Writer: Tom Taylor
Art: Bruno Redondo and Wade Von Grawbadger
DC Comics, August 2022
Why is this character so popular? In this issue, Nightwing (the alter ego of Batman’s original protege, Dick Grayson) and Oracle engage in doxxing the corrupt police of the fictional city of Bludhaven. The police commissioner of Bludhaven is the empty-eyed MacLean. He is far removed from the upstanding James Gordon of that other hotspot of crime, Gotham City. MacLean is instead beholden to a monstrous gang lord, Blockbuster. Grayson was a Bludhaven cop who has moved into social activism, and has a manifestly intense relationship with his former boss.
Blockbuster is a DC Comics’ recobbled substitute for Marvel Comics’ Kingpin, but Nightwing is no Daredevil. Marvel’s Daredevil is a grim brawler, blind but with the rest of his senses enhanced, who bloodily rails against the evil Kingpin and Kingpin’s savage minions. Nightwing is not grim at all. Nightwing is a not just a good guy. He is a nice guy. He is guileless and charming – almost too charming, with various female characters in DC Comics’ universe such as Batgirl/Oracle, Starfire, and Huntress. This has lead to fans strongly advocating in online forums for various combinations of pairings. Grayson is almost always depicted as far too likeable to be regarded as inappropriately promiscuous.
Long-standing readers of DC Comics have seen Grayson grow up: starting as a boy sidekick to Batman, to leader of the Teen Titans, then the New Teen Titans, and then the Outsiders, to then (temporarily) taking on the mantle of the Batman. There is a strong sense of attachment amongst readers to the character. He has aged with his audience (albeit much slower than his audience, regrettably).
Grayson, as scripted by Scottish writer Grant Morrison, was a light-hearted Batman. Gotham City’s police liked him. Grayson’s Batman was more detective than dark avenger. As Agent 37 of Spiral in Tim Seery’s 2016 series Grayson, he was a happy-go-lucky spy, dancing along the rooftops being chased by trainee female agents in a spirited, delightful pursuit. Here, Tom Taylor’s Nightwing is fun, clever, full of quips, and possibly in love with Batgirl. In this issue, Grayson spends more time out of costume than in it, black hair spilling over his chiselled face and with an easy swagger. The blue eyes smoulder. The banter is confident: “Look, I get that the Bludhaven PD are openly corrupt. But shooting at me for… cleaning? That’s ludicrously crooked. I mean, what posed the bigger public threat? The cloth or the bucket?” The ever-popular Batman might brood in his darkened, hi-tech mancave as a borderline anti-hero, covered in muscles and scars as evidence of his masculine fighting prowess. But Batman has never had genuine sex appeal. Nightwing is flush with it.
The tension between Grayson and Bludhaven’s finest draws upon a very contemporary perspective on policing. The Defund the Police movement is particularly American. Other nation’s police forces have their deep shadows, but in the United States the police in particular cities are widely regarded as either corrupt, racist, homophobic, incompetent, overly-militarised, or some combination of these factors. (We have discussed this before – see https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2020/01/16/nate-powells-about-face-review-law-enforcement-and-the-punishers-symbol/ .) And some community emergencies should be dealt with by social workers and not armed police. Mr Taylor makes his feelings on this very clear. All of the police in this story are middle-aged and white. Most have cop moustaches. Their eyes are often shadowed by their caps. The only people Nightwing fights in this issue are police officers. Grayson (and Mr Taylor) make them look foolish and inept.
We otherwise see competition for Blockbuster: a slightly quirky cyborg named Heartless, who, somewhat true to his name, needs repeated heart replacements. This is villain with a solidly 1980s cyberpunk aura to him. Heartless is not 1990s paramilitary – there are no steel sinews or glowing eyes. Instead, he wears black jeans, a black leather jacket, and has cable ports built into his right arm. The most sinister thing about this character is contemplating the source of the rows of bottled organic hearts, apparently extracted using a nasty-looking grappling gun. Notwithstanding the grand monologue below, Heartless is otherwise a little thoughtful, in contrast to Blockbuster’s rage.
Perhaps the most vivid scene in this issue is a public statement to reporters given by Maclean, in which he blames participants in a social outreach project (apparently run by Grayson – we have not otherwise read recent issues of the title) for acts of violence and destruction. It is a lie. As Maclean speaks to the media, his eyes and impassive face communicate a crisp and certain message of an abuse of pubic trust. But in the second of otherwise three identical panels in which MacLean talks to the reporters, Maclean dips his face. It is a micro-expression: he does not believe what he is saying. Artist Bruno Redondo does a subtle, remarkable job of rendering this.
We are now seven issues away from Nightwing #100. It is an indicia of the character’s broad appeal. We trust that for this anniversary issue Mr Taylor has grand plans for this handsome man.