Weekly Recommendation: Nightwing: A Knight in Blüdhaven

Dick Grayson is my favorite DC Comics character. The guy has been through a lot since his time as the original Robin. Grayson has led the Teen Titans, become a secret agent, and even taken the mantle of Batman once or twice. My personal favorite identity for Grayson, however, is his superhero persona of Nightwing. Grayson’s time as Nightwing represents a boy growing into a man. Nightwing is his own hero, showcasing Grayson’s transformation from a sidekick to a fully-fledged superhero. When Grayson becomes Nightwing, he does things a little differently than Batman. Nightwing doesn’t use fear tactics or gadgetry like his mentor. Grayson plays more to his own strengths, including his acrobatic skills, improvised fighting style, and optimistic outlook. Overall, Dick Grayson is simply a fun character. There is no emotional baggage or moodiness with Grayson. As Nightwing, Dick Grayson is a kind, charismatic, and funny superhero.

Robin, out of the nest

Writer Chuck Dixon and artist Scott McDaniel conceptualize Nightwing perfectly in the first eight issues of the title. Dixon effectively works with a clean slate, being the first writer to handle an ongoing Nightwing series. This blank canvas makes the series very accessible to new readers, as Dixon recaps a lot of the history leading up to Grayson’s time as Nightwing. Furthermore, Dixon establishes a regular setting for Nightwing, including a new city, new villains, and a new supporting cast. Even longtime readers will be able to appreciate the lengths that Dixon goes to set up Grayson’s world in this initial storyline. A Knight in Blüdhaven is an excellent representation of the rest of Dixon’s work on Nightwing: a fun, yet gritty street-level superhero story. Much like the character of Nightwing, A Knight in Blüdhaven is the perfect balance between darkness and light.

Out with the old…

Grayson himself is quite the balanced character. As Nightwing, Grayson is a lot more mature than in his younger days as Robin. Nightwing is a more experienced crime-fighter, who knows his way around the criminal underworld. When interrogating a mob lawyer, Grayson says, “I’m surprised you don’t hiss when you talk”. On the other hand, Grayson maintains a charming, jovial nature, holding onto his colorful childhood as the Boy Wonder. During one fight scene, Nightwing kicks a thug into a car door, quipping, “Whoops. Bad ding there, fella”. The reader is also able to connect with Grayson, as he finds his way around his new city of Blüdhaven for the first time. The dangers and corruption that come with the city are just as surprising for Grayson as they are for the reader, making for a more relatable protagonist.

Having fun on the job…

A Knight in Blüdhaven focuses largely on Grayson’s place in the world. Moving from Gotham to Blüdhaven, Grayson carves out his own territory as a superhero. Much like a son moving out of his father’s house, Grayson moves to Blüdhaven to prove that he can stand on his own two feet. Blüdhaven, as a city, makes for quite the challenge. Nearly all of Blüdhaven’s police officers and government officials are corrupt, the city is filled with gang violence, and none of the citizens have any hope that things will improve. The chaos and apathy of Blüdhaven present an uphill battle which challenges Grayson’s optimistic nature. Indeed, at the end of the first few issues, Grayson states, “This place is hopelessly lost to corruption and injustice and violence. I’m going to like it here”. The confidence and satisfaction with which Grayson delivers this line serves as only one example of the character’s eagerness to face the challenges of Blüdhaven.

No place like home…

Blüdhaven not only serves as a new home for Nightwing, but it also acts as a villain in and of itself. The streets of Blüdhaven run rampant with several violent gangs, such as the False Facers and the Loners. While these destructive adversaries provide some exciting action sequences throughout the storyline, the real corruption of Blüdhaven begins from the top down. A mysterious adversary lurks in the shadows, amidst corrupt officials, manipulating the smaller events around Grayson. The mystery of this hidden enemy generates plenty of intrigue and suspense, as Nightwing must locate the source of Blüdhaven’s criminal underworld. Along the way, several colorful villains appear, such as Reynard, the head of the False Face gang, and the assassin Lady Vic. The bleakness of corruption within Blüdhaven is nicely complemented by the flamboyant nature of these costumed villains. Lawyers, politicians, and police officers all stand in the way of justice, even as costumed adversaries physically oppose Grayson.

