS.

Nightwing was supposedly killed in Forever Evil… or was he?

Prior to that, you also need to know that he’s in Chicago now, as a result of hunting down his parents’ murderer. Like Bludhaven before, Chicago quickly became his home afterwards, which is awkward, since the town hates superheroes with a passion.


Series cancellations are the pits, especially when you’ve spent countless issues setting up the next story. You suddenly have to pull all of those strings together and it pretty much never works to anyone’s complete satisfaction.

With that in mind, Nightwing ends relatively gracefully. Sure, there were a fistful of plot ends that I wish were resolved before what really feels like a premature end to a great series, but you have to commend Higgins on making the best of a bad situation. Higgins’ run on Nightwing ends with plenty of warm fuzzies, and makes me miss the writer (he’s not solicited for any books post-convergence).

Is he talking to Kyle Higgins?
Setting Son is a collection of pretty short stories, featuring an array of villains. In the Zero Year tie-in, young Dick Greyson, tries to navigate a blacked-out Gotham. It’s a fun diversion, and definitely one of the better tie-ins to the story that I’ve read thus far, but it feels insanely unnecessary. In the Annual, Dick and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) reconsider their relationship while taking down Firefly. There’s two issues devoted to Marionette, a villain introduced in the last trade; and Higgins finishes his run with a story about Victor Zasz.

These are generally good stories, but their let down by the fact that this whole trade feels like Kyle Higgins waiting around for his own execution. Short stories stop his run from ending with a bang. And that’s a shame. I’d like to see more of the Marionette, and Higgins definitely leaves room for her return. There’s also no resolution to the story of Detective Morgan, who the last volume sets up to be Dick’s next big enemy. There was so much here that I wanted to see more of, but can’t because Nightwing’s picture makes Dan Didio cry.

That doesn’t make it awful. Higgins’ nowhere stories are actually quite forgivable. What isn’t forgivable is the pathetic issue 30 written by Seely and King. It features a fight between Batman and Dick for no conceivable reason other than “grrr!” I hear Grayson is a great series, but Nightwing #30 does nothing to spark interest in it.

Can we make this an elseworlds story? PLEASE?!?
I miss Brett Booth’s work in the last volume. It worked perfectly with the new era in Nightwing’s story. Will Conrad, who takes the majority of Setting Son’s art is admirable enough, but I was looking forward to a more consisted team on the title. Russell Dauterman gives by far the best art in the volume. His Nightwing #29 left me wondering why the title didn’t always look like this. It’s highly distinctive, and strangely colourful for a title that crosses over into Batman.

It’s hard for me to recommend or condemn Setting Son. I would have liked it more were it not for that final issue; but as is, it gets a three out of five Dan Didio tears.


+ Good, short story arcs.

+ A graceful end.

- Nothing really gets resolved.

- That awful issue #30…

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Bludhaven

See the blog for more info.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Celebrating 75 years of Dick Grayson

Even in Speedos, he was cooler than you'll ever be.

It’s weird to think that we’ve had Dick Grayson for nearly as long as we’ve had Batman. He’s a character I grew up with. I was first introduced to him in Batman: TAS, when I only knew to call him Robin. I couldn’t help but love the character; I guess I saw so much of myself in him, or at least what I had hoped to become. He was a hero, no doubt. But unlike Batman, Dick allowed himself to smile, crack a joke, fall in love, and genuinely enjoy being a super hero because- don’t lie- you think it’d be awesome too.

