Dick Grayson returns to Gotham to pack up his things and officially make the big move to Chicago after racing off to the Windy City to track down his parents’ killer a few months ago (at least in our time, it might just be a few weeks in Gotham-time). Helping him move is Barbara Gordon, Dick’s on-again, off-again love interest and it’s clear right from the get-go that this will be an issue centered around their romance. But will it be charming or will it be a chore?

Since we can’t have an over-sized issue devoted to relationship drama alone, we are quickly introduced to the New 52 Firefly who will serve as the Annual’s antagonist. As Barbara and Dick team-up to bring Firefly (who has never appeared in the world of the New 52 before and is an unknown entity to our heroes) down we see them uncover more information about the villain’s motivations and how his relationship with the victim serves as a dark reflection of what our heroes are currently going through. However, this Firefly caper is easily the weakest point of the issue. The action isn’t terribly thrilling and mystery grows quite clunky with lettering mistakes

Spoiler
There is a speech bubble that reads “If the timing didn’t aways suck,” but the worst flub of the book is a scene in which Barbara and Dick find the villain’s hit list but we can clearly see that Garfield Lynns’ own name is crossed off. Shouldn’t the name on the list be Ted Carson? Judging by how our heroes aren’t bringing up this weird and obvious discrepancy it surely must be a mistake on behalf of the comic creators, but later we discover that Carson is the killer– that means that what at first looked like a goof on the artist’s part is actually just a sign that Dick and Babs are horrendous detectives
, plot holes, and a twist done apparently just for the sake of having a twist. I found it particularly odd that such a drastic change was made to Firefly’s origin right when the character is on the verge of becoming a household name thanks to the recently released (this very week) Arkham Origins video game.
Spoiler
Firefly serves as a boss in the game and one of the most memorable battles the player must survive. In the game, we learn that Firefly is Garfield Lynns, but the Nightwing Annual shows that Garfield Lynns was never Firefly in the world of the New 52. And this new guy doesn’t have a pyrotechnics background so how exactly did he get a firefly suit? It doesn’t make any sense. He says that he killed Lynns and used a fire motif to put blame on the patsy Lynns but where did the suit and the arsenal of weapons come from? Our new baddie is just a high school teacher! Are we to believe that Lynns, an apparently innocent man, had already built a giant flight suit, a flame saber, and various grenades just for a rainy day and this new villain took it all?  

The other great weakness of the Annual is its artwork. I don’t understand why we can’t get an annual that’s illustrated from start to finish by the same artist. Jason Masters and Daniel Sampere do a serviceable job at best but it’s mostly lackluster for a story that’s marketed as a “special.” None of the imagery is particularly engaging, which is a shame with such a visually interesting villain as Firefly. Even with an all-new suit (engulfed in flames like Human Torch and blasting fire from his gauntlets much the way Mr. Freeze shot ice in Batman Beyond) nothing truly creative is done with all that enormous potential for unique fire effects and the combat that comes from pitting two top-tier heroes against such an over-the-top foe. In fact, much of it comes off quite stiff and even the quieter scenes are disrupted by some distracting looking faces.

But those are all the weaknesses and thankfully the strengths of Nightwing Annual #1 far outweigh them. If Kyle Higgins were announced as the new writer of the ongoing Batgirl title I would celebrate in the streets. Even with the dumb ninja-babs look and annoying references to Ricky and the Batgirl Wanted storyline, Higgins manages to write a Barbara who is far more likeable than she is in her own dark and depressing title. The brief glimpse we get at the life Barbara and Dick could share under different circumstances is a pleasant, heartwarming one and I think readers are really going to enjoy the sweet character moments these two have throughout the comic. I also really liked how writer Kyle Higgins juxtaposed the heroic and villainous relationships with each other as it made for a very structurally sound story and drove home the message home. Add in a flashback scene to the days when Dick was the Boy Wonder and you get a very satisfying ending to boot!

While the superheroics left a lot to be desired, as a jumping on point for new readers and a means of exploring Dick and Babs’ chemistry, the Nightwing Annual is a success with a lot of cute moments a solid dialogue. Fans of Nightwing and Batgirl will be pleased, but Firefly fans probably won’t be.

Recommended If…

  • You love the chemistry Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon have
  • A fashback to Dick Grayson’s tenure as Robin sounds fun
  • You’re a fan of the ongoing Nightwing title
  • You’re a new reader who is looking for a good jumping-on point for the Nightwing series

Overall

Nightwing Annual #1 is a fun exploration of the relationship between Dick and Barbara, but a dull mystery involving Firefly and annoying elements tying into Batgirl: Wanted drag the enjoyment down a tad. Bab’s said it best in the final line of the comic, “It’s almost worth an eight.”

SCORE: 7.5/10