Need a friend? Just call the judge. He’s great at making friends…
I’m going to be honest… I’m absolutely loving this run of Nightwing. I know we’re only two issues in, but Sam Humphries approach to storytelling and characterization are right up my alley! He’s taking his time with the narrative, his characters are as important – if not more important – than the plot, and with Bernard Chang, he’s established a distinct tone. The tone of the book reminds me of Daredevil. It’s still very much a Dick Grayson/ Nightwing book, just imbued with those textures. It also, kind of, reminds me of Genevieve Valentine’s run on Catwoman – or more so, what I feel it could have been if she had more time on the title so Selina could actually operate as Catwoman. Essentially, we’re getting a slow burn in Nightwing with a ton of world and character building so that we can establish a solid foundation… And just like gambling, it has me itching for another round.
Because of the approach the creative team is taking, there’s still a lot that we don’t know. What we do know, is that a murder occurred at one of Bludhaven’s casinos, and the details of the murder reminded Dick of past encounters with a villain named the Judge. Further investigation of the incident reveals that it is the Judge that is committing these crimes… allegedly. Why allegedly? Well, let’s just say that the Judge has a way with people, and can coerce them into exacting his will. We still don’t know much about him so I can’t say this with certainty, but imagine a cross of Killgrave from Marvel and Lucifer from Vertigo. Yeah… One creepy as $%&#, kick-ass villain! And guess what? He’s the main focus of this issue. It’s almost all Judge, and how he operates!
We don’t have much in the way of the Judge’s motivation, just his approach: befriending, corrupting, motivating… Watching it unfold is unsettling. As for his motivation, I’m going to go with the whole Nolan/ The Dark Knight Rises, “Some people just want to watch the world burn” for now. I’m certain there’s more to him though, and I’m confident we’ll discover exactly what that is in the flashback issues later in the arc. Although let’s be honest, most of the time the unknown is way more interesting. What we do know, is that his presence in Bludhaven has Nightwing rattled, and the fact that the Judge is sticking around worries him even more. It’s simply not his M.O., and considering Nightwing’s history with the Judge, as well as the fact that he’s never caught him… the stakes are high.
Mystery and suspense drive the plot here. There’s so much we don’t know that while reading the book, my mind kept racing with possibilities – both of what occurred in the past and what could potentially occur in the future. As for the suspense, the Judge’s mere presence creates this. Throw in the fact that you can’t completely trust anyone due to his abilities, and you’re left with a suspenseful mystery with a heavy side of paranoia.
Then factor in the character work. I’ve mostly discussed the Judge because he gets the spotlight, but the way Dick responds to these incidents is just as delicious. I also can’t forget about Guppy. If this is just the tip of the iceberg, then Guppy may very well be the best character of 2018! My heart absolutely breaks for him here, and even though he’s kind of bad, he has a heart of gold. We also see Svoboda and Dick’s clients he’s training, but their roles in this issue aren’t as strong. Granted, if you remember, Svoboda shot Nightwing at the end of the last issue, so the ramifications do play out here to a degree. If there’s a character worth mentioning that I haven’t touched yet, it’s the mayor. He receives as much of the spotlight as anyone in this issue, and it helps round out both the story, the future of Bludhaven, and the Judge.
Everything else I need to say is quite spoilery, so go get this issue (and the debut if you didn’t pick it up), then come back and check out my breakdowns once you’ve read it! Seriously, Nightwing is well worth your time and money! In fact, you should buy copies for friends. They’ll appreciate you for it.
Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo deliver the cover for this issue. Nightwing is featured bleeding out in a street, and if you consider what occurred at the end of the last issue, it’s a natural cover to tease this issue. As nice (and dire) as this cover looks though, Yasmine Putri’s is the real standout here! Aside from the fact that it’s stunningly beautiful, the cover captures a more accurate representation of this issue… Granted, considering the Judge isn’t a well-known character, it’s understandable that DC wouldn’t want to feature it as the main cover.
