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Shadowhawk brings to you the second comics round-up for August.
“With a creative change, Justice League Dark gets much better in its second volume, while Chuck Dixon’s first Nightwing arc with the hero setting up in Blüdhaven also proves to be quite enjoyable.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: New 52: Justice League Dark Volume 2 by Peter Milligan and Jeff Lemire (DC Comics), and, Nightwing Volume 1 by Chuck Dixon (DC Comics).
When last I talked about Justice League Dark, in my review of the first volume here, I’d mentioned that I was going back to the first issue in order to catch up to all the development that’s gone on in the book so that when I start reading the title’s “Trinity War” tie-in issues, I wouldn’t be lost as to who all these characters are and how they came together. In any team book, that element is always of special importance/relevance, since its almost always the core concept behind the team. With the Justice League Dark, it is all because Madame Xanadu saw some terrible event in the future and so she set about to bring together individuals with an affinity for magic and experience with the supernatural. Written by Peter Milligan, the first volume ended on a very promising and fairly strong note, despite some missteps earlier. It was a fairly good title all things considered.
The story, when it ends in the first volume, deals with the outbreak of Vampires in Gotham, and event which overlaps with Joshua Hale Fialkov’s own run on the title I, Vampire, of which I’ve read only the first volume. It was a decent enough title but not decent enough to keep me interested in continuing further. Consequently, the first two issues of this volume feel incomplete, since I didn’t read the corresponding issues of I, Vampire and because there was an abrupt creative change after #8, which saw Peter Milligan leave and Jeff Lemire enter.
Issues #7 and #8 were quite good, all things considered. Milligan seemed to be quite comfortable in his writing and the characters, so the story definitely flowed better than it did in the previous volume. I was also familiar with the characters by now, so that was an added bonus. Additionally, these two issues also guest-star both Batman and Batgirl, so they were even more enjoyable. The entire story being woven about the rise of Cain and the ancient Vampire Andrew Bennett (the protagonist of Fialkov’s I, Vampire) was a full-on urban fantasy ensemble adventure, very very different to the usual type of comics I read, which are all about superheroes and supervillains going full-out against each other.
Perhaps that is the big charm of this book to me. Either way, these were two fun issues, and I’m rather sad that Peter Milligan didn’t get to continue things. All the same, Jeff Lemire being brought on board to replace Milligan was a great choice in hindsight. The series definitely got much better with the next few issues.
This time, we meet some new memebers, such as Andrew and Black Orchid, the latter being a member of Amanda Waller’s ARGUS, a special military outfit that is commanded by Steve Trevor, former liaison to the Justice League. With Lemire, the book kicked into overdrive, with each issue outdoing the one before, consistently at that.
With Lord Faust in the picture we get to see a great natural villain for a book like this, and the scripts this time were epic and grand and really fun. The positive experience I had, matched with what I felt when I read Justice League #13-14, two issues on the Geoff Johns book that really turned that book around after a very disappointing second arc. Going up against Faust, we also get to see a lot more of Constantine, especially his manipulative side, and we learn more about what ARGUS does in its spare time. The entire story was definitely far more captivating this time around, and it held my interest throughout.
With an excellent pacing, I just couldn’t put it down, it was that kind of a book. I was initially concerned how the characters would be handled by a writer, but I needn’t have worried. Lemire carries on almost as if Milligan hadn’t left. Another plus-point for the volume.
In terms of the art, series regular Mikel Janin took a break for issues #7 and #8, for which the art duties fell to Daniel Sampere and Admira Wijaya. The two of them delivered two stunning issues. Their style was completely different from Janin’s and I even liked it better than his in a lot of ways. Their artwork had more of an old-school feel to it, whereas Janin’s happened to be much more modern. Although I’ll say that the credit for the last goes in a large part to colourist Ulises Arreola. They both set the tone for the rest of the series, but in their absence Sampere and Wijaya carried on wonderfully. I really wish that the two of them had been able to stick around for a few more issues, perhaps even complete this entire arc. That would have fun.
