Review: Batman – Night of Owls part 3 (Nightwing #9 and Red Hood and the Outlaws #9)

This is my third review of the Night of Owls crossover that is taking place in the Batman family of comic books (Editor’s interlude: Robert’s part one review can be found here with part two here). This week, I am going to give long reviews to Nightwing #9, a title I read on a monthly basis, and Red Hood and the Outlaws, a title I have never read. Additionally, I’m going to give my quick thoughts about the Night of Owls titles that were published on May 09, 2012: Batman #9, Batgirl #9, and Batman and Robin #9

Red Hood and the Outlaws #9: Who are You?– Hoo? Hoo?

Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Kenneth Rocafort
Release Date: 05/16/2012
Cover Price: $2.99
Review: Digital Copy (From Comixology)

Let’s give some quick time for Red Hood and the Outlaws. This title and creative team got a very bad reputation in the first month of the DCnU, when they depicted Starfire as a memory-depleted sensation junkie. Many people have claimed that this book has gotten better since that initial first impression; however, it has never found its way into my check-out list.

I have never been a big fan of Jason Todd either in his initial stint as Robin or in his revived Red Hood form. Roy Harper is a character who can be written well, but most times he turns into a Dick Grayson stand in. It is hard for me to imagine a series where Roy Harper takes a back seat to Jason Todd’s leadership skills. As for Starfire, I have been reading her since her debut in New Teen Titans #1 in 1980 1, and I think that DC Comics hasn’t known what to do with her since she broke up with Dick Grayson.

So, I am interested but skeptical as to the direction of this book. I’ve liked some Scott Lobdell writing in the past2, but he’s not a writer who pulls me in. So, I’m mostly treating this like a Dropped in the Middle Review, but also reviewing how it interacts with the crossover as a whole.

Synopsis

  • The Outlaws are already in Gotham City, and when Alfred informs Jason of the Talons attack, they go to protect Mr. Freeze from one of the Talons killing him, while saving Gotham City from the ice attacks of Freeze.
  • Red Hood is able to stop the Talon from killing Freeze, but the Talon escapes and takes him on a chase through Gotham City, where his is saved by Roy and Starfire.
  • Roy and Starfire return to the laboratory of Mister Freeze, and are able to incapacitate him.
  • Jason chases the Talon to the site of Haly’s circus. The Talon reveals himself to be Xiao Long a former circus performer for Haly’s. He asks Jason to kill him so he can end his life on his own terms.
  • Jason drops off Mister Freeze with Batgirl on the roof of the GCPD next to the Bat Signal, and escapes with Starfire and Roy.

Analysis

When you’re a long time comic book fan, you cannot help but be influenced by earlier depictions of characters. I never liked Chuck Dixon’s version 3 of Nightwing, as he was not writing the Dick Grayson who I grew up with in the pages of Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans.

In terms of a crossover title, the book is fine. There’s some information about Mister Freeze being tied into the Court of Owls, as they used his technology to reanimate the Talons. That makes for a nice crossover plot point as it actually explains why the Court has never sent out all of the Talons in the past.

In terms of a plotted book, there is some real sloppiness here. Mostly it is the creative team trying to cram too much into a 22 page book. What suffers is the details about the Talon: Xiao Long. We get 2 pages of him fighting with Red Hood, and next thing, he is retreating to familiar ground, where he asks Jason to kill him. As there is no hint of this on previous pages, this comes out of left field, and feels like a deus ex-machina4 device to get this story wrapped up for the crossover event.

A little is also lost in the battle between Starfire and Roy versus Mister Freeze. As it seems like she is talking and getting through to her, while Roy shoots Freeze with an electrical weapon that Freeze laughs off before it sends electricity through his body. Maybe it is weird artwork instead of weird writing, but that scene didn’t work for me.

In terms of an introduction to a book I’ve not read before, it’s okay. I am happy to see a depiction of Starfire that I recognize. She seems like a version of herself at a lower volume5. But I don’t recognize Roy Harper at all. With Green Arrow going in a new direction, it leaves Roy Harper as someone who is anchorless in the new DCnU, and for me it drips in every page of Red Hood and the Outlaws. Additionally, the character of Jason Todd does nothing to make me like him or be interested in him. He seems to be a character pretending to be a bad-ass, and that is not effective as the main title character.

I just don’t see the purpose of this book, and I never have. I admire DC Comics for coming up with a book about a ‘trio’ as most books are either duos or a team book of four or more characters 6. But admiration doesn’t give a book a ‘place’ in my comic book purchases. It’s not bad ass enough, quasi-villain enough, team enough, youthful journey enough, or heroic enough to keep my interest. I think this book would be more interesting, if you made it more of a collection of characters who don’t have a place in the DCnU.

The art here is serviceable but kind of strange. It’s interesting that Jason wears a mask that is not smooth, showing off the contours of his face. But, the art and the costume suggest a hero who is hidden from us, and that makes him uninteresting. And Roy’s expression as a bored slacker just give the overall book a dressed-down feeling, that doesn’t really work for me.

