Hell Is No Match For Good Friends: Reviewing ‘Nightwing’ #102
by Scott Redmond
‘Nightwing’ #102 showcases what made the legacy era of DC Comics such a powerful one and why it’s amazing to see so much of that era returning to the pages of this almost century-old publishing line. Everything about this issue and the storyline and the series as a whole stands a reminder of what can often make so many comic books and superhero stories so good.
Fighting oneself is an age-old heroic tradition. Good thing for Nightwing, he’s got friends to deal with a powered doppelganger. An already fantastic run on Nightwing continues to get even better as the series forever wears its heart upon its proverbial sleeve.
Nostalgia is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days because it’s basically its own fully genre section within the various worlds of entertainment. It’s a concept that takes on various faces, much like the Grinning Man shapeshifter of this story, depending on the individuals behind the piece of entertainment as well as its overall intent. I’m one of those that is not a huge fan of nostalgia as a concept because of how overused it has been and what it often represents, too much of a focus on the past and recapturing that past.
Nightwing though, has a bit of nostalgia that I’m quite fond of.
Truth be told nostalgia might not fully be the correct word to use, but I think in this case it fits where I’m going with this whole explanation. Tom Taylor isn’t trying to just rehash or return to stories that were told in the past and has done some great new things with Nightwing as a character and with his supporting cast that move them all forward in great ways. No, where the nostalgia lies is actually within the connections between those characters. For decades relationships were forged between characters at DC Comics that saw characters forming long-lasting bonds and even family-style relationships, but much of it was wiped away with the semi-reboot that was New 52 back in 2011. There was some work to restore some of it with DC Rebirth in 2016 but there was still something lacking.
This issue showcases a bit of good nostalgia in the sense that Taylor has worked hard to fully re-establish and give depth and meaning once more to some of the beloved relationships, chiefly between Nightwing and the other members of the Titans. Comics have a history of rich supporting casts and teams and connections with characters breezing in and out of each other’s titles, because of the shared universe concept. Over time much of that has been shelved or lost at times because of narrower decompressed or action-packed storytelling (which I’m not saying is bad or good), but lately we’re seeing some of that return and it’s such a great breath of fresh air.
What we see in this issue of Nightwing relying on his friends to save Olivia, them all taking down the Grinning Man, and planning their next move (Hell Heist!) is the type of comic stuff that I love. There is a group of characters at the other major comic company with a long history that has been loved for a long time because of the deep relationships and found family element as people really relate to that sort of stuff. We love these characters, and we want to see the human (and not so human for some of them) moments where they can be friends, family, in love, antagonists, butt heads, or anything else. Taylor is delivering this feeling so well in each issue because the series remembers that Nightwing is Batman-like in many ways but also much more of a people person with a vast web of connections and heart.
I truly love the artistic choices that have been made for this series. Whether it’s regular artist Bruno Redondo or the bevy of other artists that have joined him or taken over issues/arcs at times, it all just captures the joy and heart this title is radiating and makes it a delight to behold. That’s what we get here with Travis Moore who has just such a detailed and deep and perfect style for superheroes as everything is big and bombastic and feels lush and real while also down to Earth at the same time. As noted, one of the cores of this title is the emotional elements and those are clear because Moore is natural at presenting emotive faces and solid body language in his images.
All of the spaces, whether the morgue or the home where they are keeping Olivia, feel deep and lived-in as if they are real places, I could just walk to right this moment. Comic books come with so many varieties of art that tap into the different genres and feelings that make up comic books. I love them all and love how different two books in the same universe from different artists can be. Most of the time though I have a huge soft spot for art that either goes all in depicting things as fantastical and leaves accurate proportions at the door or work like Moore’s that feels solid and real and reminds me why I love superheroes.
Just look at the panel choices, where characters are striking poses and swiftly moving around and white space as well as panels over panels and such create striking imagery. Even when the panels are close-ups, in order to give us those clear emotive shots, they still feel larger than life in the best way possible.
A constant through this run has been the vibrant, deep, constantly shifting to match the energy of the various artists’ colors that Adriano Lucas brings to the pages. With Moore, they have a bit of slickness to them, smooth, while also making sure to have plenty of elements that really pop off the page with how bright and colorful they are. Among them are tons of colors that are more natural or toned down creating a dynamic where various elements are similar to what we would expect from a world much like our own, which allows the other superhero/hell/fantastical elements on the page to stand out even more, as they should since they are not ‘normal’ when seen from our world perspective.
Another constant would be the work that Wes Abbott puts in all the time to make sure that the lettering is chock full of all that emotion and energy and stands tall. We can feel and hear everything so distinctively because Abbott makes sure to do all the things needed to create a clear tone or volume at times while also making little tweaks that allow various characters’ dialogue to stand apart from each other either by making bold changes to elements (font, bubbles, etc.) or just minor but still noticeable ones. Not to mention all the SFX that are large and right there in the middle of the world both standing out but also feeling 100% natural, allowing us to truly hear what the action and world moments sound like. I mean, they are practically characters in their own right.
I’m fully in love with the backups we’re getting in the series right now from C.S. Pacat, Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira, Lucas, and Abbott. Again one of the best elements of this run has been how connected Nightwing is in the DC Universe and how much of the heart he has and can be. We see that so well with his pairing with Jonathan Kent/Superman. While the original Superman was a bit of a mentor/uncle figure of sorts to Nightwing here we get Nightwing getting to be the mentor, and it’s just such a solid relationship already and I’m down to keep seeing these backups for as long as possible.
Pacat nails their voices and their dynamic, creating a compelling mystery centered around a circus (perfect for Nightwing, especially since there are shades of his own origins clearly baked in) and showcasing how different the two men are in how they react to what is happening. Jon pointedly reminds Dick that his parents and his boyfriend are investigative journalists so he has a lot of natural knowledge already that can help with the investigation is so perfect. Intercutting scenes of how Batman trained Dick during their old partner times and comparing it to how Dick does things with Jon is another solid choice, as it shows how similar yet different the father and son truly are.
Pansica and Ferreira create such a solidly dynamic but also sort of gritty/rough style that is perfect for a detective/mystery type of story. Much like the main story, there are great panel choices going on here that showcase great emotive work but also really set the tone for the world and give us space to feel like this is a lived-in and deep place. I really dig the choice to throw in some Ben Day dots and other elements to the flashback panels that make sure they are clearly flashbacks, aided by the colors being sort of toned down dramatically for those panels by Lucas.
Nightwing #102 is now available from DC Comics.