When a creative team takes off for 2 months to give a cross-over tie-in their full attention it’s understandable that fan expectations will rise. Thankfully, Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows have exceeded expectations with Nightwing #15.
A major complaint that I have with tie-in books is that many of them suffer from a lack of consequence. Guest appearances by Joker or the Owls serve little purpose other than being a gimmick to hopefully attract a few new readers. Nightwing #15 however is shaken up completely by the Joker’s arrival and you really get the sense that Nightwing is in over his head. It’s been rather aggravating in many of the other Death of the Family books so far to see Joker monologue while torturing the titular hero until they get free and beat Joker up for a few pages until he ultimately escapes so that we may see him again in Snyder and Capullo’s Batman. Higgins and Barrows’ book casts aside that formula and instead we see Joker actually make a strong attempt to tear Dick Grayson’s world apart. Over the past year this series has amassed a whole cast of characters and we’ve been invested in Dick’s campaign to revitalize Amusement Mile and here we see that all of that is now in danger. It’s a comic with an overwhelming sense of dread about it much like you feel when you read the main Batman title. It’s a tough review to write without going into too many spoilers. The first death has already been given away in free previews at sites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources so I will chat some about it (pretty surprised that DC willingly gave up those pages as a preview though) and then say a few things about the book overall.
The First to Die (spoilers)
Again, don’t read this paragraph or look up the preview images of Nightwing #15 if you don’t want the first kill spoiled for you. If you’ve seen it already, then by all means read on.
From the very first page there’s a new Amusement Mile ad campaign that had me laughing. Street after street of posters featuring Jimmy the Clown. It was another good moment that made me feel kind of bad for Jimmy having to look so much like Joker and I thought “Would that be the worst ad campaign ever or the best?” because having what looks to be the Joker on a poster along with the words “Coming Soon” would be insensitive in Gotham, but it would also totally get everyone’s attention and get them talking about your business. Either way, what happened next really surprised me and I thought Higgins and Barrows executed it beautifully. I’ve always said that this team has done a great job fleshing out a new, supporting cast for this series. It’s something that a lot of other titles have neglected. And so it was sad to see Jimmy go, but at the same time Jimmy’s death meant more to me and you have to admit that it was a really great Joker death. The build up of Joker acknowledging their resemblance and how he can’t see it until Jimmy is dead and his face is twisted by the Joker toxin was really well done. It didn’t need to be gory, it was a simple setup and punchline. Very dark and very Joker. The decision to open cold with this scene really set the mood perfectly for what was to come.
The Rather Spoiler-free Remainder of the Review
When we first see Nightwing make an appearance he isn’t flying solo, he’s teamed with Batgirl. Now before you get too excited, their team-up only lasts a page or two and it’s only there to establish that this whole thing takes place after the events of Batman #15. And like Batman #15 there’s no mention of the explosion from Batman #14 that rocked Nightwing. Not even a scratch on him. It was good to see Batgirl and Nightwing together at the beginning, although the reunion was brief. I would think that the teammates would try to stick together in a situation like this, however. I’m still not 100% sure when Batgirl #13-15 take place with all of this. I’m assuming Batman #15 takes place after Batgirl #16…but I don’t know for sure.
The rest of the comic is an exercise in ever-rising tension. Jimmy is dead, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Joker was done with him. How the body was found was quite inventive and, again, came with another dark joke that’s both funny and disturbing. The discovery of his corpse lights a fire under Nightwing who immediately launches an investigation that sees him doing quite a bit of detective work filled with clues that tie back to Joker’s dialogue with Jimmy and the overall theme of Death of the Family. In addition to all of the suspense that comes from the Joker’s return we also have some time focusing on Dick’s relationship with Sonia Zucco. Even though you’d think that a subplot like that would bog things down it totally doesn’t and leads to some of the best scenes in the comic.
So they found time to fit in the Grayson/Zucco relationship drama, Batgirl, and a big mystery involving the murder of Jimmy that culminates in one heck of an ending that’s full of action and really brilliant Joker dialogue that’ll definitely remind you of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Higgins’ Joker is very much the Mark Hamill version at its darkest.
The Joker’s look is also one of the best I’ve seen so far. It doesn’t top what Capullo or Gleason did, but I would put it at a strong third place. I believe I’ll make a poll soon where we all vote on which faceless Joker was the best and see what the whole bat-community thinks. The book as a whole looks very good. The entire art team of Barrows, Ferreira, and Reis did a fantastic job and really got to show their range. There’s a wide variety of scenes here with a vastly different emotional charge that needed the right amount of expression. Reis’ colors set the mood perfectly and the ending of this comic was very cinematic with its detailed set piece and use of shadows.
There’s never a dull moment in Nightwing #15. It’s a great issue that’s perfectly paced to squeeze in a lot of really entertaining material. I even double checked, wondering if it was a longer issue than usual! It’s so dense with so much great stuff going on that I’m certain it’s a book Nightwing fans will want to read more than once. And kudos to Kyle Higgins for having the guts to use his own characters to raise the body count! No red-shirts here! He knocks off characters that readers have gotten to know, characters we’ve all invested in over the past year. It’s a crossover tie-in that has real value and doesn’t feel like a cash-grab. The Joker’s appearance actually has a major impact on this series. That’s a wonderful thing and it makes Nightwing #15 a must-read.