29 June 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXVIII: Nightwing: Year One

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2005)

Borrowed from the library
Read January 2016
Nightwing: Year One

Writers: Scott Beatty & Chuck Dixon
Penciller: Scott McDaniel
Inker: Andy Owens
Colorist: Jason Wright
Letterer: Phil Balsman

Year Eleven, March
Nightwing: Year One is the last of the Beatty/Dixon-written "Year One" collaborations, both in my reading order and in terms of publication. This one expands on events only briefly chronicled in Batman: Second Chances to show how Dick Grayson decided to become Nightwing. It opens with Dick coming to Batman's aid in a battle with Clayface, but later than Batman would like, owing to Dick's duties with the Teen Titans.

They argue, and Batman ends up firing Dick-- this doesn't replace the firing depicted in Second Chances, though, as Dick declares he's been fired before, and the timeline of Dick's life in the front of the book includes the Second Chances firing in its events. So apparently much of Nightwing: Year One takes place during the single issue in Second Chances where Dick is fired and Batman first meets Jason Todd; the book as a whole overlaps with Second Chances a lot, as we don't see how Batman meets Jason or selects him as the new Robin, but we do see some of his training. In the meantime, Dick goes back to his old circus and gets a job there and meets Deadman, but the call of crimefighting pulls him, and building on a conversation he had with Superman, he decides to go into action again as his own man: Nightwing.

This book isn't terrible by any means, but it didn't really work for me. There are three main reasons, I think. The first is that Bruce Wayne is just an absolute asshole here. In Second Chances, he "fired" Dick because he was worried for Dick's safety. Here, he does it because Dick can't live up to the impossible standards he imposes on him, refusing to allow Dick defeating criminals with the Teen Titans to excuse him from working with Batman. I feel like you could write these two men drifting apart as they both grow older without making one of them as an arbitrary jerk, but I suppose no one ever hired Chuck Dixon to write a comic book with subtlety in its characterization.

from Nightwing vol. 2 #101

The second issue I have is the book's last few chapters, which do retcon some of Second Chances out of existence specifically, the "ONE YEAR AGO" issue where Dick first meets Jason. Here, Bruce manipulates Dick into participating in Jason's "Gauntlet," his final test to be a full-time Robin, where the two of them are meant to team up to save Alfred from Two-Face (although Two-Face is actually Alfred in disguise). Things go awry, but the two succeed in saving the day without the help of a sedated Batman. It's a fun adventure on its own merits, but it's a weirdly Batman-centric choice for the climax of a volume about Dick Grayson becoming his own man. I'd rather have seen him fighting his own villain(s), far away from the whole Batman clan.

Lastly, there's the art. I've never liked the team of Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens, not since they were Judd Winick's artists on Green Arrow, and I don't like them here. I think it's their way with faces, which just look weird and indistinct to me.

Clark Kent pretending to like hockey is pretty amusing.
from Nightwing vol. 2 #102

This is a likable book. Dixon is always good at writing action. The appearance of Deadman is fun (if a little pointless), and I liked Dick's talk with Superman. Alfred's final gift to Dick is pretty nice, and makes perfect sense. I wanted to like the flirting between Dick and Barbara more, but I don't think McDaniel and Owens made their body language work, and Barbara felt weirdly subordinate to Batman in his secret plans-- she's usually much more off on her own in my experience. Overall, Nightwing: Year One is fun, but kind of misjudged.

Oh, that Dick Grayson. What a charmer.
from Nightwing vol. 2 #104

Incidentally, this is the last "flashback" tale in my readthrough, I believe; all subsequent stories will take place in their era of publication.

Next Week: The Joker is back, which is bad news for the Gordon family in The Killing Joke!

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