It’s no surprise Nightwing 2021 Annual #1 is a predictable, yet wholesome tale of familial bonding since it’s written by Tom Taylor. That’s not a dig at Taylor’s writing prowess, but it is what he’s best at and he appears to know it. While Taylor’s script offers few surprises, it’s accompanied by handsome art courtesy of Cian Tormey and Daniel HDR, making it a fine read for those looking for some comfort in these cold winter months.

The opening action sequence delivers high stakes thrills and sets the stage for a gripping core conflict. Dick and Barbara watch body cam footage of Red Hood killing several FBI agents before executing his target, Mr Linkerer, who is revealed as an FBI informant. Despite the violent opening, Taylor’s script wisely injects some humor as Dick initially doubts this Red Hood is actually Jason Todd…that is until he removes his helmet in plain sight of everyone. It’s not easy to make a gruesome sequence as palatable as Taylor’s script lays it out. However, adding Dick’s new dog (Bitewing) with a glum expression in the background is an easy way to lighten the mood.

Equally as important to the success of this opening are Cian Tormey pencils, which capture immense detail in his environments and facial features. There’s a nice sense of weight to his figure work, aided by the thoughtful designs and rendering of his characters’ heavy coats and disheveled hair once the explosions begin. The colors (credited to both Rain Beredo and John Kalisz) are also exceptional here, keeping the lead up to Jason’s ambush drab with cold blues and grays, which then burst out into fiery red explosions once the bullets start flying. Unfortunately, the core mystery never gets more intriguing beyond this opening sequence and is fairly easy to figure out.

The subplot of the issue exists within an extended flashback, which depicts Jason Todd’s early days as Robin with Dick still bitter at being “fired” by Bruce and replaced. Taylor’s depiction of Jason and Dick’s relationship is sure to please fans who want to see them bond over their shared criticisms of how Bruce raises them both. However, for me the more impactful  plot point is Alfred himself taking charge of mending the rocky relationship between Dick and Jason. Alfred’s legacy and his fatherly bond with Dick is a major factor in Taylor’s main narrative, so it’s great to see an example of exactly how Alfred impacted Dick’s life within this annual. It all amounts to a set-up as Alfred essentially lures and locks Dick into being in the same room as Jason to help them overcome their troubled relationship. These scenes are the more poignant within the issue and even though the physical stakes of their patrol together are low, the emotional stakes are much higher. It’s hard to not feel a tinge of excitement seeing Dick and Jason in their old school Nightwing and Robin costumes, even when things get darker as Jason goes too far in punishing a would-be kidnapper.

Daniel HDR’s pencils in these flashback scenes don’t have the level of detail as other pages, but his clean aesthetic and the gentle colors do wonders in creating a sentimental atmosphere. A page with Dick and Jason atop a rooftop, gargoyle and all, is striking to behold with the eerie red sky behind them, hinting at just an edge of violence to come. While the flashback sequences don’t carry the same sense of raw intensity as the opening action sequence, the storytelling and page layouts are extremely effective. Compositions are consistently thoughtful and enhance the script’s story beats. After saving a child from the kidnapper, there’s a great panel where a darkly lit Jason glares over at the kidnapper as Dick attends to the child victim with the light source illuminating both of them. It’s simple, but the contrast of the image is both aesthetically pleasing and matches the emotions of the characters as well. Overall, both artists do great work with their respective pages and the difference in their styles are well attuned to the script’s two time periods.

Where the issue falls a little flat is in how the present day storyline wraps up. There’s really no surprises given Taylor’s predisposed nature for schmaltz and the entire end action sequence operates as a mirror version of the flashback. Tormey’s pencils do keep the tension high on a visceral level, but the emotional stakes are a little languid, and at worst, hypocritical. Jason’s “dark” moment as Robin in this issue was him beating up a would-be kidnapper. There’s an obvious attempt at an inversion of that moment with the present day storyline, but Taylor doesn’t commit to a non-violent solution. Dick and Jason joking around about how both Dick’s escrima sticks and Jason’s crowbar are both potentially deadly weapons is an odd way to close out both of their character arcs. Still, those who enjoy seeing their brotherly bond grow are sure to look past these relatively minor inconsistencies.

Spoiler
Clayface being the fake Red Hood is only surprising in how predictable the reveal is. There’s not many directions the story could have gone after its opening sequence, but Clayface being responsible is the least interesting one. Not to mention that Taylor uses Preston Payne as the villain who is more known for his acidic touch than his shapeshifting abilities, which makes for an odd choice.

Recommended if…

  • Jason Todd is a favorite character of yours.
  • Tom Taylor’s penchant for sentimentality appeals to you in these holiday months.
  • You want some nice Alfred content that we unfortunately have to scrounge for in the current continuity.

Overall

Nightwing 2021 Annual #1 is a solid, if a little unsurprising, tale of brotherly love against the high stakes of crime and murder in Gotham City. The two different art styles perfectly fit the two time periods on display here and Taylor’s script effectively tugs at the heartstrings for anyone invested in these characters. Nonetheless, the core mystery is a little limp, and the ending moments don’t quite nail some of the nuances at play between being a crime fighter and a violent vigilante.

Score: 7.5/10


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