After a rough flashback, Nightwing rebounds as he and the Judge come face to face!
Sam Humphries launched an impressive run on Nightwing by diving right into the heart of the city and introducing a slew of new themes, characters, and threats. At the forefront of these changes are the Judge and Guppy. The Judge is a villain that Dick has a history with and has yet to catch. As you might expect, he is the main antagonist for “The Untouchable.” The mystery surrounding him has driven the narrative so far, and created a suspenseful anticipation to learn exactly what his plan is and how far he’ll go to achieve it. Part of his lure, is his ability. Essentially the Killgrave of the DC Universe, the Judge can bend people to his will through the use of a casino chip. Thankfully, he’s not purple. After witnessing a number of people fall victim to his chaos, we, unfortunately, learned in the previous issue that Guppy – a low-level criminal with a heart of gold that’s quickly becoming the most popular, new character of 2018 – is the catalyst for the Judge’s next crime.
With Bludhaven serving as the backdrop, and casinos running the gambit of the town, Humphries is able to play into a number of morally ambiguous themes that make this story intriguing. It’s this idea that’s made Guppy such a beloved character within such a short time. On the surface, he’s just a common criminal, but when you dig deeper, you discover that he’s really just an eager kid trying to help save his dad’s life. He doesn’t want to be bad, crime is just a means to an end. So, it was that much more disturbing to learn that the Judge had ordered Guppy to kill his father, King Sturgeon.
This is essentially where this issue kicks off. The first few pages are heartbreaking, so prepare yourself. As for the bigger picture, the pieces are in place, and now the Judge just needs to step back and watch Nightwing suffer. The entire relationship between Nightwing and the Judge has been a game of cat and mouse, and Nightwing is finally knocking at the Judges doorstep… But, that’s exactly what the Judge wants. And trust me, you might think you know what’s going to happen, but I promise you don’t. Minor characters from early in the story’s run come back into play, and their presence adds a weight to the narrative.
In many ways, this issue works really well. We’ve had a few issues now of Nightwing trying to get to the Judge, and this issue makes that happen, so there is a sense of progression. The Judge is also as creepy as ever, and I’d argue that we still haven’t seen the limit of just how evil he can be. Now, I know this sounds like it’s nothing but doom and gloom, but there are also quite a few fun elements in this chapter as well. Humphries manages to balance tones by adding a playful scene to the story that places Dick in a situation that will make many ladies and gents jealous. By that, I mean you’ll wish you were there.
Despite the successes, this issue isn’t without its problems. Generally speaking, I believe the flashback issue was a mistake. As I discussed in my previous review, the chapter diminished the Judge’s threat and provided too much of a sense of hope that Nightwing will stop him in the present day. That’s not the tone you want to create when you’re trying to make Nightwing’s attempts appear futile. It also put Dick and the Judge face-to-face, so it diminishes the impact of that moment in this chapter.
Beyond that, I feel as though Humphries’ pacing is off. This, again, is in large part to the flashback issue interrupting the momentum of the main narrative, but it’s also due to Humphries placing an emphasis on the wrong plots or themes at the wrong time. Moments that should have received more focus and attention are dealt with too quickly, and moments that should have happened quickly were stretched a little too far. Even the fun element that Humphries wrote into the script – which I loved – felt out of place.
The transition of these scenes are also a bit jolting. More than once, I found myself wondering if there was a mess-up with publication because a scene appeared to come out of nowhere. As it turns out, these moments are meant to be there, Humphries is just trying to do too much with too many characters, in too little of a space. These instances, as well as a couple of moments where the plot progression occurred too conveniently or didn’t make sense, knocked the quality of this story down a bit.
In the end, “The Untouchable” is still an entertaining read. This chapter is a vast improvement over issue #37, but falls short of the quality of the first two chapters. All the right pieces are there, but the execution is becoming a little muddled in a story that started out razor sharp.
