by Kyle Higgins (writer), Will Conrad (art)

The Story: One’s the world’s greatest acrobat; the other’s the variably important racketeer who killed his parents, together THEY FIGHT CRIME!

The Review: It’s a strange time to be a Nightwing fan. On one hand, Kyle Higgins has finally found his groove on this title and is giving us some of the best Nightwing we’ve gotten in years. On the other hand, the spectre of Forever Evil hangs over this title, promising to mess with things down the line. Like a child yelling at the screen, we all know that bad things lurk in Dick Grayson’s future, but the world goes on, as if everything’s fine.

While we may be waiting for the future to catch up with Nightwing, Kyle Higgins clearly wants us to know that no matter what Forever Evil holds for Dick, he’s not done with him yet.

This somewhat front heavy issue is the last chapter in the rather impressive Prankster storyline that Higgins has been building over the past few months. Unfortunately, for all the excellent work he’s done with the character, Higgins’ final reveal is somewhat lacking. The Pranksters origin is casually tossed off in the early pages and his plan, which follows soon after, requires the most twisted logic to make sense. That being said, I think that may be the point.

For all the brilliance and manipulation, the Prankster reads as a plain and simple sociopath here and, as a result, he doesn’t really live up to the near arch-rival status that he seemed to be building towards. It’s kind of a letdown, but I can’t deny that it’s fascinating, in its way.

The issue is really about expectation; how it misleads us. Zucco and the Prankster both played very different roles than we might have expected when this arc started. Is that for better or for worse? Dick struggles with his own confusion about how the adventure played out and who served what function. It seems likely that Higgins wanted to craft an entertaining, yet somewhat hollow conclusion to this story and I’m impressed when I say that he successfully navigates that dangerous tightrope.

The loose ends are wrapped up and we get all the trappings of a comic arc finale, but the real meat of this issue lies in the last few pages, where Higgins reveals that he’s got plenty more to do with his Chicago setting.

Regardless of whether you think this issue is inspired or a letdown, you’ll be eager to return for Nightwing’s next mission.

I’m still not the biggest fan of Will Conrad’s rather realistic style, but it has much improved since his first outing with the title. The inks are noticeably stronger than they were and Conrad handles civilian faces much better than he did even two short months ago.

Speaking of faces, I’m noticing a distinct trend in Conrad’s work. While he continuously struggles with characters like Joey, who unfortunately typifies the weaknesses in Conrad’s work, there is a real talent for drawing the subtly villainous. Check out the final scene with Tony Zucco, who has long been one of Conrad’s strongest characters, to see what I mean. It seems as though anger, whether it burns hot or cool, is a good emotion for this artist.

The Conclusion: Kyle Higgins brings the Prankster story in for a fine landing, if a somewhat unexpected one. It’s not quite the story we might have foreseen, but Higgins brings a level of craft to this final chapter that pulls it through. Strong character work with Dick and Zucco and some clever tricks with our expectations make this an ultimately satisfying end to this renaissance arc.

Will Conrad improves with every issue, though his style still bugs me. In the end, Conrad’s particular skill in drawing the character helps to reinforce that this is a Tony Zucco story almost as much as a Nightwing adventure.

I really wanted this story to be a bombastic return to form for my favorite DC character. Though the Prankster’s uninspired endgame hamstrings it somewhat, Nightwing’s first mission in Chicago is probably still one of the best stories the character has been given since I started reading weekly. Far from a charming supplement to Snyder’s Batman, Nightwing has found his footing in the Windy City – a book full of smart ideas, big stakes, and a crucial sense that obstacles are to be overcome rather than tools with which to bludgeon drama out of the character.

Grade: B

-Noah Sharma