Verdict

Nothing to slam here, but nothing that really excelled either. I don’t know what the appeal is for this book, but it’s far from the worst thing I’ve read out there. Some decent enough stuff here that would be better served by some interesting directions.

Overall Grade: 4.5 (Average comic book, but not my thing)

Nightwing #9: The Gray Son

Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Eddy Barrows & Andres Guinaldo
Release Date: 05/16/2012
Cover Price: $2.99
Review: Digital Copy (From Comixology)

In the last issue of Nightwing, Dick Grayson goes to save Mayor Hardy who is under attack from one of the Talons. After defeating one of them, dick is attacked by the re-revived Talon, who had been in the Batcave, William Cobb, Dick Grayson’s great-grandfather.

Additionally, we were shown flashbacks to William Cobb’s life in early 20th Century Gotham City, where he was a performer for Haly’s Circus and won the affection of one of Gotham City’s wealthy debutantes.

Synopsis

This story is two interwoven stories. The first is of William Cobb in 1910:

  • Burton Crowne, father of William’s girlfriend Amelia, disapproves of their relationship. When Amelia gets pregnant, a wedge is pushed between them both, and she marries her second cousin.
  • After the relationship is over, William joins the Council of Owls as their Talon, dedicating his life to them.
  • He steals his son8 from the Crownes, and has him raised by Haly’s Circus to be William’s eventual replacement as a Talon for the Court of Owls.

In present day:

  • After getting knifed by The Talon (William Cobb), Nightwing attack the Talon allowing the mayor to escape.
  • Nightwing takes The Talon out to the street, where he is unable to stop the regenerating Talon, who taunts him about being unable to make a difference in Gotham City.
  • Dick temporarily immobilizes Cobb, but collapses on the floor of a subway entrance. When Cobb tries to recruit Dick into becoming a Talon, Dick reveals that he was faking as he covers Cobb in liquid coolant before subduing him.

Questions and Answers

A:    William Cobb opted to become a Talon after his girlfriend got pregnant with his child, but rejected him.

A:    William Cobb kidnapped his own son from the Crownes so he could be raised in Haly’s Circus.

A:    William Cobb gave his son the last name of Grayson, as the “Gray Son” of Gotham City.

A:    William Cobb was conscious while in the Batcave and witnessed the confrontation between Bruce and Dick.

Analysis

Wow, there was so much information to digest in a single issue of a comic book. I love it.

Kyle Higgins and the creative team are able to weave two stories together, interweaving two narratives, introducing pages of new information about Dick Grayson, and providing a solid fight scene at the same time. It is truly a triumph.

The best thing about the plot is the poking of Dick Grayson by William Cobb. Yes, it is more Cobb’s perception of Dick’s life, but you can still see it: Cobb suggest that Dick is an “Imitation Wayne” and as Dick is a former circus performer who was adopted by Bruce Wayne, but he will always be a “Grayson” and not a Wayne in some circles; Cobb suggests that Dick is a “Knockoff Bat” which is very appropriate after the recent events in Batman comics where Dick took up the cowl, but everyone9 wondered when the ‘real’ Batman was coming back;10 Finally, Cobb suggest that Dick could be the greatest bird of all, which not only ties into being a Talon, but also Dick’s superhero names of both Robin and to a lesser degree Nightwing.

The fight between Cobb and Dick was really well done. The plotting took the action from high to low places in Gotham City, and really allowed the artwork to show the skills of both the hero and the villain. These days, I read comic books for interesting plots, characters, and storylines. It’s rare that I get excited for a good fight scene, and this one did it for me.

I loved Dick being a great strategist and feigning injury allowing the Talon to move closer where Dick could take the advantage. It’s a nice touch, and feels like something that is exclusively Nightwing and not Batman.

After years of being unable to see the eyes of either Batman or Nightwing through their masks, the artists in both Batman and Nightwing have used the convention of the eye slits being ‘broken’ allowing us to see their eyes to depict when our heroes are seriously damage. After years of being trained on the white slits, it is very effective.

Even though William Cobb is to a degree deranged after his conditioning by the Talons and being frozen alive for 90 years or so, it still seemed strange to have him taunt Dick about needing to impress him. I mean Nightwing is a trained in acrobatics, martial arts, and assorted combat, but Cobb is a regenerating assassin with knifes and swords. It showed strange lack of perspective to expect an already battered Dick Grayson to impress him through combat at that moment. I know it’s probably just taunts, but it still felt shallow even for a villain.

Someone is going to need to explain to me, how William Cobb is a young boy (of about 10 I would say) in 1910, and yet is only Dick Grayson’s great grandfather. So, even if Cobb was the ripe old age of 25 when he got Amelia Crowne pregnant (around 1925), that would mean that Dick’s father would have been born in the 1950s at the latest. That makes Dick way too old according to the DCnU. Of course, it’s possible that Cobb fathered other children and named them all Grayson.

