Nightwing #86 is a fine ending to Tom Taylor and Robbi Rodriguez’s three issue tie-in arc to Fear State even if its final moments solidify it as a mere digression from the series’ main narrative. While there’s no true attempt to bridge the gap between Taylor’s Blüdhaven storyline with Fear State, the character work between Dick and Barbara is fun to watch unfold while Rodriguez’s art ensures it all goes down smoothly.

Now, the opening moments of the issue feel phony and exemplify some of my main complaints with comic book narratives tied to a larger canon. Every reader knows that Cassandra and Stephanie are not going to die off-panel in a fiery skyscraper explosion as our heroes watch in horror and try to dig through the rubble in vain. There’s three pages dedicated to this false drama, which wrings its only emotion from Dick’s earnest narration as he desperately tries to salvage the situation. He says the group knows their digging is “hopeless”, and yet they dig through the pain of bloody fingers and aching muscles anyway. This hollow performance of heroism is an unfortunate parallel to Taylor’s script “hopelessly” trying to garner any degree of tension from a toothless scenario. Nonetheless, it looks very nice and Adriano Lucas’ colors once again steal the show and greatly enhance the group’s smokey surroundings with subtle blends of reds and browns between the smoke and rubble. Rodriguez’s pencils of the environment are rather loose at times, but the colors tie it together. There’s also one panel where Dick reaches out in agony as he watches the skyscraper tumble to the ground, with a young version of himself in the background also reaching out “unable to stop the fall” of both his parents and now his allies. It’s on the nose, but it works.

Credit: Robbi Rodriguez, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott

However, once the obligatory cliffhanger from the last issue is solved, the issue kicks itself back into gear with a clear objective. Dick, Stephanie, Barbara, Tim and Cassandra team up to find a way onto the Magistrate’s giant “Skybase-01” which floats in the sky like a giant UFO. I appreciate Taylor’s script having a bit of fun with a lower stakes operation wherein the group baits a number of Magistrate soldiers into a trap in order to steal their jetpack equipped armor. In a story filled with mysterious signals, hallucinatory gases and technobabble, it is refreshing to have a simple objective with clear stakes. There’s a flying airbase, they need jetpacks. Good. I would’ve liked to see Rodriguez depict the actual ambush, but the hard cut from a beautiful panel of Dick, Cass, and Barbara ambushing the guards from above to them already tied up and stripped of their armor on the page turn is funny enough to make up for it. However, much of the action takes place in these types of “snapshot” panels without much actual choreography, let alone sequential action. Rodriguez’s splash page where our heroes take on a group of Magistrate soldiers is very well done, with ample movement and expressive figure work, but a fully choreographed fight sequence across several panels and pages will always be more exciting to watch unfold. Rodriguez does a great job of making the bulky Magistrate armor more dynamic than it should be, but Lucas’ colors differentiate the color of our heroes’ hijacked armor against the common guards to add a bit of contrast. What could have been a mess of bulky metal armor ends up being graceful and eye catching.

Credit: Robbi Rodriguez, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott

Overall, Rodriguez’s tenure on the series was solid, even if his style (in particular how he draws faces) is far removed from Redondo’s more polished aesthetic. It is Fear State after all, so seeing your heroes a little more gaunt and worse for wear fits with the atmosphere. His figures are often hunched over, their chins and noses change shape from panel to panel, and their costumes have a more tactile nature as the material creases and folds in on itself. Wes Abbott’s letters also get a chance to flex a little as the skybase alarms send out large “WOOOOOO”s that spill over the panel gutters and into the environments themselves. Even a tiny “blip” of Dick pressing a button and a tiny “crk” of Cass cracking her knuckles are expertly rendered.

Credit: Robbi Rodriguez, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott

By the end of the issue though, it’s hard to recommend this chapter for anyone who is not a completionist or highly invested in the Fear State storyline. The issue does hint at more stories ahead for the villainous “Seer” and reveals their identity, however I can’t see myself voluntarily revisiting this narrative thread and I doubt Taylor’s Nightwing series will either…that is until the next crossover event. As it stands, fans of Dick and Barbara’s relationship will definitely get some mileage out of this story arc, but most readers will likely be fine picking the series back up next month now that this is over.

Recommended if…

  • You’re a Fear State completionist.
  • Being privy to every single flirtatious encounter between Dick and Barbara is necessary.
  • You like Robbi Rodriguez’s art and seeing the Bat family work together.

Overall

Nightwing #86 wraps up Tom Taylor and Robbi Rodriguez’s trip into Fear State with a solid issue with easy to follow stakes and fun banter between the Bat family members. While not required reading for Taylor’s main narrative in Blüdhaven, fans of Dick and Barbara’s romantic chemistry will find more than enough fan service here for them. Rodriguez’s art has its limitations, but the entire production is handsome enough to get by on aesthetic purposes, along with Taylor’s solid character work.

Score: 7/10


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