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Nightwing (v.4) #103 (2023)

Nightwing (vol.4) #103 (June, 2023)
“Rise of the Underworld, Part 3 of 4”
Writer – Tom Taylor
Art – Travis Moore & Vasco Georgiev
Colors – Adriano Lucas
Letters – Wes Abbott
Edits – Berbey, Chen, Abernathy
Cover Price: $4.99

Last time we confabbed on an ish of Nightwing, I spent this sad little pre-ramble portion kind of complaining about and complimenting the cover. Well, here’s another one! One that I actually quite dig! It was the first issue of Nightwing I bought “new” in many, many years (I did buy issues 100-102 the same day off the “six month wall”, but this one was still a “new release”). I’m pretty sure, even if I hadn’t already known that Nightwing was a “de facto Titans book” at the time, that this cover would have brought me back into the fold.

It’s just a cool cover… plus it’s got that classic TITANS logo!

Can the story inside be just as cool? Let’s find out!

*NOTE* – As this is a new-ish ish, pics are at a minimum… though, be warned, you will be spoiled if you read past the dashes!

Picking up shortly after we left off last time, we join Raven… who, I’m sure I need to remind you is THE DAUGHTER OF TRIGON THE TERRIBLE… as she leads her fellow Titans, Beast Boy, Nightwing, and Cyborg through a portal into Hell. She insists on putting a sort of psychic blinding hex on her teammates to save them from having to see all the suffering… suffering they’d be powerless to stop.

Elsewhere in Hell, Neron is meeting up with Blaze… who is quick to mock him for being beaten by Blockbuster’s nine-year old daughter. Oh, she’s also cut the tongue out of one of Neron’s demon underlings, so there’s that. Neron lashes out with a TOOOM in order to kayo Blaze before revealing that he’s about to head topside for a bit.

Speaking of topside, we shift scenes over to Themy… Thym… Th–… can I just call it Paradise Island? Okay, hold on… let me grab the damned book. A-hem, we shift scenes over to Themyscira — where Donna Troy, Starfire, and Batgirl (iz Babs a Titan now too?) have taken young Olivia in order to teach her how to better fight. Not sure why they necessarily needed to bring her here… but, ehh… we’ll allow it.

Back in Hell, the Titans happen across Blaze as she’s coming to. It’s actually HERE where we’re “officially” reminded that Raven is THE DAUGHTER OF TRIGON THE TERRIBLE. Raven reveals that they are here looking for Neron’s soul-contract filing cabinet. Blaze immediately cooperates in order to take Neron down a peg or two… leading them directly to the Big Bad’s pointy, spiky, chainy tower. Blaze informs the gang that the “record-keeping computer” is located on the top floor. I know what you’re (maybe) thinking… Neron keeps his records… on a computer? Isn’t that perhaps a little “too cute by half”? Well, read on… it’ll be worth it.

Nightwing asks Beast Boy to shapeshift into the form of a demon… which, if I’m remembering right, was something he was able to do during the (rough to the point where I still haven’t read all of it) Bill Jaaska era of New Titans. Back then, he was able to transform into a whole lotta demonic and hellish shapes. Anyway, Gar-as-Demon makes like he’s taken Dick and Vic captive in order to gain entry into the pointy, spiky, chainy tower. Upon learning that the Master of the House has gone topside, they drop the ruse and just blast and beat their way inside.

Once at the top floor, Vic takes a look at the late-80s/early-90s looking bank of PCs… and is shocked by — all the icons Neron has on his desktop! Not to mention all the malware, spyware, pop-up ads, and all’a dat yadda yadda we had to deal with back in the long ago. It’s actually a lot funnier than I’m making it seem. To the point where Vic warns Gar and Dick not to give him any of their personal information after he interfaces with this corrupted rig.

