Nightwing #16 is a book that I’ve read twice both because I enjoyed it and because it few by so quickly I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Let me ask you: how many Joker vs. Dick Grayson throw-downs can you name? Not many I suspect. I’m sure the Joker’s Last Laugh comes to mind, when Nightwing “killed” the Joker only to have him resuscitated a minute or so later, but I can’t say I liked that story much at all. The Death of the Family Joker vs. Nightwing conflict on the other hand was a success in my book and a confrontation that I won’t soon forget. Not only does it have some fine Hamill-esque dialogue coming from the Joker but it’s a very important moment for the New 52 Dick Grayson.

If you’ve taken a gander at the preview images that are online now you can tell that this is an especially grim comic. Eddy Barrows is in top form here and he delivers some imagery that is incredibly spooky and horrifically violent. We all know that Barrows and Higgins took a break to put their best foot forward on these tie-ins and it really shows. These have been the best looking Nightwing issues that Barrows, Ferreira, and Reis have illustrated and they definitely needed to be because the story absolutely demands it. This is a major turning point in Nightwing’s life. After the events of Death of the Family, Nightwing’s world won’t be the same and that’s exactly the sort of thing I want to see from a big crossover event like this. It mattered. It wasn’t just a cash-in cameo, it really is a turning point and the quality of artwork reflects that.

The other two problems from this month’s tie-ins are still in place, however. If you’ve read those and seen their final page then you know where this book is going to lead and if you are often annoyed at how there was no way the Joker had time to pull off the things he did in Batgirl and Batman & Robin then chances are high you will face-palm when you see this comic. The whole Death of the Family event is entirely too compressed for these grand stand-offs to take place. While those who read only one series and one series alone might see no problem, those who follow the entire crossover can’t help but ask “Where does Joker find the time?” Joker should be eerie and we should be stunned by how intricate his plans are, there’s no doubt about that, but this level of productivity is downright supernatural. What Joker has done to Haly’s Circus is pretty ridiculous in its scale, but thankfully the artwork is so jaw-dropping that hopefully won’t mind. I know it won me over in the end.

Speaking of ends, before I get to the end of this one and throw it in between some spoiler tags I want to discuss something that’s relevant not only to this issue but to the previous installment as well. Smile-X or Joker Gas or whatever it is we’re calling it these days: why are we giving it a mind-control aspect in the New 52? With Nightwing #15 and Raya, I thought “Sure, that’s fine. Joker gave her a light dose and it turned her into a berzerker.” or it could be behaving the way it did in The Last Laugh and it was that Joker-ize toxin or whatever (I honestly don’t remember much from that story, it wasn’t very good) but in last week’s Batman & Robin the Joker explicitly stated that he improved the formula and now the toxin has the power of suggestion. I completely disagree with this direction for Joker’s go-to weapon. It’s bad enough that we have the New 52 Black Mask moving in on Mad Hatter’s territory, but now we have the Joker doing it too? How the hell is Tetch going to compete with that? Let’s just keep Joker gas to being a lethal gas that contorts the muscles in the face into a grin as the chest spasms and sends out the victims every last breath in a macabre cackle– how is that not good enough anymore?

Alright, now that I have that out of my system let me toss up a few spoiler tags talk about the major things that happened in this book.

Spoiler
Remember how Barbara was willing to take a chainsaw to Joker’s skull in Batgirl #16 last week? Well in this issue Nightwing, realizing that Joker know who he is and can get to everyone close to him, throws his super-lethal-looking blades (They’re not batarangs. Nightarangs? Wingarangs? Wingdarts?) at Joker’s head and chest for a kill-shot. Their actions this month raise some pretty serious questions. Did Batman not do a good enough job drilling his moral code into their heads? Perhaps since Bruce came up with this belief system at such an early age it is indeed a childish notion. After all, the youngest of the group, Damian, is the only one trying real hard to NOT kill right now. And what does it say about Nightwing and Batgirl as heroes? It’s fine and dandy for Joker to kill strangers everytime he breaks out of Arkham but now that he can come after people that WE know it’s time to eliminate this psycho? Seems kind of selfish. Another important thing that occurs in this issue is of course the (again, these are spoilers) total destruction of Haly’s and the probable death of every member of the circus. Nightwing loses everything here (while getting the crap beat out of him. It would’ve been nice to have seen him get some better hits in and, really, I don’t know how the giant mallet to the head didn’t kill him) and by that I mean everything that he’s been working toward for about a year now . Personally, I’d like to see him not give up on the idea of Amusement Mile because if he does then that’s sort of a victory for Joker. The struggle to rebuild all of this again and forge new friendships would be a really rich story and the book is definitely going to need some new supporting characters now that the whole circus group is apparently as good as dead. Should Dick take Joker’s advice and NOT build a “nest” in Gotham and leave this city to become his own super hero or does Gotham need Dick Grayson more than it needs Nightwing? It’s going to be interesting to see where this story goes in the next couple of issues.

Nightwing #16 is one hell of an action comic, probably the definitive Joker vs. Nightwing comic, and the most Nightwing-Gets-the-crap-kicked-out-of-him comic that I’ve ever seen, I mean the guy takes a serious beating here. It was good, absolutely flew by, and every page is stunning to look at. It’s not quite as strong as issue #15 since it’s essentially one long action sequence, but I don’t think any Nightwing fan could possibly pick this up and be disappointed.

SCORE: 8.5/10