Book Review – Nightwing vol. 3: False Starts

  • Title: Nightwing vol. 3: False Starts
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson
  • Artists: Greg Land, Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, Bill Sienkiewicz, Roberta Tewes, Noelle Giddings, John Costanza
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Huntress, Nite-Wing, Batman, Alfred, Tim Drake (Robin)
  • Collection Date: 2015 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Nightwing #19-25 Nightwing/Huntress #1-4, Nightwing 1/2
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/21/2016

**spoiler alert** This volume of the continuing series of Nightwing reprints includes several stories which demonstrate the breadth of Dick Grayson’s character and of the Classic 1990s Nightwing comic book. The first story is the four issue Nightwing/Huntress story Casa Nostra. What happens when a mobster’s alibi is Dick Grayson? When a hooker is killed in a hotel room, the police and Huntress are convinced mobster, Frankie Black is responsible. However, Dick knows that Frankie was set-up because as Nightwing he was following and watching Frankie Black at the docks as he brought in a shipment of arms to sell to another mobster. Frankie, it turns out, had fallen in love with a girl named Moira, who was decidedly not part of the mob scene. He was planning on using the arms sale to finance his escape, and having his name on a hotel register was his alibi. Huntress is after Frankie Black because going after mobsters is what she does. Dick has to convince Huntress that Frankie is innocent, of killing the hooker anyway, and convince her to help him solve the case. When a Gotham Vice cop arrives in Blüdhaven because the “hooker” was his partner who was on an unsanctioned undercover sting operation, the case gets that much more complicated. Nightwing and Huntress solve it, but not before tragedy occurs for Moira, Frankie, Pasquelle – Frankie’s “sidekick”, and a crooked cop. Yet Nightwing and Huntress also spend the night together before going their separate ways. This first four-part story I enjoyed, though the ending was dark and sad. Still, in the end, Nightwing solves the case, and Huntress proves she isn’t simply interested in blindly killing mobsters.

The next story, “The Breaks”, has Nightwing silently guarding a Federal witness. The witness, and the marshals don’t do the best job of protecting the witness – but Nightwing rescues the mobster and delivers him to the Feds to turn state’s evidence much to the chagrin of the mobster himself.

“Shudder” and “Day After Judgment” are Nightwing’s roles in the long Batman series – “The Road to No Man’s Land” and “No Man’s Land”. When Gotham City is nearly destroyed by a 7.5 Earthquake, Nightwing goes by boat to the city to do what he can to help. Dick is terrified by what he will find when he realizes the epicenter of the quake wasn’t far from Wayne Manor. Dick helps people in trouble because of the quake, meets up with Oracle and Robin (Tim Drake) then he and Tim go to the Manor. They find the Manor nearly completely destroyed, and worry for the safety of Alfred, Bruce, and Harold (Bruce’s mechanic). Dick rescues Alfred and Harold from the ruins of the mansion and Batcave, but Bruce is missing. All that Alfred can say is it’s been days since Bruce swam out of the cave in search of help. In the meantime, Gotham’s emergency services are overwhelmed by dealing with the quake and resulting fires, power outages, and general chaos. A reporter is handed a videotape which she brings to Commissioner Gordon. The tape contains a ransom demand – the earthquake wasn’t a simple natural disaster but engineered, and if the man responsible isn’t paid off he will set off additional earthquakes. After a week, Dick returns to Blüdhaven, only to discover his building’s been condemned and his landlady and friends have been kicked out of their homes. Dick uses his Halley company to buy the building, hires people to bring it up to code, and gives his neighbors vouchers to stay in a hotel until the work is completed.

Also in “False Starts”, a young man is inspired to become a superhero and adapts the name “Nite-Wing” – not only is he using Dick’s alter-ego as a super identity, but since the mob wants Dick dead, he’s soon shot to pieces and ends up in intensive care. Dick, who’s about to enjoy a night out with his landlady, Clancy, gets a call from a very worried Barbara Gordon (Oracle), and then has to break the false “Nite-Wing” out of the hospital and protect him from the mob. Despite attacks by various hired killers, Dick is able to give the guy to Alfred to take care of. Dick didn’t even know the “John Doe’s” real name but felt responsible for him anyway.

In “Paper Revelations”, Nightwing, Robin, and Connor Hawke the Green Arrow, work in Gotham with Batman to solve a series of “Monkey” murders. It appears a group of assassins are at work in Gotham, but tracking down and killing the competition is Lady Shiva. The story ends in a “To be continued” with Black Canary and Bronze Tiger held captive, and Nightwing, Green Arrow, and Robin confronting Lady Shiva.

In “The Forgotten Dead”, Dick’s working as a barkeeper in Clancy’s bar and listens to a retiring police officer talk about a 15-year cold case that’s always gotten to him. Dick investigate’s the cold case as Nightwing with help from Oracle. He solves the case using old-fashioned leg work and detective work, then let’s the cop know who did it through an anonymous tip.

In the final story, “The Boys”, Nightwing trains Robin by jumping on the top of moving freight cars as they travel through the city. The catch? Both are blindfolded. But the training session gives both Dick and Tim a chance to talk to each other, as well as discuss their concern for Bruce, who’s been even more distant since the Gotham Earthquake.

“False Starts” shows many facets of Dick Grayson’s character. “Casa Nostra” the Huntress crossover shows not only Dick’s abilities as a crimefighter, but his honesty. He’s not going to let a mobster be framed for a crime he didn’t commit, even if his other crimes are numerous, bloody, and frightening. Plus, we see a budding romance between Dick and Huntress.

Both “The Breaks” and “False Starts” show Dick, or rather, Nightwing, in Superhero mode – protecting people who need protection, and helping where no one else can or will help. And still, we see Dick’s honesty. He’s essentially being the “good cop” though he has no badge (yet).

“Shudder” and “Day After Judgment” show Dick’s commitment to his own family: Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Barbara “Oracle” Gordon, Tim “Robin” Drake. When a disaster hits Gotham, Dick drops everything in his own home town and goes home to help. In Gotham, Dick helps every day people – a mother, her child, and a bus full of passengers stuck underground when the roads collapsed during the quake – and he helps his own family, showing up at the manor, even though he doesn’t know what he will find. He even understands Tim’s need to see his own father, rather than wait to see what Dick finds at the Manor (especially as it does not look good.) This shows Dick’s loyalty, as well as the Justice League’s commitment to helping during natural and man-made disasters.

When he returns home, we see Dick’s generous spirit as well as his loyalty to his friends.

And we see Dick as the older brother, taking Tim under his wing – so to speak – and not only training him, but giving him a sounding board.

Nightwing False Starts is actually a fine introduction to the Classic Nightwing character, even though it’s the third volume in the series. It introduces the reader to the many sides of Dick’s character as well as different types of stories: mob stories, detective stories, character-driven stories, disaster stories, even superhero stories. Dick Grayson is an excellent character, and by False Starts he’s moved out of the Batman’s shadow and firmly established himself in his own world. I highly recommend this book, and the series (which DC Comics is currently reprinting a volume at a time).

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