Whom do you ship Dick Grayson with? It isn’t a silly question, even if many people appear to find it annoying. Sexual and emotional attractiveness have long been at the core of Grayson’s character, or perhaps more accurately have long been one of the main components to his portrayal within the DC universe. This grew even more pronounced during the recent Grayson comic, co-written by current Nightwing author Tim Seeley. In Nightwing, Seeley has so far not emphasized the sex, but has greatly enhanced the romance. So, given that it is a core premise of the modern character portrayal, the question of whom one ships Nightwing with speaks to one’s relationship with the entire Nightwing enterprise.
I confess I have casually favored his relationship with Starfire while admitting that his ongoing dance of indecision with Barbara Gordon is probably emotionally deeper, if perhaps even more frustrating (which is saying a lot). Seeley seems at present to be solidly in the Barbara camp, which makes sense considering the emphasis in Rebirth on establishing classic tropes. In this issue, Babs shows up as Nightwing and Raptor are about to break into the home of Knute Ruud, an architect who designed the labyrinth that hides the deepest secrets of the Parliament of Owls. The book is set up as a small moral battle between the light and clarity of Barbara, daughter of a police commissioner as Dick himself observes, and Raptor, the charming and sarcastic thief and murderer.
The murder part shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s true that the apparent death in this book ends in a surprise, but we have seen Raptor kill Lincoln March. Very well, since March is a Talon and therefore technically already dead it maybe was not murder, strictly speaking, but it’s close enough for comic book work. One of the more interesting things about Seeley’s gradual introduction of Raptor is how he uses the wit and mystery of the man to obscure the quite obvious fact that he is completely incompatible with the known moral compass of Nightwing. Seeley also skillfully exploits the difference in social background between Dick and Barbara, a difference rarely emphasized in the recent past, to distract from the fact that Barbara is only speaking common sense in her suspicions about the new vigilante.
The actual action of the book unfolds in a smooth if not particularly shocking way. Suffice to say that the mission is completed and the stage set for the next installment with all ambiguities and emotional conflicts tweaked a notch. Seeley seems content to allow the themes and plots to slowly build, growing more deep and complicated with each passing issue while also giving proper respect to long-familiar aspects of Dick and Barbara’s interaction.
If there is a flaw, it is with the artwork. I remain unconvinced that Javi Fernandez is the best artist for Dick Grayson. His blurred focus and rough textures seem more suited to Batman or Batwoman. And Chris Sotomayor's colors are too subdued and shifted toward the passive blues and grays. But even this is beginning to mesh with the story. We are dealing in a plot with blurred lines and quietly bubbling depths, and Fernandez and Sotomayor are beginning to show that visually as Seeley unfolds it in word and action. It remains to be seen whether this will be the greatest of runs for Nightwing, but it is already the best years. And that isn't bad for four issues and two months.