In Knight Terrors: Nightwing #2, as Nightwing and Scarecrow search for ways to escape Arkham Asylum, the deepest fears of Dick Grayson increase their offensive to keep the two trapped forever!
Synopsis (Spoilers Ahead): Knight Terrors: Nightwing #2 begins with Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane) watching as a cyberized Oracle is led across the halls of Arkham Asylum. Scarecrow tells Nightwing that he’s in possession of a map, which can guide them across the building, but Nightwing notes that the map makes no geographical sense upon reading it. Suddenly the doors open up, and Nightwing is welcomed into the dining hall by twisted images of his and Batman’s rogues. Harley Quinn appears as a guard, and a fight ensues, leaving Nightwing and Crane an opportunity to follow where Oracle is being held.
Crane, making note of a former inmate named Basil Grimes, pulls out a Walkie-Talkie, and hears Grimes’ voice leading them through the hallways. Finding his zombified corpse, the still-animated Grimes taunts Nightwing over his many mistakes throughout the years. Eventually they find Oracle, who has a literal bug on her mechanized heart. Suddenly the group is attacked by an image of Tony Zucco as a ringleader at the Haly Circus big top, with a deranged Batman attacking and accusing Nightwing of killing him. Before long, the Batgirls arrive – having been beset with their own worst fears, and the team escapes the nightmare by fleeing the now burning big top. Nightwing offers to bring Crane with them, but he refuses. Soon after, Dick wakes up in his apartment, warily believing that his nightmare has finally ended.
Analysis: I’m not a fan of DC crossover stories, and this was an example of why that is. Typically, unless it’s intended as a giant, universe-sprawling event like Infinite Crisis, the crossovers prove to be wastes of time. That wasn’t always the case, with Paul Levitz and Denny O’Neil really putting in work editorially back in the 90s with storylines like Final Night and the various Bat-crossovers. But that’s over 25 years ago, and it’s too long of a time to cite No Man’s Land and others as recent standards. Really, the last crossover I enjoyed was Blackest Night as an all-out attack story for most of the major heroes.
What gets me about Knight Terrors is that the very concept should be revelatory for the characters. The Bat-family, however, deal with this sort of psychological attack too often for this to mean anything. How often have they gone up against Scarecrow or other characters attacking them for their insecurities and sense of failures? Often, you don’t even need a fear toxin, the characters have probably been shown to have more nightmares than any comic book franchise on the market. So when we get something like Knight Terrors: Nightwing – what are we to expect?
In this story, Dick’s inexplicably accused of killing Batman. Oookay, well what would that draw upon? Feelings of failure? He’s stood in for Bruce twice, both times doing just fine even though he disliked it. Does he believe his presence in Bruce’s life has made the Batman worse? No shot. Any other presumption feels too generous to dwell much more time on, so I don’t know what that’s supposed to say about him. I think Dick’s insecurities have been thoroughly examined throughout the past thirty-plus years. His feelings of failure in relationships, his guilt over Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd and others, that’s more stuff to mine. His fear about his parents has been confronted enough, and to this story’s credit that’s hardly invoked aside from the big top and Zucco. What could’ve been done was how he feels about letting Bludhaven down, since he’s put so much of himself into bringing that city into the light.
So many shoulda, woulda, and coulda, but the fact remains is that too much of this story plays like a traditional comic where there’s a plot with scary imagery and a villain and an ending. Nightmares should really be trippy and dreamlike, a la Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum. They’re a way to invest out interest in the worst fears of a fearless hero. Dick Grayson, one of the most famously confident and experienced heroes in the DC Universe, is not going to worry about meeting his rogues gallery again or being responsible for killing Batman but not knowing why like some sort of blackout drunk. There’s just too little justification for the idea of this being Dick’s nightmare.
I’ve hardly commented upon Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad’s writing during their stint on the now-cancelled Batgirls title, but I did read that series throughout its entire run. As a Cassandra Cain fan, I was obligated, and though I’m inclined to agree it got better near the final six issues, much of it felt slapdash and too broad to really hit home as capitalizing on the emotional potential of presenting these characters together. I’m seeing the same thing here with Nightwing. Dick Grayson is a fascinating and deeply rich character, so there’s got to be something fun to really mine with him specifically in talking about his worst fears. Him killing Batman…that may work for some of the other sidekick-turned heroes. Wally for Barry, Roy for Oliver maybe…but it’s just not good enough here. So what we’re given in between that plot point is Dick wanting to leave Arkham and relying on a way too coy Jonathan Crane to assist him. I’ve actually written about the relationship between Nightwing and Scarecrow in a past review a few years back. Basically, Scarecrow’s antipathy towards Nightwing is more interesting ground to cover, but that’s ignored/forgotten for this.
I really am loathe to negatively review a book by constantly comparing it to what’s come before, but it’s hard when it has been done so much better. Nightwing #9-#10 by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel was everything this book doesn’t seem interested in being – weaponizing Dick’s worst fears by presenting a trippy, creepy, and revealing story while he was under Scarecrow’s fear toxin. I understand that Insomnia is a different character, but the effect professes to be the same. Even if Scarecrow were the big bad villain behind this, the result is still too middling for me to greatly care about.
Not to be too negative, Daniele Di Niculolo’s artwork was fun to look at. Since the Nite-Mite issue I’ve since learned that Di Niculolo and Tom Taylor worked on a previous series, Seven Secrets. I think the man does fun work and wouldn’t mind seeing a longer run for this title. His artwork especially shines here because the imagery is so extreme and cartoony, and in fact even more fun than last time. The bit where we see the villains in the dining hall with Tarantula anthropomorphized as a woman-headed spider was both creepy and creative, and I liked the purse-headed Croc. Of this entire story, the artwork way outshines the writing.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.