Nightwing Vol. 2: Back to Bludhaven in many respects represents the real first volume of the DC Comics Rebirth series, and it's an admirable accomplishment by writer Tim Seeley. Seeley has the unenviable job of taking Nightwing Dick Grayson back to his pre-Flashpoint home of Bludhaven in such a way as to not seem just a soft re-hashing of a story already told, and he does so with alacrity. The Rebirth-based conceit with which Seeley accomplishes this works better than I expected, and also Seeley manages to pay homage to and utilize a variety of villains from the Nightwing series past -- using them, even, perhaps better than Chuck Dixon did originally. Not unlike James Tynion's Detective Comics, Seeley's second Nightwing volume ends with Dick Grayson to some extent back where we left him pre-Flashpoint, but fresher and with perhaps clearer purpose than he's ever had before. I finished Nightwing Vol. 2 much more excited to read the next volume than I was before.
[Review contains spoilers]
I found Seeley's Rebirth Nightwing Vol. 1: Better than Batman an interesting tale, especially how it dealt with Dick Grayson-as-Nightwing processing (or failing to process) the aftereffects of his experiences in the Grayson title. But in various ways Dick's failed partnership with the anti-hero Raptor seemed to both come about and implode too swiftly, and seemed perhaps to suggest a resolution of Grayson's issues too neatly. I was pleased therefore to find that Bludhaven opens with Dick still fretting over Raptor's betrayals and also the story continues to deal with Dick extricating himself from the Grayson super-spy mindset.
There's more than a little creative license taken in Dick mourning here the death of the New 52 Superman, with whom he was supposedly great friends but whom we never actually saw him interact with all that much. But even as I'm also skeptical of the narrative conceit of the pre-Flashpoint Superman (and Wally West, to some extent) flitting here and there spreading the gospel of the "brighter" pre-Flashpoint DC Universe, I thought Seeley did well in the first chapter combining Nightwing, Dr. Destiny, and the pre-Flashpoint Superman and ending up with Superman suggesting Nightwing go to Bludhaven to clear his head just like his pre-continuity doppelganger did. To answer, "How do you make Nightwing go to Bludhaven like he did before," with "Just tell him he did it before" is beautiful simplicity, a cheat that doesn't feel like a cheat, and starts the book off right.
Seeley's second smart move is to populate the book with a bevy of Nightwing's old Chuck Dixon-era enemies, but to make them Nightwing's allies and supporting cast. Something that differentiated but also irked in Dixon's work was his tendency to include bit villains of more style than substance who obviously made a small impression even as they were mostly forgettable. Seeley brings back Stallion, Giz, Mouse, and Grimm, among others, and not only gives them back-stories, but forms them into something of an off-beat team of reformed B-list villains for Nightwing to lead. Everything is here -- a link to the past (and that Seeley uses "Redhorn" as a Bludhaven landmark), a touch of the gray in Nightwing still kind of working both sides of the law, and a career for Dick as a victim's counselor that makes more sense than either police officer or gym teacher. Seeley has taken old concepts that never quite worked here and made them even better.
There's impressive range across the Rebirth Nightwing series so far. Better than Batman was a globe-hopping trek with gritty art by Javier Fernandez that suggested something very mature, more spy than superheroics. Bludhaven comes off more superheroic, with rounded art by Marcus To and, of course, the rogues' gallery of resurrected villains. This second volume is not less mature per se, but it's notable how this title went from more serious to more fun and ostensibly might swing back again. Seeley ends the book too with a costume-light romance tale, which again sets Nightwing in a different key; after Grayson, this kind of work from Seeley is not surprisingly necessarily, but it's certainly welcome to see the range continuing through.
I like the relationship Seeley creates between Nightwing and former villain's sidekick Shawn "Defacer" Tsang, and knowing Dick Grayson's history and dating life, a reformed villain's sidekick seems just about right, if not inevitable. Seeley is successful in making us root for the relationship -- "He looked relieved" is a great line -- which is of course the point of making the end seem tragic. I hope Seeley isn't pursuing a "women in refrigerators" trope simply because of how tired and obvious that might be, but even had I not enjoyed the book as much as I did, that ending would guarantee that anyone would come back to see what happens next.
In both the New 52 and Rebirth, I've often been wary of creators simply telling the same pre-Flashpoint stories over again and in less space and with less magnitude (see Tim Drake's New 52 origin, for instance). Putting Dick Grayson back in Bludhaven and bringing back all of Chuck Dixon's one-off bad guys could have gone very wrong, but I think we've seen by now that not much goes wrong in Tim Seeley's hands. Nightwing Vol. 2: Back to Bludhaven returns Dick to his old stomping grounds, and I'm eager for a return visit as well.
[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]
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