Nightwing (volume 4) #101 (April, 2023)
“Rise of the Underworld”
Writer – Tom Taylor
Art – Travis Moore
Colors – Adriano Lucas
Letters – Wes Abbott
Edits – Berbey, Chen, Abernathy
Cover Price: $4.99
On-Sale: February 21, 2023
Hmm… is this where I spend a few paragraphs writing about how “weird it feels” to try and write something again after a long break? Nah… probably not.
So, what inspired this? A “Random DC Comics Discussion and Review” on that site I started seven-some years ago to write… Random DC Comics Discussion and Reviews?! Well, a bit of trademark naval-gazing, and a trip down my own personal “rabbit hole”. I took a beat this past weekend, and… during my “Chris is on Infinite Earths ReMaster Project”, kind of found myself revisiting a lot of my old stuff. Lots of old… Titans stuff. The sort of stuff I used to write about… kind of a lot. It really made me stop and realize how much I missed these kids. Heck, I miss the “me” from back then too!
Can’t say for certain this will be a “regular” thing… I mean, my track record for the past little while hasn’t been all that hot. Honestly, as I’m sitting here writing this — I can’t say for certain I’m gonna even push “Publish”. I guess we’ll find out together, eh?
It’s been a long while since I’ve been “away” from the Titans… heck, DC Comics as a whole. What’s say we engage in another “Lapsed-type thing” and check out a Titanic Tale outta the pages of a recent-ish ish of Nightwing! Since this IS a recent-ish ish, I’m going to “skimp out” and try not to overload this one with pics. This piece will likely still spoil ya though.
Ya know, before we hop into Nightwing #101… we probably ought to chat up the epilogue portion of issue #100, as it pretty much tips that first Titanic domino. Total transparency here, I’ve only read the epilogue of this issue… so, I can’t speak to the main story, which features something of a knock-down drag-out fight between the Titans and… I wanna say, some nu-baddie called Heartless? Don’t know much about this new fella, though at first blush, he looks kinda like a generic nu-character whose primary reason for existing is so speculators could buy up as many copies of and nine-point-sixify his first appearance? Boy, it’s usually a bit deeper into a project where I let my inner comics-cynic out. I’ll do my best to keep it reined in. Anyway, I say all’a that to set the stage for what’s to come. Dick ‘n the Gang save Blüdhaven (gonna have to commit that Alt-0252 puts’a that dots’a over the “u” to memory!).
As the dust settles, our hero is approached by Superman and Wonder Woman, who’d like to make him an offer. Ya see, the Justice League is no more. Again, I’ve been current-year-DC-lapsed since… well, several current-years ago, so I’m ignorant to all things Dark Crisis… more ignorant than I usually am about things! All’s I DO know is that, well, it happened… and there’s no more Justice League. Superman and Wonder Woman recognize Dick’s leadership qualities, specifically mentioning something that happened during this most recent Crisis (remember like 15 years ago we had “Final” Crisis? Imagine if that actually wound up being true!). Anyway, Dick initially believes he’s being invited to join the League… but, it’s made clear that they want him to do something “more”.
Dick’s gotta think about it… and so, we shift scenes. We next join our man, stood alongside Batman at Alfred’s gravesite. Huh? Alfred’s dead? How long do we give it til he’s back? Six months? A year? Heck, I’m talkin’ out my ass right now, for all I know, he’s already been dead a few years! Anyway, Dick and Bruce have a genuinely touching conversation… the likes of which I haven’t seen in quite some time. Very well done.
From here, Dick’s decision has been made… and we jump back over to BlALT-0252dhaven. Hmm… that doesn’t look right. Anyway. Dick is joined by Babs, a dog, and a young woman (Dick’s sister?) who has his same haircut. I’ll better familiarize myself with these folks as we go on, I promise. Dick reveals that he’s buying a prison. We leap forward a month to a Nightwing press conference, where he reveals to the people of Blüdhaven that it’s time for New Guardians (not those New Guardians, thankfully)… it is, indeed, time for the Titans. Our lineup includes: Starfire, Flash, Cyborg, Nightwing, Donna Troy, Beast Boy, and Raven.
Okay, the stage is set… now, into #101!
We open in the Depths of Hellᵀᴹ, where… izzat Despero… or just some Desperoish demon? Whoever it is, it don’t much matter… our Big Bad appears to be our old friend from Underworld Unleashed, Neron! Have I covered that story here? Part of me thinks I have… but, I honestly wouldn’t bet a penny either way. Anyhoo, Neron chats up the demons… upset that, should he decide to attack, that Nightwing would likely turn to one of his Titans teammates, Raven. Worth noting, we made it all the way to page three before being reminded that RAVEN IS THE DAUGHTER OF TRIGON THE TERRIBLE.
We shift scenes over to Vlatava, where Neron is seeking an audience with their King. Well, that’s how it looks anyway… it’s actually a new baddie called the Grinning Man who’s taken the form of the King of Vlatava (I swear, both times I’ve typed this, I started to type Latveria). Anyhoo, our Lord of the Underworld is here because he wants a favor… he’s wanting to reclaim a soul that he believes belongs to him… the soul of Olivia Desmond, daughter of Roland Desmond… Blockbuster!
