Nightwing #93 (July, 2004)
Writer – Devin Grayson
Penciller – Patrick Zircher
Inker – Andy Owens
Colorist – Gregory Wright
Letterer – Clem Robins
Editor – Michael Wright
Cover Price: $2.25
Yeah… today we’re talking that issue of Nightwing.
A few weeks back Reggie and I recorded the 69th episode of The Cosmic Treadmill, where we… with a wink and a nudge, covered The Pro. from Image Comics.
During that discussion, we began to expand into times where superhero comics got a bit naw-tay… which, for better or worse… brought the events of this issue to mind. I was going to cover it to coincide with that episode dropping… buuuut, we were in the middle of our (second annual!) Twelve Days of Christmas on Infinite Earths spectacular!
Outside of looking over the… scene in question (for the episode)… I haven’t revisited the issue since it first came out. As I said on the air, it was around this time that kinda took the bloom off of writer, Devin Grayson’s rose… and I’m quite interested to see how this one has aged.
Up until this point, all signs seemed to indicate that she would’ve risen into the upper-echelon of comics writers. Maybe not a household name… but up there! I’m postulating here, but I feel like this issue might’ve had something to do with why that wasn’t to be.
And so, let’s revisit this somewhat infamous issue… together, and see how it looks over a dozen years later.
We open atop a Bludhaven building where Captain Rohrbach and her husband have erected a Bat-Signal to get Nightwing’s attention… and whattayaknow, it worked! Our man arrives, but warns them to ixnay the potlightsay, because the ‘haven is a different ball’a wax than Gotham. It’s here that we’re brought up to speed… Rohrbach knows that Nightwing and Dick Grayson are one in the same, and summarily kicked him off the force because of it… but that’s not the worst of it… a reporter named Maxine Michaels also knows… oh yeah, and so does Blockbuster!
Nightwing is somewhat touched that Rohrbach went to the lengths of building a Bat-Signal just to warn him… and goes to leave. She stops him, offering him his badge and pistol… telling him that if he’s on the force, she can protect him. Of course, that’s kinda like admitting to the entire world that Nightwing is Dick Grayson… ward to Bruce Wayne, who, oh by the way, is Batman. He declines the offer… and heads off. Rohrbach’s husband whatshisface comments that it looks as though our hero has been put through the wringer… you just wait, pal.
We follow Nightwing to the Haven Hotel (which looks more like a Motel)… and meets up with Ms. Michaels. He implores her to keep his secret private… but she ain’t feeling it (but would like to be “feeling” him). Turns out she’s a pretty decent reporter… she learned that Dick Grayson was shot in the shoulder, then noticed that Nightwing was favoring the very same shoulder… from there, she just connected the dots. Man, if only there was a Batman in a rainbow costume to distract her! Anyhoo, she’s still planning to run the story… but it’s a moot point, as while she and Dick are talking… she gets shot in the head.
The culprit? Why it’s Blockbuster, of course. I remember very little from this era… but I believe Blockbuster was some sort of Kingpin-esque figure these days… industrialist, politician… something like that. Anyhoo, he bursts through the window to confront Nightwing.
It’s a contentious, and uncomfortable chat… Blockbuster makes it crystal clear that he “knows”. He taunts Nightwing with how the secret isn’t really “the weapon”, alluding to all the damage he can now do to Dick Grayson’s loved ones and associates. Despite being pounded into the ground, Nightwing won’t stop taking it to Desmond… and the altruism does not go unnoticed.
They fight down a hallway and into a stairwell/fire escape. Well, it’s really not much of a fight… it’s more like ol’ Mr. Desmond is a cat playing with a three-legged mouse. Finally Nightwing gets in a flurry of offense… which only tickles Blockbuster more. With every punch he names people he can… or has hurt in order to get to him.
Then… Tarantula shows up, and she’s packin’ heat.
She tells Dick to back off so she can take Desmond down… but he refuses. Blockbuster cockily laughs, realizing that Nightwing actually values his (Desmond’s) life more than his own. To which, he laughs… and tells Dick that it’s never going to stop. He will hurt everyone Dick knows and loves… it will never stop. And so, Dick relaxes his grip and… walks away.
Tarantula pulls the trigger… killing Blockbuster… and Nightwing allowed it to go down.
Dick crawls up to the roof… and collapses. He apologizes to Bruce for what he just allowed to happen… just as Tarantula enters the scene.
Annnnnd, then the scene this book is known for begins. Tarantula heads over to Dick… and it looks like she’s there to comfort him. He apologizes for failing her (he’d sort of taken her under his wing)… to which she holds a finger to his mouth to shush him. Suddenly, Dick goes numb… she flips him over… and despite his struggling and contesting… they have sex.
As Tarantula… thrusts… she assures Dick that all of their problems are behind them. All he can think of is how his problems are “never gonna stop”.
So…what do we all think?
Well, before we go “there”… let’s talk about everything leading up to it. I gotta admit, I was prepared to come into this with pitchforks and torches… I assumed that I was going to hate this from soup to nuts. Devin Grayson’s Dick… Grayson was always a bit “iffy” to me (more on that in a bit), but I will concede that the first three-quarters of this issue were some damn fine superhero storytelling! Like, really good! Perhaps taking a bit from Daredevil: Born Again, but still… really good.
