batwatch's Nightwing #19 - Second City review

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BatWatch Review: Nightwing #19

Second City

It's time for some Bat Family goodness, or at least I hope that's what we have in store with this month's Nightwing. The last issue left us with the massive cliffhanger when it was revealed that Anthony Zucco, the man who killed Dick Grayson's parents, is still alive and operating in Chicago. Kyle Higgins has already leaked lots of hints as to what's to come in Dick's adventures in the Windy City, and I haven't heard a bad note yet. Brett Booth (former artist on Wildstorm series Backlash and current penciler for Detective Comics and cover artist for Earth 2, Vibe and Superboy) is adding his smooth and spectacular art style to the book, and Nightwing gets a brand new (to him) villain in the form of Prankster who will apparently become a significant threat, so I'm geared up and ready for this issue.

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Does all of this promise send Grayson flying to new heights, or is this one flight of fancy that needs to be grounded?

In this issue, Nightwing makes some friends, makes some enemies and meets at least one crazy person in Chicago.

Brett Booth FTW!

I know I'm totally sucking up to Brett Booth at the moment, but his work on this title is pretty much everything I hoped it would be. Nightwing's movements look as beautiful as they have ever been portrayed, Brett's sleek style does indeed fit the tone of the book, every image does a great job of conveying the story, faces are expressive and distinctive and even the panel layout is fresh keeping readers on their toes during fight scenes and conveying the chaos of the moment. The colorist, Andrew Dalhouse, (former colorist for Boom's Irredeemable and Teen Titans and current colorist for Detective Comics, Nightwing, Threshold and Fairest and cover artist for Earth 2 and Justice League) also does a great job giving the entire issue a vibrant feel which compliments Booth's pencils perfectly.

The only flaw I saw was that Nightwing causes something to explode at one point to give himself some cover for an escape, and I could not at first decipher what he hit to cause the rupture/explosion. It took me about four times viewing the scene until I finally made sense of it. Beyond that, this issue was a sight to behold if you like Brett Booth's style.

New City, New Rules

As I suspected, Chicago has apparently outlawed capes. If I had paid close attention during the preview, I would have known this for certain because papers saying, “No Capes,” are littered everywhere and even plastered across digital billboards. Despite this, Nightwing acts as if he is unaware of the ban on capes which is more than a tad difficult to believe. This was obviously something being talked about constantly on the streets of Chicago, and it should have been abuzz in the superhero community as well.

It's definitely nice to see Dick back in a more mainstream life though. Though I enjoyed the concept of Amusement Mile and I was disappointed with how that entire story point was built up only to be burned down, stripping Dick of his fortune (or at least most of it) and the luxuries provided by being Batman's Jr. partner has definitely given Dick a more everyman vibe which is something we have not seen from him in at least five years. Living in a crummy apartment might be a small change in and of itself, but it causes a tone shift for the character that I believe is important.

Putting him in a situation where he has to learn the ropes with new rules, new enemies, new problems, and new threats does a lot to make our hero more relatable. In essence, we are learning about Chicago at the same time as Grayson.

Villains Galore!

We are introduced to a bunch of new villains in this issue, but Prankster was the one that stood out to me, and I found myself really spending a lot of time wondering about him. His only direct appearance in this issue is at the end, but it's a powerful one, and if this is Prankster's M.O., then I look forward to seeing a lot more of the character. However, I noticed that his identity was not revealed

When writers keep the identity of the villain a secret, it is usually because they want the identity of the villain to be a shock to the readers when it is unveiled, and a villain's identity can only be a shock if it is something readers could potentially have guessed, and readers could only have a chance to guess if it were a character already appearing in the story, so with all that in mind, who is the Prankster?

The identity of the Pranksters seems pretty obvious since there is only one character who fits the bill, Johnny Spade, the information broker. Even without the informant angle, Spade quickly makes an impression as an extortionist extraordinaire. Without so much as lifting a finger, you know this is one man you would never want to cross. Spade matches the basic physical appearance of Prankster as shown on the cover, and he clearly uses brain over brawn and has an affinity for mind games which are both characteristics completely consistent with Prankster. Spade clearly pumps information from the underbelly of Chicago which he no doubt uses to full advantage as the Prankster, right?


