Story: A month after Dr. Leslie Thompkins was rescued in the Congo by mysterious agents of the secret organization Spyral, Batman and Nightwing participate in a furious workout, detailing the hows and whys of Dick’s future induction into the secret organization.
My thoughts: The relationship between cause and effect is one of the simplest and most universally understood concepts in our human history. From the moment we are brought into this earth, it is spirit of decision making and the backbone behind every choice we make. What makes this concept exciting is how it can be manipulated through the art of storytelling. Comic books in particular can be at its most interesting and unpredictable through the methods of surprise twists and the anticipation of the fallout. Crisis on Infinite Earths is probably to this day the largest example of a company-shattering shockwave, coming from the end of the Multiverse. The deaths of Jason Todd, Superman, Flash and etc. have all bore fruit to engaging and fascinating turns of events for the characters related to said heroes, as well as their readers.
Taking Forever Evil into account, right away the story promised massive consequences in issue one when Nightwing’s secret identity of Dick Grayson was blown to the world. Fans pondered what could happen from this global revelation and how it would affect Batman, Batgirl, Alfred and various other members of the Batman world. Unfortunately, through both delays and the needs of previously established Batman crossovers, nothing much happened after Dick’s mask was ripped off on live television. Sure, the fans were wondering whether he’d die by the end of this story, but that was a distracting concern in place of the more natural and honest matter of how much the reveal of Dick being a crimefighter impacted the public perception of Bruce Wayne.
Long story short, it didn’t. I will admit right up front that I have not read Forever Evil and all of its tie-ins from start to finish. I’ve not strictly kept up with the story nor have I invested in the ending. I have read the Bat-Books during the time the story was coming out. That, factored with listening to the story’s coverage on The Batman Universe Comic Cast has given me enough information to go on that this supposedly major plot point of Dick Grayson’s identity being revealed has ultimately amounted to nothing more than an excuse for the upcoming “Grayson” title, which I choose to view cynically as a brief Hail Mary thrown in order to garner moderate interest into any book not written by Scott Snyder.
My point is this: The twist of Nightwing’s ID being blown turned out to be nothing more than a reason for his new title as a secret agent to earn its existence. Any other concern for what might happen after Forever Evil is at this point shoved to the wayside.
(BTW Batman isn’t the only person who knows that Dick’s alive. What about Luthor? He’s the one who saved him AND now knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Shouldn’t that be a concern?)
So with this final issue of Nightwing, it’s up to Tim Seeley and Tom King to explain why Dick must fake his death and go into working for Spyral. How well is this story told?
If the tone of my exasperation with how Forever Evil’s twist was handled, you can predict how I felt about this issue.
To save you time, I’ll go through the inherent logic contradictions of this book as best I can.
Page 1 and 2: Leslie recounts on how the “Fist of Cain” cult got the drop on them despite the group being presented in the opening splash page rampaging through the camp guns blazing. Leslie’s friend gives exposition to one of the cultists for no reason before he is predictably cut down. One may suggest that he was too scared to move or say anything else, but the artwork has him pointing at the cultist in an accusatory, defiant pose.
Page 3: Leslie and the child are cut off by cultists in one panel, then flee the scene in the next as though they were running in the middle of chaos.
Page 5: Woman who saves Leslie and the child has her shirt unbuttoned revealing that she’s wearing nothing underneath for no discernable purpose.
Page 6: Mysterious man asks Leslie why people help others as though it were a foreign and questionable human characteristic.
Page 7: We’re told Leslie recounts this event two months later and are never given a reason for that time discrepancy.
Page 12: Batman hits Nightwing with an elbow, enunciated with a lettered “CRACK” and a lightning bolt in the background, signaling to the reader that he’s broken Dick’s jaw or neck. Yet Dick suffers from no injury for the rest of the issue.
Page 13: Batman purposefully knocks Nightwing into Jason Todd’s trophy case, a move which could’ve killed Dick and needlessly ruins the tribute to Jason for no reason.
Page 14: “New Look” Batman costume, complete with yellow oval and outside shorts is on display, despite this being the new 52 and Batman has never been shown to wear it.
Page 15: After being thrown down to the ground in the previous page by Nightwing, Batman is suddenly several feet away and has hurled large dice at Nightwing’s back, again resulting in a “CRACK” sound effect. Two panels later they’re suddenly on top of the previously unseen giant dinosaur. Two panels after that, Batman is apparently strong enough to send Nightwing flying into a computer with a single punch. Nightwing returns with a kick to do the same. In both panels, the two characters are speaking as they fly back into electrical compartments.
Page 16: Nightwing and Batman leap onto the Bat-Boat in panels 1 and 2, then are next to the previously unseen Bat-Cycle in panels 3 an 4. Batman is apparently strong enough to slice the motorcycle in half with a kick. Panel 5 seems to show Batman and Nightwing flying to a higher level of the cave.
Page 18: Nightwing continues conversation in mid-air, flying backward after receiving a kick to the mouth by Batman. The fourth panel shows him upside-down, in mid-air, hitting his forehead in a fall that would kill him. Panel 5 shows Dick maintaining clear, audible speech despite the artwork showing him spitting out a mouthful of blood.
Okay, I’ll stop.
My point is that the art throughout the majority of the comic doesn’t connect with the dialogue or the sequencing of the storytelling. It’s one of the many ways this issue can’t connect with the message it’s trying to tell. In some instances that’s intentional. The discussion Bruce and Dick have seem to be with themselves and not one another. Batman and Nightwing hardly ever respond to what the other person says, giving the reader a sense that they’re having a one-sided conversation. The problem is that for the two to reach an agreement at the end (Dick agreeing to Bruce’s insane plan), there needs to be a unifying moment for one to recognize what the other is saying. This issue treats the scene where Batman nonsensically cites David Goyer’s script for Batman Begins and Nightwing refutes it as an epiphany. But how can it be? Dick states “We fall because someone pushes us. We rise so we can push back”, which gives us another example of how fundamentally different Batman and Nightwing’s personal viewpoints are. Batman doesn’t say “You’re right” and neither does Nightwing. So why does Nightwing at the end agree to Batman’s wishes?
This is all carried out through a needless, ridiculous fight scene in which the two nearly kill each other and destroy the Batcave. Batman and Nightwing fighting each other is a totemistic flag meant to show how much the once former Dynamic Duo are inherent opposites. The fact that they must fight signals how far apart they really are from one another. The story gives the excuse that Batman’s testing Nightwing to see if he still has the right stuff, but the thinking behind that is misguided. If this story had any logic, Nightwing would be in the hospital recovering from a stopped heart. Batman witnessed this firsthand, yet decides to push him to his limits spontaneously for reasons only known to him, and damns him if he fails. Dick’s characterization is even worse, as he obliges Batman’s challenge. The most fundamental characteristic of Nightwing, not Dick Grayson, Nightwing, is that he’s his own man who’s grown out of Batman’s shadow. From what I’ve read however, all this series has done up to this issue is show how that’s no longer the case. Dick’s never moved away from Gotham until the Haly’s Circus storyline, he rarely gets out of crossover battles without Batman saving him, and despite the angst-ridden cries of “I’m not your boy.”, he obeys Batman’s bewildering call to throw his life away anyway. The ultimate punctuation mark on this dismembering of Dick’s character is in the final line of the series.
“My name is Dick Grayson. I’m who you need me to be.”
This issue delivers one of the most succinct examples of cognitive dissonance I’ve ever seen in a comic. It can’t reconcile with what it’s trying to convince the readers and its characters of, and it flounders through clumsy action scenes and calls it character development. Avoid at all costs.
Reviewed by Donovan Grant