Speakin’ a whom, we zip over to Blüdhaven, where she’s playing make believe with a couple of the Titans… Raven and Beast Boy! Full disclosure, part of the reason I’m reading this is to help me reconcile and make sense of who and what our current team of Titans actually are. Last I left the (Teen) Titans (circa 2019-2020), Gar was a social media-obsessed tween, and Raven was probably 15 or 16. They both seem a bit more mature now (and Gar is missing an eye?), but I can’t say for certain. Has DC Comics decided that The New-52! into the early year(s) of Rebirth aren’t a thing anymore… or, am I just an idiot? Have the characters started to age in real-time… or, do we just not worry about things like linear continuity anymore? I guess we’ll have to read on to find out! Anyway, Raven, Gar, and Olivia are havin’ themselves a time out in the woods.
They’re soon joined by Nightwing and his three-legged dog, Bitewing. That’s… a sentence I don’t think I could’ve cooked up in my wildest dreams before now. Olivia mentions that the last time she saw the pup, he was able to talk… which is a reference to another recent-ish ish, where Dick met up with his 5th Dimensional Imp, Nite-Mite… which, I did read, and it was fun.
Dick pulls Raven off to the side so they can chat about a body found in the rubble of Titans Academy. Oh boy, I forgot all about Teen Titans Academy. Bought every single issue (since I’m an idiot), haven’t read a one! Maybe this’ll inspire me to make right on that? Oh no, they’re referencing Dark Crisis (on Infinite Earths), too?! Welp, there’s another stack’a books sitting right within my reach that I never bothered to open! I tell ya, I’m not a good comic book fan.
From here, we jump over to New York to check in on the wreckage of Titans Academy. While Nightwing and one of New York’s Finest talk about the logistics of digging a corpse out from under the tower, Starfire just goes ahead and does the t’ing. It’s revealed that the body belongs to one… King of Vlatava, Unnamed the First!
Once the body is nyoinked, Amanda Waller works her way over to our heroes. Waitasec, she’s not super thin anymore? Are we really just disregarding all The New-52! stuff? I mean, I thought most of that stuff was trash, but I’m also a guy who doesn’t wanna see any continuity swept under the rug! Anyway, she’s kind of a dick to Dick.
Later, we join our man con-fabbing with a Vlatavian coroner. The, err, grinning coroner reveals that King Unnamed was seen back in Vlatava two days ago… which is odd, since this body on her table has been dead for weeks! Dick turns his back to her as the continue their conversation… and gets THDed on the noggin with some sort of metal apparatus. It’s revealed that the Grinning Coroner is actually the Grinning Man… who then takes on the form of our titular hero.
We wrap up with Raven, Kory, and the Grinning Dick (ew) heading back to Blüdhaven through a portal.
Well, I’m not sure if it’s just me really missing the Titans, but… ya know, I feel like there’s a lot to dig here. Worth noting, there is a backup (this is a fi’dolla book, after all), but I just wanna look at (and talk about) the Titans stuff.
The Grinning Man gimmick is one we’ve seen a hundred times before. I can’t really fault it for being unoriginal, since it looks like it’ll be necessary in facilitating the rest of this story. I might be denser than most, but the Grinning Man’s relationship with Neron hasn’t been made clear yet, right? I’m assuming there was a soul-swap-for-powers sort of sitch, but I could be wrong. It might could be completely apparent to everyone but me!
I feel like this issue might be a toughie for me to be completely unbiased in discussing, as it delivered in actually giving me a current-year Titans scene that didn’t make me want to hurl my book across the room! It didn’t “take me back” to the glory days, but it made me confident that there may be some of those ahead of us. It’s so strange to me that, sometimes comics will, I dunno “withhold”… and other times, they’ll over-give.
Fans of the Titans aren’t a hard bunch to please. Fans of the Titans want… the Titans. I wouldn’t dare speak for everybody, nor do I wanna paint with too broad ‘a brush, but… I feel like we’ve been getting “teases”… actually, check that… more like “taunts” in how the Titans have been depicted. Flashes of the good stuff… just enough to give us hope that there’s something good coming down the pike, only to absolutely fumble it. It’s pretty much been that way since Flashpoint. Though, in fairness, I haven’t read much in a few years now, so there might be some gold I missed?
Also… good grief, I’m back one day and I’m already bitching about Flashpoint? Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all!
I kid, I kid.
I can’t say that I know enough about our writer to have many good or bad expectations. From all appearances, he seems like a cool guy. One of my best pals is a big booster of Tom Taylor, and that’s good enough for me. I bought every single issue of Superman: Son of Kal-El to support his work (yes, every issue… not just the one everybody bought). I do know he wrote that scene of Nightcrawler eating a mustard and bigotry-covered hot dog, but hey… everybody has an off day, right?
I do know that he will be writing the (just barely released) new Titans series, along with the artist from the last time the Titans had a great run (in my opinion, anyway), Nicola Scott! Looking forward to checking out the rest of this Nightwing arc before jumping into Titans (a book I double-dipped on, because I couldn’t wait for my mail order to come in). If the covers are any indication, I think we’ve got some fun stuff ahead!
The art here is pretty fantastic as well. It feels “light”. I’m not sure what that even means, but it’s the only adjective that comes to mind. If you’re a long time (or, perhaps even… lapsed) reader of Chris is on Infinite Earths, it’s very much the sort of art I’d usually refer to as “candy”.
Overall, like I said… I dug this. A lot. It’s not reinventing any wheels… nor does it have to. It served as a little taste as to what a current-year Titans story could (and should) look and feel like. It’s not trying too hard to evoke “teen” and it’s not a team full of churlish kids staring at their phones. All fun, no cringe.