Reviewer: Kevin S. Mahoney
Story Title: The Devil You Know
Written by: Devin Grayson
Penciled by: Phil Hester
Inked by: Ande Parks
Colored by: Gregory Wright
Lettered by: Rob Leigh
Editor: Nachie Castro
Publisher: DC Comics
It’s tough to be objective when a series changes so dramatically and illogically from its root concepts. Dick Grayson as a villain is tough to read about if there is any reader familiarity with his six decades of heroism and scrupulous attention to morality. Trying to reconcile his current adventure with memories of his character’s exploits in countless prior comics, three television series, and at least three feature films is nigh impossible. And the reasoning behind the alterations is so quixotic (guilt and shame stemming from his failed attempt to save his arch-nemesis from execution at the hands of his mentally unstable female partner/rapist) it’s difficult to muster the effort necessary to even attempt the feat. It just seems ridiculous to go along with the idea in the first place.
But assuming it’s possible, can this issue be enjoyable on any level? The answer is a conditional yes. The action sequences all have a certain flair. The Ravager/Nightwing team-up showcases the differences in their styles and philosophies. That their philosophies wouldn’t be as different if our hero really meant to turn away from the road of the righteous is a quibble better pushed into the first paragraph. The Deathstroke/Dick Grayson battle (and its dialogue) has Dick Grayson sounding more like himself than he has in months. The fact that Dick just openly agrees to train Deathstroke’s daughter (with no apparent gain to himself) is harder to swallow. The plot point is redeemed, albeit partially, by Dick “Former Nice Guy” Grayson quipping about Slade’s previous two dead progeny partners in full earshot of his newfound daughter. It’s a fact that seems too obvious and juicy to forget to mention, and that it finally found voice here was a major coup.
The internal monologue is harder to forgive. Yes, Dick Grayson the first in a long line of Robins, ought to be preoccupied with thoughts of father-son, teacher-student, kopei-sempai style relationships. However, he ought to not give a care concerning the evil apprentice he is abruptly saddled with in this issue. Good or evil, Dick Grayson has been through enough between the Titans, Outsiders, and Bat-family, that he not only should resent his impressment at the hands of one of his oldest foes, he ought to drop Ravager like a hot rock at earliest opportunity instead of partially trusting her as he does. This is especially true considering his obvious obligations to the daughter of his former Mafia employer. He’d never trap a civilian in a long-underwear power struggle, accidentally or intentionally, as he’s far too intelligent for that. So, much like the rest of Devin Grayson’s run, a decent plot is spoiled in large part by absolutely abysmal characterization.
The art is far more reliable and consistent than the writing presently is. Hester’s pencils, equal parts dramatic layout and efficient details, makes the story flow with considerable momentum. The new non-Nightwing suit looks more appropriate and less campy than the initial preview art led readers to believe (note the absence of pirate boots). The colors, shading, and lettering gel with the pencils, creating harmonious artwork. If there is a quibble to be had, it’s simply that the not-exactly Nightwing suit needn’t exist. Nightwing had previously donned another suit, that of The Target, to act independently of his previous history. That suit had substantially different toys, requiring Nightwing to fight crime in a very different manner, and had he returned to that suit and those skills, it would have been a more self-consistent and logical effort. But Devin isn’t really one for consistency, and DC pretty much slaves the art to the writer’s request, so Phil probably isn’t to blame.