This comes from a time before everything was written “for the trade”, and as such we get a good page or two of catch-up exposition… and thank goodness for that! This really helped to bring me up to speed… without feeling like a complete info-dump. As I said last paragraph… just some damn fine superhero work. Great pacing.
It’s clear from Dick’s behavior… and Patrick Zircher’s amazing artwork that he’s had quite a time of late. He’s beaten, battered… frazzled, and at his wit’s end. And this brings us to the “core” of his character, something I feel like Ms. Grayson really gets. Dick Grayson is an altruistic character… to the point where it’s basically a burden.
It’s plainly clear that he’s not fighting for himself… he’s fighting for other people. He’s fighting to keep Batman’s secret… he’s fighting to keep his friends and family safe, he’s fighting for Bludhaven, he’s fighting for Tarantula… he’s fighting for frickin’ Haley’s Circus. He’s just piled on so much responsibility… that it stands to reason that he’ll eventually crack. And, he does!
It’s a very passive “crack” though. He doesn’t kill Blockbuster himself… but also, doesn’t step in to stop Tarantula from getting the job done.
Before moving further… let’s quickly discuss the impact of Blockbuster’s death. We started this issue with the knowledge that three people know Dick’s secret… Captain Rohrbach (who can be trusted), Maxine Michaels, and Roland Desmond. Now, Nightwing isn’t the type of book we’d expect “mindwipes” in, so our only way out of this dilemma is the, ya know, nuclear option. Sure enough, 22-pages later, both Michaels and Desmond are dead.
I’m not usually keen on killing off long-standing villains to suit a story, but… when you’re written into a corner (like we are here), I think it’s more important to “stick the landing” than do some wacky cop-out. So, I guess kudos for that?
Alrighty… so, to be clear… I personally thought the first three-quarters of this issue was really good. My only real complaint is having Maxine Michaels sorta throw herself at Dick. Felt like I was reading Mother Panic for a minute, where everyone just instantly wants to be with the lead. Otherwise though, I dug it.
Now… for the ending.
What we have here is pretty clearly a rape scene. Dick is poisoned and paralyzed… and despite his telling her “Don’t… touch me”, she does anyway. Now… before continuing, I want to make it clear that I haven’t been personally affected by rape. As far as I know, the people I know and care about have not been either… so, I’m sorta coming at this from a position of… ignorance (maybe?). I sincerely hope nothing I’m about to say will be taken as offensive… and humbly apologize if I do somehow offend.
Does this scene belong in a Nightwing comic book? Well… if I were writing Nightwing, this scene would never have happened. That said, I don’t know that I have too much of a problem with it existing… simply because it shows that sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s sorta what Nightwing’s been all about during this arc. He’s a guy doing his best to keep everyone safe… to the point where he’s allowing himself to be hurt.
In reading this all these years later… I dunno if it’s just a sign of what comics have become in the interim, but… it feels far more tame than I remember. Again, I’m not saying this is a “tame” act… or not a big deal, because it is (picture me nervously twiddling my thumbs and second-guessing discussing this book at all at this point)… but, for a fictional story… which will have ramifications… it’s, well… a thing that happened.
Do I want this scene here? Of course not. Would I prefer it not exist? Yepper. Am I asking myself easy questions to assuage my discomfort in discussing this event? You betcha!
Now, in and of itself, this scene is unfortunate… but that’s not really the story of this issue. The real controversy started afterwards. Once the internet started internetting, Devin Grayson backpedaled on the scene… claiming that it wasn’t a rape scene… but instead, a scene which depicted “non-consensual” sex. We can get out the forensic comb and look over that sentence for days… but, I think we’ll still come to the same findings. Poor form on Ms. Grayson’s part… I think if you’re going to write this scene… you kinda have to own it. We may not like or agree with it… but, if you stick the landing… at least we can respect you for that.
In the weeks after this book hit the stands, it seemed like more and more Devin focused stuff hit the ‘net. Old fan-fictions where the object of the main character’s desire was an unnamed (but blatantly) Nightwing. The fact that she changed her last name to Grayson. A romantic link in the comics industry. It just felt like a pile-on… and, I recall feeling really bad to see it unfold. I’m not one to judge anybody for anything, long as you ain’t hurtin’ nobody. Way I look at it, we only get one “go round”, and we may as well try and be happy.
As I said in the preamble, I had Ms. Grayson pegged for great things in the comics field. I figured she’d be a cornerstone in the industry for years to come… and it’s kinduva a shame that she’s not writing a Rebirth book right now. If we look at this issue alone… there’s some solid stuff here. Of course, there’s also the ending. Feels like, and this is me talking out my backside, she couldn’t get out of her own way. I mean no disrespect in saying that… just as an outsider looking in, without much in the way of context… it’s what comes to mind.
Overall… should you read this issue? Well, I can’t rightly say. That really depends on you. This is available digitally.
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