Sunday, April 17, 2005

NIGHTWING #107

Well that didn't hurt nearly as much as I thought it would.

After a torturous six issues with Chuck "I write Scooby Doo now" Dixon, we're back to our regularly scheduled angstfest as written by Devin "I had my title character raped without consequence" Grayson.

At least Dick has a brain again.

The problem with Grayson's last year or so on Nightwing is that in her effort to not be Dixon with his dim-bulb, perky Dick, she's gone too much the other way. Her Dick Grayson has pretty much lost his sense of humor, not to mention his purpose and his joie de vivre. He's a miserable man and, after a while, it's not very entertaining to watch someone screw themselves into the ground with such talent.

So with that in mind, I opened up this issue with extreme skepticism -- 'Dick Grayson does Donnie Brasco' works fine in theory, but, well... I was dubious about the practice.

I'm still dubious about the practice. And the purpose.

While nobody in the issue ever uses Dick's name, the odds of it being unknown are slim what with Dick coming to the home of Tommy Tevis straight from the Bludhaven PD. And that's where my suspension of disbelief starts to signal in semaphore that something is not right. Maybe it's just because I've grown up in a huge city, but I've always found the notion that Dick Grayson can go anywhere in Gotham or Bludhaven (and probably New York) without being recognized patently ridiculous. He's Bruce Wayne's heir and son and he's gorgeous and he used to be engaged to a supermodel/crimefighter and no matter how good Bruce was about protecting young Dick from the paparazzi, the kid was in the newspapers regularly. He'd have been Gotham's own Prince William, the way people in New York knew who Ivanka Trump was before she started modeling, but with added drama for his tragic background. When you can have Page Six featuring items like this... That Dick went his entire BPD career without anyone noticing his dad was Bruce Wayne -- especially considering that the Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive arc happened in that time -- was absolutely laughable. We've seen what sort of circuses celebrity trials are. Bottom line is that I'm not sure I can choke down the heir of Wayne Enterprises going "undercover" without a little bit of costuming. His own version of Matches Malone would have sold this much more easily.

But since there is no Matches, only "Crutches", what about the story?

The vaguely-hinted-at motive for Dick's having entered the service of local crime boss Tommy Tevis is that he's looking to make an act of contrition for his part in the murder of Blockbuster by Tarantula II. I say vaguely because it's not clear that Dick isn't doing this to further wallow in his fall from grace. Dick ruminates on how if he'd not been taken in by Bruce, there were good odds that he'd have ended up a criminal; Miss Devin's penchant for angst leaves the possibility open that Dick is hanging out with the goombas because he's finally sunk to his "true" level, where he would have been if fate (in the guise of Batman) hadn't interfered. Dick has been such a clumsy, passive sulker for so long, it's hard to assume that he's suddenly got the impetus to try to regain what he has lost instead of just going on another kamizake mission where he hopes he dies in the course of proving his worth and Bruce can forgive him in death the way (Dick imagines) he couldn't in life.

The plot itself is frustrating because, devoid of any and all backstory excepting "Dick used to be BPD" and "Dick got shot in the leg", this wasn't that bad. If this had taken place twenty issues ago, I'd have bought it as a legitimate arc (well, with the same identity issues as above, but...) -- there's nothing inherently wrong with Dick pulling a Donnie Brasco. Or certainly nothing more wrong than Dick going 'undercover' at the BPD to ferret out corruption.

The problem is that you can't ignore all the backstory. Which is why this issue sinks from "perfectly acceptable installment of a monthly book" to "not keeping a bad situation from getting worse". Which is a shame. I'm almost at the point where I wish Judd Winick, who seems to have a handle on the character, might step in. And followers of the Shrew know precisely what sort of dire statement that is.

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