How does a person become an outcast? What factors of emotion and behavior, circumstance and society lead to a human being living outside the bounds of culture and contact with other people? This mystery has always been pertinent to the denizens of the Bat Cave. Isolation, after all, is at least one aspect of Batman’s history and identity through his entire publishing existence, and in some way and to some degree the loneliness of the Bat has extended to his entire family of assistants and disciples. Perhaps Dick Grayson, the oldest of those disciples, has the most unique relationship to the isolation that so defines Batman. Unlike Jason Todd or Tim Drake or Damian Wayne, unlike Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown or Harper Row or Duke Thomas, unlike even Alfred Pennyworth or Barbara Gordon, Dick Grayson has always and consistently defined himself and his self-understanding against Batman’s loneliness.
It is perfectly reasonable, then, that when Tim Seeley set out to create a new major villain for Nightwing reborn, he fashioned a character who is the opposite of Grayson in many ways. That is also an old tradition among the Bats, with the Joker’s chaos opposed to Batman’s order, Penguin’s corruption arrayed against Bruce Wayne’s honesty, and the Riddler’s love of obfuscation set against Batman’s logic. Raptor would at first glance seem to be very like Dick Grayson, with his cheerful attitude and sympathy for the down trodden. Yet, it turns out that he is, quite literally, a leper, a man who spent his youth in exile from human society befriended only by Dick Grayson’s mother, who eventually helped him steal the drugs he needed to treat his disease. His leprosy left him badly scarred, thus the need for a mask, and with damaged nerve endings, thus his resistance to pain.
Raptor’s lonely youth also left him embittered against the upper rungs of society as represented by Bruce Wayne. His sense of humor, a genuine part of his personality, leads him in this issue to devise a death trap for Bruce that would make Adam West smile. The billionaire is immobilized in a chair, a sharpened silver spoon poised over his heart ready to plunge downward as soon as the price of Wayne Tech stock hits $200.
The confrontation between Raptor and Nightwing turns into a discussion about the difference between resentment and redemption. Nightwing, rather than becoming embittered by his youth, has resolved to be an agent of light and stability in the chaotic lives of those around him, becoming the savior of Batman’s soul even as Bruce Wayne was the savior of Dick Grayson’s physical life. Bruce puts an energetic exclamation point to this by freeing himself from his bonds and leaping from the perilous height where he had been held, explaining later that he knew Nightwing would not let him strike the ground.
The work of Javier Fernandez on art and Chris Sotomayor on colors is looking more comfortable. Perhaps its just that it is becoming familiar to readers, butt the lines and hues seem more practiced and confident, the compositions more flowing and balanced. I am still not sure that this kind of more rudimentary art style, reminiscent of Tim Sale or Alex Maleev, is appropriate for Nightwing, but it seems to be working for the initial stories that Seeley wants to tell.
With the end of this arc, Seeley has successfully introduced a new and interesting Nightwing villain, a feat no one has accomplished for many years, especially if one dismisses Blockbuster as a retread from other heroes. The loss of Grayson of Spyral for the more familiar Nightwing is a minor tragedy, but Seeley seems determined to do new and unique things with the character, resisting the urge to walk in paths worn well by Chuck Dixon and others. We will soon see how he handles the relationship between Nightwing and Superman, who was an old friend of Dick Grayson's in another universe. We will also see how he handles the perilous reintroduction of Bludhaven to the Nightwing mythos. That is a difficult enough task to inspire worry. But this arc is successful enough to bring caution optimism.