The Joker War is here and it’s come to further cement its stake in Dan Jurgens’ run with Nightwing #73. While there are some question marks with Barbara’s appearance here given that she just paralyzed herself to defy the Joker in her own series, Jurgens and Ryan Benjamin cut loose and embrace Dick Grayson’s new false identity as Joker’s adopted son. I’ve been numb enough to the fact that Dick hasn’t been himself for so long that I’m glad the series has fully delved into the possible fun of a brainwash plotline. We’ve seen the internal struggle for long enough, now’s the time for some gimmicky shock factor.

I realize mentioning shock factor often carries a negative implication, as do gimmicks, but Dick being under Joker’s control is the best usage of Dick’s split psyche yet. It is legitimately disarming to see Dick with an evil smile on his face and violence in his eyes. Benjamin’s pencils don’t always result in the most pretty looking faces, but his rough style suits the current situation. Jurgens falls into some familiar traps with his tendency to provide an overabundance of recap to ease readers back into the new status quo. Fortunately, the recap this time is more fun and inventive than before with Dick’s humorously evil narration as he exclaims “party time” at the news of his parents being killed. Benjamin also has fun with the visuals as he recreates iconic visuals with Dick and the Joker as allies and Batman as the adversary – the most striking being a twist on the cover of Detective Comics #69.

Credit: Ryan Benjamin, Richard Friend, Rain Beredo, Andworld Design

After the initial excitement of this retconning wears off, we’re left with a rather standard conflict as a captive Barbara is forced to fight Dick in a cage match. It’s probably the most obvious direction to take the series as it’s instant drama to see our beloved bat family members have to fight each other. Thankfully, Jurgens’ dialogue never lets up on the camp factor and keeps the energy high without taking the contrived set up too seriously. We all know that nothing of true consequence will happen in a Joker War tie-in issue, but Jurgens’ over the top script keeps the reader distracted enough from the lack of true stakes. If there’s any fault in the script it’s that the structure is a little wonky since there’s no real clear character to latch onto. The book starts with Barbara but takes five pages before it returns to her interior point of view and even then the focus bounces around between her, Dick, Joker, and Punchline. It creates an overwhelming feeling of being an outside observer instead of truly immersing the reader to a single character’s struggle. If the entire chapter had stayed inside Barbara’s head, her predicament and Dick’s new villainous nature would’ve been more threatening.

Credit: Ryan Benjamin, Richard Friend, Rain Beredo, Andworld Design

Despite any hiccups in the script, Benjamin’s art carries the weight admirably since most of the book is one long fight sequence. Overall his layouts are clean and easy to follow besides one page that stacks vertical panels down the left side. That’s always been a no-no in my book and as mentioned before sometimes his faces cross the line from suitably rough to almost unrecognizable. His storytelling in the action is extremely good though and any minor issues I have with his pencils are immediately smoothed over. Richard Friend’s inks do a great job of rendering bold figures with thicker inks while still maintaining Benjamin’s rougher style in his faces and costume details. The panel gutters are also noticeably thick but it works well in the action scenes as major beats land strong as the reader fills in these gaps in their head. They also smooth over some less than sequential moments in the choreography without exposing them. Smaller moments, like Barbara freeing herself from her rope bindings, don’t have as thick of a panel gutter around them also, which gives a sense of variety and impact to different types of action. It all comes across well thought out on a technical level even if the fight itself goes in circles and ends without a strong conclusion.

Credit: Ryan Benjamin, Richard Friend, Rain Beredo, Andworld Design

The issue does limp along to a captivating cliffhanger that at the same time exposes the weakness of this entire plotline. It’s fun (for the moment) to see Dick as a villain, but there’s no true threat to his sense of morality if he is continuously sent off to battle other members of the bat family. Even though his fight with Batgirl was exciting and gave Barbara some good moments of narration, the premise is close to stretching thin already. Solicitations have already spoiled as to how this all plays out, but if we’re stuck with a campy, near throwback, style of dialogue and outlandish premises then Jurgens can keep the book afloat by sheer force of will.

Spoiler
The final panel with Dick meeting Drake and Red Hood is deliciously unnerving though, with Benjamin’s pencils capturing that evil glint in Dick’s eye along with an eerie glow behind him. I do worry we’ll end up reading a very similar chapter next month with Dick battling a new set of bat family members, but solid art and dialogue can keep the gears turning until Nightwing’s proper return.

Recommended if…

  • You’re all in on Joker War and want to see the full picture.
  • Evil Dick Grayson doesn’t immediately turn you off.
  • You want to pretend the latest issue of Batgirl didn’t happen and like to see her back in action.

Overall

Nightwing #73 stands for everything that bothers me in the modern superhero comic industry. It’s a tie-in issue to a larger event that hijacked not only the series’ plot, but also keeps the titular character from his rightful place as Nightwing. Despite this, I found myself impressed with Jurgens’ fun script and Benjamin’s solid pencils and storytelling. Most readers by this point know that we’re basically in stalling mode, but for those still around Nightwing #73 overcomes the stacked deck against it.

Score: 7/10


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