When I became interested in comics, the New 52 Nightwing (volume 1) was the first DC trade I bought and I fell in love with the character all over again. He again, became relatable as hell and still exhibited all of those character traits I admired. The guy has become iconic to the DC. You say “Batman and...” and you’ll never have people say “Superman” as their first answer.
Which makes me confused. Is DC celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary? By announcing a threequel to The Dark Knight Returns- a series that has nothing to do with Dick Grayson.
I know what people are going to say “He’s a sidekick. What did you expect, the same attention as Batman?”
Well, yes.
See, Dick isn’t just a sidekick. He was the sidekick. The original sidekick. The reason sidekicks abound so much today. Not just that, he was the sidekick to do it all. He founded superhero teams like the Teen Titans, he went out on his own as Nightwing and even took up the mantle of Batman. Sorry, Tim Drake fans, but there was only one sidekick in the DCU to successfully become the character that trained him.
My point is that Grayson’s worth celebrating. So how do we do it? Well, here’s my suggestions:
Nightwing: The Series
Fan Films are a mixed bunch, the bad ones are so very bad. The good ones are… usually, only pretty good, but when you see what else is out there, the ones that are just good become worth celebrating. Nightwing: The Series is one of those; it’s got great camera and is visually stunning and, in fact, is only let down by the poor dialogue. The series is still thoroughly entertaining, and worth a look on a day like today.
Well… there are these things called comics...
In all forms, he rocked.
What? You mean the things like movies, but are actually semi well-written? Yeah, they still exist. And luckily, there’s plenty of books to read if you want to celebrate Dick Grayson. If you like him as Robin, there are the classic The Batman Chronicles. Prefer him as Nightwing? Not only is the N52  series in TPB print, but DC is reprinting the Pre-52 series in TPBs that are absolutely packed. Grayson is set to hit TPB soon, but you can still catch up on digital.
Whatever you do, celebrate the character. He’s well worth celebrating.

Friday, 24 April 2015

All-New X-Men Vol 3: Out of Their Depth (Marvel NOW!) Review

All-New X-Men Vol.3: Out of Their Depth (Marvel NOW!)
So many circles...
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Stuart Immonen and David Lauente

Collects: All-New X-Men #11-15

Background Information:

The X-Men have been Marvel’s whooping boy for many years, now; and not just because Marvel doesn’t own the movie rights. A few years ago, the entire mutant population was reduced to one-hundred-or-so. This made everyone a bit tense to the point where the X-Men split into factions led by Wolverine and Cyclops. After the team fought the Avengers (in an event called The X-Men are Stupid so Stop Liking Them Avengers Vs. X-Men), Cyclops decided to become far more militant. He’s hiding from the authorities and being rather violent. Wolverine’s X-Men don’t like that so Beast brought the original five X-men from back in time to now. And that has resulted in no problems whatsoever.

Pfft… sorry, can’t keep a straight face there.


I’ll admit, I’m a little bitter about what Marvel is doing to the X-Men. It’s childish, stupid and I can’t think of a single person who thinks that the Inhumans are a suitable replacement for mutants in the Marvel universe. On the other hand, it’s let Brian Michael Bendis do what he does best; write character-focussed drama with great dialogue instead of bang-kaboom-crash action.

In Out of Their Depth, old Cyclops takes one of the original X-Men with him. I won’t spoil it, but  
those who have read the first volume of Uncanny X-Men will know who it is straight away. This raises quite a few concerns within the team and everyone’s feeling more than a little unsettled. In the meantime, a group of mutants consisting of Mystique, Sabretooth and Lady Mastermind are finally revealing what they’ve been planning to do with all their money, and the All-New X-Men need to stop them.

Wolverine's the best at what he does. What he does isn't
fight Magneto.
Art’s always been a strong point for All-New X-Men. Stuart Immonen has had a real talent for drawing awe-inspiring feats of power, and that doesn’t let up here. We see the phoenix force, psychic powers, magnetism and various other powers in all their chaotic glory. Each power seems to burst out of the page and lends a sense of epicness to the whole volume. The real treat though, is in issue 15, where David Lafuente takes over. I like it when artists are chosen for the sole fact that they suit the story, and that happens here. Bendis’ character drama is complimented perfectly by Lafuente’s adorable chubby little faces. Never have the young X-Men looked as innocent as they are here, and it’s fantastic.

Of all the All-New X-Men volumes thus far, none have milked emotions the same way that Bendis does in Out of Their Depth. This volume sees young Beast confess his crush on young Jean Grey, said young Jean Grey develop a greater friendship with Kitty Pryde and Iceman make friends with humans. People laugh, cry and get genuinely freaked out. Probably the best of these moments, though, is young Cyclops being reunited with his brother, Havoc, who now leads the Uncanny Avengers. There’s a real tenderness to the whole scene, and it one of those rare happy moments in a franchise defined by the “hated and feared” tagline. There are plenty of scenes here that are so dripping with warm fuzzies that occasionally you need to check the cover of the book to make sure you’re not reading a comic based on 7th Heaven or Gilmore Girls.

