Reviewer: Kevin S. Mahoney
Story Title: Signed, Sophia
Written by: Devin Grayson
Penciled by: Cliff Chiang
Inked by: Ande Parks
Colored by: Gregory Wright
Lettered by: Nick J. Napolitano
Editor: Natchie Castro
Publisher: DC Comics
It seems beyond obvious that an undercover story requires the focal character NOT behave like his real self. Part of the fun of most successful undercover tales involves the altered behavior of the normally decent hero and the emotional wounds his acting out of character inflicts. It doesn’t hurt (but isn’t strictly necessary) for the protagonist to almost get caught by those he’s seeking to infiltrate, perhaps several times, for the suspense of the story. Maybe the character says the wrong thing, reveals he knows something he shouldn’t, does something out of reflex, and almost gives himself away. That’s all fine and well; it moves the story along and keeps the reader engrossed in the plot.
Other things that should NOT happen in an undercover story include the marks knowing the agent’s real name, history, friends, or home. The operative shouldn’t really exhibit his crime-fighting skills to his new allies, as it would only increase suspicion. And certainly, the double agent shouldn’t put himself, his new associates, and friends from his prior “real” life together at any time. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has gone on in this storyline, and pretty much from its very beginning. Dick Grayson going undercover against the Black Mask mob would only make sense if they’d never crossed swords before. Longtime (and at this point long-suffering) readers know that Nightwing fought agents of the BMM as early as the first issue of this series!
Still, it’s vaguely possible that whoever is reading Nightwing #111 has never read the book before, and is unaware the plot basically spits on almost ten years of storytelling in this series and its Bat-brethren. For that ridiculously small percentage of readers, a short summary follows. This issue focuses mainly on the daughter of the capo that Dick Grayson has thrown in with. She watches as the axe finally falls on her criminal family. Her mother is shot in the crossfire of a raid on their home and subsequently dies. Her uncle/protector shoots several cops and somehow manages an escape, while she is taken into protective custody. Our hero conveniently is absent for the big show, on an errand all his own. That errand results in two late night visits to his home, one from the fleeing uncle and one from the man our hero has been hunting since his errand. It doesn’t help that the last page surprise involves the DCU’s most overexposed villain.
The only bright spot in this morass of mediocre storytelling? It’s told completely without dialogue for the first three quarters of it. The device made even this jaded reviewer sympathize with our mafia princess, at least a little. It’s a shame she’s a disposable damsel in distress really, but the DCU already has one Huntress.
The art in this series distinguishes itself beyond the norm. Cliff Chiang’s pencils recall those of previous penciller Greg Land. His moody clarity helped set the scene for many prior adventures of this series and Chiang’s homage to that style, alongside a heavy but not excessive line width from Ande Parks, work well. Wright’s colors, specifically his shadings and highlights, make the pictures pop out at the reader just enough to prevent the art from ever appearing flat. The lettering even pokes a toe over the line towards greatness with the warm and organic diary style exposition (including cross-outs). At least the visual half of the creative team is performing on more than half its cylinders.