By: Kyle Higgins (writer), Will Conrad with Cliff Richards (art), Pete Pantazis (colors)

The Story: Dick Grayson: Acrobat. Superhero. Cruddy roommate.

The Review: Perhaps wisely after last month’s detour into the past, Kyle Higgins chooses to distance this story from the now concluded Prankster arc. New readers will probably appreciate the fairly minimal references to past adventures, with this issue dropping us straight into a new case.

Luckily for us, Higgins hasn’t abandoned Dick’s personal life. Far from it, we actually get one of the most charming conundrums I’ve encountered in a superhero comic in some time. Whether Master Grayson’s further struggles are tedious or entertaining will depend on your temperament, but it worked for me. He also gets a low-paying job and embarrasses himself in front of a girl. Oh, Nightwing, never change.

On the superhero side of things, Nightwing finds himself chasing down a cat burglar with a taste for expensive drugs. The plot is honestly fairly pedestrian. Theft, especially non-violent theft, doesn’t feel quite up to Nightwing’s level, having just saved Chicago two months ago. Still, let it not be said that Higgins doesn’t do his best with it. The acrobatic stunts and witty repartee make the pair’s duel plenty easy to read and, happy with that, it wisely doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Higgins tries something interesting with Marionette, making her a somewhat sympathetic antagonist, suffering from mental illness. While I applaud his decision to avoid revenge or evil when selecting a motivation, Marionette leaves something to be desired. She, rather unfortunately, seems to be afflicted by the same dissociative personalities with a need to talk to herself for no reason syndrome that affects one in twelve comic book villains*. Her portrayal as a person with a legitimate illness is nice, but she’s just generic in her craziness. She’s even got a pinch of psychosis-induced flirtiness , just to make things a little more awkward. I don’t begrudge Higgins any of this, he’s already miles ahead of many bat-family writers, but it’s a shame he didn’t take this idea a little further, as it’s really the most interesting element of this character.

Will Conrad remains our artist, bringing Cliff Richards back from Zero Year to assist. I’m not entirely sure that I’ve correctly identified which is which, but I think I’ll count that as a point for the pair’s synergy. Whether it’s Richard’s work, his influence, or simply the evolution of Conrad’s style, the book looks a little flatter in places. That usually isn’t a compliment, but for Conrad’s photo realistic and heavily shaded style, it frees it from its own gorgeous but limiting detail.

But even where this isn’t the case, Conrad’s art is nearly on par with the impressive effort he brought to issue #25. The scene in Dick’s apartment does an especially effective job of conveying emotion through complex facial expressions that many styles simply wouldn’t be able to render so clearly.

There are a couple of weaker moments. Despite some beautiful shading, one scene in a diner struggles with faces, as well as perspective in one notably panel. The issue never really matches the artwork in its opening sequence, however, some of that is nice enough that the memory will forgive quite a bit.

The Conclusion: When all is said and done, Kyle Higgins gets Nightwing. He knows who he is, how he moves, what he says when he speaks. Especially for a fan of the character, that means a lot. Despite being saddled with a less than pulse-pounding plot, this issue shines though, thanks to its focus on Dick’s aerialist skill set and the attention paid to his personal life.

Conrad and Richards complement each other nicely and provide an atmospheric tour of Nightwing’s Chicago, all worn stone and towering heights. Though it’s not the cleanest work I’ve seen from them, it finds a way to attractively suit all of what the script demands of it.

Nightwing #26 is something of a slow open to the next (last?) tale of Dick Grayson’s excellent Chicago adventures. If you’re only interested in world-shattering action, it may not be for you – also, why are you reading Nightwing? – but with a solid cliffhanger and more lovely world-building, I expect that will easily  encourage fans of DC’s greatest acrobat to return next month.

Grade: B-

*Forty-six percent of statistics are made up on the spot.

After Thought

  • I’m really starting to love Dick’s supporting cast, which makes Owlman’s claim that Nightwing’s “friends have been hunted” immediately after mentioning his Chicago apartment all the more troubling. Say it ain’t so Geoff!

-Noah Sharma