Grayson Annual #2: “Just a Guy”

Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King

Illustrated by Alvaro Martinez

Inked by Raul Fernandez

Colored by Jeromy Cox

Lettered by Carlos M. Mangual

Go back far enough in DC’s publishing history and you’ll come upon a time that was much more innocent and simpler in its storytelling.  It was a time when Superman and Batman weren’t constantly at odds with each other, when creators could come up with some truly bonkers concepts simply because it was a fun idea.  It may not have reached the level of pathos and continuity that’s around in the more modern age, but core concepts of the universe at large and the characters themselves were at the very least introduced before being fully realized and refined.

One of these concepts was Batman and Superman as the “World’s Finest,” the two ideal superheroes who created the perfect crime-fighting team.  What seems to get lost when people think of those old school covers (seriously, just Google image search them; there are tons of gems) is that Robin is right there the whole time.  So, while Superman and Batman may be the ones who get the spotlight, Robin is almost the reader’s entry point, the character we can identify with.  I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out with Batman and Superman?

And that’s the role Dick Grayson has served in the DC Universe for the last seven decades or so: he’s a bridge between the old guard and the new.  He’s been there from the beginning, but he’s always portrayed as young enough to not seem intimidating to young readers.  More than that, he’s almost a perfect blend of the two older heroes: he has the grounding of Batman, the attainable attributes of being “just a man” doing all of these amazing things, and serves as a beacon of hope and joy like Superman does, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.

So, even though it’s always been “Batman and Robin, the Dynamic Duo,” Dick also has a long history of friendship with Superman, which sadly isn’t explored nearly enough.  Thankfully, the Grayson creative team have decided to tread this ground that’s been all but ignored for some years now, and even if it isn’t perfect, it’s still a nice treat.

At its core, this issue is effectively a conversation between Dick and Clark during an extended chase scene.  What makes it memorable is the interaction between these two characters, both of whom have had some pretty big shakeups in their lives in recent months.

After a brief flashback to Dick’s time as Robin, which details a team-up he and Batman had with Superman to take down Blockbuster (not that one; his brother), the present day Grayson is preparing to leave Gotham and reintegrate himself into his role as an agent of Spyral.  Leaping from a building, he is caught in midair by Superman, who thinks he’s suicidal.

It’s actually funnier than you’d think.

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Once they get situated on the ground, the two discuss what’s been going on in their lives: Dick’s apparent death and his subsequent infiltration of Spyral, Clark losing his powers and having his identity outed to the world.

And then they’re ambushed by the Fist of Cain.

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Mondays, am I right?

After the death of the Fist’s leader, Christian Fleischer, his followers have devoted themselves to murdering people based on a “points system:” the better and rarer the kill, the more points you get, and the better position in the group.  It’s a neat evolution from how they were, and how a crazed cult-like group would probably react if their leader were “martyred.”

With Dick and Clark being superheroes, they’re worth more points, which they use to their advantage to keep the crazies from civilians and minimizing collateral damage.

This leads to a chase down a freeway (Clark has a great line about Gotham being attacked so much that there’s always construction when you need it) where the two discover something disheartening about their quarry: they have powers.

That is pretty rad, too.
That is pretty rad, too.

Rather, they’ve taken Blockbuster’s blood and made it a tonic to give them temporary powers.  And also have Blockbuster there to cause damage, because why not?

At one point, Clark suggests they call Lex Luthor to help them, which Dick flat-out refuses.  It’s an interesting twist, as usually Clark would be the one objecting, but he figures that since Lex refuses to believe that a simple farmboy like Clark could actually be Superman (which recalls John Byrne’s Superman #2, where with even the most advanced technology at work and with almost perfect odds, Lex doesn’t believe a man with Superman’s power would ever humble himself to live as just a man), the fact that he needs help from a mere mortal will further confirm his suspicions.

Tim Seeley handled the main writing duties, and it’s pretty evident; even in their own words, he focuses more on humorous dialogue and crazier situations (some people have issues with the dialogue from the Hypnos implant, but I thought it was pretty funny and fit with the irreverence of the agency), while King is better at the intrigue and bigger set pieces.  For the most part, his dialogue rings true, with a bunch of good lines and great interactions between the two characters (Dick calls back to how he chose the name Nightwing from an old Kryptonian myth, since he looked up to Clark so much; it’s nice that this bit of history made it into the newer continuity).  Superman calling a guy “man” seemed a little too… I don’t know, casual for me, but this is a younger, slightly more tense iteration than I prefer.  But it’s the Superman we have, so it’s the Superman we’ll get.

Also: adorable.
Also: adorable.

The main problem I had wasn’t with the writing itself, but the length of the issue.  Even though nothing here is really bad on any level, it feels like it goes on way longer than it should.  As a standalone 22-page issue this would have been great, but as a 40-page annual it loses steam a few points along the way.  Things always pick up, but there were a few points where I almost lost interest because it didn’t seem like the book was getting anywhere.

Even more detrimental: this is now the fourth book in the past month that has a glaring typing error.

Unless he's talking about some sort of Indie-dance-pop hybrid musical group...
Unless he’s talking about some sort of Indie-dance-pop hybrid musical group…

It’s not the work of the same editor across the board, which is slightly better, but it’s pretty aggravating seeing so many errors in such a short amount of time.

As far as the visuals go, I will admit that I was a little upset that Mikel Janín wasn’t handling penciling duties, but Alvaro Martinez more than sets himself apart.  He uses some of the same techniques as Janín, like the interesting panel layouts and focus points that are trademarks of the title, but nothing ever feels derivative.  His lines are smooth, his character models are varied and on point where they need to be, and the inks and colors from Raul Fernandez and the always reliable Jeromy Cox are lush.

Even with its shortcomings, it’s still nice to read a “smaller” story between two characters with such a long history, and finding out that in the best possible ways, they’re both just a guy.

Recommended if:

  • You love Grayson.
  • You like seeing history between characters referenced and their relationships with each other take the spotlight.
  • It’s not a top ten Superman story by any means, but it’s a good read if you’re a Superman fan too.

Overall: A tad over-long and a little aimless in points, this was still a good story on its own.  Having it be an annual may have been a mistake, but it’s still a nice read between two of the oldest characters in the superhero canon.  Clark and Dick have a mutual respect, though for different reasons, and they play well off of each other even with their sunnier dispositions and attitudes.

SCORE: 7/10