With his fate and future uncertain at the outset of Forever Evil, the decision to make Dick an agent of the clandestine organization Spyral was controversial, to say the least. Now, shedding his identity as Nightwing and severing all but the most furtive of ties with Batman, Dick is joined by a cast of characters, both new and old, as he is given a new life, purpose, and mission. As with any thriller, though, there are close calls, moral dilemmas, and uncertain loyalties on all sides, and Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral offers a look at this new world of espionage and superheroics.
Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral is written by Tim Seeley and Tom King and features the pencils of Mikel Janín and Stephen Mooney and the colors of Jeromy Cox. This volume collects issues 1-4 of the main series, the Grayson: Futures End #1 story “Only a Place for Dying”, the related story from Secret Origins #8, and a gallery including covers, character designs, breakdowns, and the series’ pitch.
Save for perhaps its very inception, there’s hardly been a more controversial change in the New-52 DC Universe than the revelation that Dick Grayson would become a globe-trotting spy. Opinions will always vary, of course, but at least from a storytelling perspective the team of King and Seeley have delivered a fresh, winning take on both the superhero and spy genres.
Given the issues collected here, this collection reads less like a single narrative and more like an anthology, and frankly I think that works for the best. It allows for easier reading and more time to get acclimated to the different aspects of this new world, including Dick’s new role, his supporting cast, and the agency of Spyral as a whole. The placement of each installment is a tad confusing, but overall having three separate stories gives it a more “pick up and read” quality than something that’s one long narrative.
The book opens with “The Candidate,” from Secret Origins #8. It’s a good story, more about Helena and her blunt brutality than anything else, but I can’t help but feel it would have worked better later in the book. The symmetry of the the two stand-alones book ending the main narrative is nice, but some of the actions and revelations about the agency contained here may work better after reading the first arc. It does provide a nice overview of Dick’s life and career for the uninitiated, which is probably why it was placed first, but the All-Star Superman-esque opening page and train heist that begin issue 1 are just perfect.
Speaking of, the 12-page opener is followed by the first issue, and a year on it still holds up as a cracking good read. Jesse gave it high marks in his original review, and I’m inclined to agree. In fact, I’d even dare say that within the context of what comes later it is even stronger on a second (or third or fourth or…) reading: the characters have evolved believably, the swashbuckling action is still full of energy while each set-piece is wholly unique unto itself, and the groundwork laid out for world-building is still strong.
The next three issues continue that momentum, focusing on the organ hunting story that drove the series until it became more about Spyral and their mission. As an arc it’s entertaining and strong, with great dialogue and ideas from Seeley and King and absolutely incredible art from Janín (seriously, nobody does layouts like this guy), but it ends in kind of a weird spot. The fourth issue is fun, with the main focus being divided between Dick and Bruce’s ongoing investigation into Minos and Grayson being the object of affection for the band of schoolgirls, but it just kind of ends with a flirtatious chase between Dick and Helena. It’s not a truly bad spot to end on, and I get that with this being an on-going series it can’t be entirely self-contained, but had they included one more issue (the absolutely incredible number five) this collection may have felt a bit more complete.
That feeling is both helped and hampered by the inclusion of the final story in this collection, Grayson: Futures End #1– “Only A Place For Dying.” This was one of my personal favorite issues of any book from last year, and I am glad it’s here. As a standalone story it holds up well, and the fact that it can be read forward or backwards is a great storytelling feat that isn’t the least bit of the gimmick it could have been.
As much as I love it, though, it feels strange tacked on at the end of this collection. For a new reader who didn’t know what the deal with Futures End was, this story could be incredibly confusing, especially following the arc they just finished reading. I can’t help feeling that moving “The Candidate” from the beginning and placing it between the fourth issue and this last story would have made things flow a bit better and offered a cleaner break from the bulk narrative, but once again the symmetry presented was most likely intentional.
The only other issue I think maybe should have been included is Nightwing #30, as it’s effectively Grayson #0. It’s understandable why it wasn’t included, as it’s already been collected and was part of a separate series, but it would have been a good fit with the “Agents of Spyral” motif.
Either way, it’s a strong collection of stories, and I’d have complained had any of these installments been omitted. As a collection, it does what any good graphic novel should: makes you appreciate what’s there and also want to read much more.
There are quite a few special features, and none of them feel tacked on or superfluous. The section kicks off with a gallery of variant covers, which is about standard in most releases these days, and while it’s the least impressive of the lot there are still some really cool designs and ideas on display. I particularly love the LEGO figure cover for issue 4 and Mikel Janín’s variant for the first issue, which frankly would have made a perfect cover for this collection.
The gallery is capped off by the house ad announcement that ran last year. You know which when I’m talking about. It’s still kind of crass and silly, but hey, what are you gonna do?
What’s most welcome and informative, though, are the series pitch and character design gallery. The pitch is nice to read because, for one, we don’t often get allowed into the inner workings of series like this, so seeing how Seeley pitched the concept is fascinating. We can also, in hindsight, see how the concept has stuck to the initial pitch, how it’s deviated from it, and piece together more of the long game the creative team is playing. It’s only a page long, but extras like this make it feel like great care was put into making this collection something fans should want to pick up, especially if they’re having to double-dip after having purchased the issues contained in the set.
Finally, there’s a gallery of character designs, pencil tests, and a breakdown of the opening pages of the first issue. The designs are nice with some interesting notes on some concepts that were either abandoned or tweaked, and some of the notes are pretty funny (Dick “always ‘loses'” his gun, and there’s a line pointing to his torso that simply says “abs”), and the full character designs are illustrated gorgeously.
Overall the extras are plentiful without being overkill; there are just enough here to warrant adding the book to your collection without feeling like its a waste of money, and not too much as to feel like filler or a way to add to the page count to drive up the price.
Value: Sale Price
Though listed with a cover price of $22.99, Amazon has it available for $15.89. Brick and mortar stores will probably have it at listed cost, which is a bit pricey, but the quality of the series and the nice selection of bonus material makes it worth it.
A great collection that could have stood well enough on its own, but has enough special material to entice long-time readers. The layout of the stories is a bit questionable and could prove to be confusing, and the omission of the fifth issue causes the main narrative to end abruptly, but what is here contains some of the best writing and illustrations of any book on the stands, and proves that the high concept of Dick Grayson as a spy is one that is paying off and paying off well. For new readers, old fans, and anyone in between, this would be a good addition to anyone’s collection.