Grayson #16: “Code Word: Swordfish”

Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Illustrated by Mikel Janín
Colored by Jeromy Cox
Lettered by Carlos M. Mangual

A pulp thriller title.

Spectacular chases and stunts in exotic locales.

Globe-trotting adventure.

Action and gadgets galore.

And, err, gratuitous cheesecake.

Or beefcake. I forget which.
Or beefcake. I forget which.

Every one of those elements is present in Grayson #16, making this the most pure spy adventure this title has seen in ages, possibly even since its inception.  It’s pure adrenaline, a fast-paced adventure that never lets up from the first page to the last, taking full advantage of the printed page to deliver a truly remarkable action comic.

Even more than that?  It is absolutely hysterical.

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As much as I love the book and the character, recent events have been heavily focused on moving Dick from Spyral agent to rogue, with an excursion to Gotham thrown in for good measure.  It’s great storytelling, don’t get me wrong, but with all the wheels spinning everything was starting to get dense as the narrative transitioned into this new story arc.  Nothing bad by any means, as it’s been exciting and the world building and intrigue have been top-notch, but sometimes it’s nice to just have a straightforward, no frills adventure.

And, just to get this out of the way: no, it does not make any reference to the ending of Robin War.  That may be disappointing to some, but frankly, it works to the issue’s benefit to not have to be shackled to such a development: it wouldn’t have mattered in this story, and it probably won’t matter in a few months anyway, so not referencing it works just fine.

The bulk of the issue consists of Dick and (Tony the) Tiger tangling with the Spyral agents sent to take them down, set against various locales and backdrops.

With its own share of gorgeous scenery as rendered by Janín and Cox.
With its own share of gorgeous scenery as rendered by Janín and Cox.

From a storytelling standpoint it’s simple, but man is it fun.  The action itself is masterfully handled, but it’s the dialogue that sets it above.  Tom King, who is comics’ golden boy at the moment (and with very good reason), gets a dialogue credit, which is unusual for this title but nonetheless a welcome distinction.  The jokes and quips fly at a rapid pace, between the situational comedy of their outlandish predicaments to Dick and Tiger’s interactions with each other, and remarkably almost every joke sticks the landing.  There are multiple running gags, such as Dick calling referring to Agent 1 as Tony the Tiger and Dick lamenting that his rank is so low, and existing jokes are still funny (I will never tire of Tiger calling Dick an idiot), but the absolute funniest sequence is a multi-page gag involving an impromptu song Dick sings.

Yes, there’s a “Grayson Theme”, and it is magnificent.

Spoiler
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If you don’t want to open the tags so as not to be spoiled, I inderstand, but let me just tell you Agents 1 and 37 fight sharks.  It’s not quite “Scorpio”, but it’s up there.

The sequence is set up like the opening  credits of a Bond film, with the requisite silhouettes, inventive layouts, and insane stunts translating perfectly to the page.  Like the rest of the book, it’s exciting, full of energy and almost overflowing with great humor.

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One of the strengths of Grayson has been the portrayal of Helena Bertinelli: she’s a remarkably strong, independent character with an intriguing personality and understandable inner conflict.  Since becoming the head of Spyral, she sadly hasn’t had much to do,  relegated to HQ and making terse statements with her hands behind her back.  That’s much the same this issue, but her confidence and poise while handling her rogue agents makes her a compelling character once again.

No joke, that might be the coolest thing that happens this issue.
No joke, that might be the coolest thing that happens this issue.

I’ve long said that King and Seeley finally made me care about Helena, and it’s good to see her back and taking charge.

The thing I’ve loved about this book from the beginning is that it’s constantly changing, yet organically so: it began as a study of Dick getting used to his new role, and each subsequent mission has led him through twists and turns to bring him to where he is now, disillusioned with the organization and seeking its downfall.  For as much setup as this issue is for the next arc, it’s done in a very fluid manner, never feeling heavy-handed or expository.  Like a true spy thriller, it’s grounded enough that the stakes are felt, but the fantastical elements of the universe are evident enough to remind you that you’re reading about superheroes, not just mortal men.

Speaking of the fantastic, we finally see who Helena’s been talking to for the past issue or so, and it’s absolutely amazing.

Spoiler
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HOLY CRAP I WAS RIGHT IT’S GRIFTER

And really, Dick Grayson vs. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.?  I’d read that every month.

There may have been another typo at one point, which is sadly all too common these days, but it’s spoken in such a way that you could kind of justify it as a weird phrasing on the character’s behalf, so it gets a pass.  Besides, as great as the issue is, that’s a minor (if too frequent) quibble, and when it ends on the most obvious but well-earned note it possibly could:

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Such things are mere trifles.

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No, wait, this might be the coolest thing this issue.  Or the greatest.

Recommended if:

  • You love Dick Grayson.
  • You love this series.
  • You want to see Dick pretty much be James Bond.
  • You like non-stop adventure and great comedy.
  • I mean, it’s Batman comics, James Bond movies, and even a bit of Star Wars thrown together, and it all works.  What’s not to like?

Overall: Full of energy, this issue is everything that makes this book great: kinetic action, striking visuals, genuinely funny comedy, and a likable, charismatic lead.  King, Seeley, Janín, and Cox are some of the best talents in the business, and this fusion of spy thriller and superheroics provides the enjoyment and excitement that only the comics medium can give.  Standing on its own it works well, and the hints of what’s to come in the future makes everything that much more exciting, so if you were still hesitant about “Dick Grayson: Super Spy,” give this a look; if it doesn’t change your mind, I don’t know what will.

SCORE: 9.5/10