Agent 37 returns for his third act as an agent of Spyral in Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis. Collecting the “DC You” sneak preview, issues nine through twelve of the series proper, and Grayson Annual #2, Nemesis contains what may be the best singular run of issues over the course of the series. There’s certainly a case to be made the Tom King and Tim Seeley really hit their stride here, delivering a gripping arc that culminates in one of the best single issues of this or any series in recent memory.
The annual has Superman, too, so that’s pretty cool.
This title was always about heroism and identity, and that really comes to a head here. Sure, there’s the cool spy stuff and the crazy action scenes and… whatever Spyder was supposed to be.
Ultimately though, it’s a book about Dick Grayson being himself. He’s confident in who he is, so it’s not about “finding himself,” but reaffirming that no matter what, at the end of the day, he is still Dick Grayson. Whether he goes by the name Robin, Nightwing, Batman, or
Dick Gaston Agent 37, Dick is a hero through and through.
What better way to shake up that self-confidence than having a doppelganger running around and framing you for murder? The arc running through issues 9-11 are genuinely gripping espionage, possibly the most pure spy yarn of the entire series. There are double-crosses, crazy gadgets, twists and turns, and even the most Bondian dance scene and fake-out since… True Lies, come to think of it. The final reveal that it was actually a rogue Agent 8 murdering the other agents was both heartbreaking and cathartic, taking the common “mistaken identity” trope and making it work organically in this world’s established rules.
That’s to say nothing of the emotional payoff of Dick taking a detour to meet a liaison in Corsica, only to be confronted by the man who “murdered” him and caused him to go off the grid after Forever Evil: Lex Luthor. It’s one of my favorite scenes of the entire series, not the least because of the interplay Luthor and Dick have: Lex is smarter and one step ahead of Grayson the entire time, but Dick is so carefree that he doesn’t let Luthor intimidate him. He knows he can’t best Lex intellectually, of course, but being an acrobat he’s more than used to jumping headlong into dangerous situations.
Forgive me, but if you still aren’t on board with the brilliant illustrating team of Janín and Cox after that image, nothing will sway you.
The “Nemesis” arc leads directly into issue 12, where after spending so much time away from his family and in covert situations, Dick finally heads home.
Even a year on, this issue is still incredibly moving, with almost every emotional beat landing perfectly.
The main idea of the story, where Dick presents each member of his family (minus Bruce, who was still amnesiac after Endgame) with a clue to infiltrate Spyral and share his eyes, is delightful subterfuge. Even more than that, the full page splashes where Dick’s history with the likes of Bruce, Tim, and Barbara are played out in the background while he apologizes for disappearing are stunning examples of storytelling that can only be done in comics: a perfect fusion of words and pictures, the dialogue from King and Seeley perfectly placed by letterer Carlos Mangual to complement the alternatingly spare and detailed visuals of Janín and Cox. It’s a masterclass of storytelling, made all the better by the almost pitch perfect character work.
Say what you will about Damian, but it’s hard to not be at least a little bit moved by that panel. While the scenes with Tim and Jason don’t quite work as well as they should given the shorter, weirder history of the New 52, Dick’s dialogue with Barbara and, later, Damian are so perfect it more than makes up for any shortcomings.
The book closes with the second annual, which sees Dick teaming up with a de-powered Superman to take on members of the Fist of Cain. It’s fine, it’s fun, and while it isn’t great, it’s still pretty good.
It suffers from the same problem that Dick’s interactions with Jason and Tim had in issue 12, in that there’s a muddled sense of history and relationship between Dick and Clark in the new timeline. They have some good chemistry and it’s obvious that beyond respecting each other they genuinely like each other as well, but there’s never much of a sense of Dick looking up to Clark as a role model. Instead, they feel like contemporaries, which is all well and good, but Dick named himself Nightwing after the Kryptonian legend for a reason, and that reason was at least a little bit of hero worship.
That’s how I’ve always read it, anyway, and it’s really a small complaint. The closing monologue from Clark actually brings that idea full circle in a nice tribute to Dick’s ability to come back from even the most hopeless of situations, so even if it doesn’t quite get where the writers want it to go, it gets awful close. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea of Dick being a hero no matter the circumstances, continuing with the theme of Dick always being Dick Grayson no matter what other title he goes by.
Despite a few narrative hiccups and the already dated sight of JimBats/BatGordon/BatChappie, there are still some good action scenes from Alvaro Martinez, some genuinely big laughs, and great chemistry between two of DC’s oldest heroes. It may not be quite up to par with the rest of the collection, but it’s not a bad note to end on.
Plus we get to see Superman ride a motorcycle, and that’s just rad.
Bonus Features: Nothing much besides a variant cover gallery and some sketches from Janín. What’s here is nice, though, and Janín’s work is always a delight to look at. Here’s my favorite of the variants.
Overall: Solid from beginning to end, this may very well be the best singular run of Grayson issues over the life of the title. Great storytelling and world-building along with fantastic, gorgeous visuals made Agent 37’s tenure as a spy one of the most unique and compelling titles from DC in recent years, and this collection is a perfect example of what made it work so well. It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, and above all it has a genuine heart, just like the title character.