Dick Grayson returns for the second half of his first “season” as an agent of Spyral. In We All Die at Dawn, Dick’s exploits with his eclectic supporting cast are further detailed as Spyral seeks to bring down a crazed cult, prevent Armageddon, and bring about their own possibly sinister ends.
Collecting issues 5-8 and Grayson Annual #1, this volume is notable for a few reasons. From a storytelling standpoint, we reach a nice breaking point between Dick being a green recruit to the organization and becoming an agent on the run in the next arc.
On a personal note, this was when I started reviewing the series (issue 6, to be precise), so that’s pretty exciting for me.
Most importantly? Four-legged Zombie Orca.
In all seriousness, this is a great book. One of my few complaints for Volume 1 was the fact that it felt too short and only covered half of the story King and Seeley were wanting to tell. Well, that criticism applies here as well, only this is the incomplete second half. Putting that aside, it’s still a strong collection, and taking everything together makes for a better narrative than even the consistently great single issues provide.
The volume opens with issue 5, and no hyperbole, it is one of my favorite single-issue stories of all time. It’s so simple, so beautifully poetic in its presentation that it elevates the series as a whole to a new level. Until this issue I found the book to be a massively entertaining adventure, which it certainly is. Dick’s walk through the desert to save an infant shows that the creative team is willing to take a break from the frenetic action that’s expected in superhero books and focus on the characters. As exciting as this book can get, it always has heart.
I could write an entire series of theses on how beautiful Mikel Janín and Jeromy Cox’s illustrations are, so I’ll quote Jesse’s closing thoughts: “though this issue doesn’t move mountains, it does draw beautiful lines in the sand.” The conflict isn’t an earth-shattering, global problem, just one man’s drive to save a single life. The writing and the visuals work together to weave a story that may not be as pressing as large-scale threats, but it feels important to us because it’s important to Dick.
It’s here that the collection gets its title as well: “We All Die at Dawn.” Along with being the title of the first issue of the collection, it’s a reference to “Robin Dies at Dawn” from Batman #156. Part of what keeps Dick awake and sane as he suffers from the heat and impending dehydration is his recounting of the events of that classic Batman story, and in doing so proves that King and Seeley know how to weave in even the craziest parts of the character’s history with a deft touch. I mean, a story where Batman goes into a simulation and fights a giant tree to see what would happen to him psychologically were he to lose Robin? That’s a beautiful kind of bonkers, and I didn’t even mention the purple monster.
In the end, what’s really made Grayson work from the beginning is the heart behind it. Sure, zombie whales and outer space fights are fun on their own, but the way Seeley and King weave in Dick’s history and demonstrate their own knowledge of what makes the character unique makes it worth coming back each month.
That fight aboard the God Garden is, to this day, one of my favorite scenes from this series. It’s beautifully illustrated, as expected at this point from Janín and Cox, and the script intertwines with the action perfectly. Scenes like this are what makes this book feel cinematic in its execution, and the perfect balance struck between exciting set pieces and truly heartfelt character beats are what make it a cut above the rest.
And it’s not just Dick’s characterization either: Helena could have been a one-note retread of past incarnations, yet she has become one of the most intriguing and well-rounded female leads to be introduced in recent memory.
One of my few complaints about the first volume was the order of the issues that were included. That problem isn’t present here, as there’s a pretty evident arc going through it: the “cold open” starts things off with a bang to keep the energy high right off the bat, leading directly into the main climax with the Fist of Cain, then goes off on a tangent for a nice little pure spy adventure before culminating in the genuinely shocking finale.
The inclusion of an annual makes sense, though its placement could have been problematic: put it too early and things could drag, too late and it would feel anticlimactic, and just throwing it somewhere in between could have disrupted the flow. Where it is, though, works well in the context of the story they’re trying to tell: after the big climax with the Fist of Cain, having a breather thrown in keeps the pace moving along very well. This is the other issue in the collection that I didn’t review, and I’ll say that I liked it quite a bit. It’s not perfect, but there are the double-crosses, hidden identities, kidnappings, and tense standoffs you’d expect from a spy adventure with the even-handed literary and historical allusions Tom King is so deft at handling to bring an extra layer of gravitas.
The narrative that begin in the first volume wraps up nicely here, with a genuinely shocking ending that still packs a punch. Even better, reading everything as one long story makes even the weaker chapters work better in context, so even though it’s one half of a bigger story it’s still a really, really good half.
The extras in this volume are relatively scant compared to the previous graphic novel, but what’s here is still plenty interesting. There’s a variant cover gallery with some fun images from the likes of Darwyn Cooke, Jock, and Dan Panosian, and a few of Janín’s cover sketches. Seeing artwork that hasn’t yet to be colored is always at least interesting, and it’s nice to see some of his early ideas and that they still look great in a “rough draft” state.
Still, Bill Sienkiewicz’s Enter the Dragon-inspired cover from issue #8 trumps them all, and may be one of the best variants of all time.
Batman, dragons, and an explosion? How could it not be one of the best?
Value: Full Price
Amazon has physical copies for around $10 and Comixology has it for $12. Either way that’s a steal, and the fact that you can get it and the first volume for less than $30 from either outlet is an even better deal.
Overall: A great series with equally great characters, some pretty nice extras, and an unbeatable value make this a volume worth picking up. If you’re already a fan of Grayson, add it to your collection; if you’re on the fence about it, get this and the first volume for a price that won’t break the bank to satisfy your curiosity. No matter what, with the series ending soon, now is the time to appreciate one of the most unique books to come out of the DC Universe in recent memory.