Grayson Vol. 5: Spiral’s End review

Grayson was a tricky prospect.  Taking Dick Grayson, one of the oldest established characters in comics, long known as the beloved Nightwing, and turning him into a spy?  That’s gutsy.  Fortunately, the venture paid off, as Grayson was as one of DC’s best books for its entire run, and that acclaim in turn catapulted Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janín into comics talent super-stardom.

With its final volume, Grayson makes a mad dash to the finish line to ultimately change Spyral, and Dick Grayson’s life, forever.

The collection collects the following issues:

And boy, I am not kidding when I say this is a mad dash to the finish: the final four issues of the series proper are pretty much non-stop momentum.  There’s barely any time to let anything breathe, and that’s actually ok.  There is so much coming at you in these pages that if any time was taken to explain… well, anything, it would stop dead in its tracks.  In fact, everything might even fall apart, and we don’t want that.

The premise is simple: a bunch of assassins are after Helena Bertinelli; Otto Netz is trying to find a new host so he can take over the world; and Dick and Tiger have to stop them all.  It’s effectively the last level of a video game where you have to fight all of the other bosses again before you encounter the main boss.

I’m not kidding either: after the opening cut-scene, Dick punches out Frankenstein with his Energy Glove Power-Up.

I love comic books.  I really, really do.

They deliver Frank as part of their deal with Maxwell Lord, who’s as much of a buttface as you’d imagine he could be in just a few panels.  It’s… quite remarkable, really, how smarmy and unlikable that guy is.

But he’s not the point of the story.  No, the point is to see Agents 1 and 37 go up against a cadre of the world’s deadliest assassins: Grifter, Bronze Tiger, Bubble Gum Lady, uhhh, Spooky Ghost Face, and… King Faraday.  Right from the beginning it’s clear what these final issues are supposed to be, and I really think that works in its favor.  Issue 17 was the final issue to feature Tom King and Tim Seeley, when it transitioned to Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly for the rest of the run.  King and Seeley go out as best they can and leave the narrative to their predecessors through as smooth a transition as they possibly could have.  As such, none of these issues are particularly deep, but they’re entertaining enough to be enjoyable.  Frankly, given the situation, that’s better than we could have asked for.

That’s not to say there isn’t any heart or soul here.  Even amidst the frenetic action scenes and the almost nonstop momentum, each writing team takes some time for some solid character moments.  One of my favorite aspects of Grayson was the banter and rivalry/camaraderie between Dick and Tiger, and seeing as how they spend most of the collection in each other’s company there’s plenty of opportunity to see 37 annoy 1.  Truly, I would read a comic that was solely Tiger calling Dick an idiot.  Maybe that can be Seeley’s next arc in Nightwing.

What helps with the pacing is the pretty solid art.  There are quite a few credited pencillers, and while they all turn in respectable work, nothing quite beats the outright beauty of series regular Mikel Janín.  Janín does contribute the covers of each issue, but doesn’t provide any interior work.  Still, like the transition from one writing team to another, the change in visual styles is handled fairly well.  Roge Antonio’s work was the cleanest and my personal favorite, and I love some of the layout ideas he and Borges had.  The “filmstrip fight sequence” is still an inspired piece of visual storytelling.

“Oh by the way, Midnighter shows up.” -recycled joke

Everything culminates in a final showdown with Doctor Dedalus, and if you still question my video game analogy just wait until you get to the end.  Dick makes his way to a giant castle, goes down an endless spiral staircase (I get it!), and is confronted by this:

That’s totally a final boss screen, guys.  She even changes forms and everything.

The actual ending is… fine.  Read in context with the rest of the run, it works a lot better than it did individually.  It’s still rushed and I wish the series had been allowed to go on longer than its 20 issues, but it ended as well as it could have.  Given the circumstances, I don’t even think King and Seeley could have done much more with it.

That’s not a dig at them or Lanzing and Kelly either.  They’re all talented writers, and it’s obvious that there were years worth of stories yet to tell.  Being forced to end the run abruptly and still have it be a crazybonkers good time is admirable, no matter who you are.

And the most important thing?  They never forgot that he’s Dick Grayson.

The collection is capped off with Grayson Annual #3, a pretty fun little tale that evokes Rashômon Almost Got ‘Im” from Batman: The Animated Series.  Not some classic of Japanese cinema, and the first film to actually photograph direct sunlight.  What a silly comparison.

The framing story has John Constantine, Azrael, Harley Quinn, and Green Lantern Simon Baz brought together by “Jim Corrigan.”

No points if you can guess who it actually is.

They each recount a run-in they recently had with a mysterious figure, all in their unique and individual ways.  Constantine tells a tale of vampires that are felled by nanobots; Azrael’s is both a meditation on helping those in need and has a dude with a flame-sword fighting a giant mech; Harley’s is a silly little heist caper; and Baz’s is another fine meditation on what it means to be a hero.  In the months since this annual was released, I’ve come to appreciate Azrael and Simon Baz more and more, so revisiting their stories was pretty nice.  Contstantine and Harley I can still take or leave, though.

While it’s nothing more than a collection of adventures, this annual is pretty fun.  There’s some great art, particularly in the Azrael and Harley interludes, and it has the lighthearted, adventurous spirit as the series always had.

Its inclusion does kind of undermine the pretty great Nightwing reveal at the end of Grayson #20, but there really isn’t any other place they could have stuck this issue.  No matter.  It’s a fun closing chapter to a pretty enjoyable collection.  That’s precisely what it needs to be.

Bonus material: Three variant covers, none of which are particularly notable, and Nigthwing: Rebirth #1.  The inclusion of that is kind of cool, as it’s an extra issue and a good bridge between Grayson and Nightwing, plus you get to see Lincoln March die again.  Truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Value: It’s not a book for new readers, as it would be way too confusing as a jumping on point, but you can get print or digital for ten bucks, give or take a few dollars.  That’s not a bad deal at all, though even completists may want to wait for a good discounted sale price.

Overall: While Grayson may have ended rather abruptly, at least it got a chance to end.  The final collection of the series is nonstop momentum from beginning to end, taking just enough time to deliver some solid character beats before diving right back into craziness.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it great, or even entirely satisfying considering the strength of all that came before, but it sure is fun.  The action is breezy, the final conflict is gloriously and deliriously insane, and there’s still an emotional core that rings true.  There’s a reason this series was called Grayson, after all: even in the face of maniacal supervillains and insurmountable odds, Dick Grayson is still the heart of the DC Universe.

SCORE: 7/10