Verdict

Yes, I really liked this comic. Kyle Higgins continues to do a masterful job of weaving new elements of Nightwing’s story into the DCnU version of Dick Grayson, all the while not excluding the older fans of the Nightwing we have known for the last few decades. This story worked on all angles, and really has made Nightwing a top creative title

9.5 (Excellent blend of good story and cross-over story)

Quick Reviews

These are my quick reviews of the Court of Owls titles that were published on May 09, 2012:

Batman #9 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Okay, if the whole crossover is simply an excuse to use both the giant penny AND the giant robot dinosaur from the Batcave, then it all has been worth it. I mean this is based on the storyline that’s been started in Batman. Perfect escalation of a threat, but a few more answers should be explained in this issue, and we don’t get that. The connection with Batman and actual bats is always an enjoyable one, but it is rather puzzling. I’m disappointed that a character like Lincoln March was used up so quickly, especially without revealing how he knew Bruce is Batman. (Always a chance for a back from the dead, swerve here). But it is a really good issue. The backup issue involving Alfred’s father is really well done as well, letting us know that the Owls have been around the Wayne’s the whole time.

Overall Grade: 8.5 (Quite Good)

Batman and Robin #9 by Peter Tomasi and Lee Garbett

I have never read an issue of Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin, so this was an introduction to see how Damien Wayne is being handles in the new DCnU. 11 Unfortunately, I’d say that Damien gives me an Anakin Skywalker vibe to him throughout this issue, and I don’t really like that take on a character. Also, the story is a classic one where members of a platoon sacrifice themselves to save their commander, in this case named Major General Benjamin Burrows. And in this case, it’s not like Burrows is going to save the world or cure cancer, he’s just a man who happens to be a target of the Court of Owls and a superior officer. So, to save this one man, nine men of the battalion sacrifice their lives. When the man is simply a name on the list, then it rings hollow. I don’t like those sorts of stories, but that’s a personal preference. The story was an effective one and gave me very good insights into the Damien Wayne character, but I didn’t much for how it got there.

Overall Grade: 5.5 (Not my thing, but still pretty good)

Batgirl #9 by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf

I’m sorry, but any book with a female lead who has a female attacker for no good reason always smacks of pandering, and I don’t want it to. But this is the first Talon who we have met who was obviously female, and she just happens to be the one that Batgirl gets to face. I mean if she chose Batgirl, that would be great, but the book suggests that it’s pure luck and coincidence. All of this was wrapped in a circular tale of violence from the 1940s that doesn’t have enough room to really show its true colors. Gail Simone could have saved this for an episode where her father wasn’t trying to defend the GCPD building, and then she could really have done justice to that part of the story. Don’t misunderstand me, this was a perfectly good issue of Batgirl, but it was so close to being excellent, that I can’t help but be disappointed.

Overall Grade: 7.0 (Could have been much more)

Overall Crossover Verdict

With the Batman and Nightwing titles in, it’s easier to give a crossover grade. I think it’s been an effective crossover, one that readers could pick up what they wanted and not felt put-upon to read books they didn’t want to read. Personally, it has made me re-evaluate Detective Comics and Batwing for future reading12. There wasn’t a real order to the cross-over, and that does hurt the series a little bit, but nothing was so convoluted that you weren’t able to understand what was happening in the overall story. It’s been fun, and we continue it this week with All Star Western #9 and Batman: The Dark Knight #9.

Overall Crossover Grade: 8.0 (Good)

Footnotes

1 – Sorry, but that’s a small lie for dramatic effect. My first comic with Starfire was New Teen Titans #2. I missed getting the first issue.

2 – I liked his X-Men run better than most of the people at the time who HATED it. Usually, he was good when paired with a good writing partner in the other X-Men book, like Fabian Nicezia or Mark Waid.

3 – His much acclaimed run on the original Nightwing solo title.

4 – Actually, as there is no machine, it’s probably not deus-ex machina. Maybe deus-ex plot convenience.

5 – As compared to her depiction in the Titans books or in the crossover series, 52, where she was paired with Animal Man and Adam Strange.

6 – Closest comparison I can make is to the old Green Lantern/Green Arrow series that had Black Canary around as the third wheel.

7 – Like Wally West, Donna Troy, Spoiler, Raven, and others.

8 – Dick’s grandfather, apparently.

9 – Readers and characters alike.

10 – I always disliked the idea of Dick becoming Batman, as I felt he had moved past the idea of being “Batman Junior”. And I knew that if he ever had to go back to being Nightwing that it could really seem to be a step back for the character.

11 – I’ve read the first Grant Morrison Batman and Robin trade paperback, but that’s my only introduction to Damien Wayne.

12 – Most likely I’ll try to get the Batwing trade paperback, and maybe try the next arc of Detective Comics.

 

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