Nightwing Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes review

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DC’s schedule for TPB releases is rather odd and highly unfortunate for fans of Dick Grayson. Those readers who skip monthly issues in favor of collected trades are going to find themselves very far behind the rest of the crowd. The New 52 Nightwing has been running for over a year now with 14 issues under its belt but the very first TPB collecting issues #1-7 only came out two weeks ago. Ouch. To add insult to injury, Nightwing was only given the softcover treatment rather than a sexy hardcover. Oh well, at least it’s cheaper this way and that should attract more readers.

So for those of you checking out Dick Grayson’s New 52 series for the first time, what’s different?

Content

Well for starters, he’s not Batman anymore. Seeing a lighthearted Batman and dark and brooding Robin was a fun dynamic that many will miss but I’m sure we’ll see it again in another 10-15 years when sales are on the decline. After all, it’s not like it was the first time Dick put on the cowl.

So in the New 52, Dick is Nightwing again only now he’s wearing red accents instead of blue on his uniform. It’s not a huge problem and you’ll get used to it, but I’ll admit that a part of me still hopes he returns to the old black and blue sometime soon. Other than the crimson emblem on his chest, he’s still the same Dick Grayson you know and love. He’s Bruce Wayne without the overly extravagant lifestyle; Batman with a sense of humor and a penchant for somersaults. But not everything is exactly the way it was. Traps and Trapezes (not the best title ever) brings about major changes for our hero and it all starts with the return of Haly’s Circus. The arrival of the big top stirs up old memories that take us deep into Grayson’s past and that conjures up enemies that he never even knew he had. A great deal of what you know about Dick Grayson is about to change.

The book has a lot of strengths. Exploring Nightwing’s past is a great idea for getting new readers acquainted with the character and there’s a mystery here that ends in an explosive finale that’ll leave you satisfied and excited about the future. Writer Kyle Higgins writes Nightwing very well and never forgets the importance of a strong supporting cast. Bringing in circus folk makes for ancillary characters who are amusing, complicated, and visually interesting as well. He even took some time to have Nightwing reunite with Barbara Gordon for the first time since her miraculous recovery in what was one of the book’s more memorable and fun adventures. However, you’ll immediately notice that the art in that particular story is very, very different.

Four artists contributed to these mere 7 issues. Main artist Eddy Barrows draws a somewhat bulkier Dick Grayson and a dark and gritty Gotham with plenty of detail. His art is fantastic and he’s great at giving Nightwing these very iconic shots, but his quality over quantity approach requires a lot of fill-in artists in order to get the monthly issues in stores on time. That process leads to a TPB with an inconsistent look. Does that mean that the fill-in artists did bad work? Not at all. Everyone did a fine job and it’s a well illustrated collection, but 4 different styles in such a short span can be jarring.

My other complaints about Traps and Trapezes would have to be the poor choice of villains, frequent filler episodes, and how overly attached it is to Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls saga. The main villain is a predictable surprise with a rather unoriginal design (He looks like Kick-Ass but with Wolverine claws) and the other enemies that pop up aren’t very good either. The Haly’s Circus mystery is more than enough to hold any reader’s interest but the book all too frequently takes a detour to face a silver shape shifter, a giant voodoo demon, a guy named Feedback who has implants that make him create visions in someone’s head, and then there’s the robot cowboy. It’s a pretty weak and highly over the top rogues gallery (the voodoo demon was the book’s absolute lowest moment) but at least Nightwing cuts them down pretty quickly. However, these bizarre confrontations stretch the arc a lot longer than it should have been. Had it kept things down to 4-5 issues and stayed focused on the Haly mystery it would’ve been a phenomenal Nightwing story, but this tale is so dependent on Snyder’ Court of Owls tale that it absolutely had to keep the same pace so as not to spoil the surprises in Batman. That’s the biggest flaw if you want a stand-alone Dick Grayson adventure. The book’s frequent references to an M.I.A. Batman (which Dick doesn’t seem that interested in), Court of Owls, and its closing pages that are lifted line for line and panel for panel from Batman #7 make Traps and Trapezes a companion piece to Court of Owls rather than a strong Nightwing story in its own right. You can read Batman Vol. 1 without reading Nightwing Vol. 1, but if you read Nightwing Vol. 1 without Batman Vol. 1, you’re not getting the full story.

I’m giving the story a 6.5 or 7/10, but it’s not without this little…twinge like I’m doing something wrong. I really like what the series has become since Traps and Trapezes ended and I like it so much that I don’t want my score to scare people away. A 6.5/10 is still good. Anything above a 5/10 (which is mediocre) is good. The Nightwing series is a fun read and although this particular book relies too much on Batman Vol.1 to be thoroughly enjoyed, this series as a a whole is something that I’ve grown to look forward to every month and I want more people to read it. As a companion piece to Batman, Traps and Trapezes is a 7.5, as a Nightwing story I’d give it a 6.5 or 7.

Supplemental Material

2 pages of sketches. The first page is Cully Hammer’s original design for the New 52 Nightwing, which is interesting because what you see in the comic is a bit different. It’s a design that isn’t quite as sleek as what Barrows delivered, Hammer’s features much larger boots and gauntlets and he’s also a bit scruffier with longer hair and sideburns. The other page shows thumbnails of Eddy Barrow’s early cover sketches for issues #1-3. Seeing the clunkier feet and hands of Hammer’s design is fascinating, but overall it’s pretty weak supplemental material and possibly the shortest which is odd since they had so much time to put this thing together. Other New 52 graphic novels collecting the first 7 issues of a series have been coming out since May.

Value

Oh yeah, the value is there. It’s an okay run of comics and you’re getting them for quite a bit cheaper than you would have if you bought them month-to-month in the comic shop for $21 bucks total (not counting tax). Here, even if you’re paying full price for it you’re only spending $15 and that’s not a terrible deal. Amazon is offering it for $9.27 which is even better. I think it’s totally worth giving this series a shot because if you like what you see here then you’re going to love what comes in volume 2 because I think the series has only gotten better.

Overall

It’s not quite as good as the series is today, but it’s still an enjoyable read. Nightwing Vol. 1 has an inconsistent look that’s the result of having too many fill-in artists and it relies too much on the reader being familiar with Snyder’s Batman Vol. 1, but I want plenty of people to give this book a chance. It’s the foundation for what the series is today. After Traps and Trapezes Dick Grayson moved away from all the Court of Owls business and focused on his own problems and that’s made for far more fun adventures and better drama among him and the supporting cast. Give the book a chance, it’s available at a very fair price. If you enjoy it, you’ll be in for a real treat whenever volume 2 finally arrives in TPB form sometime next spring or summer…actually, if you like this you might want to go find back issues.

SCORE: 6.5/10

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