Nightwing is back! Well…the series is, but not the character because we are still hanging out with Ric-Dick-Richard-Robin as he continues to struggle with remembering who he is. Dick now knows the extent of Dr. Haas’ mind control over him, but Jurgens’ script doesn’t allow the dam to fully break. The result is that there’s no forward momentum right now in the series, so of course we need to throw the Joker into the plot to shake things up. We all know if there’s one thing to help freshen up a stale book it’s another Joker appearance.

Nothing feels natural or earned in Jurgens’ script for Nightwing #71. This chapter opens with Dick moping around in Bea’s bar as she attempts to get him to slow down and take care of himself. I like Bea and Dick’s relationship, even if it feels doomed to be brushed aside, and her characterization as a voice of reason in the insanity of the world comes through strong. However, her attempts to collar Dick only expose his lack of agency in his own book. He has literally nothing to do right now. This is even more noticeable when Jurgens throws in a random and inconsequential Tusk appearance to give Dick some crime to fight (even though Tusk should be dead after Gotham City Monsters). The machinations of the plot are abundantly clear and almost every page feels like the equivalent of pulling the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz. It’s all smoke and mirrors to mask a lack of substance.

Credit: Ronan Cliquet, Nick Filardi, Andworld Design

Ronan Cliquet does a good job on art duties and Nick Filardi’s colors do a great job of adding subtle nuances to his environments. Bea’s bar feels robust as a setting due to the color palette and the bursts of light that come in through the windows and ceiling lamps. The Joker’s first appearance as he descends the bar’s stairs is bathed in a light blue which gives a good contrast to the dark browns and greens of the bar itself. However, Cliquet’s compositions in Joker’s early scenes lack a sense of drama I’d expect at his arrival. The first panel he shows up in is flat and languid. His head is half cut off by the ceiling and half obscured in shadow, but the composition itself doesn’t make him feel imposing at all. In fact, he stays completely stationary for four panels before finally taking a step down to reveal himself, even though it’s immediately clear to the reader that it’s the Joker. There’s no amplification of drama with each step he takes down the stairs. The compositions don’t put him in a place of power over Bea and there’s little drama since his identity is no surprise. Ultimately his reveal falls flat. I feel this is a problem in the script since Jurgens couldn’t have Joker reach Bea too fast since Dick is busy fighting Tusk. Timeline wise, there’s a lot of stretching done here to make any of this work.

Credit: Ronan Cliquet, Nick Filardi, Andworld Design

The lack of drama in Joker’s reveal is more apparent since Cliquet does a great job in Dick’s fight scene against Tusk. Tusk’s opening splash page does everything the Joker reveal should’ve done. The composition is dramatic, the colors jump off the page, and there’s a great deal of depth. The ensuing fight between Dick and Tusk is also very good although some of the sequential aspects are more jarring than fluid in the fight choreography. The space between panels doesn’t always fill the reader’s head with the subsequent action, which results in some stilted action beats. However, the poses are evocative, the lettered sound effects by Andworld Design add the appropriate impact, and the facial acting sells the pain Dick goes through. Unfortunately, the script makes the sequence feel like filler. There’s no purpose for the fight other than to inject some excitement into an issue that’s stuck in place. Its inconsequential nature is further revealed when Dick realizes that Tusk’s rampage is just a distraction to get him to leave Bea alone. This is a common trope that comics use when they need to pad a book with action. They have a random villain show up, cause some chaos, then the hero figures out it has no true meaning other than to distract. Better action sequences carry more meaning and have a deeper connection to the plot at hand.

Credit: Ronan Cliquet, Nick Filardi, Andworld Design

Jurgens’ script tightens up a little near the end with Dick, Joker, and Bea all in the same room. This is what the issue is really about and I wish there had been a way to give this sequence more pages to develop. Cliquet’s Joker gets the job done, though it rides a line between being boxy and slender, but the facial acting is quite good, especially when it seems like Joker is there to help Dick remember who he is. One take on the Joker I personally like is that he never truly wants the back and forth between him and the bat family to ever end, so his offer to restore Dick’s memories works initially. I can imagine Joker wanting Dick back to his former self so that they can do battle once more. There’s even a line where Joker claims that “No one likes” the name Ric, so my hopes were lifted for a moment. Unfortunately, the last page of the issue seems to further draw Dick away from reclaiming his rightful place as Nightwing and it makes me question what the actual endgame is here. This arc is slated to set the stage for the eventual “Joker War”, so I worry that Dick and the series will be further removed from being an actual Nightwing book.

Credit: Ronan Cliquet, Nick Filardi, Andworld Design

Spoiler
It’s not only that I wish Dick was back to being Nightwing, but this series has made its supposed lead character not only lose his memories, but also be brainwashed two times now. It feels as though Jurgens’ scripts are finding every excuse to put its main character on the sidelines and it’s growing increasingly tiring. If Joker’s attempt to brainwash Dick into being his ally sticks, I can’t see much being gained story wise from that. We’ve already had the moment where Dick manages to break free from his mind control and live up to his true self. As of now, this all feels…perfunctory.

Recommended if…

  • You want to see Dick face off against the Joker.
  • Bea and Dick’s relationship is something you want to see grow.
  • The coming “Joker War” interests you.

Overall

Nightwing #71 does very little to justify Dick’s continued inability to remember his true self. Joker’s appearance does offer a slight burst of excitement, but quickly loses steam once his plan is revealed. I like my main character to be more proactive in their own series and Jurgens’ run keeps finding new ways for other characters to control Dick’s fate. Cliquet’s art has its moments of fun in the action scenes, but even solid pencils can’t save this issue from floundering in the wake of the coming “Joker War”.

Score: 4/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.