Go fetch a box of tissues, bat-fans, because Peter J. Tomasi is here to make you shed some tears.
“But it features Nightwing this month and Nightwing always makes me smile!” you exclaim. Well, I hate to break it to you but if this comic was labeled honestly it would be called Batman & Alfred and if you saw The Dark Knight Rises then you know that when the Wayne family butler’s lip starts to quiver EVERYBODY cries.
The Stages of Grief arc has been very inconsistent but at least it’s finishing in spectacular fashion. Last month’s Catwoman issue was quite good and this final installment here actually does deal with the theme of acceptance being the final stage of grief whereas the motif in earlier episodes has been questionable at best with basically every issue feeling like Stage One: Anger, Stage Two: Anger, and Stage Three: Anger.
The concept behind this issue is quite brilliant. We have Bruce obsessively running a simulation within his matrix-like Internet 3.0 device that reenacts the events that lead to Damian’s death. Each time Bruce tries to save Damian he fails. Every. Single. Time. That is, until Nightwing shows up upon Alfred’s request only rather than talk Bruce out of using the machine anymore Nightwing actually joins in as a “player two” because he needs to see this just as much as Bruce does.
I must say that while we do deal heavily with Bruce and Alfred accepting the loss of Damian, what Batman & Nightwing #23 is missing is enough emphasis on Dick Grayson’s side of the story. If the character’s name is going to be put in the title it would’ve been nice to have more insight than this comic offers. It certainly tries to give us a proper Dick and Damian sendoff, but personally I want more and perhaps that’s greedy. If you read Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin then you could argue (and probably win that argument) that Damian was closer to Dick than he ever was to Bruce. Over the course of the past few years we didn’t just see a fun inversion of the dark hero/light sidekick dynamic what we saw at the heart of it all was Damian and Dick become brothers. And then, after the Boy Wonder’s death, we witnessed Grayson completely break down and ultimately choose to run away from it all. The pain was too much to bear and when he saw an excuse to leave Gotham behind he did and we haven’t seen Damian mentioned in a Nightwing comic since then. And that’s fine because bringing up Damian in the current Nightwing run would totally disrupt what Kyle Higgins has going right now, but that’s all the more reason why Batman & Nightwing #23 was the perfect opportunity to finally give Dick the closure he deserves rather than have his grief overshadowed by Bruce and Alfred. Did you find this to be an adequate Damian/Dick goodbye? Let me know in the comments. I’m sure there are some who might disagree with my reading of Dick “running away from it all” and the character was actually just capable of bouncing back and accepting the loss pretty easily.
In addition to this, I also wish we could have seen what exactly Nightwing could have done differently to save Damian on that fateful day. We get a quick montage of how Batman would’ve rushed to get there in time to come to Damian’s aid but I’m curious about what precisely Dick changed. The way events actually unfolded saw Dick get knocked unconscious pretty early in the fight if I recall correctly so I suppose we could assume he simply ducked this time and that made all the difference in the world. All of this is, of course, a nitpick because the point of the story Tomasi is trying to tell isn’t to illustrate where the bat-family went wrong in the war with Leviathan it’s about giving Bruce, Alfred, and Dick a cathartic moment so that they can finally press on with their lives.
The artwork is fantastic and shows Gleason, Gray, and Irwin at their best. With so many scenes taken directly from Batman Incorporated #8 it was fun to see a different artist’s take on moments that Chris Burnham gave life to. I also thought it was cool that (and I might be reading too much into this) that Gleason changed Nightwing’s suit in-between the real world and the simulation. If you read Nightwing’s ongoing series then you’ll know that his suit got a bit of a make-over after the move to Chicago and Booth began illustrating. If you look close it seems like Nightwing has the red lining in his mask in the real-panels and lacks it in the simulations-panels. Speaking of panels, there were some really creative layouts that mimicked the broken-glass pages that Burnham did in Inc. #8. But the two things that’ll definitely stand out to readers the most are the brutal action sequences (which make the simulation so satisfying) and the expressive faces (which were an absolute must in order to drive that ending home). Who knew a book could be so brutal and then end so touching?
Batman & Nightwing is a very poignant issue that I think every Batman fan should read. This is an absolute must-buy for its story as well as its art and it’s told in a way that anyone can pick it up whether they’ve read the previous 4 installments or not.