By Tim Seeley, Javier Fernandez and Chris Sotomayor
When it’s working, you can’t go wrong with a good superhero comic. Especially when it’s about a character you know so well, like Nightwing. But Nightwing: Better than Batman isn’t a superhero comic in the traditional sense. The characters — as familiar and lovable as they may be, by name and costume — lack authenticity. Volume one is more of a drama with action, rather than the other way around, and with exposition to spare. It’s the struggle between striking the perfect balance that makes for a disjointed storyline. The result is a book that feels noncommittal, despite having all the perfect ingredients, including the creative team.
Who doesn’t have a soft spot for Dick Grayson, the original Robin the Boy Wonder? Grayson has also taken on the mantle of Batman before and more recently Agent 37, but he’s still the same reliable Dick Grayson at heart. He is the ultimate sidekick graduate and one of the few comic book characters to actually grow up. As of DC’s Rebirth, Dick Grayson is back as Nightwing. He hasn’t betrayed himself, Gotham, his friends, or his teammates and most of all he hasn’t betrayed us fans. But the downside is we get a sudden transition that’s maybe too seamless, especially for a guy with a legacy like Dick Grayson has.
Being a comic book pro takes talent and skill, and writer Tim Seeley is proof of that. Despite feeling unrefined and wordy, the series had its moments. “Better Than Batman” takes on the job of explaining a lot of backstory, but without ever letting go. Climatic scenes often felt inserted instead of constructed, causing secondary characters to feel unrealistic. Seeley wrote the series Grayson, which marked the end of the previous Nightwing title, and took the character in an all-new and compelling direction. But what is essentially the return of Nightwing needed to get more out of his momentous arrival.
The artwork gets a lot of credit for maintaining a classic look for a Batman related comic, which helps bring it home for old school fans. Even though at times it felt as if artist Javier Fernandez and colorist Chris Sotomayor weren’t given enough to work with, they still nailed the classic appeal, and that goes for the writing as well. Batman pulling his mask on, juxtaposed with Jason Todd’s Robin costume suspended in a glass case has to be done right and these guys fill the scene with meaning and purpose. More than once there is a scene where you can feel each creator’s personal touch and it’s almost always in the elements that make these types of comics fan favorites in the first place. Merlot skies, gothic architecture, the dark alleys of Gotham City, all feel right and may be a sign the creators are fans too.
Volume one is a well-written story with good art, but it never synchs up with Dick Grayson’s more epic legacy. Still, this is a good jumping on point with plenty of opportunity to catch up on what’s been going on in Dick Grayson’s world the last several years. It’s part of the engaging appeal, but ultimately defeats the overall benefit to having Grayson back in his Nightwing costume.
With a book and a character like this, the right scene or moment can make an individual issue worth while, but they are few and far between when collected in a single volume. In the end this edition of DC’s Rebirth could have pushed the boundaries more and really elevated the character and the series.