Our boys wind up inside Neron’s hall of contracts, or whatever… and are able to find the Olivia contract. It’s revealed here that her mother is… former Bat-love interest, Jezebel Jet… who is, unfortunately, currently dead and without a head. Ya see, if she were still alive, an argument could be made that the Olivia contract is invalid, due to the fact that she’s a child… and that both of her parents didn’t sign off on the deal. Dick, however, isn’t outta tricks. More on that later.

From here, we shift scenes over to Iron Heights, where Flash is making sure The Grinning Man is still safely tucked away in a prison cell… which, at the moment, he still is — but, not for long. Ya see, he’s being visited by Neron… and somehow knows that Olivia’s been taken to Thym… Theyr… that place where the Amazons live. Neron is a bit trepidatious about stepping to the Amazons, claiming it wouldn’t have good optics… but, he’s still got a plan.

Let’s jump ahead to the next day and see it play out, eh?

Back on T-h-e-m-y-s-c-i-r-a, Olivia’s training sesh rolls on. At some point, they’re interrupted by Wonder Woman who asks the tot to give her “her best shot”. Olivia summons all her might and throws a punch… which Wondy catches with ease. She then returns fire by kicking the everlovin’ bejeezus out of the kid (which gets another TOOOM sound effect… they sure like that one, don’t they?). The ladies start freaking out for a bit, before being hammered with psychic and magnetic attacks. Turns out, “Wonder Woman” is actually The Grinning Man (duh), and he’s been joined by Doctor Polaris and Gorilla Grodd! Remember when either of the two latter names would’ve been major threats all by themselves?

Scene shift – over to Blüdhaven Town Hall, where Dick is filling out some paperwork, while Oracle fills HIM in on what’s going down in Themyscira (hey, got it in one that time!). Nightwing sends Gar, Raven, and Vic out to help their teammates while he finishes up his clerical work. No sooner do the Titans warp out than Neron makes his presence known.

Turns out he really wants that kid’s soul. After all, it was kinda promised to him, yes? Can’t say that he’s actually done anything wrong… a contract’s a contract, right? Oh well. Like I said, he wants Olivia’s soul… but, the paperwork Dick just filled out granted him custody of the child. He’s just signed a temporary foster form making him Olivia’s legal guardian… a legal guardian who hasn’t signed on the dotted line for the fair-exchange of her mortal soul. Not sure social services ever works that quickly (I mean, we’re not even into the “next business day” at this point)… but, we’ll allow it.

Neron’s all “oh, c’mon dude…” and attempts to make Dick an offer he can’t refuse. He appeals to his mortality… and how, when compared to his friends, teammates, and peers in the superhero community — he ain’t diddly squat. He’s got no actual “super” powers… not yet, anyway. Ya see, if Dick agrees to “play ball” with Neron, the Big Bad will grant him the power and strength of… a Kryptonian! We close out with our hero getting “just a taste”.

Well… there’s THREE in a row!

You know… the more I get back into writing, the more I realize my (many, many) weakness(es) as a writer. In my “analysis”, I tend to become hyper-focused on certain things. Usually it has to do with whether or not the story we’re discussing has the, say it with me, “nebulous quality of heart”. There are few things in comics/fiction/entertainment/commentary analysis that I just can’t seem to get over… and, top among that pile, is whether or not the “piece of business” in question has “heart”. It’s pure projection on my part… and, heck, I’m probably – at best – a deeply-flawed critic. After all, what is “heart”?

I could (and have in the past) keep chasing my tail about what this means… but, for your sake (and, I suppose, my own), I’ll just pretend you know exactly what I’m rambling on about.

Now, I said all’a that — or, hell, I tried to say all’a that — so that I might say this. This story, to me, definitely has “heart”.

Am I over-romanticizing it? Perhaps. Am I just really hungry for a classic-feeling Titans tale? Definitely. Am I asking myself easy questions to inflate my word count and to give myself an unearned appearance of pseudo-intelligence? You betcha!