With Mikel Janin and Ulises Arreola back from #9 on and through to #12, the art retained the same trademarks as before, and it was really easy to ease back into the familiar. Not the best art I’ve seen in the New 52, but it did come close, all things considered.
Finally, there’s the #0 issue, which was drawn by Lee Garbett, an army of inkers, and colorist Pete Pantazis. This issue recorded how Constantine and Zatanna first met, and as an origin story like the issue was marketed as, I thoroughly enjoyed getting such an early glimpse into the characters. It set up a lot of things in hindsight, so I’m pretty fine with it. I’d even go so far as to say that I thought the #0 issue was immensely gratifying.
If there’s anything bad per se about the book, it is that the narrative transition between Milligan’s issues and Lemire’s issues wasn’t all that smooth. It was a complete about-face and this was frustrating. We also didn’t get to see any fallout from Milligan’s issues, which added to that frustration.
Overall, quite a good entry into the series.
As a fan of the current iteration of Nightwing in the New 52, through the pen of Kyle Higgins, I wanted to read more about the character’s background. Chuck Dixon’s original run back in 1996, which saw the hero travel to Blüdhaven and set up a base there for a temporary mission that becomes somewhat permanent, was the beginning of my old-school Nightwing-fix. The tone and mood of this version of the character is completely different to that of Higgins’ with Dick not smart-mouthing as much, although he does come across as a much more investigative hero, in the same vein as Batman. I’m fine with that really. Different writers have different visions, and Chuck Dixon did establish a great direction for the character as part of his own book, so there’s that.
This is one of the longest graphic novels I’ve read to date, and the experience was rather exhausting. The story was just really huge on the cross-city adventure and had a huge scope, so it took some telling to bring it to a satisfying conclusion with an epic-level boss fight. The pacing suffered for sure, but all the same, this also allowed Chuck Dixon to tell a really great murder investigation from a vigilante hero’s perspective. And that’s what Nightwing is all about. Like Batman, he isn’t a superhero, he just depends on his honed martial skills, some gadgets and some natural agility to take down the bad guys. Seeing Nightwing completely on his own, with only a cameo appearance from the current (at the time) Robin aka Tim Drake, was such a great change of pace from everything else I’ve read of and about the character.
This book was definitely very heavy on the character. Dick Grayson/Nightwing really grows into his own over the course of the entire story, which was indeed one of the things that I was really counting on. He comes across as a really solid character, someone who can deal with everything the city dishes out to him, whether the pressure is mental or physical. And since there’s a murder mystery involving 21 stiffs in Gotham River, things are much more exciting.
One of the things that really got to me was how different Blüdhaven is to Gotham. It is like an alternate Gotham where the Batman never came to be. The results are rather frightening. The entire city council and the cops are all corrupt to their core, and crime is incredibly rampant throughout the city. Adding Nightwing to this explosive mix was certainly an inspired idea. It works to develop Blüdhaven as a character in its own right, same as with Gotham, and also adds a lot to Nightwing himself.
Narratively, the only problems I had were with a character named Lady Victim. First off, that’s a rather terrible name. Second, her entire sub-arc just confused the hell out of me. I wasn’t sure who’s side she ever was in, and just who and what she is. It made for some really confusing reading.
Scott McDaniel, Karl Story and Roberta Tewes deal with the art duties here, and I really liked how they presented Blüdhaven, my first such exposure to Gotham’s sister-city. Their Nightwing as well was a great change of pace, like much else about this novel. I loved their portrayal of Nightwing most of all, outside of a few odd panels here and there. Nothing too much at any rate.
If there was nay problem with the art, it was that sometimes the panels seemed to flow together and the lines were just confusing. Plus, the yellows and oranges that Roberta Tewes used in some of the panels made for some odd scenes since the lines all just appeared to blur together, and I was consequenly very confused about the whole thing.
Still, despite everything, tis is a really fun book, something I’d definitely recommended to fans of the charterer,r new and old.