When Grayson was announced, spinning out of a controversial plot twist in a largely unrelated mega-event, I was one of many who asked Tim Seeley what it meant to be Dick Grayson rather than Nightwing. That’s what we asked, but what we meant was ‘how can you justify taking this away from Dick as a character?’ ‘What can you say that can make us trust this direction?’
Seeley was more than smart enough to see through the euphemisms and, to his credit, each time he was asked he returned an intelligent and steadfast reply, ‘Dick Grayson is Nightwing’. Since then, Grayson has accomplished a lot, allowing Midnighter a chance as a solo hero at DC, launching Tom King’s career and landing him DC’s biggest title, winning over Nightwing loyalists and bringing new fans to the character and into comics. But Grayson’s time is over. Luckily, it seems, all Tim Seeley had to do was stick to his guns.
Grayson is Nightwing.
With its upcoming arc titled “Better Than Batman”, Nightwing is an implicit promise, to fans and to DC’s notoriously Nightwing-skeptical editorial staff, that this character can be a major draw. That’s gotten it a place among DC’s heavily pushed double shipping titles and, with it, a Rebirth issue.
More than most, the Rebirth one-shot for Nightwing makes perfect sense. Often when one run ends, the next begins without a backwards glance. It makes sense, but Nightwing: Rebirth opts instead to provide a transition point between identities. Dick Grayson is Nightwing and Agent 37 is Dick Grayson, Seeley has said and here we get the chance to see it in action.
This issue is really a blessing for Grayson fans. Not only does it allow Seeley his chance to wrap up the story he started, but to demonstrate how the elements of Grayson will fit into Dick’s new life and how that life is different from the one he had at St. Hadrian’s. All in all, it’s impressively complete, if somewhat light on the action.
Sure, there are a couple of scenes of mayhem, but they’re formalities at best. No, this issue is about crafting connective tissue and demonstrating how competent Dick Grayson is, and, unsurprisingly, these two are closely related.
Much of this issue’s content presents itself through heartwarming conversations between Dick and those he trusts most. The rest is largely his own thoughts about how and who he defines himself as. Seeley makes sure to throw in a quip or two every few panels but he keeps them quiet. Dick is in a reflective place right now. The result is something fairly interesting. Honestly, I don’t think the dialogue in this issue is all that brilliant, however, there’s no denying that I was deeply engaged the entire way through, and that’s because Seeley understands the importance of connection to Nightwing. Seeley doesn’t demonstrate a mastery of dialogue in this issue, but it doesn’t matter because the ideas he’s playing with are sincere and interesting. Objectively, things are a bit cerebral and, yes, at times Dick slips into the voice of a man who’s respectfully tired of being asked about what Nightwing means, but the connections are there and they’re real.
If anything, Seeley’s writing is a little too clean. Every scene blends perfectly into the next, supported by broad narration that is at once an enjoyable statement of purpose and an unnecessary explanation of Nightwing’s character. The biggest problem with the piece is that it’s uniformly melodious, lacking immediate excitement or surprise to stir the blood or a change of tone to clear the palate. The closest we get to either is a calm but menacing scene with our presumptive villains that provides evidence of Seeley’s ability to write the delightfully creepy cabal, a surprising twist within the organization, and some enjoyable narration that’s just substantive enough to assure readers that there’s intellectual fun to be had with this particular set of baddies.
One thing that does need to be said, however, is that this is not the most welcoming issue. I think that new readers would enjoy this issue as much as longtime fans in theory, but without the context of Grayson and especially without having read “Robin War” this issue could feel a little bit like being thrown into the deep end. I have faith that those who embrace it can tread water until things come together, but I understand if many will be put off by it.
We don’t have a chance to see Marcus To in action yet, but I don’t think anybody will be all that disappointed to have Yanick Paquette filling in. Paquette is a talented, distinctive artist who positively nails the calm and easy way that Dick approaches the events of this issue. Little moments like Dick and Damien walking through an arcade do a lot to sell who Seeley’s Grayson is.
The scenes in the Batcave are also bolstered by a particularly lovely rendition of Batman, one I’d like to see
Unfortunately, Paquette’s style doesn’t entirely suit Nightwing. The Bat-Family has always been plagued by an uncanny family resemblance despite their lack of blood ties, however, Dick is looking unusually Wayne-esque this issue, even for him. With a Superman build and a jaw to make Euclid blush, Paquette’s rendition of Grayson doesn’t exactly scream ‘lean acrobat’, even if it does do justice to his legendary attractiveness.
But while this is a different look for Dick Grayson, the issue objectively look nice. Midnighter seems to be a great character for Paquette, as does Damian, and Paquette’s skills as an artist are fully utilized by the tone and pacing of the script.
There is a lot of talking in this issue and the fight scenes are brief. That’s usually a tough sell for an artist, but Paquette makes it look pretty effortless. Smart compositions and well realized detail make scenes as mundane as an uneventful trip to the arcade visually interesting. Little tricks like patterns in the background or careful use of silhouette keep things moving briskly, as particularly human expressions sell the emotions of the book.
Nightwing: Rebirth is not the first issue of Nightwing. It’s more like a last issue for Grayson, but even that doesn’t fully apply. This is really a transition issue, presenting Dick Grayson comfortably back in his own skin and making the case for why this new series is the logical next step for him. Though it isn’t necessary or even particularly exciting reading, Seeley and Yanick Paquette do a lovely job of reminding us who Dick Grayson is and how his experiences with Spyral have made him a better hero. Chill and introspective, Nightwing: Rebirth is an inessential but enjoyable check-in with the character that excellently bridges two chapters of his life.