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.

About The Author Matthew Strackbein

Matt Strackbein was born and raised in Maryland but has called Colorado home for the last 17 years where he lives happily in Longmont with his wife. He began reading comic books at the age of seven after discovering a silver age stash in his grandparents’ attic. Comic books inspired Matt to start drawing, which lead to a successful career as a commercial artist. He has worked in the apparel industry for many years as a production artist and designer. His accomplishments include designing backcountry skiwear for world-class athletes as well as downhill ski race suit designs for the 2014 Winter Olympics for the United States and Canadian national ski teams. Matt currently works as a freelance textile-print designer, but still dedicates time to his first love – comics. With over 200 letters to the editor published, Matt is a known letterhack. He self-publishes autobiographical comics about his struggles to break into the industry, which finally paid off when Dark Horse asked him to produce 2-page back up stories in recent issues of B.P.R.D. Besides his own comics, Matt collaborates on independent books as a colorist and letterer. He also teaches the art of making comics to students of all ages.