NOTE: As before, go ahead and read Batman #8 before proceeding. The events of that issue lead directly into this one.
The long night of the monster men approaches the dawn in Nightwing #6, the penultimate chapter in the Batfamily crossover.
Up to this point, the story has left me cold. There’s great talent involved, and all the pieces are there for a rip-roaring yarn, but there’s something in the execution I’ve just found lacking. Since we’ve all aired our grievances, I won’t go into it too much. Think forward. Be positive.
It may be faint praise at this point, but I personally think this is the best installment of the crossover so far, at least from a narrative standpoint. This week’s Batman has a scene that’s pretty awesome by itself, but it still had some storytelling problems. Now, warts and all, Nightwing has begun to bring the event full circle to lead into the conclusion.
But first, we have to see Nightwing as a monster.
This… should have been great in its bombast and ridiculousness, but it was just silly. I mean, the whole concept is silly, but the stakes are so low and it’s played so straight that Dick and Claire’s transformations just fell completely flat. Granted, it gave Duke something to do besides sitting in the Batcave yelling at Bruce for not letting him out in the field, which also added some weight to his relationship with Claire. Either way, it all goes back to my original complaint about this story: it wants to be both a crazy monster movie and a moving character drama, and in trying to do both it fails at being either.
Steve Orlando is a good writer, to be sure; I just feel like he’s been too boxed in on these books. Instead of being himself and writing with his own voice, it’s almost as if he’s had to emulate the tones and voices of other creators. Thankfully, there are some pretty good one-liners that give this issue some much needed levity and personality, and the latter half especially gets genuinely interesting. It’s when Orlando decides to start focusing on Hugo Strange, who up to this point his been a specter at best, that the story really takes off. It’s a shame that we had to wait until the penultimate chapter for things to get good, but it really is a good twist.
Without going into too many spoilers (ha HAAAA), Dick and Stephanie uncover session footage of the patients Strange transformed into the monster men. Just as Strange’s diagnoses reflect his view of Batman, the obsessive meticulousness of his choices reflect his own persona. Strange has always been a fascinating villain, a man who is driven by infatuation that is hidden under the legitimacy and pretension of professionalism. The brief glimpses we get of him here reference different traits of the character and memorable story beats from his history, so anyone familiar with any iteration of Strange is likely to find something they recognize.
For a character like Hugo Strange, picking and choosing his history may be a necessity. He’s been around almost as long as Batman has, though at times he’s gone decades between appearances. Given that, each appearance has the chance to be memorable on its own merits, and I’m sure you can think of one story in particular that sticks out as “The Hugo Strange Story,” be it “Strange Apparitions,” “Prey,” or the original monster men stories. Orlando picks and chooses from each of those to craft his Hugo Strange story, and though it’s had a shaky start, the final, familiar image in this issue leaves me optimistic.
The issue looks great overall to boot, thanks to Roge Antonio’s dynamic and lively work. He takes even the most ridiculous ideas and makes them somewhat palatable, from “Nightwing as a monster” to a building that’s also a taser.
Chris Sotomayor’s colors look great too. He does a lot with a limited palette, making the most of blacks, greys and blues and inserting splashes of reds and purples here and there. For such monstrous subject matter, there are some moments of surprising beauty.
Or maybe it will turn into a giant robot in next week’s Detective, I don’t know. Batman says something about “piloting” them, so maybe this will really turn into a mechs vs. monsters thing. That’s so bonkers it just might work, but I’m really just speculating at this point. We’ll see.
As good as the issue looks, there was a major gaffe in between this and Batman #8: when Claire reverts from her monstrous form in Batman, she is without her mask and cape. Here, though, she is wearing both. It’s understandable that the artistic teams aren’t working in the same room together, but that’s a pretty big mistake that editorial should have picked up.
I think the best that can be said about this issue is that I had fun. The first three installments were almost a chore to get through, so seeing even minor improvements certainly makes for a better reading experience. It’s been a moderately entertaining diversion, and an understandable one, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to jump back into the series proper.
- You’ve been reading these books so far.
- You like Hugo Strange.
- You’ve wanted to see Nightwing’s retractable glider wings make an in-canon comeback.
Overall: Getting better. There’s enough to like here to recommend it, from the snappy dialogue to the great visuals, and the fact that it gets genuinely good in the second half makes it all the better. There are still plenty of problems with the story as a whole, and I doubt we’ll be thinking about it much in six months or so, but a solid use of one of the oldest rogues in the books may go a long way toward redeeming the crossover. “Night of the Monster Men” is silly, but thanks to Nightwing it’s starting to get fun.