Nightwing: The New Order #4 review

Well, last issue was pretty good, right?

After the slow moving debut issue, Nightwing: The New Order took its time getting anywhere interesting.  The second issue was even slower than the first, aiming for pathos yet not quite hitting the mark.  I know I should be feeling something for these characters, especially when so many are so familiar, but Kyle Higgins’ story took a while to get me invested in it.  Thankfully, once the third issue rolled around, Higgins broadened the scope of the story and brought in a larger supporting cast.  Now this world feels lived in, with characters who have history with one another and familiar faces to make the world less alien.  Factor in a cliffhanger that sees Dick reunited with some of his oldest friends and this book has finally hit its stride.

Until now, that is.  It’s only been one month since the genuinely engaging halfway point of this series, yet it feels like any progress made has been undone.  Instead of moving forward, The New Order has reached a dead stop.

What got me really engaged and excited in the previous installment was the idea of Dick being a man on the run.  Have him outwit the authorities on his tale, hiding out so he can rescue his son and maybe pick up a few allies along the way?  That would have been a blast.  It was short-lived, though, to the point that Dick spends most of this issue confined to a bed.

Yes, like with the debut, most of the locations this month are interiors of buildings.  There aren’t any fun chases or exciting action scenes, just a lot of talking.

But that in itself isn’t bad, if the content of the dialogue is interesting.  Given the fractured relationships on display and Dick’s decision to detonate the bomb, the tension between him and the Titans could have resulted in some good drama.  Oddly, it doesn’t, and I don’t know where the disconnect is.  It may be that everyone’s dialogue with Dick boils down to “you did something bad and I’m not happy about it,” over and over and over.  Starfire, who is closer to Dick than anyone and has even more reason to be upset with him, lacks any sort of… well, fire or passion.  She’s cold and distant, which is understandable.  The problem is everyone is cold and distant, so there’s really no difference in characterization.  Wally is the only one who exhibits any sort of life and actual anger, but even then it’s not much.

It doesn’t help that Higgins has some good ideas here, they just aren’t allowed to develop.  Or rather, he doesn’t take time to develop them.  Beast Boy, for instance, has been stuck mid-transformation since the incident, causing him to look like a man-tiger hybrid.  I get that it’s been years and he’s probably come to terms with it, but he acts slightly perturbed about it at most.

The most interesting idea, and therefore the biggest missed opportunity as of right now, is the Blue Lantern in their midst.  That hooded figure isn’t Raven, as one would expect; its Lois Lane, bearer of the sigil of hope.  I find that highly appropriate and fascinating for a number of reasons, none of which are explored.  Granted, Higgins will likely dive into the story in a future installment, so I don’t need all the answers up front.  The problem is she doesn’t do anything interesting.  Other than healing Dick’s wounds and giving him a vision, Lois hardly does anything worth mentioning.  It could have been anybody under that hood.  Dick also says that the vision she gives him is cruel even for her, which just doesn’t seem right with Lois.  Tough?  Absolutely.  Cruel?  Not what I think of when I see Lois.

For all the dialogue in the issue, only two things of note occur to move the plot forward.  We find out that Jake may not simply be immune to inhibitors, but the solution to the “no more powers” problem.  That’s the biggest reveal, though a predictable one.  Dick and the Titans also make their way to rescue Jake, but are thwarted by a genuinely surprising character.  It was just on the last page, but for a moment I got intrigued by the story again.  Besides those two developments, though, not much happens that couldn’t have been trimmed down to a few pages in another issue.

That pacing even effects McCarthy and White’s visuals.  With most everything taking place indoors, the environments are repetitive and lacking in any sort of flair.  The most interesting visual element comes on the opening page, with a swirl of blues and reds mixing together.  It’s incredibly abstract, looking like crimson waves against a stark black background.  The gradient reds and blues combine like a whirlpool or hurricane to become a deep purple, and it’s beautiful in its surreality.

It’s a shame, then, that their skills are limited to drawing a lot of repetitive environments.  There isn’t a visual flair here, which was one of the problems I had even with the first issue.  This world doesn’t have much of an identity beyond “generic futuristic city.”  It doesn’t feel like Gotham or Metropolis or any other recognizable location.  It’s just a collection of buildings that could be in any number of dystopian sci-fi tales.  Like the writing, it’s relatively lifeless.

There are a few bright spots, though.  I loved Lois’ design, even if the character doesn’t do much, and Starfire has a pretty crazy future-punk outfit and haircut that I dug.  The flashbacks, which have been the ghlights to this point, aren’t as great as they could have been, but there’s a Discowing sighting so it’s totally worth it.  Clayton Cowles uses a really attractive font for the narration, too, making Jake’s words look like a journal entry.

Keep in mind that there’s nothing here that’s truly bad (save for one groaner of a line), just a lot of missed opportunities.  With such a great creative team and an intriguing concept this should be a sure-fire hit, when instead it’s shaping up to be a disappointment.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been reading the story so far.
  • You want to see what’s going on between Dick and Kory.
  • Even the briefest of glimpses at the Discowing suit is enough to sustain you.

Overall: After taking some pretty substantial steps forward, The New Order has fallen back again.  Never bad, just dull and slow, it’s unclear what Higgins is trying to say with this story.  Even Dick Grayson, one of the most fully realized characters in comics, comes across as two-dimensional at best, and what should have been a sure thing in having him interact with his former Titans teammates instead falls flat.  The visuals have even begun to suffer again, eschewing some of McCarthy’s inventiveness and flair he showcased last month in favor of sterile, lifeless environments.  I hope the final two issues turn it around, but as of now this series has its work cut out for it.

SCORE: 5/10