Bernard Chang continues his work on Nightwing, and it’s the highlight of the book in my opinion. He creates so much character through his art, that it brings so much personality and depth to Humphries script. He’s one of the main reasons the Judge comes across so creepy. Although the character is one of the strong points for Humphries, it’s Chang’s portrayal of him – the casual confidence and smugness – that really delivers! Successful comics require a beautiful marriage between the writer and artist, and so far, this pairing is quite solid. And not to knock Humphries talent, but seeing Chang’s work here makes me wonder how well he’d thrive partnering with the likes of King, Snyder, Johns, or Tomasi.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Where Do You Go From Here? Guys. Guys… Guppy murdered his father… Ugh. Rip my heart right out, this poor guy cannot catch a break, and now his father’s death is literally by his hand. I’m over here worried about whether he’ll get money to buy his dads medication, meanwhile, the Judge had his way with Guppy to stab his father multiple times, silencing him. As heartbreaking as this is though, my main question is where does Guppy go from here? How will they prove that he didn’t act out of his own will? And mentally, where is Guppy? More than ever he’s at a crossroad, and I’m desperately hoping he chooses the right path.
Go-Go Dancer Grayson. I laughed so hard when I saw Dick working as a stripper. So many people just had their fantasy come true to a degree, and I may or may not be one of them. Just saying…
20/20 Vision. You know how to make the Judge even more creepy? You reveal that his eyes are sewn shut! What the hell! There’s clearly some mystic attributes to him, but man did this create an unsettling image. I might actually have nightmares about this dude!
Bail. Yo, Nightwing, why did you just bail on Guppy like that? The poor guy just murdered his dad, and you’re like, “Well, gotta go stop a bad guy. Sorry, dude.” I mean, I get there’s an urgency to stop the Judge, but considering Dick’s character, and the fact that he recognized the good in Guppy, I feel that there should have been more of a moment here.
The Justice Tree. I like the concept of the Justice Tree, but there’s a random scene where Nightwing has a conversation with a city official about the tree dying, and whether or not it can be saved. I understand the theme and parallel here, it just isn’t done well. For one, this is one of the scenes that feels completely out of place. Nightwing literally just left a distraught Guppy because he needed to go after the Judge, but before doing that, he’s going to stop and examine a tree. A freaking tree! No. This scene should have occurred at the beginning of the story – either the end of the first issue, or the beginning of the second so that it coincided with the Judge’s presence in Bludhaven.
Hello? Dick has two phone call in this issue, and neither of them did anything to help the story. The first phone call is with Lucy – the former vigilante, Baby Ruthless, that we met in the flashback issue. Let me be clear, nothing from the flashback benefits the story. Nothing. That includes Lucy, who just pops up here as a, “Oh yeah, don’t forget this character is in Bludhaven!” The second phone call is with Batman, and it’s just as bad. Bruce randomly checks in with Dick to make sure he’s ok because of different things he’s heard. This aspect doesn’t bother me. What bothers me, is that the interaction between the two is so poorly written and forced, that it should have just been scrapped. Much like Dick’s call with Lucy, this conversation offers nothing to the narrative other than remind readers that Nightwing is a protégé of Batman. It’s also frustrating that Dick wouldn’t accept help from Batman in this situation. I understand pride and all, but if Dick were this serious about stopping the Judge, he’d take Batman’s offer.
Casino. The flashback issue established that all casinos have been shut down in the wake of recent events, so it’s a little odd that the casino the Judge is hiding out in is still operating. Yeah, I get that he could be using his abilities to keep people there, but that feels like a bit of a stretch considering the number of people he’d have to affect. Plus, it also makes it blatantly obvious where he is. There are over 100 casinos in Bludhaven, and all of them are shut down except for one. Dick knows that the Judge is hiding out in a casino, but he doesn’t know which casino that is… Hmmm, I don’t know… Maybe the one casino that’s still operating despite the fact none of the casinos should be open? Yeah, let’s go with that one. Come on, Dick is a better detective than this!
Nightwing. The one character that doesn’t appear to be getting much development, is Dick Grayson. Considering this is his book, he should serve as more than just a catalyst for the narrative, he should be the narrative.
- Come for the story, stay for Chang’s art.
- You find the Judge unsettling.
- You’ve had fantasies of Dick Grayson go-go dancing.
Overall: An improvement on the previous installment’s flashback, Nightwing #38 returns to the quality storytelling we received initially. Unfortunately, the damage of that flashback issue lingers a bit here, and a combination of too many focuses and improper emphasis muddle what could have been a great issue. This chapter isn’t bad, it’s just good. Tighten up the details, and I’d have easily given this issue another two points.