This chapter of Nightwing has a variety of surprises including, but not limited to, motorcycles, a squid, and purple, teddy bear backpacks… Unfortunately, this is another issue without Guppy…
The last time we were in Bludhaven, Nightwing was on an all-out mission to stop the Judge, and managed to come face-to-face with the foe. The encounter didn’t turn out too well for our hero, and resulted in him being chained to a chair in Bludhaven’s underwater a city, with the tides rising quickly. This chapter kicks off at this moment, with a submerged Nightwing desperately fighting to get free. I’m going to give you a heads-up… this is the most interesting scene in the comic, and it involves the squid mentioned above. The scene is a little odd, and my “this is so unrealistic” alarm went off, but alas this is a comic book, and it is a memorable moment, so I’ll let it slide. Plus, everything after this is quite mediocre.
As you progress through the issue, you’ll notice that everything begins to feel oddly familiar. That’s because nearly everything that happens here has already happened before, just under different circumstances. I know what you’re thinking, “There has to be something new here, right?” Well, let’s run through the list.
- Nightwing is chasing after the Judge who, yet again, managed to escape him (by leaving Dick to drown). Check.
- Nightwing fights the League of Limousine Assassins in a “filler fight” that contains no urgency, emotion, or weight. Check.
- Nightwing manages to walk away from another life-threatening situation. Check.
- The Judge finds another corrupt citizen of Bludhaven, unveils their truth, and manipulates them. Check.
- We find out another person close to Nightwing is being controlled by the Judge. Check.
- We are teased with another encounter between Nightwing and the Judge. Check
See what I mean? Fundamentally, this issue is just a regurgitation of moments we’ve already experienced, and that makes this bout feel flatter than any issue before it. That’s not to say it’s bad, or even the worst issue (that ranking is reserved for the first flashback), but merely that it’s predictable and uninspired.
In addition to this, we endure a severe case of exposition intended to impact our emotions, and it simply doesn’t work. Nightwing’s hyper-focus on stopping the Judge is apparently affecting his day job. We haven’t really seen this yet, but Humphries tells us all about it in this issue. He’s apparently blown off his clients – all two of them – multiple times now. The moment is meant to show us how driven Nightwing is to catch the Judge, but in reality, it just makes him look like an amateur that can’t balance both of his identities.
Then there’s the attempt to pull at our heartstrings with Lucy (aka Baby Ruthless). This moment doesn’t work for me either, mainly because we barely know her. She’s set up as an integral part of Nightwing’s history, but for us, the readers, she comes off as a means to an end. Yeah, Dick claims she’s his oldest friend in Bludhaven, but there’s no depth to their relationship simply because of how it’s presented. Show rather than tell, and these moments will actually make the impact they’re intended to. Beyond that, give these characters the time and space they need to actually be developed. Let them have a presence for a few arcs before you try to do something dramatic with them. Too many writers throw moments away rather than earning them, and that’s a shame!
If we dig deeper into the root of this story’s problems though, we find that most of these opportunities are due to a lack of planning, poor story structure, and misguided emphasis. Momentum and pacing have been all over the place, and putting a strict focus on a specific character for a specific issue has created a tell that the featured character is about to do or experience something dramatic. In the end, the predictability and clunky nature of the plot do more damage than the average reader might realize, and all I can see is “what could’ve been,” had the story been executed with more finesse.
If it sounds as if I hate this story or I’m trashing it, I promise I’m not. I’ve had a difficult time approaching Sam Humphries run on Nightwing critically. There are elements that I really enjoy, and overall I’d say the arc is solid. I genuinely want to see the characters he’s introduced – as well as his take on Bludhaven – for many issues. But despite that, lately, I feel like all I can ever focus on are the opportunities found in the narrative. It’s simply a matter that I can sense how good this could’ve been, and I’m really disappointed we’re not getting that product.
I’ll openly admit that I’m a tough critic, and I’ve been accused of nitpicking, however, I’d argue that the things I nitpick over are often the details that could help elevate a book from good to great. That’s why I’ve questioned the editors’ roles in this story as much as I have. I mean, yes, clearly I hold the writer responsible for execution, but I sincerely believe the editors could have easily stepped in to course-correct the problems that cause this book to suffer. That’s what they’re there for, and I can’t figure out why decisions aren’t being made to streamline this story. This issue, specifically, should have been the second or third issue, not the second to last. The plot is building to something we’ve literally built to three separate times, and I can’t understand why editors haven’t stepped in… Again, this isn’t an attack, just an observation and a curiosity.
The Art: Consistently, the best thing about this issue has been the art. So far, I loved every panel that Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo have delivered. There’s an undertone that captures the grittiness of Bludhaven, but also plays into fun and horror elements that Humphries is infusing into the story. There was, however, one page in this issue that really distracted me. It involves the Judge telling a lackey the story of a child who was murdered. In the moment, it seems like a random story, but it does play a part later in the issue. Anyway, the transitions of each panel during this story are really rough. It jumps from the Judge in the car, to him pulling into a casino entrance, to him walking through a store, to him riding to a casino again, to him walking through the casino, etc. The dialogue never shows any sign of a break though, so all of this reads really weird.
- You’ve read all of “The Untouchable” so far, so you might as well finish it.
- You want to join the “Where in the Hell is Guppy?” club.
Overall: Nightwing #40 is… ok. When all is said and done, the entire chapter feels like a lot of regurgitation to fill a mandated issue order for this arc. Beyond that, we run into the familiar problem of pacing and emphasis – opportunities that are unfortunately becoming the expectation. Humphries has developed great supporting characters, a strong, interesting villain, and an interpretation of Bludhaven that feels more like a character than I can ever recall it being… and somehow, still, the story is just “ok.” I can’t help but feel that had a little more planning and attention to detail gone into the narrative early on, Nightwing: The Untouchables would have been excellent instead of mediocre.