Nightwing #81 will likely be remembered for its final page, but before we get to that, I’m glad to report that many of my misgivings on Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s run so far are largely gone. Up until now, the series has been cute, if not a bit slight, and aesthetically pleasing. What’s been missing is any degree of tension or teeth. Now with Heartless and Dick facing off, along with a cliffhanger that’s sure to create arguments on online forums, the series taps into what makes comic books fun.

Before the action starts, there’s a brief intro sequence where Melinda Zucco is officially sworn in as mayor and immediately gets into dirty dealings with corrupt cops and Blockbuster himself. Taylor’s script taps into a funny generational divide when Melinda denies a suitcase of money, preferring the funds to be transferred straight into a bank account. Gone are the days of cash apparently. It doesn’t take long before we rejoin Dick in his fiery standoff against Heartless. The compositions are solid here, the sense of space established as Dick stands in a protective stance over two kids. However, Redondo draws a lot of the action from a distance, pulled away from the carnage in favor of wider compositions. While I appreciate the clarity of action due to this tendency, oftentimes it undercuts the drama of certain action beats. For example, on a page turn the first panel is a wide shot of Heartless dousing the flames with a fire extinguisher. The wide shot, along with the page turn, makes this beat come off comedic instead of dramatic. Redondo does follow it up with a few nice western-esque stand off panels, but the lack of true impact is consistent in Redondo’s action. One panel features Dick in a great pose and composition, lunging toward the reader as he throws one of his escrima sticks, and the series could use more of this style in it. As it is, the action feels at a distance more often than not. 

Credit: Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott

Adriano Lucas’ colors remain vibrant as ever and inject a ton of energy into Redondo’s figures and environments. It’s a smart choice for Heartless to radiate dark pink and red against Nightwing’s blue suit and electric escrima sticks. There’s a lot of thoughtful color play at work, even down to a panel where Heartless triggers a bomb having an entirely red background. Wes Abbott’s lettering never distracts or interrupts the flow of each scene and the lettered sound effects are perfectly tailored to their corresponding action. Heartless’ gun emits a thin pink laser with an unwieldy “SHNK” and when he strikes Dick with his own weapon, there’s a blunt “THD” alongside it. The sense of movement is never unclear, due to Abbott and Redondo’s work together.

Credit: Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott

On a story front, Taylor’s script finally gets to flex a little more drama than normal. There’s a great sequence where Tim, Dick, and the homeless community are stuck on a pier that’s about to sink after Heartless blows up part of it. Taylor’s resolution to this scenario is pitch perfect for Nightwing, not in that he solves the problem singlehandedly, but in that he believes in the kindness and bravery of others to save the day. However, I do think naming the boats that come to their rescue after comic creators was a little self-congratulatory. Heartless’ place in the overall narrative is still unclear, but I do like Taylor’s decision to have him not be an elite fighter, instead relying on his size and upgraded superhuman abilities to battle. 

The issue then takes a moment to summarize all the moving pieces at play. Dick, Tim, and Barbara are a great trio, and I hope this core team sticks around for a while. Redondo excels at these quieter moments, making the exposition easy to turn through with his great figure work, acting, and moments of levity with the tiny “head bubbles” he employs to show who’s talking. There’s good character work here, as both Barbara and Tim urge Dick to rest after sustaining a head injury against Heartless. Of course that doesn’t keep him from investigating Melinda Zucco who is now on the team’s radar. What follows is spoiler territory, but of note is a great page that tracks Dick fighting one of Melinda’s guards down a set of stairs. Once again, Redondo keeps the composition wide, but the choreography and sequential art more than makes up for the sense of distance. 

Credit: Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott

Spoiler
The issue ends with Melinda Zucco revealing to Dick that they are brother and sister. No other information is given beyond the fact Melinda claims John Grayson is her father. Of course this can end up being a fake out, but taken at face value I have no major qualms about this reveal…yet. Part of the appeal of monthly comics for me are these types of cliffhangers, wherein fans will argue about whether or not it’s dumb, or speculate whether or not it will be true. Granted, characters being important via blood relation isn’t the most unique twist, but it’s a welcome shot in the arm for an otherwise meandering narrative.
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Recommended if…

  • You want to be in on the ground floor of a potentially big revelation. 
  • Last month’s showdown cliffhanger between Dick and Heartless hooked you.
  • Seeing Tim, Barbara, and Dick all in the same room is all you need.

Overall

Nightwing #81 is a must read for any fan of the character given its final page reveal. While the cliffhanger is definitely intriguing, the rest of the issue is solid in its own right. The fight between Dick and Heartless is well executed and concludes on an optimistic note for the citizens of Blüdhaven. Sentimentality is more carefully managed and Taylor’s script does a better job of balancing high octane action with his quieter, character driven scenes. With a major shakeup in store for next month’s issue, the potential for the series is higher than before.

Score: 8/10


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