Dick Grayson’s return to Nightwing had the potential to live a life Batman wouldn’t but chooses to waste that chance for the familiar clichés.
Warning, spoilers for Nightwing #76 below, in stores now!
When you’re telling a story, the momentum is only as good as its payoff. Some stories, whether in literature, film, or conversation, can take days, months, or even years to complete, and either the ending is the capstone of total greatness or completely falls short, leaving its audience disappointed and/or annoyed. In Nightwing #76, Dick Grayson faces KGBeast, whose botched kill shot derailed Nightwing’s life, and finishes the sentence he left unconcluded back in Tom King’s Batman #55. The only problem with it is that the last piece of this puzzle reveals an answer that just doesn’t feel like it was worth the wait.
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Since surviving KGBeast’s bullet, Dick suffered amnesia which left behind a new identity and a lot of people looking to capitalize on this dangerous blank slate of a vigilante. Although most fans groan at the Ric Grayson period in Nightwing’s life, Dick’s crimefighting and conscious desire to help people made him and his girlfriend Bea a target for everybody from imposter Nightwing’s, to the Court of Owls, and even the Joker himself. After Joker War saw his brief time as the Clown’s right-hand man end with the restoration of his memories, Grayson suited up in his old Nightwing costume to help the Bat-Family turn the tide in their favor. Afterward, Dick remained hesitant to permanently return as the guardian of Bludhaven until making peace with Alfred Pennyworth reminded him of the deceased confidant’s desire to see him happy and avoid the misery and perpetual loneliness that his mentor Batman accepts as the price for his commitment to protecting Gotham.
In the issue by Dan Jurgens with art by Ronan Cliquet, Dick’s return to reconcile with his former partner Bea is interrupted by KGBeast, returning to restore his damaged reputation by finishing the job. The last member of the Flying Graysons takes on his old nemesis, giving him a thorough beating while also taunting him about his methods, motivations, and that he suspects the feared assassin may actually be afraid of him. The beginning of the issue flashes back to that fateful night on top that Gotham rooftop, where Nightwing attempted to break the tension between Commissioner Gordon and Batman with what appears to be a joke, “ That’s the problem with Napkin Man. He just doesn’t--“, left unfinished until now. After a stuck grenade detonates in KGBeast’s gun-hand, Nightwing not only saves the burnt and humiliated assassin’s life by applying a tourniquet, he also remembers to finish his line. ” That’s the problem with Napkin Man. He just doesn’t follow normal Bat-villain protocol! He just wipes away all the clues,” Dick says with a smile as the aggravated assassin screams vengeance right around the time the ambulances and police arrive.
Overall, the long-awaited joke that falls flat is only part of the problem here with Nightwing. Whether it was Jurgens’ original idea or leftover notes from King, the sentence is clearly part of Grayson’s general humor… but it was not the kind of material worth waiting dozens of issues to hear. The other frustration is that Dick’s later conversation with Bea negates all the meaningful declarations and changes promised in the last issue. Grayson believed that he could honor Alfred’s wishes of finding a balance between his responsibilities as Nightwing and personal happiness with someone. In this issue, Dick chooses to follow Batman’s example by lying to Bea that he doesn’t remember their time together much less any feelings for her, pushing her away as a means to protect her.
All of Dick’s talk of trying not to be like Batman results in him behaving exactly like him, making him appear like a hypocrite even it begrudgingly makes sense. In the end, things are said, masks are taken off so the tears can come, and then it’s back to business. Although Nightwing has returned, his sense of humor is still a few days behind because this time, we sympathize with KGBeast’s frustration.
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