One of the best things about this volume, though, is that we finally get to see the end of a particular story arc. Namely, what’s been going on Mystique and Co. It’s a pretty inconsequential story, with no real impact on anything or anyone, but it gives us something the last volume was missing; action that was important to the plot. It’s also genuinely funny, as the fight mostly revolves around two characters- Jean Grey and Lady Mastermind- who constantly try to win by making the other team hallucinate. That doesn’t sound particularly funny, until you consider that Jean Grey is only just getting a grip on her powers, so she send hallucinations to the wrong people, the lines between hallucination and reality get blurred enough for characters to stick their foot in it, and there are just some great results to the whole thing.

Awww... you just wanna' pinch their lil' cheeks!
That said, this is a story that still feels like it’s about to get somewhere. For a third volume, this is a bad thing. Usually, Marvel trades spend the first volume pushing character development and planting the seeds of stories to come, so that the following trades can let those seeds grow. In Out of Their Depth, I couldn’t help but feel like someone planted those seeds in concrete, because there is very little growing here.

I think the trick to enjoying Out of Their Depth, or any other All-New X-Men trade is to treat it as a window into the lives of its characters. You do that, and you’ll find that the book is well worth its four and out of five straight faces.


+ Character development is a joy to read.

+ A story arc finally ends, and is really fun to read.

+ Art continues to be phenomenal.

- Series doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere.

Alternate Option: Uncanny X-Men: Revolution

Here’s what the other Cyclops-led X-Men are doing, savvy?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Beating a Dead Horse: The Batgirl Cover

Love the costume, love the attitude, HATE the selfies.
Okayyy… I’ve avoided this topic for a while.

That’s because it deals with a thorny issue. It’s not one that I want to sound too dismissive on, but it’s also one that I know people have very staunch opinions on. But here it goes…

The Batgirl cover.

You know the one.
Admittedly, it's a little horrific.
.Yes, THAT one.

So, the full story was that this was announced to be a variant cover for Batgirl #41. While some saw the cover as an accurate homage to much-loved piece of Bat-Family history, The Killing Joke, plenty were upset by the cover; claims that the cover endorsed rape culture, and was generally anti-feminist. Naturally, plenty of anger ensued with both sides chanting repetitive, asinine slogans at each other, ridiculing those who.

Now, the central problem I see here isn’t one of feminism, even though feminism has a part in the debate. It’s about semantics and the act of making meaning. See, although high-schoolers desperate to get out of doing work (I’m a high school teacher; they try to get out of work) try to argue author intent, meaning making actually fall mostly on the shoulders of the consumer; not the creator. In short, the creator supplies particular symbols and it is up to the consumer to decide what all of these symbols mean. As a result, interpreting what this cover “means” is something that cannot be achieved objectively. It is impossible to take something created to elicit an emotional response, apply an interpretation that can only be based on your personal thoughts, feelings and experiences (regardless of what that interpretation is) and then call it objective. That’s not how art works. That’s not how ANY art form works.

With that in mind, I think the decision to pull the cover was a wise one. Not from an artistic standpoint (that the cover does or doesn’t promote rape can’t be objectively proved), but a financial one; there was reasonable doubt that the product would sell, so why put money into printing it? THAT’S a way that you can objectively say that pulling the cover was a wise idea. But it was made wise; it wasn’t necessarily wise to begin with.

A better option than some I've heard.
I’ve heard a few arguments about this cover, and I’m not sure that they were good reasons to pull the cover. Let’s start with the “endorsing rape” argument, since that seems to be the most logical. I can see where those making this argument are coming from; it is a dreadful reminder of the sexual abuse committed by the Joker. That said, to say that it “endorses” rape is like saying that The Empire Strikes Back “endorses” chopping off people’s hands. That the act was repulsive, there’s no doubt. But that’s the point: it was repulsive. Such and act is supposed to be sickening, and I think the vast majority of the population agree that sexual abuse is evil. So, yes, the cover makes reference to sexual abuse. But endorsing it? It’s a bit or a sad assessment of the human race to think that a normal person will look at this cover and immediately think “Welp, Imma’ go rape now!”