As for the internal art, Chang and Maiolo oversee this work, and in a rare turn of events, I find the internal art to be much better than the cover! I can’t express how impressed I am with the work these two men are doing. The execution is top notch on a technical level, and Chang’s layouts look cinematic. The acting is also phenomenal, and Maiolo’s colors match the tone of Humphries’ script perfectly! I’d dare say that this might be the perfect pairing in comics at the moment!
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Resilience. I love Nightwing’s resilience in this issue. It might surprise you to know that I’m not referring to the gunshot he sustained though. Yes, that is impressive, and yes he does battle through the pain to go after the Judge, but it’s his mental resilience to try and conquer the situation itself that I find interesting. The Judge is the one person – or obstacle for that matter – that Dick hasn’t been able to overcome. Every chance he’s had to stop the judge, he’s failed. Even in this issue, it becomes clear that the Judge is toying with him by playing a twisted game of cat and mouse, and yet Dick continues to carry on. As if there’s no doubt, Nighting continues his hun for the Judge, and if there’s already this much suspense and tension, I can’t imagine how thick it will be when the two actually cross paths!
Guppy. Clearly, we all want to know more about the Judge, but that’s strictly because of the mystery that surrounds him: What are his goals? What, exactly, are his gifts? What will he do next? etc. But the character we really want to know more about because of who they are, is Guppy. It would be easy label him as a low-level criminal, but that description wouldn’t do him justice. He’s much more than that, and underneath it all, he just wants to provide. I felt bad after seeing how he was treated during the job he worked – especially since he was denied any remuneration after doing all of the work – but it was his expression that broke me. Chang, somehow, managed to draw such sorrow that I couldn’t help but feel for him.
To make matters worse, we later see Guppy returning home to his sick father, without medicine, and trying his best to stay positive. This is a perfect depiction of someone who needs a break, and I really hope he gets it. I want to see the man he can become if life throws him a bone… Then again, there’s potentially a much darker outcome to this. Guppy may not get that break, might lose his father, and could eventually just snap. As tragic as that would be, it would make for a hell of a read! I’m certain he will take one of these two routes over the next few arcs, but I honestly have no idea which one it will be.
Tell Me Your Sins. You know the music that plays in The Dark Knight every time the Joker comes on screen? I imagined that playing every time the Judge was featured in this issue. Whenever you saw him, you knew something terrible was going to happen. His ability to manipulate people is extremely unsettling, but such a damn good read. I can’t wait to see more of him. Also, and this may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t want Nightwing to stop or catch him at the end of this arc. I want him to get away… again. He’s evaded Dick twice before in stories that aren’t documented in comics, so everyone expects Dick to victorious here… But what if he isn’t? What if the Judge gets away again? He’ll easily solidify himself as Dick’s most dangerous rogue, and Nightwing has developed some outstanding rogues over the past decade or so!
Chaos. If you had any doubt that the Judge was dangerous or sadistic, or perhaps that he wasn’t “big picture” enough to be an absolute threat, then the scene with the priests should convince you otherwise. He convinces a priest to kill all of his fellow priests… There’s no way around it, this image is disturbing!
Broken glass. Ah, come on now, Nightwing! Why did you need to do that? That stained glass was beautiful! You know how much that’s going to cost to fix?
- You like street-level action.
- You want a story where characterization is as important as plot.
- Just go get this damn book and read it already!
Overall: This is easily the most distinct Nightwing story that doesn’t involve turning the character on it’s had and fundamentally changing his mission. And that’s not a jab at Grayson, anyone that knows me, knows that I LOVE Grayson, and consider it one of my favorite books of all time. But Sam Humphries and Bernard Chang have created something that – much like Grayson – feels so unique, and yet so familiar! This issue is a masterclass in execution, and the boldness of characters like the Judge and Guppy ensure the book will remain this way for some time!