What a wild ride this series has been.  The quality swings so wildly from issue to issue that I don’t know what I’ll think of the whole thing until it’s all over.  That’s true of most series, sure, but my appreciation for Nightwing: The New Order has shifted chapter by chapter.  It’s kind of the reverse of the the old “Star Trek movie rule”: in a general sense, the even-numbered movies with the original series cast were looked upon favorably while the odd-numbered installments were derided (though I’m one of twelve people who enjoyed The Motion Picture, and The Search for Spock has gained a better reputation in recent years).

It’s the opposite with The New Order: the odd installments are much more engaging than the evens, and that’s just as true this month.  With the fourth issue, I had a general sense that Higgins was biding time and padding out the mandated trade-length of the story.  That’s not entirely his fault, as pretty much any miniseries these days is a standard six issues, whether the story warrants it or not.  That’s an editorial decision more than anything, so it’s hard to blame a writer for something beyond their control.

Regardless, the second and, even moreso, fourth installments of Higgins’ series were pretty lacking, yet here we are again with a pretty solid chapter.

The advantage this issue has over most of the other installments is that there’s a genuine sense of conflict.  At least, there’s conflict that’s actually intriguing.  Out of curiosity I want to know how this whole series wraps up, but I’ve pretty much been at arms length with this story.  That’s… still about where I stand with the overarching story, as this futuristic world hasn’t ever really grabbed me.

Higgins successfully mines some excellent family drama here, though, and that alone almost makes the entire story worth reading.  The heart of this series has rested with Dick and his relationship with his son Jake, so it’s no surprise that adding Kory to the mix results in even more tension.  They’re small moments, but they’re incredibly powerful and the best scenes Higgins has written in the series.  Seeing Jake stick by his dad, even knowing what he did to “people like him” is moving, and his reasoning even more so.  True to the nature of Dick Grayson, Jake recognizes that his father wouldn’t leave him behind.  In a general sense it’s true, yet Jake knows firsthand of his father’s loyalty.  Jake’s mom left when his father didn’t, and that’s what matters to him.

Not that I exactly welcome it, but Jake’s demeanor toward his mother is… icy, to put it mildly.  He accompanies her and the Titans because they’re a means of escape.  Nothing more.  He doesn’t want to speak with his mother, save for a few cursory acknowledgements.  Given their history, it’s at least understandable why Jake is so cold, but Starfire is still his mother.  Like Dick, she was just doing what she thought was right for her and her son.  There’s a single panel where McCarthy perfectly captures her grief with a single look.  It’s quick, yet enough to make me wish Higgins had spent more time focusing on these relationships, if not outright making that the primary focus to begin with.

Because frankly, the other elements fail to realize their potential.  One of the things I lamented even in the previous issue was how there were a lot of good ideas that don’t serve much of a purpose, and that remains largely the same.  Yeah, Lois is the Blue Lantern of Hope, but why?  You could connect the dots and say it’s because she’s so closely tied to Superman, but it still doesn’t come across as anything but a neat idea.

The same goes for Superman himself.  It’s revealed that he’s allied with a former enemy, a revelation that lands with a thud.  I’m sure it’s supposed to be shocking, but much like the death of Alfred in the second issue it just… happens.  Granted, it might just be me and my lack of any real emotional investment, so you might find these revelations more involving than I did.  Personally, I think they’re neat ideas with lots of potential that just isn’t being realized.

The biggest missed opportunity I see the reveal of what happened to Batman.  It’s no secret that he’s dead at this point, but the particulars weren’t known.  We finally get to see what actually brought about his death and the guilt that ensnares his assailant, yet it’s relayed in such a cold, sterile manner that it doesn’t carry much weight.  The end of the Batman should be nothing but shocking, not a simple matter of fact.

But really, they’re still good ideas and I applaud the intent.  Higgins is a skilled writer and, even if I’m not completely invested in the product he’s turning out here, there are enough character beats and concepts to hold my attention to the end.

McCarthy’s art, like the writing, is rather cold as well.  There are a few flashes of inspiration, like a quick hallway fight, and his use of subtle facial expressions often say more than the dialogue ever could.  It’s a problem that’s plagued the book from the beginning, though, with an ink-heavy style making the visuals difficult to invest in.  There are some soft blues that disturb instead of calm, particularly in an early battle with Mr. Freeze, yet there are very few times where the book feels alive.  It almost gets there when Superman appears, with his tattered bright red cape popping against the dull and dark backgrounds, and even with his hulking frame and the walrus tusk streaks in his beard he’s still a welcome presence.  By and large, though, this is not a welcoming future, even beyond the subject matter; the flat, dull colors go as far as distinguishing characters from each other, but don’t do much to inject any life into the comic.

I suppose that could work with the themes Higgins proposes, though: Dick has settled into a life that he may not have intended, living with the consequences of a decision part of him regrets.  He’s a shell of himself, standing firm because he thought it was a good idea long ago and doesn’t want to consider the ramifications of backpedaling.  Again, credit where it’s due, Higgins doesn’t let Dick take the easy way out by making a heel turn.  Even after the abduction of Jake and all the pain they’ve endured, Dick still sticks to his guns.  Instead of “becoming the hero,” Dick stays the course and further embraces his stance.  It’s a layer of complexity that, much like the domestic tension, makes this issue interesting and engrossing, flaws and all.

Bear in mind that I have no idea how this series is going to end, so this is just spit-balling.  However, I can’t help but wonder if Higgins is taking a page from Neil Gaiman.  I don’t remember the source, or if it was from the series itself or an apocryphal phrase or what, but I seem to remember somebody asking Gaiman what the overall story for The Sandman was.  Gaiman replied “Dream must either change or die, and he makes his choice.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that theme seems to be remarkably similar to what Dick Grayson is going through here.  I don’t know what his ultimate fate will be, nor do I know how The New Order will end.  All I know is that Dick Grayson has reached a point where he can change his views or he can be destroyed.  What he chooses to do from there I’ll leave for Kyle Higgins to decide.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been reading thus far.
  • You’re invested in the domestic drama between Dick, Jake, and Kory.
  • You’ve been waiting to see Superman.

Overall: While the problems are still there, this is a definite improvement over the previous installment.  In some ways, it’s the most mature and emotional issue of The New Order so far.  Higgins hits the right notes with the tension between Dick, Kory, and their son, along with resisting the temptation to have Dick backpedal on his beliefs.  Even after all he’s seen, Dick still feels that he made the right choice, making for a far more layered and complex characterization.  We’ll see how it wraps up in a month’s time, but after this issue I’m much more interested in the outcome than I had been for some time.

SCORE: 6.5/10