Nightwing Annual: 2022 #1 delivers a trio of stories with only one of them truly being worth your time. While it’s a little odd to have Heartless’ origin in an issue some readers may skip, Taylor’s script delivers a deliciously over the top rundown of who Heartless is and how he came to be. Unfortunately, the two shorter stories to follow can best be described as fluff and drag the book down to the point where its price point becomes a problem.
The main draw of this annual comes with the opening story where Taylor and artist Eduardo Pansica look to the past to detail Heartless’s rise to power. Most of Taylor’s script details the childhood of Shelton Lyle and his dutiful butler, Gerald Chamberlain. Their relationship operates as a dark mirror to Bruce and Alfred. Gerald narrates the story, revealing himself to be a murderous con artist who steals the real Gerald’s identity by murdering him on a ship headed to America. It’s smart to have Gerald narrate the story, which keeps Shelton (who later becomes Heartless) at a distance to maintain a semblance of mystery and danger for our villain. Nonetheless, Taylor bends over backwards to tie Sheldon’s origin to both Bruce and Dick as a pivotal moment in his development comes from watching the Flying Graysons fall to their death. It’s a little irksome to have another villain directly connected to the Bat family, even if this connection is more tenuous than others. Unfortunately, it does make the world feel increasingly smaller as not even a new villain can escape the clutches of being “relevant” to the Waynes.
What does work is how Gerald and Shelton’s relationship develops into an almost heartwarming father/son bond due to how evil they are. Right from the start, Shelton displays homicidal tendencies as he attempts to kill his own cat. Shelton’s father is abusive and generally a bad person, preying upon people by denying their insurance claims. This makes Gerald, although very clearly a psychopath, a more endearing father figure to Shelton. It’s a bit strange to have Shelton’s biological father also be a terrible person as this creates less of a dichotomy between both potential father figures. Mrs. Lyle is given far less development, but appears largely genuine in her desperation for Shelton to grow up into a better person. It’s not the first time the mother figure gets far less to do in a Bat family related book. What I’m getting at is there is less of a shock that Shelton is a secret psychopath when his upbringing is already depicted as harsh well before Gerald arrives. Thus, Shelton discovering his love for violence upon seeing Dick’s parents fall to their deaths at the circus feels like a forgone conclusion, even if Gerald wasn’t there to mentor him. It’s still darkly humorous to see Gerald’s attempts to bring Shelton out of his…shell by bringing him to see pigs butchered and lions fed carcasses at the zoo.
Pansica’s pencils are solid, with their compositions making up for the overall rougher appearance compared to Bruno Redondo. Most importantly, his use of expressive angles in many pages gives a dynamic feel that matches the story’s fast pace. Adriano Lucas’ colors maintain a semblance of consistency in the art, but Júlio Ferreira’s inks do lend a much sketchier aesthetic to the series. The panel revealing Shelton about to stab his own cat is genuinely startling, with Shelton’s eyes large and vibrant, while still looking dead inside. Lucas also colors this page with a tinge of reddish pink, giving the entire sequence an unsettling vibe. The art has a workmanlike feel, but even if I don’t necessarily connect with the style itself, the storytelling is still high caliber. Something as simple as Gerald’s glasses rarely giving a good look at his eyes is a subtle, yet effective way to add menace to his character.
As the story wraps up, Taylor fast forwards in time to show how Shelton eventually become Heartless. Gerald’s attempt to kill Shelton’s parents almost backfires, requiring Shelton to literally take his father’s heart in a life saving operation. This leads to the pair finally being alone, having inherited Mr. and Mrs. Lyle’s wealth, and now able to use these resources to become super powered. The last few pages are merely recap as we watch Heartless eventually take possession of Blockbuster’s heart, which we already saw at the end of the last arc. However, it does make Heartless, and especially Gerald, much more well-rounded characters even if their villainy contains little to no subtlety or nuance.
The next two stories are frankly not worth the time afforded to reading them. They are fine enough, yet entirely superfluous one-shots that feel designed to pad out the annual and justify the price tag. The first one is greatly hindered by the previous Nightwing issue pulling the same gag by having Haley become a super dog in a dream scenario. I really don’t need to see Dick’s dog become a superhero again, though some readers may still find this scenario charming. The second story attempts to pull off a more profound scenario, as Jon Kent reaches out to Dick for help. Jon worries that his super strength will end up killing someone as he merely wants to fight without hurting anyone. I like this conundrum, but intercutting these sequences with Dick being trained by an overly stern Bruce spells out the ending right from the start. Lastly, Inaki Miranda’s art in this third story is extremely rough and stiff beyond belief, ending the issue on a visual downer.
- Haley getting another “super dog” scenario appeals to you.
- You don’t mind spending a little extra for Heartless’s origin.
- Jon Kent’s appearance in the third story tips the scale for you.
Nightwing Annual: 2022 #1 delivers a mostly compelling origin for Heartless, while asking for an extra two dollars for two forgettable shorts right after. I think the issue is worth picking up for anyone currently following Tom Taylor’s run, but anyone looking for a series of solid one-shot stories will be disappointed. Eduardo Pansica’s pencils are a suitable fill in and maintain the series’ high bar for art, but there is slight hesitation in a full recommendation. Completionists can stomach the extra two dollars, but casual fans aren’t missing too much if they forgo knowing every aspect of Heartless.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.