Nightwing Volume 1: Better Than Batman
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Javier Fernandez
Dick Grayson has existed in many forms over the years. Acrobat in Haly’s Circus, sidekick to Batman, leader of the Teen Titans, independent crime fighter, secret agent, but now he returns to his Nightwing identity. Grayson has gone undercover in the Parliament of Owls, a secret cabal that has worked against the Bat-family since the New 52 relaunch. The Owls believe Grayson has switched sides and partner him up with Raptor, an acrobatic assassin to take care of some problems started by the terrorist cult Kobra. Grayson must feign villainy while trying to access the Owls’ most guarded secrets to bring them down.
I didn’t go into this volume expecting to enjoy it all too much. I have stayed away from most of the Bat-family titles outside the core ones (Batman, Detective Comics). I was surprised that the story didn’t get too convoluted and maintained a steady direction. The story is actually complete, unlike many other Rebirth volumes I’ve read. This is not the first chapter of a more substantial arc, this is THE arc. The last issues in the collection wrap everything up with Raptor reasonably nicely, while the first four issues are the primary Nightwing vs. The Owls story. There is an issue in between missing because it was part of the Night of the Monster Men crossover story, whose trade we will review at a later date.
The title of this volume “Better Than Batman” comes from a character’s line of dialogue in the story, but also from a contingent of fans online who have begun to make a case for why Nightwing is a more successful superhero than Batman. They argue that Dick Grayson let go of his grief and anger and as a character has developed beyond just being an agent of vengeance. Batman, they claim, is stunted in his emotional growth. I agree with that take, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Nightwing’s stories will always be exciting.
This collection spends a lot of time giving backstory asides, which are needed but also slow down the momentum of the story. The writer covers almost every significant period of Grayson’s life, yet this never feels like the next step in his journey, just a temporary stop along the way. The resolution with the Parliament of Owls feels unsatisfying, and the conflict with Kobra is very underdeveloped. Kobra is a creation of Jack Kirby which has come to be DC Comics’ stand-in for Marvel’s Hydra. They have a more twisted and complicated backstory, but none of that is explored here.
The artwork immediately struck me as similar to the work of Jim Calafiore. If you read Peter David’s Aquaman in the 1990s, then you can recall that very distinct style. Lots of jagged edges and fluid lines. The artwork is probably the best part of the collection and delivers some great visuals. Nightwing and Raptor discover some genetic experiments onboard a Kobra freighter, and Javier Fernandez presents them in all their body horror glory. Nightwing is shown in a very clean classic look and Batgirl, who pops up for a couple issues, is true to her current design. Raptor is the design I liked the least. His costume centers around this magic-techno glove he uses continuously and the whole affair reminds me of overcomplicated costume designs that came out of Image Comics in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
This particular Rebirth collection lies somewhere in the middle, a perfectly good read if you are checking it out from the local library. I wouldn’t say it’s worth a buy because the story it tells will likely be retconned sooner rather than later. There are not enough character moments between Grayson and Batgirl or Batman, and I wanted more because that is when the book really shines. I’ll definitely be coming back for the next volume to see what happens when the creators really dig into the character.