Tom Taylor cranks up the meta meter with the occasionally amusing Nightwing #98, which features the debut of Nite-Mite. Whenever a fifth dimensional imp shows up the sky’s the limit for whatever shenanigans can ensue. However, Taylor’s script spends a lot of time poking fun at reader expectations and widens the scope to address concerns that don’t necessarily exist within the series itself. While guest artist Daniele Di Nicuolo’s pencils are a great fit for this whimsical, self-aware jaunt, Taylor threatens to inhibit the fun factor by playing defense.
Last month’s cliffhanger is immediately solved by revealing “Ric Grayson” is none other than Nite-Mite in disguise, who describes themself as Nightwing’s biggest fan. I’m not opposed to some self-aware imp action, but the joke hit rate isn’t as high as I would have hoped. It’s fun to see Nite-Mite transform from Ric Grayson to the 90s ponytail mullet Nightwing, then finally into his true imp self. However, some of Taylor’s prodding into his own creative choices leaves me shaking my head more than playing along. Nite-Mite tells Barbara that he personally “[ships Dick] with Starfire” in an off-handed joke that will probably anger people much more than it deserves. I’d mark that as moderately amusing, yet also bringing in relationship dynamics never explored within the series itself. Less endearing is Nite-Mite bemoaning the lack of progression and creating a quickie wedding scenario where Dick and Barbara are about to get married. It’s not that I’m personally irked by the prospect of a marriage (in fact I think it could be interesting), but the subsequent reaction from Dick and Barbara essentially wipes marriage off the board. I’m not sure what Taylor has in store for issue #100 coming up soon, but this joke does cost him a potential outcome for readers to ponder.
Nonetheless, this entire imp sequence takes up eight pages while never really landing a truly outstanding joke, brings up lack of progression, and seems to operate more as a way for Taylor to solidify some of his choices that has angered a (hopefully) niche group of “fans”. It’s a risky endeavor to poke fun at oneself while also committing the exact “offense” Nite-Mite is criticizing and frankly I don’t think it was worth the real estate afforded to it. I’m not opposed to some lighthearted jabs, but it does come at the expense of some true drama to be mined from Dick and Barbara’s relationship. Barbara expresses surprise when Dick says “Not yet” to getting married, but this genuine reaction is immediately upended by another joke and quickly forgotten. Taylor is excellent at character work, but he frequently pulls punches in Nightwing and I hope he can make a dramatic choice without hedging his bets in the future.
What does work incredibly well is guest artist Daniele Di Nicuolo’s pencils that perfectly capture the irreverent atmosphere that Nite-Mite brings to the series. The work is much more cartoony than ever before, with hugely expressive facial work and figure poses that do the heavy lifting in selling some of the jokes. Nite-Mite’s Starfire joke got an eye roll from me, but the visuals made up for it. Adriano Lucas adapts extremely well to Di Nicuolo’s style, perfectly matching its vibrancy with a bold color palette and effective use of solid color backgrounds. What really makes Di Nicuolo’s pencils work are the tasteful, yet energetic page compositions that have Nite-Mite often spill over panel borders as he is essentially in control of this entire sequence. The layouts themselves are fairly simple, but Nite-Mite’s ability to basically teleport across them captures that sense of whimsy without the book being a cluttered mess.
The core narrative at hand is exceedingly simplistic, particularly due to the fact that nearly half the book is dedicated to Nite-Mite’s musings on Dick’s current status quo. Simply put, Blockbuster has a daughter (Olivia) whose soul he sold in place of his own for “greater intellect” and Nightwing must save her from a devil named Neron who has come to collect. It’s a shame this entire second half of the book is so rushed since the subsequent fight against demons from hell is solved in an absurdly quick fight sequence that’s over before you know it. With Nite-Mite by his side, Taylor could have really cranked up the action beyond the usual fare found in this otherwise “street bound” book. Unfortunately, the only wrinkles added are Bitewing being granted powers and the ability to talk and Dick’s escrima sticks have magical powers activated by saying “Nightwing is awesome” to them. It’s all so cute that it borders on irritating and there’s times where Taylor’s reverence for the character gets in his own way. Nite-Mite is self aware, but having Olivia’s bedroom posters be the covers of previous issues is a step too far. This has been a frequent aspect in Taylor’s run, where characters wear t-shirts of comic book covers, memes, and DC logos, to the point where it’s become a distraction. It made sense in Tom King’s cerebral Mister Miracle. It doesn’t make sense here and while this motif might be cute and funny to some, it consistently takes me out of the story every time I see it. The issue’s conclusion is satisfying, particularly in a guest appearance that solves the imp problem, but the final note it leaves on feels repetitive. The charms of the series haven’t worn entirely thin for me, but when its saccharine nature is given a fifth dimensional shot in the arm, it almost becomes too much to bear.
- You have a high tolerance for cuteness.
- Nite-Mite’s first appearance is something you want in your collection.
- Self-aware jabs at the series’ current status quo don’t irk you.
Nightwing #98 is a pleasant enough read that isn’t quite as funny as one would hope. The storyline at hand is exceedingly simple and any true drama is quickly stepped over in favor for the next gag. However, as a one-shot setting up the next stage of Dick’s life, Tom Taylor’s script does a good job of summing up his thoughts on the titular character in a way that’s easy to digest and occasionally amusing. The real star is Daniele Di Nicuolo’s art, which perfectly captures the whimsy of fifth dimensional shenanigans without becoming overbearing.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.