Optimism is a virtue. It’s a trait that can be cast in an unfavorable light, coming off as hokey or unrealistic, but it’s still a virtue. The idea that you can look at something or someone and believe the best about a situation is, to an increasingly cynical world, silly and naive, making optimism seem old-fashioned.
But it isn’t, nor should it be. Certainly not with our heroes. Superheroes need to be relatable, no doubt, with traits that make them human like the rest of us. It’s difficult to relate to someone who doesn’t struggle with doubts, fears, and anxieties, just as it’s hard to wring drama and depth out of shallow conflicts. It’s comforting to know that, even under their masks, these characters are still human. They’re people like you and me, with the same strengths and flaws that come with that.
So really, there’s nothing wrong with portraying heroes in an occasionally negative light; after all, isn’t that what the basic foundations of storytelling are built on? Did the heroes of myth not overcome insurmountable odds and work past their own flaws to achieve victory?
So heroes are like us. Yet, they should also be better than us. They’re a fictionalized ideal, yet an ideal just the same. They have flaws, but they’re ultimately working toward a greater good. Oftentimes that is lost in comics storytelling, with a focus on the humanity of the heroes at the expense of the goodness of the heroes.
Granted, some of this is a matter of taste. There are some readers that want nothing but gritty realism, and that’s perfectly valid. If I’m coming off as condemning toward that attitude, it’s unintentional. As these characters belong to everyone, there should be stories that appeal to everyone across the spectrum. There’s absolutely enough room for both extremes and everything in between.
But realism shouldn’t come at the expense of the character. Superman is a perfect example, as he’s so often misunderstood. The thing about Clark is in many ways, he’s one of the most human of all heroes: he sees himself first and foremost as a simple farm boy from Kansas who loves nothing more than to help his father with the chores and to eat his ma’s home-cooked meals. The fact that he may be the most powerful man on the planet is secondary to his down-to-earth upbringing, and even then he uses his powers for good because it’s the right thing to do. Not because it’s a burden, not because he’s guilty, but because he’s good.
Even Batman, all brooding and lurking in the shadows, is an undeniably good character. His methods can be more extreme than Superman’s and he doesn’t relate to people as well, but his ultimate mission is to rid the world of crime. He wants, more than anything, to prevent the tragedy that befell him as a child from ever happening to anyone ever again. He believes in the reformation of villainous acts, hence why he incarcerates his villains in a (hilariously and woefully inept, but whatever) asylum instead of executing them. Even on a personal level, where he may not be able to “connect” with others as well as he’d like, he still values the family he lost above all things, indicated by the surrogate family he’s built for himself over the years.
That’s why the idea of his “teen sidekicks” are so compelling and important: Batman could have gone deeper into the darkness than he did if not for taking on a ward, and in giving that child direction and hope Bruce ultimately redeemed himself as well.
I like to say that Batman is the hero we could be, and Superman is the hero we should be. The former is a man who overcame tragedy and his own limitations to fight for the greater good, and the latter is a man with unlimited power who does the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.
In the middle of it all, you have Nightwing, who is a near perfect balance of those two ideals. He has the attainability of Batman with the accessibility of Superman, along with his own personality and charisma that make him a natural leader.
With Nightwing #9, Tim Seeley sets out to remind us of that. It’s an optimistic tale that does verge on the precipice of corniness and earnestness, yet a necessary reminder just the same.
Ever since donning his suit again, Dick has been plagued by nightmares. Whether awake or dreaming, there’s an undercurrent of unease that isn’t sitting well with him.
Enter Superman, who has come to help his old friend conquer his fears. This Superman, for those who don’t know, is the post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint hero who found his way to this Earth through some incredibly convoluted means. In a nutshell, he and the Lois Lane from that Earth, along with their young son Jon, have been living in secret for years. Clark has noted some similarities between this Earth and his own, so he’s taken to preventing certain accidents and events from happening so his own history doesn’t repeat itself.
After the death of this Earth’s Superman, “real Superman” as I like to call him came out of hiding, re-donned the red cape, and has been the Man of Steel once more. No joke, Superman and Action Comics are two of the best books DC is publishing right now. Check them out.
Anyway, Superman has detected an anomaly that matches the energy signatures of the “materioptikon,” weapon of the dread Doctor Destiny. With it, he can manipulate dreams and make them a reality, and since the energy signature is emanating from Dick’s mind, that explains why he has been having nightmares.
One of the small details I liked was that, even though Dick doesn’t really know this Superman, he still trusts him. There are a few reservations, mostly about multiversal nonsense and what-have-you, but even with those doubts he still chooses to give Clark the benefit of the doubt. It’s a trait that may have run Dick into some trouble recently, but an admirable one nonetheless.
To release Destiny’s hold, the two dive into Dick’s dreams, each one plagued by his fear of losing his loved ones.
Intentional or not, I love the almost Darwyn Cooke-like features Helena’s face has.
When it was announced that this Superman and Nightwing were going to meet, I got pretty excited, fully expecting another “Barry and Wally” moment. This story doesn’t deliver that, so it was a tad disappointing, but it’s made up for in other ways. The “diving into dreams” plot may be a little silly, but it’s still an effective way to convey that Dick’s deepest fear is losing everyone he cares about. Given his recent conflict with Raptor, it’s completely understandable that Dick would think he’s let people down. Even so, what better person to inspire hope and confidence in oneself than the Big Blue Boy Scout.
There are a few moments where the visuals drive home the dread and unease of the dreamscape, but for the most part the art is pretty much fine. There isn’t much I found to complain about, and even a few bits that were genuinely great (there’s a red-tinged panel that’s particularly haunting). Overall it’s a serviceable job from Marcio Takara and Marcello Maialo, no more and no less.
Still, try to look at this page and not feel at least a little bit inspired.
It’s pretty tough. I tried.
This issue is strange, in that while I was reading it I wasn’t particularly moved. There really aren’t many stakes, the resolution is pretty abrupt, and some of the dialogue is borderline cornball. Only upon completing it did I realize what Seeley was trying to do, and really, I’m glad he went for it.
This was a reminder that things can get better. That there’s always a bright side. That we’re not defined by our failures.
Dick Grayson needed to be reminded of that, and sometimes, we do too.
- You like Nightwing.
- You also like Superman.
- You could use a little optimism.
Overall: An interesting meeting between two legendary characters, it doesn’t go where you’d think it would but it’s ultimately satisfying regardless. Superman and Nightwing are two of the most optimistic characters in comics, and a duo that have a long, interesting history between them. Any meeting between the two is at least worth paying attention to, and while this issue never quite achieves greatness, it’s comforting in how optimistic it is. Sometimes, that’s all you need: genuinely heroic characters and a reminder that things and people can be better. It’s a little cheesy, a little corny, and wholly necessary.