The character of Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Nightwing, has always been a bit of an identity conundrum for DC Comics. On one hand, you've got the Batman protege version of Dick, whose inner monologue and thirst for justice, no matter the personal cost, is a nearly carbon copy of the Caped Crusader that taught him everything. On the other hand, you've got the part of Dick that wants so desperately to break out on his own, using his his masterful skill in hand-to-hand combat to become his own hero.
Like much of the current series leading to this point, and many other Dick Grayson-starring books that have come before, Nightwing #40 finds itself caught in between the two distinct identities of the character. Despite an exciting premise, intriguing villain, and flashes of absolute brilliance, this confusion keeps Sam Humphries from ever taking Dick Grayson to the next level.
Written by Humphries, and illustrated by Bernard Chang, this week's edition of Nightwing brings the penultimate chapter to Dick Grayson's ongoing game of cat and mouse with the Judge of Bludhaven. The issue picks up where #39 left off, with Nightwing tied to a chair at the bottom of the bay, knowing he doesn't have much time if he wants to survive and stop the judge once and for all.
These first few pages are the best of the issue. Chang's quick but colorful panels, combined with Humphries' wonderful work on Dick's inner monologue make for an extremely compelling bit of storytelling. It's exciting to flip from page to page as Dick tries desperately to escape, just seconds of air left in his lungs. In this sequence, Dick truly stands out on his own. He has the curious, investigative skill that Batman taught him, along with an impressive thought process. But his wit and the way uses language are far different than his mentor, allowing us to really believe we're in Dick's own unique story.
Sadly, after Dick escapes -- thanks to squids everywhere for that assist -- things spiral downward.
Just as Bruce Wayne has done so many times before, Dick spends the majority of the issue shutting out those closest to him, with no real reason as to why. It's as if Dick is just pushing people away, people whose help he could certainly use, all for the sake of making sure his story lines up with Batman. It's a tried and tattered method that doesn't do anything to enhance the character of Nightwing.
What makes things even more disappointing is the opportunity lying right there in front of us. There are compelling relationships between Dick and characters like Helen or Lucy. There are opportunities for new bonds to form, and for Dick to truly carve out his own path in the history of DC. Instead, we're given the classic "I can only do this alone" tales that Batman fans have been bored with for decades.
The final act of the issue takes the attention to the Judge, a villain that has been more than interesting at times throughout this arc. However, unlike the cold, calculated menace that was featured in Nightwing #39, the character seems more focused on oddities than precision. One scene in particular, which features the Judge pulling over a limo to buy a store full of teddy bear backpacks, was completely out of character. The villain has always been a little out there, but this was totally out of left field.
When you combine those character issues with a third act climax that seems to appear out of thin air, it's hard to call this anything but a flawed book. However, amidst those problems, there are still things to celebrate. From start to finish, Chang's art is vibrant. He brings Bludhaven, a city casual fans may not be familiar with, to life in intriguing ways, allowing the color to set it apart from the dreary streets of Gotham. And, despite the obstacles plaguing the characters of the book, Humphries does a fantastic job when it comes to dialogue. Even when the story isn't going where you think it should, the magic of the transitions are often the best pieces of the puzzle.
Nightwing #40 is an average book, but there is potential there for it to be so much more. Next issue's climax to the Judge storyline could be the key to seeing if the series finds a way to escape its own shadow, or if it falls into the depths of the other forgotten storylines of DC's past.
Published by DC Comics
On March 7, 2018
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Bernard Chang2comments
Colors by Marcelo Maiolo
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual