I’m not going to say this issue is bad… but it’s not great.
Let me make one thing very clear, the main plot of Sam Humphries’ Nightwing run is excellent! I know we’re only two issues in, but in those two issues, he’s delivered a well written, street-level story that is full of intrigue, mystery, and superb characterization. I’m completely behind the main narrative and will sing its praises endlessly. This issue, however, is a bit of a conundrum.
As the solicitation references, this chapter is a flashback to Dick’s tenure as Robin, and sheds some light on his history with the Judge. I had some reservations going into this chapter because I feared that Humphries would hinder the mystery of Dick and the Judge’s past – an aspect that is driving the momentum of the main plot. If done well though, this flashback could help ground the story. Unfortunately, rather than make things dire, this flashback cheapens the narrative while feeling unnecessary and unimportant.
One of the opportunities here is that Humphries doesn’t seem to know what he wants to accomplish with this issue. Yes, it’s a flashback and it gives us insight into Dick’s history with the Judge, but it doesn’t really answer any questions. There’s no set-up or connection, the Judge is just a criminal that Batman and Robin are investigating. That’s it. And clearly – as we already know from previous issues – the Judge isn’t caught.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I thought this flashback would involve more of a personal connection for Dick. The reality is, Dick’s guilt in the present day doesn’t feel justified based on this flashback. And if I’m being honest, I thought, “Seriously? That’s it?” after reading the conclusion. I’m just not able to bring myself to believe that the “climax” of this issue would bother Dick this much. The final result makes this chapter feel like a last-minute filler issue that was mandated for (insert editorial reason here). Thus making the issue a collection of uninspired moments that feel as though they should have been left on the cutting room floor because it adds nothing to the narrative.
What’s more frustrating is that most of the issue doesn’t even focus on exploring the history of Dick/ the Judge. Instead, the issue spends a majority of its time introducing a new character named Lucy. Do we really need another new character? We’ve been introduced to four new characters within the first two issues – two of which are prominent for the arc. Now we have Lucy, who we immediately learn also has a history with the Judge because… she’s a former vigilante. I’m… not impressed. Despite the fun, tongue-in-cheek code name (Baby Ruthless), this entire introduction feels forced. In fact, everything about this issue feels forced. And I haven’t even gotten to the lowest point of the issue yet, but I’m saving that moment for my spoilers.
There are some fun elements here though, and they shouldn’t be ignored. Particularly, I like the way that Humphries writes Batman and Robin. There’s definitely a tone that resonates back to the 60’s, and while some readers might find it hokey, I appreciate the nod.
Jorge Jimenez delivers an outstanding cover for this issue! The symbolism is great, and the appearance feels more true to what I thought this issue would be. Same goes for Yasmine Putri’s variant cover. Both capture a better understanding of what this story should have been, while the script, sadly, fell short.
As for the internal art, it’s a mixed bag. I respect Klaus Janson immensely, but his work didn’t stand up here. I think if the entire issue had just been Janson, then I would’ve enjoyed it much more. But that’s not the case. Jamal Campbell executed the art for the present day scenes, and seeing the two styles back to back only highlights how much comic art has improved from a technical standpoint over the past few years.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
A Classic, Fun Feel. I said it above, but I’ll say it again. I enjoyed the classic approach to Batman and Robin’s scenes. There was a sense of nostalgia that resonated with me. Layer in Janson’s art, and it just drives the sentiment.
The Gold Coin. Three issues in, and I find myself thinking, “Who’s going to have the gold chip next?” Well, I’m sad to say that it’s Guppy! The final page shows Guppy with the chip, preparing to stab and kill his father. It’s the only relevant aspect of this issue, and it’s the first murder that the Judge is directing that could pin some type of motive to him as a character.
Robin. Humphries characterization of Dick bothered me a little. It’s not a huge problem, but I kept finding myself thinking that this version of Robin reminded me more of a young Jason/ Tim than Dick. The self-doubt and brashness doesn’t resonate as being true to who Dick is, or even was as Robin. I want the confidence, the zing, the flamboyant distractions!
The Flashback. Again, I’ll ask, “What was the point of this issue?” Other than the last scene, it served no significance to the rest of the story. Knowing Nightwing and the Judge had a history was WAY more impactful than experiencing the actual event. I was fine knowing that these two men had encountered each other twice in the past, and that the Judge prevailed both times. This issue, unfortunately, doesn’t showcase the Judge prevailing. He just gets lucky after being made out to look like a clown.
Baby Ruthless. Why? Why do we need to have another vigilante/ former vigilante? At this moment, she adds nothing to the narrative, and is more interesting as a civilian/ casino owner. I really wish Humphries would’ve left it at that. Sure, keep the family background, the bodega, and so on. It adds a personal touch to the story. You can even keep the thread that she has a history with the Judge and Nightwing, but stop there. Lucy would’ve been way more interesting as a survivor of the Judge (with or without Dick’s assistance), than a former vigilante who hung up her tights. So I hope that if she pops back up again (and I’m certain she will), I hope it’s to explore life in Bludhaven as a casino owner.
King Sturgeon. I’m sure people will love that King Sturgeon is the villain that Batman and Robin fight in this issue, but I feel like it cheapened the character. He kind of came off as a joke – much like his son does to other criminals. I don’t believe he was ever a revered criminal in the Bludhaven underground based on this issue. Actually, this is how I pictured Guppy’s attempts at being a bad guy going… I did find it interesting that Sturgeon took over the Judge’s crew following the Judge’s disappearance, but that’s where the intrigue stops for this daddy shark.
Robin Stops the Judge. With barely a month under his belt as Robin, Dick actually catches the Judge. He doesn’t stop the Judge, but it’s not because the Judge overcomes him in any way. No, Robin goes all Jason Todd, acts brashly, and knocks the Judge overboard while on a boat, allowing the Judge to escape (it literally made me think of Jason back in Batman #424). Apparently, this is why Dick is feeling all of this guilt now…. Look, I get it. I’d probably feel a little guilty as well if I prevented someone from being caught, but it’s not like Dick just let him go. He made a mistake in his early days as Robin. I feel like he’d move past that. Yes, he’d feel like he needs to stop the Judge because of the murders, but I don’t see Nightwing feeling guilt to this degree. If Dick had just let him walk, that would be a totally different story.
Also, this nearly ruins the Judge for me. So much of the main story is that the Judge is one step ahead of Nightwing, so I wanted to see that here as well. If Robin could’ve stopped the Judge so easily back then, it seems a stretch that he’s having such a difficult time now. I wanted the cat and mouse game, and I wanted to see the Judge best Batman and Robin. Give us a reason for Dick to lack confidence in his ability to stop this guy! You can’t have a child beat the snot out of a villain, then expect us to panic the next time we see him. This didn’t work for me at all…
- You want a Batman and Robin flashback story.
- You’re curious to see Dick’s first encounter with the Judge.
Overall: This issue does nothing to progress the story, nor does it add any interesting elements. If anything, I feel it diminishes the quality of Humphries current story. Because of this, I’d recommend you skip this issue, and use the money to check out one of the new titles DC is dropping this month.