Nightwing #125 Or “Clap For The Wolfman!”

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NW1251.jpgOkay, I have to start this one with a confession: I don’t “get” Batman. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the character in the past. Grant Morrison’s “JLA” Batman was one of the most awe-inspiring characters I’ve ever encountered. I’m a huge fan for what Grant Morrison calls “the hairy-chested Neal Adams love god Batman.” Heck, one of my prized possessions is a tabloid-sized “Batman’s Strangest Cases.” I fully enjoy me some Batman…

…I just don’t think he’s the greatest hero ever. The common argument I hear is that “Batman is just a human being, he isn’t a SUPERHERO! He doesn’t have any super-powers!”

Batman has several advantages from the get-go: The Wayne Family fortune. The ready-made base of operations in his basement. A keen intellect, perhaps even genius-level. Based on that alone, Batman walked into enough advantages, enough “powers,” if you will, to make him considerably more super than, say, Skateman or Bob Phantom. Dictionary.com defines a “superpower” as “power greater in scope or magnitude than that which is considered natural or has previously existed.” Each of the above-named advantages strike me as “greater in scope or magnitude” than your average schmuck. (I now await the inevitable backlash… Just don’t key my car, okay?)

This obtuse tangent is designed to explain why, historically, I actually like Nightwing better than his mentor… All yer Batman, with half the angst. Nightwing (most of the time) is a less obsessive character, able to interact with and develop friends, able to have more honest relationships (both with women and his peers), is less paranoid in general, and all-in-all is more fun. Nightwing #125 is, in the current parlance, a “great jumping-on point,” beginning a new story arc and taking the character into a new setting with a new supporting cast. As a rule, I like previous writer Bruce Jones’ work, going back a million years to “Alien Worlds” and “Twisted Tales,” but I didn’t care for his work on “Nightwing.” I chalk it up to the “Everything you know is wrong” nature of ‘One Year Later’ and a somewhat convoluted multiple-Nightwing plot, but I never quite warmed up to Jones as architect of Dick Grayson’s fate.

This is why I caved in and bought the first issue of Marv Wolfman’s run. Wolfman, after all, originated the Nightwing character back in New Teen Titans, and created a lot of what I like about Dick’s adult persona. (Kind of a shame about the disco collar, but, whaddaya gonna do?) Wolfman seems to be off to a slow start with Dick on a stakeout, musing on the nature of dual identities. He considers his place in the superhero pantheon, woolgathering for all of five panels before declaring his mission statement and leaping into the fray:

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“And we’re off!” Nightwing is tracking an armored goofball named “Raptor” (just like Cobra Commander’s accountant!) and even though he’s somewhat outgunned, he’s certainly not out of his league. Nightwing acquits himself well in an aerial battle, considering he can’t, y’know, fly or anything. In fact, it looks as though he’s gaining the upper hand for a moment, until he uses his last grappling line to drag Raptor down to the ground. Cue ominous voice:

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Dan? Dan Didio, is that you? The distraction causes Nightwing to go down in a heap, as well as freaking him out mightily. (Lucky thing he’s not the cheerleader from “Heroes,” or else he’d have snapped his neck, impaled his brain, fallen on a dirty soup spoon and gotten Hepatitis, but that’s another rant entirely.) As he limps home to recover from his crash ‘n burn, our Mr. Grayson does the OTHER thing he does better than anyone else… attract hot women.

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That, dear friends, is a superpower unto itself. And, in most cases, panel four is also a first date. Wolfman’s dialogue carefully strides that line between conversation and exposition very delicately, managing to convey the gist of not one, but TWO new characters in a very few panels, while never losing sight of whose book it is. By page 16, we’ve established the antagonist, the plot, a few tantalizing questions and one big mystery. Oh, and a mention of a napalmed man smelling like pork barbeque, an image both vivid and seriously disgusting. In complete defiance of logic, the man named after a bird of prey sports a napalm cannon and a horrifying tendency to burn people to death… or so it seems.

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A mystery within an enigma, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried for tempura. Raptor isn’t killing a series of unrelated scientists, he’s actually trying desperately to get some scrap of information from former co-workers. And we’re not talking about the guys who ran his fryer at McDonald’s, we’re talking about bio-technicians, weapons specialists, scientists whose pedigree all share a common paymaster: Lex frickin’ Luthor. That revelation alone has me along for the ride. Seems like whatever Lex’s brain trust was up to, it’s costing them their lives, each combusting just as Raptor arrives to question them. How very conveeeenient. Oh, and Rod Serling would love this kicker: Raptor himself is suffering from early stages of the same effect. And as for our intrepid hero?

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Dun dun DANNNNHHHH! That shadow looks mighty familiar to those of us who read DC Comics in 1985-86, but it brings up a whole new passel of questions.

I have to say, I’m impressed. Nightwing’s last several issues have been, and this is just me, unnecessarily convoluted and strangely inappropriate to the character. This issue is a welcome change. Wolfman definitely shows his veteran chops here, nailing plot, character, and mood, and hooking me with multiple mysteries. I’m not usually a huge fan of Dan Jurgens’ art (the wrong inker can make his line a little too angular for my tastes) but his layouts with Rapmund’s finishes make for a pretty book. Good action scenes, and his handsome Nightwing makes it obvious why the chicks dig him.

It’s also interesting to read the between-the-panels meta-statement of this story. DC Executive Editor Dan Didio has stated on the record that he thought Dick Grayson should croak during “Infinite Crisis,” as his position in the DCU is “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” He’s trained to become Batman, but logically (and merchandisingly) it’ll never happen. I’m hoping this arc establishes Nightwing as a first-tier character in his own right, perhaps even getting him fully out of the shadow of his mentor. If nothing else, it’s interesting enough to move onto my read pile, and earn a solid three and a half stars.

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