All the same, I can understand the concern. The second argument, though, is what gets me: apparently, it doesn’t suit the new Batgirl. Again, this is a personal interpretation, but it shows that saying it doesn’t suit the new series isn’t exactly objective. The Killing Joke has been central to the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. The post-traumatic-stress-disorder that followed has been a staple in who she is. What’s more, it was actually referenced in the first story arc of the new run. Not just referenced, but a major part of the plot. There was room for this cover in the new Batgirl, and it’s a shame that this gets ignored because of something that can’t possibly be considered objective (again, because consuming an art form is not an objective experience).

Again, though, cancelling the cover was wise. It was a good PR move from DC and it avoided the dreaded label of “misogynist” that would inevitably follow. Like I said though, it’s a thorny issue. The kind that wasn’t going to end well for everyone, regardless of the result.

I know it’s an old issue, and probably a dead one, but I wanted the heat to die off before giving my opinion.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse (The New 52) Review

The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse (The New 52) Review
Yep, it's one of those "make you one colour"
lightening bolts
Writers: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato
Artists: Francis Manapul, Scott Hepburn and Chris Sprouse
Collects: The Flash #20-25 and The Flash #23.2: Reverse-Flash.
Background Information:
Manapul and Buccellato’s The Flash is a run that hasn’t really ended any story arc at all. It started when the Flash discovered that the speed force messes with time and space. It’s taken him to Gorilla City and back to fight the Rogues and then to fight inhabitants of said Gorilla City, led by Grodd.
Yeah, he’s done heaps of fighting.
And in Reverse, it’s all over… sort of….
See, Brian Buccellato is staying on the title for one more volume after this, but Manapul has moved on to draw Detective Comics, which Buccellato is also drawing, and, judging on the next volume, he’s taken his toys and gone home. All of the plot elements you cared about up til this point are wrapped up and, even though the wrapping up doesn’t make for stories that are quite as effective as the previous volumes, you can’t help but like it.
Don't tell me those aren't toenails. Those ARE toenails.
So Barry Allen, fast-running superhero and possibly the only blonde dude in the DCU, has been inside the speed force, and taken a few people back with him. Those people found that they had super powers and were promptly killed by a red guy with what looks like black toenails growing all over him. This “Reverse Flash” wants control of the speed force all to himself for reasons that I shan’t spoil.
Okay, so the first thing you’ll be thinking to yourself as you read Reverse is “why didn’t they do this sooner?”
From guest starrinig Kid Flash, to hinting at Jesse Quick, to strongly suggesting a hint of romance between Barry and Iris West, it all seems like stuff that should have been in earlier volumes, but somehow wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, everything here feels like it belongs, but it also feels so natural that there seems little reason not to have had this earlier.
 And that’s not a real criticism because if there’s one thing Manapul and Buccellato have gotten right, it’s that characterisation. The Reverse Flash we get in this volume feels intensely humanised, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him; even though he’s a murderous psychopath. Barry is intensely likeable to the point where you even like his “boringness”. Patty Spivot is great relationship material for Barry; and the two have this fantastic chemistry together without diminishing Iris West’s character in the least.
Not Wally West, but okay...
The art in Reverse continues to be fantastic it’s great to see a book that is written purely to look pretty, and that’s exactly what first impressions of Reverse are. This book, plain and simple, isn’t gonna be the same without Manapul’s art, and that is an absolute, crying shame.
But there’s one thing I can’t forgive Manapul and Buccellato for, and that’s the end of the major story arc. The team spends so much energy and effort building up this great sense of tension, and then, it’s like they suddenly forgot what was going to happen and rushed an ending with what they could think of in the last minute. The crossover into the Batman: Zero Year arc feels both unnecessary and shameless as an advertisement to the team’s upcoming Detective Comics arc.
Reverse is a decent send-off for Manapuul and Buccellato and gets a four out of five black toenails.
+ Great Characterisation
+ Art. Is. Beautiful.
- Disappointing end.
Alternate Option: The Flash: Move Forward
Read this. Just read it.