Nightwing #72 isn’t the book to read if you’re looking for a great Dick Grayson story. There’s a new status quo going on here, not just for Dick himself, but for the series’ own identity. The “Joker War” has fully taken over Dan Jurgens and Ronan Cliquet’s Nightwing. With the Joker’s appearance fully upgraded from cameo to main villain and Punchline herself figuring into the plot, Nightwing is now a spinoff book that is at the mercy of DC’s large scale vision. Surprisingly enough, Nightwing #72 is a stronger issue than last month’s chapter, even with Dick himself once again mind controlled.
Anyone who has stuck around with this series up until now knows the drill. Dick hasn’t been himself ever since being shot in the head almost two years ago and neither has his own series. We’ve seen him reject being Nightwing, become a vigilante on his own, then get brainwashed by the Talons and finally now is brainwashed by the Joker. Dick’s lack of agency has been a major issue in the series lately and Jurgens’ script here doubles down on that problem. However, if you let this chapter operate on its own accord, Nightwing #72 has its fair share of excitement and creeping dread that makes it an engaging read.
There’s a smart time jump from last month as we first see Bea create a makeshift bat signal to get help after Joker’s attack on her bar. Barbara, after taking off her bat suit, responds to Bea’s signal and offers assistance. Bea and Barbara working together is a great team up as the potential for drama is high due to Bea being Dick’s girlfriend and Barbara’s slightly jealous narration. This opening scene works extremely well and quickly gets Barbara back into the storyline without much of a hiccup. Bea recounts the aftermath of Joker’s attack wherein we see her point of view. Even though the reader knows Joker successfully brainwashed Dick, Bea doesn’t since she was knocked out. The subsequent flashback is a lot of fun as we see a clearly brainwashed Dick try to assuage Bea’s worries and impulsively make pancakes. Ronan Cliquet’s pencils in this sequence also shine due to his over the top expressions for brainwashed Dick who has a ludicrously wide smile the entire time. Nick Filardi’s colors create a subtle, but effective haze over the scene and casts it all in a menacing purple glow. Jurgens’ dialogue here works well as Dick’s lines are just out of character enough to be eerie but not entirely implausible. Simply put, it’s the most fun the series has had with a brainwashed Dick and invites a bit of goofiness into the overly dour tone of previous arcs.
Cliquet’s art manages extremely well with this lighter content. His faces look more loose with his usually wide-set eyes just a tad wider than normal, but it works with the almost surreal nature of the story. The only page that outright doesn’t work on a script or art level is the one page dedicated to Hutch and Colleen at the hospital. The detail on their faces is sorely lacking on what should be a more intimate scene as they await news of Sap’s fate. The compositions on the page don’t do much to enhance the drama as well. Everything is pulled too far back and hesitant to get up close and the scene ends before anything can develop. It feels more like an obligation to check in on the other Nightwings more so than it being actually important to the plot.
The second half the book is less effective as well, but features some good action sequences. Barbara sets out on her own to track down Dick and see what exactly is wrong with him. The initial encounter fares just as well as Bea’s flashback with him and features suitably comedic, yet tense dialogue as Dick acts just slightly out of character. Up until this point, Jurgens’ script felt like a true Nightwing book, even if Dick himself is largely a secondary character. Everything in the series still revolves around him and his memory related plight.
However, once Punchline comes into the scene and attacks Barbara, Nightwing #72 now feels like a “Joker War” tie in issue. Punchline’s arrival was actually exciting as I didn’t see it coming despite the cover spoiling her appearance. Cliquet understands action and while his work isn’t fully sequential, the beats land well from panel to panel with appropriate impact. He also pulls off an incredibly creepy moment when Punchline smears blood onto Dick’s face to create a Joker smile. Cliquet’s rendition of a brainwashed Dick is very eerie and his full grinning moment with blood on his face is legitimately terrifying. It’s an exciting ending, but seems to spell an end to the series remaining grounded within its own confines. Joker’s arrival at the end only serves to solidify my fear of Nightwing being at the service of Joker in both plot and marketing.
- Last month’s cliffhanger must be resolved.
- You don’t want to miss any plot points leading up to Joker War.
- You’re a fan of Punchline and want to see her in action.
Nightwing #72 may barely be an actual Nightwing issue, but as a story on its own terms it succeeds. Joker War has fully taken over this book and while it’s unfortunate Nightwing’s ultimate return will likely take place in a story not his own, I find his plight as a Joker henchman just a little more interesting than him as a Talon. Barbara’s arrival is a welcome injection of freshness into the series, but hopefully Bea and the other Nightwings aren’t entirely phased out of relevance in the coming months.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.