The Chuck Dixon era of Nightwing is among my favorite all-time runs. (Even if his semi-recent political theorizing leaves me feeling somewhat irked.) In the weirdo era of sometimes off-putting ’90s comics, there was always this genuine joy and approachability, and I felt like over the span of Dixon’s 70 or so issues (alongside the always amazing art of Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, and others), we were really seeing Dick Grayson come into his own. That, and there was a great mix of high-octane action, goofy humor, and a little social commentary for those wacky times.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Nightwing #94!
I’ve fought for a long time to not to compare Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s excellent ongoing run with that iconic series. Those two are doing their own thing, and the Dick portrayed here has seen and done things that make him a different beast entirely. But then I read issue #94, and I feel the pure glory of the Dixon run alive and well.
If you’re not entirely caught up, the last several issues have really seen Dick up to his stylish hair with some of the more corruptive elements of Bludhaven. (A familiar motif of the whole Dixon run, FYI.) After donating a mountain of cash to help the underprivileged youth of the city, and surviving a resulting assassination attempt or two, Nightwing and company have sprung a trap to nab the city’s crooked police commissioner. From the very storyline to the execution of the action, it’s all very Dixon-esque — which is to say, lots of deep undercurrents of drama and intrigue and yet a persistent sense of playfulness.
I think that’s been a not-insignificant element through this Taylor-Redondo series, but in #94, it feels all the more apparent, as if the creative team are channeling that same kind of history to help emphasize an era of great change and upheaval for Dick. And it works well, as the world now feels much like the late ’90s in that everything feels up in the air (while also being on fire).
Even the big reveal of this issue — Blockbuster uncovers the relationship (albeit not fully) between Dick and his supposed “employee,” Mayor Melinda Zucco — feels decidedly old-school. That will happen with anything regarding Blockbuster, as he’s pretty much one of the best things to come from the Dixon run besides when Dick had that sweet muscle car. But the most important thing about Blockbuster and this part of the story is that I think we’ve reached a place where there’s some real stakes at play.
Sure, Dick has been almost killed, but The Flash was there to save the day. And a book-wide threat like Heartless hasn’t yet fully come to fruition. Until now, the story has been a great way to develop Dick as a character, and Taylor and Redondo have done solid work visually and from a narrative perspective to show us how Dick is handling the last few years as he tries to rebuild his life and hero work once again. But by having some very real challenges that foster some larger consequences and ultimatums here, we’re transcending some of the feel-good tendencies of this run (I love her dearly, but see Haley/Bitewing) and building something that feels challenging. Not only that, but the onus is clearly on Dick and how he can react outside of the support system and sense of familiarity he’s generated. Family drama will always kick Nightwing into another gear, and we can really explore him at his most shaken and uncertain.
It’s also worth noting that the series remains its own beast entirely in a few different ways. One of them is the relationship between Dick and Barbara Gordon. In the Dixon run, the lovebirds spent so much time playing “will they or won’t they” — not to mention Dick’s whole thang with Bridget Clancy (oh what should’ve been…) And the Babick (Dick-ara?) relationship is a novel way to both build up Dick’s sense of peace and give him some stability while also setting him up for some possible heartache down the line.
Making Dick happy (or adjacent) is a neat-o way to develop his character, and all the sheer romance in this series, and this issue as well, is another effective way to delve into some core element of Dick as a man and hero. What happens there, much like the plot line with his half-sister, makes for fertile ground to generate some real hard truths from DC’s most dynamic fella. Again, Mr. Grayson is often most compelling when he’s being challenged, and this issue feels like the first concrete instance of that beyond easily wrapped up story tangents.
And, in a continued trend for this series, the artwork remains a vital part of making this series so singular and entertaining. This time around, we’re treated to art from Geraldo Borges, colors by Adriano Lucas, and lettering from Wes Abbott. Sure, it’s Redondo (especially his perpetually gorgeous covers) that has defined this book’s larger identity. But Borges’ work feels like a proper add-on for the series’ visual outpit, fostering the same kind of humanity and energy in a way that still leaves room for the efforts in narrative and character development to land fully.
If anything, some of the art here, especially the chase sequence and the final bits with Zucco and Blockbuster, demonstrate how important the series’ visual aspects — i.e., bold color choices and lots of inventive shots/setups — are in making some of Taylor’s story choices feel all the more significant and vital. So much of the joy (and emotional nuance to boot) in this series happens via the art, and this issue proves that well-rounded emotionality can take root thanks to a thoughtful and dedicated team who clearly love the players.
So, yes, as a devotee of the Dixon era, this whole issue tickled my funny bone, warmed my heart, and gave me the nervous sweats. But then, that’s pretty much what the rest of this series has done, and it’s continually found ways to push this character forward with passion, creativity, and genuine bravery.
If anything, the fact that it feels like a nostalgic tale just proves that this series will likely go down as an essential chapter for Nightwing as the heart and soul (and maybe conscience?) of the DCU.
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