Grayson #6: “The Brains of the Operation”

Written by Tom King and Tim Seeley

Illustrated by Michael Janín

Colored by Jeremy Cox

Letters by Carlos M. Mangual

From the very first issue, the writing team of King and Seeley have utilized the in medias res storytelling device to ramp up excitement from the get-go.  Whereas the trope can easily become an excuse for bloated exposition or lazy plotting, the opening scenes of Grayson always feel fresh and exciting, be it the train fight in the first issue, the airplane crash in the previous story, or even the backwards storytelling of the Future’s End one-shot.  Each issue feels like the cold open of a Bond film: we’re dumped right into the middle of the story, and though we may not initially know what’s going on, it’s easy enough to follow along and get up to speed.

This issue proves to be no different, opening with Dick and Helena infiltrating the Gageo-Do Island in the Yellow Sea.  Still on the search for the various Paragon Organs, they’re following some leads to the island, which is a known hideout of various criminals and mercenaries.  In one page we’re brought up to speed with what they’re doing, and while the dialogue is fairly expository, it genuinely feels like a conversation.  Dick’s care-free attitude, complete with pop culture references and sarcasm, and Helena’s more by-the-book manner are really well developed and it feels like these two characters actually interact with one another as opposed to just talking to each other.

Then they’re ambushed by a four-legged zombie orca, and this just made the early cut of everyone’s favorite issue of the year.

Four-legged Zombie Orca, 2015-2015.  Good night, sweet prince.  We hardly knew ye.
Four-legged Zombie Orca, 2015-2015. Good night, sweet prince. We hardly knew ye.

It makes sense in context, don’t worry.

After that initial setback, they make their way inland to discover that most of the inhabitants of the island are dead.  Chancing upon a survivor who calls himself Macabre, Helena begins to use her hypnos to get information when Dick is abducted by Midnighter.

What follows are three separate threads.  The first is Helena getting the information from the survivor, which also links to some scenes at Spyral with Mr. Minos.  We’re given some more information on Minos himself, which was a surprise, and also a bizarre scene where he’s speaking with an entity called Spyder.  No doubt we’ll learn more about this development in the coming months, including what Helena finds out from her quarry.

Spoiler
First off, Spyder is a group of three humanoid figures, two male and one female, holding onto each other by the hands and forming a sort of triangle with their bodies.  On their foreheads they have the “spider-web” mark that the agents have tattooed on their bodies, so there is certainly a connection there, but as far as I can tell this is their first appearance in any form and there isn’t much more information given about them.

What Helena finds out, which is slightly more pressing if somewhat less interesting, is that the group the Fist of Cain plans to use the Paragon brain to send out a telepathic pulse at a peace rally in Tel-Aviv.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of the ending of Watchmen, but instead of killing everybody immediately it will be used to drive those in the area to kill each other.  It’s pretty sinister, and definitely brings higher stakes to this search for organs.  Particularly chilling is Minos completing what seems to be the Fist of Cain mission statement with the line “there is only murder,” and like Spyder/Spyral we’ll no doubt find out more about this group soon enough.

What everyone is coming to the issue to see, though, is the fight between Dick and Midnighter, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Janín’s art is as fluid and expressive as always, but what really impresses me are his creative panel layouts.  Everything flows together and feels like there’s genuine motion, thanks in no small part to the beautiful coloring from Jeremy Cox, and even moments like Helena just sitting there interrogating Macabre feel lively.  I’m going to go ahead and say that Janín and Cox may be one of the better illustrative teams in the industry right now, as every issue is just wonderful to look at on its own.

While it is a great fight with some pretty good action, what I liked most about it was it was a battle of personalities just as much as a physical confrontation.  The dialogue here is excellent, rising above the macho one-liners and grandstanding that is typical of action scenes.  Instead, the rapport between the two feels like a genuine rivalry, with past encounters and grievances carrying weight for these men rather than being forgotten footnotes.  There’s a callback to Midnighter referring to Dick’s fighting style as jazz, and a brilliant retort from Dick about punk rock that was genuinely funny.

The kicker, though, is what might be the best summation of Dick Grayson as a character you’ll find anywhere:

Dick Grayson in a nutshell.
Dick Grayson in a nutshell.

That one panel, and the one following it that I’ll let you experience yourselves, shows that as well as Seeley and King write the spy elements, as strong as the relationships they’ve developed are, they above all know the character of Grayson and his role in the DC universe.  From page one this book has been fun and full of energy, like Dick himself, but right there they summed up not just how others see him, but how he sees himself.

Once the fight is over, Dick is confronted by a mysterious woman, and while the issue ends on a cliffhanger that mostly feels deserved, it is fairly abrupt.  That, coupled with one or two clunkers in the dialogue early on and a punctuation error or two, prevent this issue from being out an out perfect, but this is still a strong entry in one of the most consistently good series on the stands right now.

Recommended if:

  • You love a good spy story.
  • You’ve been waiting for the inevitable confrontation between Grayson and Midnighter.
  • Dick is one of your favorite characters
  • You’ve been wondering what “tsuchigumo” means since the second issue.

Overall: Full of action and great character moments,  this issue excites and satisfies on almost all levels and confirms that the team of Seeley, King, and Janín know what they’re doing (if there were any doubters left).  True to the spy genre, we’re treated to just as many new questions as we are given answers, but the mysteries are compelling and build organically rather than feeling contrived, and the treatment of Dick Grayson is one of the best uses of the character in years.

SCORE: 9/10