Tom Taylor indulges his worst habits in Nightwing #104, creating a comic that seems hellbent on delivering a lackluster finale to an otherwise promising arc. Travis Moore’s art is aesthetically pleasing, but Taylor’s script gives him little to work with, resulting in a bland, surface level reading experience.
The cliffhanger from last month had Neron give Nightwing superhuman powers in an attempt to entice him to hand over Olivia who is under his protection. Of course, given Dick’s personality, there really is never a moment where readers would think Dick would take such a deal, making the entire endeavor come off as more of a detour. Dick first uses his new powers to help his friends on Themyscira who are under the control of Gorilla Grodd. While it’s satisfying to see Dick able to take on Grodd by himself, it’s less satisfying to see the other villains fall so quickly to the Titans. I don’t think Grinning Man and Dr. Polaris should necessarily stand much of a chance against the entire team, but there’s no real fight or excitement to be had. Dick even notes that upon his return his “friends have already owned the situation completely.” This is not the most thrilling way to depict conflict, and Taylor often falls into the trap of reasserting the Titans’ strength at the expense of excitement. We already know they are a very strong, competent team but it’d be nice to see them have to actually work to overcome a villain for once.
Travis Moore’s art is pleasing to the eye but lacks creativity in page compositions, save for a impressive two page spread later in the issue. There’s never a moment where the art betrays the writing, but it never elevates the story either. The panel where the Titans are under a psychic attack by Grodd is palatable, but each character is in nearly the exact same pose with them on their knees, hands to their ears. It tells the story, but there’s no variety to the image or in how the characters respond to the attack. Some of the characters lack a truly pained expression on their face as well and this is where more varied figure poses could have convincingly sold the pain and drama. Adriano Lucas’ colors are great as per usual and the entire issue is vibrant, even the scenes set in the Underworld. If anything, Lucas’ rendition of the Underworld could use more grime, but the overall aesthetic is befitting Moore’s pencils.
What comes after Dick saving the Titans is where the issue really starts to struggle. It’s nice to see Dick use his powers to help the world by rerouting a river that’s been illegally captured in Thailand. However, Taylor also indulges another one of his worst habits in attempting to make sweeping declarations of how important Dick’s work is without ever really showing its effect. Bludhaven underwent “major” changes under Dick’s charity work, but we never saw how that played out beyond a street with some food trucks on it. Here, Dick changes the course of a river as everything that used to rely on it “downstream is suffering.” As he does so Dick states, “This feels big. Important.” To me, that line exemplifies the biggest problem the series has. Dick does a lot of nice things for people and the world that “feel” important but the book has never truly demonstrated or visualized the impact he’s had in a way that isn’t surface level. The book, and Dick by extension, gestures toward significant social impact, but never takes the time to really examine or understand them. This is why the series has an undercurrent of self-satisfaction that feels unearned.
There’s a nice scene where Superman and Dick fly into space to observe Earth and fully take in the responsibility they have to protect it. Dick says it’s so beautiful that he “will never understand those who would seek to harm this planet.” Again, this line speaks to a level of naivety that is unbecoming of the character, in my opinion. The line is meant to demonstrate Dick’s inner nature, but makes him come off as foolish, particularly since he of all people should have a good idea of why villains want to dominate or otherwise destroy it. That single line isn’t enough to frustrate me, but when Superman tries to warn Dick that leading the world will result in people not liking him, he brushes it off and the book quickly moves onto the next scene. Unless there’s a major shake up coming soon, Taylor needs to challenge Nightwing in a more significant way or else he stands to become one-note.
None of these moments would stand out as much if the issue delivered some nice action and spectacle. Unfortunately, Taylor’s script once again undermines any sense of threat in favor of a gag. Moore does render a very nice two-page spread where Neron has sent a horde to kill Olivia in order to save face with Trigon. The composition is much more dynamic and full of life and the Titans finally feel like they’re up against a credible threat. Unfortunately, this fight is completed off panel and didn’t seem to require much effort from the Titans once again. What really drags the book down is Dick’s final confrontation with Neron. Dick loses his powers right before they come face to face, setting the stage for what could have been an interesting fight. Instead, Taylor calls back to the Nite-Mite issue where Dick’s escrima sticks contain magical powers when he says “Nightwing is awesome.” Upon hitting him once with these magical sticks, Neron is defeated and the threat is gone. To say this is underwhelming would be an understatement. I’m not sure why Taylor continues to find ways to avoid delivering a true action sequence, but this is one of the most egregious examples of it.
The backup story concludes this issue as well, finishing out a simplistic but nice short story with Dick and Jon Kent. Daniel Hor takes over on art duties this time around and while I think it’s a step down, Hor’s pencils get the job done even if his faces are a tad too stylized for my liking. Jon’s face never quite looks right, but C.S. Pacat’s script finishes the story and prioritizes the character work over the plotting. The identity of the circus bomber is not all that interesting, but the story here was more of an excuse to examine Dick and Jon’s personalities, particularly Jon’s unrelenting optimism even compared to Dick. The highlight comes when Jon tries to play a game of ring toss and “fixes” the ring since he realizes its too small to fit over the pole. Of course, Jon doesn’t realize the game is rigged, resulting in the fair worker giving him ten bears just so he doesn’t “fix” his other rings. It’s a short and sweet story worthy of taking the time to read.
- The emphasis on humor over drama doesn’t turn you away.
- Seeing the Titans easily overcome any obstacle doesn’t bore you.
- The wasted potential of the series doesn’t make you want to cry.
Nightwing #104 is a watershed moment for the series as all of its weakness converge on this very issue. I’ve enjoyed much of Tom Taylor’s run on Nightwing, but there comes a moment where the weaknesses you’ve accepted as a reader are no longer tolerable. It’s a book without drama, spectacle, or an ounce of genuine challenge for both readers and the characters within. While the vibrant visuals and cheery attitude make for an easy to read book, I know Taylor’s scripts are capable of so much more.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.