(Spoilers for Rest of Section) I thought Slade was Prankster at first, but it started gnawing at me that it was just too obvious, and after further contemplation, it doesn't track for other reasons. Spade appears to be in the business of taking advantage of people, but Prankster's only clear action in this issue was clearly for the benefit of others. Spade turns tail the second things go South, but Prankster actively seeks out dangerous situations. Most importantly, Spade has no defense when Mali pulls a knife on him. There is no way any character who has ever used the name Trickster would ever be caught without an Ace up his sleeve in this situation especially if he had the foreknowledge that something was amiss with Mali.

No, the real identity of Prankster is Mike, Dick Grayson's roommate.

As I already said, it does not make much sense for Prankster to be Spade when you really get down to brass tacks, yet writers like to hide villains in plain sight, so what other options are there for the role? None that make any sense. Mike, however, does have a few things that jive with the concept of Prankster. He is apparently a journalist or at least a news photographer which indicates an interest in exposing truth for the the benefit of mankind. If Mike is the Prankster, then he is a character who has grown tired of looking at the city's problems through a lens and is now ready to take care of it personally, and this is a compelling setup for an antihero especially one who does good in such a brutal way. Mike's placement with the news service would probably give him good insights into the criminal activity of Chicago, and he just so happens to be covering one of the mayor's speeches, and we know that the mayor is a bad guy. Coincidence? Perhaps, but there is more. The exact nature of the Praknster's cyber attacks were never disclosed, but I wonder if it might perhaps be an effort to get information out or call attention to things in an Anonymous type style which would again fit with the operation pattern of a reporter fed up with the system. Also, the subway that goes over Grayson's apartment which gives Nightwing good cover for his entry and exits and easy access to quick transportation across the city would work just as well for Mike. Even more, Mike is an extremely lean and tall fellow; the first image of Dick and Mike together shows Mike towering about five inches over Grayson. Prankster also appears to be extremely lean and tall though he is not standing by anything to give scale to the image so it is impossible to be sure. Finally, Prankster's costume covers nearly every square inch of his body which is rare in costume designs. This would makes sense, of course, if you were trying to hide your ethnicity.

There are two major problems with this theory. First, why would Mike take a roommate if he needed to cover his illegal activites? Second, Prankster has blond hair and is shown to have white ears on the cover.

In regards to the first point, it could be that Prankster simply needs help with rent because he refuses to take dirty money. He certainly appeared uninterested in taking human trafficking money in this issue. Regarding the racial characteristics, this could easily be faked. In fact, why would Prankster cover every part of his body and leave his shaggy hair exposed except to mislead people? Black Canary used the hair trick for years. With the white ears, that is a slightly larger problem, but in terms of concealing your identity, getting Caucasian ear prosthetics is hardly an impossible or even impractical precaution.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Remember, I'm the guy who thought the new Batwing was Stephanie Brown. On the other hand, I'm also the guy who called Alysia Yeoh being transgendered four months ago, so my random speculation sometimes pays off.

Bat Droppings (Spoilers)

1. Mali could be an interesting character, but I hope Higgins has something more in mind for her than just, “She's crazy.” The brief mention that she, “mimics” sounds promising.

2. What exactly is an “underdeveloped trigger finger?” This sounds like something made up by someone who has never been around guns.

3. I was totally going to call the mayor being evil, but this issue revealed it for me. Too bad. I was surprised by Tony Zucco's role in the mayor's office though. Consider my interest piqued.

Conclusion 9/10

I'm very tempted to give this a 10/10 because I absolutely loved the ride, but there were a few minor hiccups such as Dick's apparent obliviousness to the ban on capes which make this issue fall just a hair short. Still, this is one of and maybe the best issue of Nightwing in the DCNU thus far, and it's a great beginning for a new chapter in the life of Nightwing. If you have any interest whatsoever, pick this issue up.

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