Yet another Zero Year tie-in out this week is “One Dark City Night” featuring a young Dick Grayson whose traveling circus just so happens to be performing in Gotham on the very night Riddler pulls the plug on the city’s power.

The comic opens in spectacular fashion with a group of masked ninjas fighting a sword-wielding robot before a blood-red sky, but it’s quickly revealed to be a film that Dick Grayson is watching in an unnamed Gotham theater. As Dick shovels his face full of popcorn, the city outside begins to go dark and when the blackout reaches the cinema the projector ceases to operate and after the worst announcement possible (a guy walks into the theater and shouts “The whole city is dead!”) the audience is forced to go outside into the chaos. Or at least you’d think there would be some sort of chaos. Despite the stampede of movie-goers rushing out into the street, when we return from a brief flashback we find Dick and a small band of other children roaming through a Gotham that’s surprisingly desolate and incredibly dull. You’d think that on the eve of this event the night would be filled by screams, horns, sirens, crashing glass as stores are looted, etc. etc. But there’s none of that here. All the barbarism we saw on the way out of the movies apparently evaporated and everyone went home to their families where they all read quietly by candlelight. Everyone is gone except for a little-known villain who will be getting his first appearance in the New 52, but I’ll return to that in a moment. First we flashback to even earlier in the evening to see how Dick ended up at the movies in the first place.

I was happy to see a scene in which Dick is actually performing trapeze but surprisingly he wasn’t actually acting with his parents. The point of the scene is to establish how much of a showman Dick is becoming and that trademark cockiness of his is in full force as well and it’s these elements that draw the envy of his friends who later decide that they don’t want to hang out with the circus’ “big star” after all. Flash forward to the vacant streets of the blackened Gotham City and we watch a story unfold in which Dick gets a better understanding of the importance of teamwork and friendship… I guess. Basically he just realized that he needs to make his self-confidence less obvious or else his friends will be jealous. They were upset with him for being the most awesome member of the troupe but he saved the day while hanging with the other stragglers  in “Dark City” through being the most awesome member of that team as well. If anything, his bravado should be reinforced. His old friends should also be even more jealous because Dick just had an awesome adventure without them, proved he could make even more friends in a single night, and now he’s not only a star but a hero. There’s an awful lot of talk about teams, but Dick Grayson is the only one who pulled his weight in both plotlines. It’s not like he learned to step back and let others do their best so the combined efforts would overcome an obstacle. They rally together to wear matching masks (Dick’s idea) and then he continues to outshine everyone else anyway. Meh.

While the city itself is astoundingly harmless in this Zero Year tie-in we do get a little bit of excitement in the form of Amygdala, who joins Anarky and Killer Moth in the list of B- and C-list villains getting their debut during Riddler’s blackout. I have an odd fondness for Amygdala (whose name I still mispronounce as “Amy-guh-dall-uh” because I didn’t know what the word was when I first read a comic featuring him back when I was a child) so I was pretty upset with how halfheartedly the character was handled. There was always something so sad about Amygdala; he was one of Arkham Asylum’s few patients who actually was getting the help he needed. Even the medication he was receiving helped his condition. He was so childlike and innocent but when angered he turned absolutely primal due to his amyglada being removed in an operation years ago. Here we see him going through a similar operation in his New 52 origin until the power goes out and he manages to escape from the Gotham General hospital. But for whatever reason he is transformed into a crimson monster. He’s Red Hulk but stupider and with purposeless pipes along his shoulders and chest. At least with the old portrayal we had something that was more sympathetic, but all we see here is a big dumb animal that can be quickly dispatched by a child with no training outside what he knows about the art of trapeze. I love Dick Grayson, but I think that a bat-villain (even a c-list one) should be more difficult to take down than this. If anything, the other children should have joined in on the fight and reinforced the comic’s central theme. Oh well.

Spoiler
Was anyone else surprised to see an appearance by Sal Maroni? The character has very recently been omitted from Two-Face’s origin (at least as far as we can tell) in Batman & Two-Face by Pete Tomasi and this actually marked his first appearance in the New 52! I think Higgins might have big plans for this character and his son CJ.

This issue is illustrated by Will Conrad & Cliff Richards with colors by Pete Pantazis. I hardly noticed the transition between the two artists, but I did find the overall look of the issue to be less than what we’ve seen in the past couple installments from Conrad. The opening pages were definitely my favorite and the most dynamic but from the circus scene onward things looked a bit muddled with peculiar facial expressions and inks that were too thick and needed refining. Many of the perspectives, however, were well chosen and made for solid sequential storytelling. Gotham looked incredibly gritty and like the Gotham I know, but it doesn’t really jive with what we’ve seen from the rest of Zero Year. The other tie-in comics got away with this because the narrative came in at a point in which Gotham had dilapidated over a few days or weeks, but this is the very night the horror begins. The opening pages in particular had a look more akin to Taxi Driver and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Even the saturated colors added to the dark and gritty tone of the issue. Speaking of the colors, I found the brown tint to Grayson’s hair while under the big top to be distracting.

While I have numerous complaints about this issue it’s mostly from the fact that I’ve come to expect so much from this series especially ever since “Death of the Family” when Nightwing’s run of emotional, fun, and fast-paced stories really began. In fact, this is the first time that I think Kyle Higgins and crew have had a misstep with the tie-ins because Nightwing’s contributions to Death of the Family and Night of the Owls were terrific! And to get such a mediocre one-shot like this at a premium price really irks me. That’s why I’m giving it a below average rating of 4.5. It’s not awful, but it’s immensely skippable.

Recommended If…

  • You remember who Amygdala is and what to see what he’s like in the New 52
  • You want to see Dick learn an important childhood lesson
  • More Raya and Raymond sounds like a good thing

Overall

“One Dark City Night” has a few so-so moments, but it’s definitely filler. Nightwing #25 is the weakest issue of this series in quite some time and the most forgettable Zero Year tie-in so far this month. I found it to be especially disappointing for the increased $3.99 price.

SCORE: 4.5/10