There’s going to be a lot of talk about Nightwing #74 regardless of whether or not it’s actually a quality book. It marks a new status quo for Dick and the Bat Family, while apparently severing ties with many things that came along with the Ric saga. While I think there’s a lot of promise in the future for the series, this actual issue is lacking in many ways despite solid art from Ryan Benjamin and one of the better Joker renditions in a while courtesy of Dan Jurgens’ script.
Let’s start with the good. Jurgens knows that Dick’s current girlfriend, Bea, is the true heart of the series at this point. The Bat Family is present, but they operate mostly as plot devices to slowly but surely usher Dick back to his rightful place as Nightwing. Bea, on the other hand, serves as a much stronger emotional anchor for the book to rely on. Not only does Dick’s safety matter for her, but also her relationship with him is threatened on multiple levels. If he remains under Joker’s spell Dick will remain unattainable, and even if he gets his memories back, his tie to Bea is still under threat. It’s the perfect conflict as no matter how the situation plays out, things are going to go wrong for her. Jurgens’ writing for Bea is solid throughout. Her narration is strong and clear–headed which is welcomed in a book with a lead who’s nothing but inconsistent. Additionally, Jurgens avoids lacing Bea’s conflict as needlessly melodramatic as he’s done a great job of making her a well-rounded character who grounds the book by her mere presence. Jurgens’ rendition of Joker is also a standout as he leans more on the goofier side of the “Joker spectrum” and his scenes with Punchline serve as a solid commentary on the action. If you’re a Punchline fan just be aware she doesn’t have much to do here.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a lot of noise without much substance. The Bat Family conflict is largely inert even if the actual fight sequences are well rendered by Benjamin’s pencils. We all know that Dick is not going to severely hurt any of his Bat Family allies even if the book constantly pretends as if he’s an actual threat. The only characters that ever felt truly at risk are the other Nightwings that took up the mantle, but they’re nowhere to be found this month. Additionally, I thought last month’s cliffhanger held promise with Dick pretending to be cured to get the jump on Drake and Red Hood, but he gives himself up as traitor almost immediately. I expected something more devious from Joker and Dick’s plan since there’s a bomb in the nearby hospital, such as Dick waiting for a more opportune moment to turn heel by locking the Bat Family in the room with the bomb and no way out. Instead, he gets Drake in a headlock and kicks Red Hood in the face. Additionally, a very astute reader in the comments last month mentioned that the current mind wipe situation doesn’t exactly make sense as the previous issue implied Dick was always Joker’s sidekick so him pretending to be back in the Bat Family doesn’t really add up. It ultimately doesn’t matter as things go sour quickly, but it does make the entire plot feel more slapdash than it should.
Despite my misgivings about how things play out, the art team does what they can to spruce up a script that does nothing more than bide its time til the conclusion. The fight between Dick, Drake, Red Hood, and various goons feels rough, but suitably as there’s so many moving pieces to keep track of. The sense of place isn’t always entirely clear. Dick seems to teleport around to land punches on an unsuspecting Red Hood, but this aggressiveness does work with the sequence. I might be giving it too much credit in that regard though, as the choreography is near indiscernible. The page layouts and thick gutters don’t let the action flow sequentially, and while the sudden bursts of action make Dick feel threatening, we know deep down that he’s not going to really kill anyone. Again, the only fault I have with Benjamin’s work is that his faces are downright bizarre at times, yet Dick’s misshapen grin works at moments since it makes him look unlike his normal self. Richard Friend’s inks once again capture that delicate balance between polish and roughness with precise figure renderings mixed with rougher detailing on each character’s face. Rain Beredo’s colors are a tad muted for my taste, but they evoke solid atmosphere and do set the stage well for an explosion of color near the end of the issue.
I’m heading into spoiler territory from this point on about the ending moments of this issue. While the plot developments are welcome, I still don’t think the execution was fully engaging.
- You’ve stuck with this series through thick and thin and want a payoff.
- A more goofy Joker is your preferred version of the character.
- You like seeing the Bat Family together, even if one of them is mind controlled and attacking the others.
Nightwing #74 will be embraced by most readers due to its ending. I’m fully on board with the plot developments, but I do think they’ve come far too late to be truly exciting. Ultimately the issue amounts to a largely toothless fight scene between Bat Family members, which is something I don’t ever need to see more of. While Jurgens’ script definitely has some highlights in the form of his Joker and genuine empathy for Bea, there’s not much to chew on here. Nonetheless, Nightwing #74 is a must read for anyone that’s followed the series to this point and gets by on competence alone.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.