Remember in The Princess Bride* when the grandson asks if his grandfather’s story has any sports in it?
“Are you kidding?!” the Grandpa replies. “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”
That’s what Nightwing feels like: a grand, swashbuckling adventure. There may not be any actual fencing or giants (not yet, anyway), but there are plenty of chases, escapes, fight scenes, and even true love. It’s an old-time adventure serial and a spy thriller made up in capes and tights. This week’s issue may not be quite as strong as the previous two, but it has more than enough going for it to make for an exciting read just the same.
One of the few missteps Seeley makes this issue is on the very first page, and it’s really just a personal preference thing more than an actual complaint. Regardless, I said it last week and I’ll say it again: I’m not a big fan of opening a story “Now” to reveal some shocking moment, flashing back to “Then” to show how the heroes wound up in that situation, and then picking back up in the final third of the story to reveal it was mostly a misdirect. It’s a tired old trope that really has to be warranted to be effective, and unfortunately it’s pretty clear from the beginning that the opening scene isn’t what it seems.
Like I said, that’s just a personal preference, and the fact that the “Then” leading up to “Now” is so strong more than makes up for it.
Nightwing and Raptor have made their way to Norway to sneak into the house of Knute Ruud, the designer of the Parliament of Owls’ labyrinth. Their goal: destroy the blueprints to the labyrinth and kill Ruud. Seems simple enough, except that Ruud is relentlessly paranoid, and because of that he’s used his design genius to make his home one of the most complex series of mazes and deathtraps on Earth.
No big deal.
Before they can head in, however, Batgirl shows up. Concerned that Dick was hurt (or worse) after he didn’t make their date, she tracks Dick and Raptor to their current location via Dick’s phone. Proving once again that Barbara is just awesome, she makes short work of Raptor before venting her frustrations to Dick.
She doesn’t just chew him out or act like a jilted or spurned lover, though; no, she’s genuinely hurt that Dick chose this unknown thief over their own friendship, and truly concerned over his well-being. What begins as justifiable anger goes through a gamut of emotions that only the closest of friends can have, and it ultimately turns into a sweet, quiet moment of truth between Dick and Babs. After sharing their frustrations and misunderstandings with each other, the ensuing genuinely tender moment is sure to please fans and advocates of their relationship.
If it’s the deathtraps and maze-houses that get you reading the comic, it’s the great character work and relationships that will keep you coming back. The fact that Seeley takes the time to let the characters breathe and be people is refreshing, especially when he could easily forego longer stretches of dialogue in favor of non-stop action and fight scenes.
That’s not to say that the action, deathtraps and maze-houses aren’t great, though, because man do Fernández and Sotomayor absolutely bring their best.
The idea of a maze-house is great enough, but depicting it with unique panel layouts and quirky visual tricks adds to the tense, almost claustrophobic nature of Ruud’s mansion. As the reader, you can really feel how tense the situation is, while still having the advantage of being able to read about these geniuses who wouldn’t totally die before stepping over the threshold.
Seeley’s tight scripting is almost a disadvantage here, as I would have loved at least four or five more pages of just exploring the house and having the trio figure out more puzzles before making their way to Ruud. That’s a minor complaint, though, as what’s there is so unique and brilliantly designed. As unique as their styles are, Fernández and Sotomayor have really hit a groove that I personally feel is just about perfect for this book.
Ultimately, the trio find the Norwegian architect, bringing us to the “Now” of the opening page. The fake-out is pretty predictable, though it’s yet another circumstance that makes Raptor such a fascinating character. The dude’s still cocky and kind of insufferable, of course, but there’s more to him than at first glance. With his waxing poetic about the advantages of branding and his almost cavalier attitude toward betraying the Owls, Raptor has a twisted charm that almost makes him likable.
And really, it’s that chemistry between Dick and Raptor that makes this book such an enjoyable read. The high adventure and energetic action scenes are fantastic, but there’s that one prerequisite present that’s needed in a book starring Dick Grayson: a heart. That, and the driving mystery of Dick’s new “teacher” (is he someone we know from Dick’s past? A new character altogether? Is this the long-awaited return of Tad Ryerstad?), makes Nightwing one of the best books on the stands today.
- You’re a fan of Dick Grayson.
- You want Dick and Barbara to someday be together, because seriously guys.
- You just like good comics.
Overall: Thrilling from start to finish, scarcely a panel is wasted in this tightly written, cleverly illustrated issue. The grand theatrics combined with Seeley’s great dialogue and pitch perfect chemistry mix perfectly to deliver a pure adventure story that is just plain fun. With the recent crop of excellent books from DC, I’m loving comics more than I have in years, and Nightwing is comfortably resting right at the top of the heap.
*And if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now. Even if you have to skip work. Your boss will understand; they’ve already seen it.