The first volume of the New 52 Nightwing’s adventures relied pretty heavily on readers knowing all about the Court of Owls storyline going on in Batman. This volume still requires you know a bit about The Court of Owls, but rewards you for your effort with the best Night of Owls tie-in as well as two extra adventures. All of that together makes for a pretty fulfilling collection of Dick Grayson stories.
Nightwing, Vol. 2: Night of the Owls is a soft cover that includes issues #8-12 and the Zero issue that details Dick Grayson’s new and far more condensed origin story.
Note: Don’t read this review if you plan on reading Volume 1. There will be some spoilers regarding the previous arc.
You know a crossover tie-in is good when the participating title names its second volume after the event! The bulk of the material found in the hardcover Batman: Night of the Owls isn’t all that great. In my opinion, it was a pretty poorly handled crossover event and the Owls didn’t have a clear motivation or a very good plan. But the one good thing that came out of that cash-grab was a Nightwing two-parter that pitted the former Boy Wonder against an ancestor who was once (and now still is thanks to a revitalizing formula) a talon for the Court of Owls.
I’ll step up and say right now that I don’t like the twist of having Dick Grayson be a potential protégé for the Court of Owls before the untimely death of his parents. Not. One. Bit. I feel that it overcomplicated a perfectly fine origin story (and how did the Court not send a talon to execute Tony Zucco for threatening the circus?). Heck, I don’t like the idea of any masked figures lurking in Gotham prior to the Batman but the creation of the Court of Owls changed that too. So I’ve got to accept these new elements and when I accepted the new history of the Grayson name what I got was a pretty darn good story with action as well as heart. The two-part tale that kicks off this TPB isn’t just the best crossover tie-in, it was the best story Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows had delivered. I say “was” because I think that the series has only gotten better with time and there are issues that even surpass this.
As superb as the Night of the Owls business is, there’s still much left to enjoy in this graphic novel that’s really taken its sweet time getting here (Volume 1 was released in October of last year). Also included is the Republic of Tomorrow arc and issue #0 that’s a one-shot detailing Dick Grayson’s origin.
A band of Gotham’s citizens have decided that the cause of all their woes is all of those masked vigilantes. Ironically, this new posse decides to fight back by wearing costumes of their own, but in a very entertaining scene we see all of the henchmen finally speak up and recognize everything they’re doing wrong! This is a couple of comics that honestly has some of the smartest and most relatable henchmen I’ve seen in the New 52! The Republic of Tomorrow was the first really independent Nightwing arc. Nightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes had to lean on Batman’s Court of Owls for support, but The Republic of Tomorrow was its own thing and it had some ambitious ideas– ideas that were unfortunately never fully realized. I’m talking mostly about a new character named Detective Nie, who is given quite a bit of character development and an interesting flashback to a time when he had successfully framed the Batman for murder. A fascinating character overall and it felt like he was a shoe-in to be a major player in future Nightwing arcs, but he hasn’t been seen since. And the story’s villain, Paragon, is defeated in a really hurried fight scene that was almost as talkative as the conclusion of City of Owls. The Republic of Tomorrow finale was made up of two characters trading blows while at the same time spoon-feeding the plot of the previous two issues to the audience. However, some of this spoon-feeding was actually quite necessary because it hinged upon the reader’s recollection of an almost insignificant moment from the very first volume of Nightwing! I found The Republic of Tomorrow to be a great story with exciting new characters but… we can assume editorial interference or whatever all we want for now, but it felt like there was a greater story to be told and it got cut short and all of Kyle Higgins’ ideas had to be crammed into a very few pages. I go into a bit more detail in this review of issue #12.
Of all the stories in this collection, issue #0 is the one that’s the most important to Dick Grayson’s revised New 52 history because rather than show us the beginning of Nightwing, it shows us the beginning of Dick Grayson’s career as Robin. This also makes is the one story in this collection most likely to make a lot of folks angry. It will make you angry because of how horribly the rich history of Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne’s partnership had to be condensed in order to fit within the New 52’s five-year time frame in which no hero can seem “too old.” Think about it. Deathstroke might be the only leading character in the New 52 that’s over 40 (at least I assume they kept him as an older character. Most of the series’ run was drawn and illustrated by Rob Liefield and I wasn’t touching that). Why can’t we have some more mature heroes? In issue #0 we see that Dick was never Bruce’s ward, but he was more of a part-time help like Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond. He also never actually went out on patrol with Batman much either, but instead spent most of his time behind the Batcomputer.
Is it a poorly written comic? No. Is it a poorly illustrated comic? No. In fact, I gave it a rather favorable review when it came out because the team that worked on it did the best they could with what they had. What hurts about issue #0 is knowing what it is that we’ve lost. If this is indeed the past that Bruce and Dick share then their bond in the New 52 can never be as strong as it was before the reboot and that’s sad. Dick Grayson is just one in a long line of replaceable partners rather than Bruce looking at Grayson and recognizing the kid in himself that had died all those years ago. The comradery that was formed between this man and the childish sense of fun and adventure that he had lost, the way that Grayson pulled Bruce from the edge of the abyss… it’s all not quite there anymore. The New 52’s Batman mythology doesn’t become a brilliant re-imagining through changes like these, it becomes a cliffnotes version of its former self. If you want a really well-done Dick Grayson #0, read Robin: Year One.
The artwork in this book was quite good. Eddy Barrows is a phenomenal artist, but I stand by what I said in previous reviews– he’s not a great fit for Nightwing. The darker moments in the storytelling are pulled off well, but his style is overly grim, his design of Nightwing is overly bulky when he should be more of a svelt acrobat. He does a tremendous job with hard-hitting action scenes, creating a highly detailed atmosphere, and laying out a page, but the darkness can’t be overlooked. His characters even seem to have trouble doing anything other than grimace. When someone smiles or tries to look sad they just end up looking creepy or unnatural. The eyes especially look weird when a smile creeps across a character’s face (a problem shared by another great illustrator, Andy Clarke). But thankfully, the stories that Barrows must tell in this collection are indeed dark and quite brutal so he really excels. The Night of the Owls stuff is particularly good and showcased his range by going between the modern Gotham and the Gotham of centuries past.
The fill-in artists aren’t quite the same caliber and the change-over from Barrows to Andres Guinaldo and Geraldo Borges is noticeable. Guinaldo carried most of the Republic of Tomorrow arc and while he did a fine job with action scenes and creating the set pieces, faces were a problem and Nightwing often looked different from panel to panel.
Eight pages of original artwork make up Nightwing, Vol. 2‘s supplemental material and that’s more than you’ll find in the TPBs I’ve reviewed lately. This includes cover designs by Eddy Barrows, the New 52 Lady Shiva and Dick Grayson as Robin character design by Kenneth Rocafort, and Brett Booth’s designs for The Republic of Tomorrow (that page also comes with a thumbnail image of Eddy Barrow’s unused design for The Republic of Tomorrow).
Value: Full Price!
It’s only $14.99! The Night of the Owls stuff is terrific and has a high re-read value, The Republic of Tomorrow is entertaining but ultimately forgettable due to a very hurried ending (I hardly remembered the storyline at first glance), and the Zero issue will make an important reference for you in the future whether you love it or hate it. Plus, it’s cheaper than it would’ve been had you bought each issue individually.
This features the very best story to spin out of all those cross-over issues from Night of the Owls and a couple of other entertaining stories as well. The Zero issue may cause some discontent and the transitions to fill-in artists is a problem too but overall I think that this is a fun read at a fair price and the series only gets better from volume to volume. It’s just a shame that these graphic novels don’t come out a little quicker.