You look at a title like “Better Than Batman” and your mind can go several different places. Are they trying to say that Nightwing is better than Batman? Ignoring the fact that Batman himself has said just as much before, it’s easy to think that such an inflammatory title can come across as disrespectful to both Batman and Nightwing.
If they’re not trying to say Dick is actually better than Bruce, you could see it as a reflection of his status with the Parliament of Owls: though they initially longed to bring Bruce into the fold, the fact that Dick will seemingly go along with their requests and serve as their errand boy makes him a better candidate.
But no, it’s not an assertion that Nightwing is better than Batman in any way. In fact, the context doesn’t apply to Dick at all.
Tim Seeley has compared his approach to Nightwing to a college graduate’s first job in the “real world”: if Robin was his early education, and his time as a secret agent was his grad studies, then re-donning the mask to infiltrate the Parliament of Owls is his first “big boy job” as he strikes out on his own.
Granted, the metaphor doesn’t hold together completely, what with him already having been Nightwing once already, but I get what Seeley’s going for: Bruce himself admits that he’s prepared to let Dick do this on his own with very little interference on his end. Like a father, he’s more than happy to give him support however he can, but now that he’s a man he needs to find his own way.
So, who is supposed to be better than Batman?
According to Raptor, it’s… Raptor.
The realization that the arc’s title wasn’t about Dick but about this new character actually brought a huge smile to my face, not so much because I like the guy but because I don’t like him at all.
Raptor, Lincoln March’s mysterious assailant from Rebirth, is brash, violent, and incredibly cocky. He flat-out tells Dick that he’s a better mentor than anyone he’s ever met, and it’s that hubris that fascinates me. For a guy who was positioned to be another strong, stoic face in the shadows to instead end up being the arrogant popular guy nobody really liked in high school is much more interesting than a, well, strong, stoic face in the shadows. Instead of waiting to find out what this guy’s deal is, Seeley puts it all out there right up front: this guy is a punk, and you’re going to enjoy it when Dick finally punches his smug face.
That’s the backbone of this issue and, even more, this story arc, and already I’m loving everything Seeley and team are doing. They’re taking everything that makes Dick such a fascinating character and using it to have him grow further into his own identity. There are bits of the youthful exuberance of Robin, the confident and stalwart heroic attributes of Nightwing, and the newly acquired espionage skills of Agent 37.
It’s the latter that I’m especially thankful for, and I’m sure Seeley is too: after writing Grayson for so long and growing Dick’s skill set and taking him in so many different directions, you can tell that the writer is glad to have the opportunity to shape Nightwing into a new man. Indeed, this is not a regression back to the safe, familiar superheroics that we’ve seen before, but an adaptation of a character who is more than just a mask. Dick has always been a man moving forward, clinging to his ideas of family and loyalty while welcoming change to forge his own identity.
While examinations into what makes Nightwing such a fascinating character are great, as a pure entertainment this issue is just fun, filled from cover to cover with great dialogue and some really solid character interactions. It’s so well paced and such a good time that it wasn’t until a short fight at the end that I realized how bereft of any action scenes the issue was, and all credit for that goes to Seeley and the excellent team of Fernández and Sotomayor.
One of my favorite aspects of Grayson was how crazy and high-concept things could get, and right from the opening pages Seeley embraces that. Two grave robbers, the awesomely named Doctor Leviticus and her undead companion Padurar, are searching for gold pieces that the dead would give to the ferryman Charon before crossing the River Styx. That in itself is great, but then they’re ambushed by Raptor who goes into a fairly pretentious monologue about his weapon of choice: the wrist-mounted gauntlet he uses to fire darts that he calls suyolak.
Suyolak, it must be said, is named for a Romani alchemist who had knowledge of every cure and tonic. This provides a nice connection to Dick’s family history (a change I was never a fan of, but that’s neither here nor there), and it’s also a factoid I totally knew without having to look it up.
Less interestingly? Raptor himself says that the weapon itself decides the best cure for your ailment, so it does leave things open for Lincoln March to return in the future. Oh well.
After that pulpy opening, Dick takes center stage as he runs errands for the Parliament before mouthing off to them, all while having a few nice moments with Bruce, Damian, and Barbara. This is a nice first issue that hits expository beats without feeling too stuffed, and while there have been quite a few “reestablishing moments” with the Batfamily in the past few months, I’ll never say no to good dialogue and great character chemistry.
On the artistic front, while Fernández and Sotomayor do a fine job all around, there are a few nits to pick. The “wings” on Dick’s costume look strange, as they’re way too thin and almost get swallowed up in the black of the rest of the suit. I like the thicker, broader design that Brett Booth is using over in Titans, but ultimately it’s just a stylistic choice that I’ll probably get used to. The boots are growing on me, for instance, so you never know. Besides that and a strange facial expression or two, this is a great looking book.
The Nightwing was the Kryptonian symbol of being reborn, the herald of new beginnings. If Rebirth was the prologue to this new chapter, then this is the opening scene of the first act, promising grand adventures and swashbuckling heroics to come.
- You love Dick Grayson.
- You want to find out about this Raptor guy.
- That title intrigues you.
- You’ve been waiting for Nightwing to come back.
Overall: A grand reintroduction, this book already promises to take the best aspects of Dick’s previous guises and adventures and make something great out of it. There’s the importance of family, Dick’s desire to be his own man while still doing Bruce proud, and the skills and tricks he’s learned all along the way that come together and make Nightwing a truly engaging leading man. With the talents of writer Tim Seeley and illustrators Javier Fernández and Chris Sotomayor delivering such a quality product, it goes to show that if Nightwing isn’t better than Batman, he is just as great.