Overview: In Nightwing #104, Dick Grayson is now Superwing! With this newfound power gifted to him from Neron, will Dick be tempted to relinquish Olivia over to the Lord of the Underworld?
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): As Nightwing #104 begins, Neron has granted Nightwing superpowers for two hours as a sample of a temptation to give over Olivia Desmond to him. Alerted that the Titans are under attack by Gorilla Grodd and Dr. Polaris, Dick flies across the planet in record time to even the odds. With the situation under control, Superwing and the Flash race across the planet to do as much good as Dick is able to with his new abilities. Meanwhile, Trigon warns Neron that his recent failures in reclaiming Olivia have made him look weak in the eyes of the Underworld and warns that he will soon be overthrown. Neron, in response, commands his forces to kill Olivia.
In the final twenty minutes of his power, Superwing flies to Metropolis to thank Superman. Superman, in return, flies above the Earth’s surface with Dick, and the two discuss the tremendous weight of protecting the planet. Back on Themyscira, the Titans are once again attacked by Neron’s forces. Superwing arrives to fly Olivia away, but just as Neron approaches him, his power runs out. Asking Nightwing to deliver the girl in order to regain his powers, Dick is steadfast in his refusal and blasts Neron with his magic sticks given to him by Nite-Mite. Neron’s true form as a bubbly green tentacle monster is revealed, and he’s forced to return to the Underworld.
Olivia is made an honorary Titan, and Donna Troy takes her to Paradise Island to be raised by the Amazons. One hour later, in Hell, Raven visits Neron to take his dominion of the Underworld from him, delivering it to Blaze. Before Raven departs, Blaze informs her that something of her is missing.
In the backup story, Superman (Jon Kent) and Nightwing continue to track down the circus tent attacker. They speak with the Ringmaster and are informed of a recently fired employee named Brian, who hated the circus and vowed revenge. Searching his trailer, the heroes find dynamite. Quickly finding him at a nearby fair, Brian is apprehended, and the bombs are detonated safely in Superman’s hands. Before the two depart, they take some time to see the sights at the fair, and play a rigged game of ring-toss.
Analysis: This is a quintessential Tom Taylor Nightwing issue in that it’s good, but it could’ve been a lot better.
The bones of Nightwing #104 are sound. We’ve never seen Dick Grayson with superpowers, and it’s an inviting proposition to spend an issue with him flying around saving people in ways he hasn’t been capable of before. But this should’ve been an issue depicting extreme temptation. Dick’s perspective of his newfound power is summarized in about two panels in a montage. We should’ve had closeups of a sense of awe and wonder, the ideas forming on his face about the possibilities, and maybe even some fun strength comparisons with the other Titans. Of course, Dick would always resolve to relinquish the powers if it meant saving a person’s life, but it’s such a foregone conclusion that there’s no tension or suspense in his decision. So whether or not Dick’s fascination would play any part in the final offer to give up Olivia, Taylor plays Dick as so noble, good, and wonderful that he becomes less human.
Perhaps this comes down to personal philosophy on heroes or even the characters specifically. In the infamous and controversial Nightwing #93 during the Devin Grayson run, the intended event meant to carry far-reaching implications was that Nightwing was so worn down that he allowed Tarantula to murder Blockbuster. That was him being at the end of his rope, and he felt sick over it for a long time. As much as there is to say against Nightwing #93, that’s at least caring about the character in pushing them to their limits and beyond. There’s an investment in working his morals out. In this issue, it’s fun to see Dick fly around for a minute (and Superwing’s costume is pretty cool), but there’s so little meat on the bone of what they show us that all that’s left is the temptation, which would only serve to frustrate Dick and not the readers, as we weren’t suitably tempted by what was rendered on panel. I don’t know if it’s a failure of storytelling because Taylor never once even hints that Dick is tempted to begin with. But if that was never the point of the story, to begin with, why do it at all? We’re not learning anything new about Dick; we’re not surprised by his heroic choice.
Also, Neron is defeated way too easily all over Nightwing #104. It’s a combination of the Titans and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) fighting monsters practically off-panel, but there’s little reaction to the taste of victory against what should be overwhelming forces. That could’ve been used to show Dick how hard protecting the world is and for him to think about battling those forces without superpowers. But Dick blasts Neron back to the Underworld and weakens him with vague, unspecific magic, and Raven snatches his proverbial chain with barely a reaction from either party.
At this point, I’m wondering what the point of any of this is because, having read Titans #1, it doesn’t set up anything in that series thus far. Maybe Raven’s plot will be followed up on, but this four-issue story is essentially just a preview for Taylor writing the Titans. At the same time, with it being Nightwing’s book, we don’t get a lot of the Titans being shown off throughout. They’re just window-dressing as Dick’s friends.
On top of all that, Travis Moore was the wrong artist for this arc. I perfectly understand Bruno Redondo being given a break. The man is a wonderful artist, and whatever keeps his work output healthy, let’s do it. But while Moore draws pretty people well, he cannot do action as well. The panel which clinched it for me was actually the brief scene of Flash and Superwing racing across the train station. There was no sense of motion, no speed lines. They were just static figures presented on a page. This is the Fastest Man Alive and a Superpowered Nightwing; where’s the feeling of power?
What did I enjoy was the scene with Superman. Dick and Clark’s relationship has been very well re-established in the last couple of years, and the scene with Superman and Superwing looking and talking about the planet was great. I especially liked Dick’s overconfidence in himself as Clark warned him that he couldn’t be friends with everybody. That was the characterization and content on a level the issue needed way more of, but it was only for a short amount of time.
The backup story was fine if overlong from what it was trying to do. Once Brian was arrested, there was no more point to the story, so I wasn’t seeing the need to point out that ring-toss games are fixed.
This issue isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as strong as the promise of its premise. I don’t know whether Taylor is being stretched thin on writing duties now with Titans or what, but so much of this read like a platonic draft of a story and less of an issue to read. As much as I’ve been playing an armchair writer in this review, it’s hard not to do when so many other books published by DC right now have more attention to the character than this one does, and it’s an Eisner-nominated series! Mark Waid’s World’s Finest and even the soon-to-finish Batgirls book focus on characterization more than here in Nightwing #104.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.