The fact remains, however, that — to me — this story, thus far, is the most “Titans” thing I’ve read in ages. Like I said last time out, the characters feel like friends… which was a huge part of what made the classic team(s) feel special and stand out. The fact also remains that, over the past several years I’ve found it much easier to be negative and talk about why I don’t like something — which is probably part of the reason why (outside of everything I’ve already said) I’m having such a hard time putting into words why/how this story is “working” for me. It just is.

Is it perfect? Certainly not. Despite what the “10 outta 10” comics critic community shills tell ya, nothing is. Pitting the Titans against Gorilla Grodd and Doctor Polaris felt a bit outta nowhere… kinda like they just stopped on a couple of random pages of a Who’s Who… omnibus. Nothing worth really holding against the story, just felt a bit like an afterthought (unless, of course, my current-year DC ignorance has blinded me to some context?) — while also kind of selling short the threat each baddie would usually prove to be. I’m never a fan of seeing a villain “leveled down”, especially for what feels like just some throwaway fight scene.

Dick becoming Olivia’s “legal guardian” was clever… though, maybe a bit unrealistic. Which, yeah, we’re hacking computers in Hell — and, somehow, this is my “bridge too far”. Dunno. Just kinda felt rushed. I’m pretty sure it took two weeks for me to get the “okay” to replace the natural grass in my front lawn with artificial turf… I imagine taking legal custody of the orphaned child of a supervillain might at least take “one business day”… then again, what do I know, I don’t live in Blüdhaven.

Very minor quibbles aside… heck, they ain’t even so much “quibbles”… just things that kinda stuck with me… but, those aside, there was also plenty to dig here!

The ladies taking Olivia to Themyscira for training was pretty cool and made sense. It also, at least to me, really hammered home that the Titans are “a team”. Does that make sense? I mean, of course they’re a team, right? Dunno how to explain it… but it was this scene that kinda made that “clear” to me. It said to me that this is more than just a one-off reunion… or some old friends just “hanging out” again. It made the whole thing feel more “real”.

The Hell Heist was well done… and, (again) much to my surprise, quite funny! Vic’s quips about his own “privacy settings” while hacking into Neron’s ancient virus-filled PC inspired a sensible chuckle or two outta me… and, in comics (especially modern ones), that very rarely happens.

Dick getting tempted with the powers of a Kryptonian is a pretty neat twist, and the temporary costume he gets is really cool… but, as far as cliffhangers go, I mean — does anybody think this’ll be permanent? Does anybody think Nightwing is going to sign over the soul of a nine-year old girl to a Lord of the Underworld? Course not… but, what I AM looking forward to is seeing if our man struggles any with the decision… or, gets the opportunity to flex his new super-powered muscle.

I guess we’ll all find out together! Ya know, unless you already read this arc.

Next time out, we’ll wrap it up!

2 thoughts on “Nightwing (v.4) #103 (2023)

  • Ok you’ve got me. I just might purchase this story. But only digitally.
    The thing that got me was Neron giving Dick the powers of a Kryptonian. I’ve been down a rabbit hole lately regarding the history of the Nightwing name and the many people to have used it. And since we all know that Superman was the first Nightwing, giving Dick Kryptonian powers just hits a sweet spot in my heart. Titans nostalgia got me in the door, but Nightwing nostalgia makes me want to stay.

    • The Superman/Nightwing relationship was always interesting to me… so, there’s definitely something special about Dick being gifted the powers of a Kryptonian! We’re even going to see what Superman thinks of “SuperDick” in the next chapter!

      I’ve been going down the rabbit hole myself of late as well, going back and filling in holes in my Nightwing collection… though, that might be more my incessant need to try and pin down all’a his continuity wrinkles than anything else! It’s makin’ me happy though… and making me feel like an actual comicbook fan again! Almost takes me back to the good ol’ days when I was first discovering these characters and trying to map out their histories and connections in my head!


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