Dick Grayson is angry.
Understandably so: since moving to Blüdhaven to try and figure out his his purpose, things haven’t exactly gone his way. He thought he’d found love and a true reason to stay, though a pregnancy scare and kidnapping didn’t help matters much. That’s to say nothing of his stupid mouth either, as Dick said some pretty hurtful things in the name of honesty.
Then there’s the matter of Blockbuster, whose rise to the top of the heap made him the new crime boss of Blüdhaven. This prompted Dick to realign some of his priorities and stick around to keep an eye on Desmond, but staying out of obligation is no match for staying because you want to.
One of the few bright spots in Dick’s life has been his relationship with the Run-Offs, former super-criminals who have gone straight. Their support group has given him a new set of friends and confidantes, as well as the opportunity to assist in their reform. It’s worked to the point that hacker Giz has taken up the role of Nightwing’s tech assistant, forsaking crime and using his talents to fight it.
But Giz is dead, and Dick blames himself. He asked the tech genius to look into some of the weaponry the Second Hand had been using, which resulted in the hacker’s untimely death.
Now, with a questionable purpose and a dead friend, Dick is angry.
And you know what makes it even worse? Spyral is back in the picture.
Dick’s former partner (and the previous Matron of Soyral) Helena Bertinelli has come to Blüdhaven, seeking Dick’s assistance in hunting down a few mobsters. Much as I love Dick as the relatively stalwart, positive member of the Bat-family, it is nice seeing him get angry. This issue really benefits from that, as Dick willingly admits that he wouldn’t be doing the things Huntress is asking of him, but he’s vulnerable and hurting so he doesn’t have much to lose. It’s a different side of Dick that we aren’t used to seeing, and while I don’t want him to stay this way, it’s a nice and interesting change of pace.
That’s a pretty apt look at Dick’s psyche and attitude right there. He’s just as full of anger as anyone else, but he hangs around people like Shawn or even Batman that are more prone to act on it. That helps him keep his own rage in check, and his usual positivity and optimism helps keep others from going too far.
Since becoming Huntress again, Helena has been in a strange sort of flux. She was so cool and confident as Matron in Grayson, yet she’s been painted as an angry, revenge-driven vigilante on the Birds of Prey. Frankly, Grayson was the first time I ever really liked Helena Bertinelli, and something’s been missing for the past year. Part of the magic is back under Seeley’s pen, as she and Dick have good chemistry together, but she still doesn’t feel quite right. Hopefully “Spyral” gives her the solid arc she deserves and she grows as a character over the next few weeks.
Up until a final page twist that genuinely surprised me, the most gripping part of the issue is Shawn’s relationship with Pigeon. Like Dick, Shawn has come to a bad place after having had some rough times. Instead of trying to channel her frustrations toward something productive or virtuous, though, she allows the allure of her former life to seduce her.
When I interviewed Seeley he talked about his dream to legitamize a silly character from a Hostess cake ad. While Pigeon Person herself isn’t remarkably memorable beyond the silly concept, she is being used as a catalyst for another character’s growth. As a character, it’s a silly concept (a literal pigeon-person who defaces landmarks), but Seeley is treating her fairly. Even as a jokey Z-lister there’s still a good story to be told with Pigeon, which shows the true skill of the storyteller.
I’ve long been of the mind that every character has a good story in them, no matter how ridiculous they are. Not to say that someone like Pigeon or Condiment King or the Eraser will become the next Joker or anything, nor do they have to be involved in some super dark, ultra gritty attempt at “legitimacy” or anything like that. No, as long as the story is good and the character is written well then that’s what matters. Pigeon herself may be silly, but she’s being used effectively to tell a good story and that’s what matters.
Despite some strong scenes, I was left wanting more with the narrative. It’s a fine introduction to the new arc, but there was just something missing in the story. It felt more like a collection of unrelated yet interesting character beats rather than a fully coherent narrative. As the arc moves along I’ve no doubt everything will come together to deliver a compelling narrative, but right now “Spyral” hasn’t quite hooked me.
At least, not until the final page, which was a genuine surprise. Even then, though, it didn’t quite make the issue anything other than “good.”
Javier Fernandez is back on pencils after Minkyu Jung covered the “Blockbuster” arc, and despite a few rough spots he delivers some striking visuals. There are a few spots early on that were a bit lacking in detail (it took me forever to figure out how Stallion and Thrilldevil were carrying Giz’s casket by themselves), and I felt the sparring match when Dick and Helena first meet lacked grace and fluidity. When Fernandez settles back in, though, the results are stunning.
I want that as a print. Man that’s a beautiful composition.
As the issue progresses Fernandez’s pencils and Sotomayors colors work well to ramp up the suspense. There’s a real sense of claustrophobia late in the issue, evoking the best of Hollywood thrillers. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Nightwing approaches cinematic quality in its storytelling, and this issue is no exception. There are shots used that could easily be shots from a film, with a keen eye for movement and tension. When Dick and Helena scale rooftops the frames are wide, big, and have overlapping figures, while a sequence with a terrified crime lord are cropped close and terrifying in their intimacy. That visual flair helps to set the book apart from others of its ilk, even if it took a bit to get there.
There’s fertile ground laid here for some really compelling storytelling. It’s good, not great, and I know this team is capable of greatness. Dick may be angry, Shawn may be falling off the wagon, and Spyral may be up to no good, and all I know is I’m intrigued.
- You love Nightwing.
- You like Dick and Helena’s chemistry.
- You like cinematic-level comic storytelling.
- You’re willing to give even the silliest of characters a chance at a good story.
Overall: The opening installment of “Spyral” may not always hit the mark, but when it does it sticks the landing pretty well. Despite an early lack of proper pacing and some shaky visuals, the issue really comes into its own late in the game. There’s some great character work throughout and some stunning pencils at times, and the sting at the end completely changes the narrative in the entire Nightwing series up to this point. This is a good comic; here’s hoping this talented team can make it great.