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Something carny this way comes
on 18 December 2012
Dick Grayson sheds Batman's cowl and slips back into the cape-less, newly re-coloured Nightwing outfit. Dick's old stomping ground, Haly's Circus, is back in town and the past comes crowding back as familiar faces bring haunted memories of the night he lost his parents - The Flying Graysons - in an acrobatic disaster. But mystery shrouds everything as a vicious figure with claws - talons? - is hunting Nightwing, enigmatically labelling Grayson "Gotham's fiercest killer". And Dick's about to find out his beloved circus has a dark, dark past...
First off, Dick Grayson as Batman was a great step forward and I would've liked to see him continue in that role. Bruce as figurehead of the Batman Inc., globetrotting and overseeing the construction of a massive, non-superpowered global crime-fighting organisation with Dick as the Batman of Gotham in his absence is a fantastic setup. I know the Batman Inc. story continues but seeing Dick take off the cowl and go back to his Nightwing persona feels like a step back even if Dick doesn't seem to mind. But I think he would mind - he was Batman! Now he's Nightwing with a much more limited arsenal and a smaller status. Kyle Higgins doesn't really explore this though and launches straight into the series with barely a nod to the events of the last 2 years - it feels vastly underwritten.
While there is potential in exploring Dick's past with the circus, I hate how DC feel the need to go back and muddy the waters with their characters' histories. They love making their past "dark" and "gritty" and do it all the time, to excess. Dick's life in the circus was a good one, that's why his loss is so tragic. But by going back and making the circus seem like a hellish ground where horrible things were done to children, it doesn't seem so tragic. While the loss of his parents is sad, in light of the revelations in this book it could be seen as a positive as he was definitely better off out of that place! Especially as if he had stayed, he would've ended up as a severely damaged adult, if not dead.
The Haly's Circus-gone-wrong angle ties in with Scott Snyder's "Court of Owls" without really adding much to that story arc. The events in "Owls" is repeated, the only real addition being Haly's Circus' involvement with the Court - which only throws up more questions. And how is it, in the 21st century, circuses are so popular that this many people would show up to watch acrobats? This isn't "Cirque du Soleil", this is a straight-up old-school circus with acrobats, clowns, and even a bearded woman! I just don't buy that thousands of people, in this day and age, would pay to see that. There are also a couple of big plot holes that bothered me but I won't spoil them here.
Anyway, it's a solid start to the series if not a particularly brilliant book. The meandering story sags a bit in the middle while the ending is predictably bombastic with no real surprises. Kyle Higgins has written some good books in "Batman: Gates of Gotham" and "Deathstroke: Legacy" but I found "Nightwing" to be a very ordinary book for a character whose background and recent history has the potential to produce a far more enticing book. Like Grayson stepping down from Batman to Nightwing, I feel that DC have done the character a disservice and by giving him a formulaic superhero storyline instead of a braver, more interesting direction to develop him further. "Nightwing" is a missed opportunity in the end, and after a superlative turn as Batman in "The Black Mirror", I feel he deserved better than this.
Oh, and Alfred's comb-over in this book should be arrested, it's so bad!