Nightwing #103 delivers a fun, genuinely surprising story with impressive art from Travis Moore and Vasco Georgiev. Sometimes Taylor’s sense of humor drains the tension from what should be a thrilling narrative. However, this time the series takes itself more seriously, letting the jokes better integrate itself into the drama, rather than inhibiting it.
Nightwing, Raven, Cyborg, and Beast Boy immediately find themselves in the Underworld looking for some loophole in Blockbuster’s contract to Neron for Olivia’s soul. This comes in the form of the group looking to find out who Olivia’s mother is in order to invalidate the contract due to only Blockbuster’s signature being present. It’s a somewhat silly way to fight against a demon, but Taylor sees the joke through, making it an integral part of the story rather than a way to dismiss genuine tension. Despite the hellish setting, the majority of the time spent in Neron’s realm is quite funny, letting Taylor successively flex his comedic chops. There’s a brief team up with Blaze, a demonic challenger to Neron, where she helps the group locate Neron’s tower. This is the only real misstep in the issue as there’s a few panels where the group discusses whether or not they can trust her. However, nothing much happens other than her showing them the tower, then swiftly leaving. If I had more investment in the politics of the Underworld I might care more, but as it stands, it comes off as an inert attempt to drum up mistrust.
Nonetheless, the issue quickly pivots to focusing on the Titans breaking into the tower by having Beast Boy disguise himself as a demon and pretend to take Cyborg and Nightwing hostage. Moore’s art works well in this sequence, particularly when the Titans realize the ruse is unnecessary as Neron is on Earth. Beast Boy’s demonic form smiles, lets go of Cyborg and Nightwing, who then immediately take out the tower’s two guards. Right after, Raven stands behind to create a shield to block the entrance and buy the others time to find Olivia’s contract. Why this whole scenario works despite it relying on a comedic premise to get the Titans into the tower is because each member gets to utilize their unique skill set to overcome the obstacle. Raven and Beast Boy both use their abilities to gain access and hold the tower, while Cyborg uses his to hack into the Underworld’s internet network. There’s even a convincing gag that all of the Underworld’s records are held on out of date computers filled with malware and pop ups for obsolete web browsers. While not a huge problem for Cyborg to sift through, the out of date technology is not only funny, but serves as an obstacle for our heroes rather than operating as an easy way for them to succeed. I have no problem with a book focusing on the humor of any given situation, but Taylor manages to have his gags enhance the drama rather than undercutting it as he is prone to do.
Moore’s pencils in Neron’s tower are very impressive, particularly their rendition of the records room the Titans search for Olivia’s contract in. Adriano Lucas also gets his time to shine here, as the rolled up records emit an eerie greenish glow, making this hellish records room appropriately off-kilter. Nightwing and the gang find out Olivia’s mother is the deceased Jezebel Jet, putting a presumed end to their scheme to find a loophole in Olivia’s contract. The ultimate solution to this dilemma is also humorous as the gang travels back to Bludhaven’s town hall to make Dick himself Olivia’s legal guardian. While not exactly action packed, Taylor’s double down on finding a bureaucratic solution to Olivia’s situation makes the entire gag work.
The other half of the team, including Donna Troy, Starfire, and Batgirl find themselves on Themyscira in order to train Olivia how to fight. Vasco Georgiev is on art in these sequences and while the change is apparent, it works for this new setting. It’s charming to see Donna Troy train Olivia how to fight, but a genuine surprise comes in the form of a visit from Wonder Woman herself. How these Themyscira scenes tie into the Underworld is a spoiler, but for anyone wanting to stay spoiler free, the next issue seems primed for an explosive showdown.
Wonder Woman ends up being Grinning Man in disguise, which is a twist I didn’t see coming this time. Before, I complained that Grinning Man’s deception was too obvious, but here Wonder Woman’s natural charm and optimism serves as a better smokescreen as to why she’s always smiling. Additionally, Vasco’s rendition of the Grinning Man’s…grin is more subtle this time and not as eerily plastered on. It also works better since Grinning Man actually has the upper hand on the heroes this time as he has Gorilla Grodd and Doctor Polaris along with him. The actual cliffhanger is intriguing as well. Neron offers Nightwing the chance to become superpowered in exchange for forgetting about Olivia. Neron takes the liberty in granting these powers to Dick before he can respond, but while it’s a cool final image, there’s not much tension because it’s obvious Dick will immediately rescind such an offer.
Lastly, the backup story by writer C.S. Pacat and artist Eduardo Pansica is well rounded once again. I really like Pansica’s pencils and compositions as they always fill the page with either good detail, or excellent staging of the characters. Pacat’s narrative is simplistic, but effective as it taps into strong, relatable emotions. The culprit behind the cut trapeze rope is revealed, but the motive is endearing, not villainous, which is a great scenario for a Nightwing story to deal with. However, there’s still the matter of the planted bomb to be solved, setting the stage for a more action packed confrontation.
- You’re still open to Tom Taylor’s sense of humor dominating the series.
- The Underworld setting and its quirks appeal to you.
- Seeing the Titans work more cohesively as a team is something you want.
Nightwing #103 is an improvement over recent issues as the series’ sense of humor finds a better balance with the actual stakes of the narrative. While Tom Taylor’s scripts are usually amusing, the comedy often inhibits the drama. However, this time around the drama is never rendered inert for the benefit of a gag. Both Travis Moore‘s and Vasco Georgiev’s pencils are polished and effective and Adriano Lucas’ colors continue to be sublime. While I wish Tom Taylor’s Nightwing would find a better balance between its slice of life pacing and the overarching storyline with Heartless, there’s still ample charm to be had in these somewhat ancillary storylines.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.