Not exactly a warm welcome…

Of course, Grayson is not without his fair share of supporting characters. The Blüdhaven police department boasts a few fascinating figures, such as Chief Redhorn. Redhorn, another corrupt city official, does his best to preserve the Blüdhaven status quo, a goal which often clashes with Nightwing’s idealism. The real compelling member of Blüdhaven PD, however, is Inspector Dudley Soames. Soames keeps the reader guessing, shifting allegiances to whichever side serves him the best. In one moment, Soames is told to execute Nightwing, when in the next moment, Soames lets Grayson go. An issue later, Soames will be cavorting with criminals, while giving Nightwing valuable intel. Soames’ ambiguous nature exemplifies the strange, chaotic essence of Blüdhaven itself. Grayson is also supported by members of the Bat-Family, particularly Tim Drake, the third Robin. Drake is shown as the little brother that Grayson never had, as they bond during key moments of the story. Grayson’s role as a big brother makes the Bat-Family feel more like a family. One key brotherly moment between Grayson and Drake is when the two share sandwiches on a stakeout. During this scene, the two Robins have a heart to heart about their respective roles in the Bat-Family, bringing them closer together. The bond between Grayson and Drake places Nightwing in a mentorship role, accentuating his transformation into an fully-formed superhero.

Just whose side is he on, anyway?

Scott McDaniel’s artwork complements Dixon’s writing quite well. McDaniel’s art captures the most important aspect of Grayson: his acrobatics. Many panels boast images of Grayson hopping around the city of Blüdhaven, showcasing the different flips and jumps with grace and fluidity. The pure chaos that takes place during action sequences is also brought to life by McDaniel’s pencils. Images of bullets flying, glass shattering, and cars veering off the road are given a great sense of speed and urgency. McDaniel also manipulates the panels on the page quite well. Action scenes showcase panels of varying sizes and shapes, haphazardly throwing the action all over the page. Specific panels are enlarged or drawn across the larger page to indicate their importance quite well.

No wonder, he grew up in a circus!

There are certain aspects of A Knight in Blüdhaven which might repel readers, however. Blüdhaven’s corruption can seem a bit excessive at times, as Dixon repeatedly reminds the reader of how hopeless the city seems. While the seemingly irredeemable nature of Blüdhaven is quite important for the overall setting and narrative, it would be nice to see at least a few redeeming qualities. Even Gotham has people like Commissioner Gordon to remind readers that the city is not beyond saving. McDaniel’s artwork may also be an acquired taste for some. While the action scenes are wonderfully rendered, the quieter scenes of dialogue can be off-putting. Faces, specifically, can be a bit odd to look at, with more pointed features and bulging veins in certain characters’ heads. Personally, I love McDaniel’s artwork, so I take no issue with any of his illustrations. Some, however, might not be used to his style. For those continuing Dixon’s run, it can also become a bit bogged down by numerous crossovers and connections to other Batman-related titles. The connection to the larger Bat-Family can be frustrating for new readers with less background on Batman continuity. A Knight in Blüdhaven, however, has minimal interference from the outside Batman mythos, so continuity should not be an issue.

Because nothing good ever happens in Blüdhaven…

Dick Grayson is a wonderfully diverse character, with eighty years of rich history. While Grayson has been known by many names, Nightwing will always be my favorite. Grayson’s arrival in Blüdhaven is a true milestone for the character that should not be missed. Nightwing is given the chance to test his bright, optimistic outlook against seemingly hopeless odds, and this excites him. Grayson, while enduring so much darkness, manages to stay in the light. Just because Nightwing isn’t a boy wonder anymore, this doesn’t mean he has to become Batman. Grayson stays true to who he is, developing into a mature, well-adjusted crimefighter. The growth of Dick Grayson from teenage sidekick into adult superhero solidifies his place as my favorite DC Comics character.

What a guy

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, here are some other Dick Grayson recommendations:

  • Robin: Year One by Chuck Dixon & Javier Pulido
  • the New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman & George Perez
  • Nightwing: Year One by Chuck Dixon & Scott McDaniel
  • Batman: the Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
  • Nightwing by Kyle Higgins
  • Grayson by Tom King & Tim Seeley
  • Nightwing by Tim Seeley

That’s all for this week! If you liked this post, feel free to share and follow the blog on Twitter @book_column. Check back in next time for another weekly recommendation!

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