Nightwing #102 is a fun romp that puts Nightwing and the Titans up against a threat that unfortunately isn’t quite up to their standards. Tom Taylor’s script is funny, yet the focus on quips and visual gags undermines any semblance of threat that this month’s villain can offer. It’s not the worst trade off, but Taylor’s Nightwing has slowly shifted from feeling like an important, must read series to one that offers low stakes thrills that gets by on its positive atmosphere instead of gripping drama.
Right from the start, Taylor establishes his emphasis on humor over tension by dedicating the entire first page to Nightwing being trapped inside a morgue’s cold storage container. Travis Moore’s composition remains static, heightening the comedy of the situation as Nightwing narrates his escape plan. It’s funny to see Nightwing burst free of his confinement, while shouting for Oracle over his high tech comm system. However, as the issue progresses, the jokes come at the cost of a convincing narrative. Why would Grinning Man leave Nightwing alive at all, let alone still armed with his weapons? He later says his plan was to have Nightwing suffocate, but why pull this punch when he apparently has no qualms sending Olivia, a young girl, to hell. The joke is funny, but the series’ sense of humor often undercuts any semblance of true stakes.
Further removing any tension is the immediate arrival of Cyborg who quickly whisks Dick away to rescue Olivia. It’s here where the art really stumbles. The static compositions of this page are no longer funny, but awkward looking, especially with both Cyborg and Dick’s figure work leaving much to be desired. Their anatomy looks off, and the entire sequence almost feels like an extended gag about how mundane and low stakes this entire endeavor is. The subsequent page turn to “Nightwing” waking Olivia up to take her away could have been a tense set piece, but Moore keeping the impostor’s face either turned away or obscured by shadow immediately clues in the reader that we’re seeing Grinning Man in disguise. We spend two pages in this false sense of drama with the only source of tension being the reader knowing something Olivia doesn’t. To me, it feels more like going through the motions as its impossible to buy into the deception.
A genuine surprise comes when Olivia is confronted by the real Nightwing, where Dick uses their bond to outwit Grinning Man. Olivia’s own powers come into play here, giving the would be target a chance to go on the offensive. This is where Taylor’s script has some of its best moments, using his strong characterization from past issues to deliver a funny, yet engaging action beat. It’s a shame that it’s immediately followed up by Grinning Man running into Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg all at once. It’s funny when Grinning Man hurls Olivia through the air, thinking it would buy him time to escape, only to see Donna Troy emerge and immediately rescue Olivia. However, by the time the Flash arrives and beats up Grinning Man right after he was blasted by the combined might of the other Titans, these heroics almost start to feel like bullying. Nightwing has had a lot of help from his allies in Taylor’s run to this point, and this Titans focused arc is a prime example. For the series to recapture a legitimate source of drama, a worthy adversary needs to emerge sooner than later. As it stands, this arc comes across as an extended set up arc for the Titans’ own book coming soon. The fact that this arc follows up on a comedic, one-shot issue featuring Nite-Mite only adds to its inconsequential atmosphere.
As the issue winds down, there is some solid character work as the Titans interrogate Grinning Man. Once again, Adriano Lucas’s colors are a highlight of the book, and his work with the otherwise nondescript room Grinning Man is held captive in is truly special. The backgrounds are purple and black, but this lighting bounces off Grinning Man’s true form in a particularly eerie way. While Grinning Man is a largely featureless husk of a person, the effective shading and color work on his body really captures his sense of inhumanity. We get a brief backstory of Grinning Man’s origin who was once a low level super-villain who disguised himself as others. Lord Neron then manipulates him to sell his soul to him, resulting in Grinning Man’s current situation. Grinning Man himself even states “…demons can’t be trusted”, almost setting up a redemptive arc for the villain. However, Raven’s connection to a lord of hell only makes her disdain him all the more. As a result, the inclusion of Grinning Man’s somewhat sympathetic backstory then comes off as unnecessary detail if he’s not going to be given any further thought. The final page is curious as well, ending with a rather limp final panel where the Titans merely sit around in a living room discussing their plans to break into hell. Much like Nightwing and Cyborg’s scene in the morgue, the drabness of the environment and simplicity of the compositions feel at odds with what could be an exciting call to action for a team full of superheroes.
C.S. Pacat and Eduardo Pansica continue with their backup story to the issue where Dick trains Jon on how to solve crimes. Pansica’s art is dramatic and rich including details with compelling compositions that tell the story without even needing the dialogue. Comparing the final page of this backup story to the main plotline, it’s clear Pansica’s work contains more of an essence of drama. Dick accusing someone of murder with a shocked Jon right behind him in a splash page is a true cliffhanger ending. While the plot is straightforward, Pacat does a great job with Dick and Jon’s friendship, particularly in how Dick does his best to transfer Batman’s wisdom over to his friend. This is not a necessary read for the main plotline, but for anyone buying the issues, it is worth the time to keep up with it.
- The emphasis on humor over tension works for you.
- You enjoyed the Nite-Mite issue and want to see Olivia’s story continued.
- Travis Moore’s clean aesthetic makes up for a certain lack of drama on the page.
Nightwing #102 is a slight, yet consistently amusing chapter when the series would be better off turning up the heat. Tom Taylor’s characterization of the Titans is spot on, but the lack of ramping tension in the overarching narrative is catching up to him. Taylor is a great writer and the series’ artists are all top caliber, but there’s a point where merely showing up with the right ingredients and character list isn’t enough.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.