In Grayson #14, Tim Seeley concludes the mini-arc he started in the previous issue, a story he calls “A Ghost from the Tomb” in a nod to Percy Bysshe Shelley and, laterally, Mary Shelley. Perhaps it would have been more apropos to reference William Blake, although I suppose you would have to call the poem The Spyder rather than The Tiger: “What the hammer? What the chain?/In what furnace was thy brain?/What the anvil? What dread grasp/Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”
The story features Dick, Agent One, and Ladytron completing their break-in of Agent Zero’s Spandau lair. Stephen Mooney is the guest artist for this issue, and his lines are rougher and more elongated than Mikel Janin’s, however he is becoming very comfortable with the standard Grayson characters, and his facility with faces and expressions has especially improved. He has always been rather good at action sequences, and taken altogether the visuals for this issue work quite well. His evocation of one new character, the insane and possibly immortal Doctor Dedalus, proves eerie and impressive, especially given the fact that Doctor Dedalus is confined to a storytelling frame and relies on a few very ordinary movements to physically emphasize his words.
The sequences with Doctor Dedalus, representing data culled from Agent Zero’s computers with the help of a hypnotized Ladytron (more about that below) provide great slabs of meaty exposition that are especially interesting to fans of Tim Seeley, Tom King, and Grant Morrison. With this set of scenes, Grayson reclaims most of the history of Spyral from Batman Incorporated, in outline if not in detail. In brief, Doctor Dedalus, a scientific genius and Nazi war criminal, founded Spyral to control superhumans. When he discovered he was dying and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, he crafted a technological home for his consciousness, the interface with which manifests as the mysterious gestalt known as Spyder. He also created an organization called Leviathan to battle Spyral, constantly challenging it, and him, to evolve. Thus Spyral and Leviathan form the Ouroboros, the snake that devours its own tail. He passed the Ouroboros to his daughters, Elisabeth, the current Frau Netz, and Katarina, the current Agent Zero, aka Luka Netz aka (probably) Kathy Kane. One will merge with Spyder and thus with Doctor Dedalus; the other will embody Leviathan.
Which daughter is performing which role seems a dangerous assumption, given the lengths to which Seeley and King have gone to build mysteries and multiple levels into their narrative. Also, uncertainty persists as to exactly how much the characters of Doctor Dedalus and the presumptive Kathy Kane line up with there presentation in Batman Incorporated. For instance, it would seem very difficult for the current Agent Zero to have been the original Batwoman, as Grant Morrison had it. In this particular installment it is Elisabeth who summons the Spyder interface to pressure Helena Bertinelli into remotely activating the guard robots at Agent Zero’s facility, putting an end to Dick Grayson’s unauthorized data pilfering by very direct action. Luckily, Grayson is able to arrange for an electromagnetic pulse before Spyder’s design can be realised.
The scene with Helena and Spyder illustrates a strong theme running through the book, that of doing things one deeply dislikes in the service of a greater need. Helena’s distress at being forced to act against Dick is obvious, as is her relief at her former partner’s escape. Dick knocks out Agent One (an event that is becoming something of a comic trope in the series) to prevent him interfering with the data raid, then manipulates Ladytron in a vaguely creepy hypnotic sequence involving a toy store for murderous little girl cyborgs. The theme of personal morality conflicting with the greater good arises naturally in the context of the espionage genre, and Seeley gives strong hints that it will be further explored going forward. Even Katarina Netz, the future Agent Zero, looks decidedly uncomfortable at the full revelation of her father’s plan. It’s doubtful if the issues involved in these choices will get terribly dark; the spy genre lends itself to such gloom, but it is alien to the character of Dick Grayson. But there is plenty of space for exploration before the abyss.
This two-issue sequence establishes a clear pivot point for the series. With the first phase of his new life behind him, and now reconnected to the Bat Family and the greater DCU, Dick Grayson enters the heart of the mystery that is Spyral. It is likely significant that the Ouroboros forms a circular opening like the mouth of a tunnel or, less optimistically, a black hole. Given the nature of Spyral and the shadowy realm in which it lives, it seems likely that something very strange waits on the other side. But Dick Grayson must first defeat the guardians of the portal, and that will likely keep Seeley and King busy for another couple of arcs.