Make no mistake; it’s an exciting time to be a fan of Batman in comics. And not just for The Dark Knight’s main title -- the epic scope and scale of Scott Snyder’s stories have allowed other writers their chance to get in on the action. First during the “Court of Owls” storyline and now in “Death of the Family,” writer Kyle Higgins integrates his NIGHTWING
into the Bat-universe-at-large in a way that seems natural and effortless.
If you haven’t been following along, The Joker -- who had been missing for a year after he (willingly) got his face cut off by the Dollmaker in DETECTIVE COMICS #1 -- is back. And this time, his agenda strikes at the heart of Batman and his allies. One by one, the Joker has been making his rounds, attempting to destroy every member of the Bat-family, so that the “Bat-king” is no longer brought down by this parade of “servants.”
That sets the stage for NIGHTWING #15-16, where things really get interesting. For the past few issues, Dick Grayson has been spending his time renovating Gotham’s abandoned Amusement Mile (as seen in THE KILLING JOKE. For another cool KILLING JOKE reference, check out BATMAN AND ROBIN #15!). Grayson’s goal is not only to bring this once joyous place back to its former glory, but to also make it the permanent home for Haly’s Circus.
This is where The Joker makes his move. If an amusement park wasn’t bait enough for an attack, way back in the first issue of NIGHTWING, we were introduced to Jimmy Clark -- a clown from Haly’s Circus that looked very similar to The Joker (when his makeup was on, of course). When Dick learns of Jimmy’s death, he also discovers that Joker has broken his childhood friend Raya (who betrayed him a few issues ago) out of Blackgate.
By the time Nightwing tracks them down, he’s too late. Joker turned Raya into a twisted, “Jokerized” version of herself, and sent her to kill Nightwing. Although he was able to administer the anti-venom, Nightwing wasn’t able to save her. Issue #15 closes with Joker’s invitation to a “surprise party,” carved into Raya’s body.
After all of this setup, issue #16 doesn’t disappoint. Since all the heavy narrative has already been taken care of, the story here culminates in a climactic battle between Nightwing and The Joker at the Amusement Mile. By the time he makes it to the derelict park, Joker has already defaced the property, and leads Nightwing into the center ring, where we see that Joker has dug up dozens of dead Haly’s Circus members and placed them there to greet our hero. Although the issue doesn’t state this, I wonder if Dick’s parents were among the bodies?
Although Nightwing manages to escape the ring, Joker still manages to blow up the entire Amusement Mile -- literally burning Dick Grayson’s life to the ground. Amidst the explosions and chaos, The Joker was able to overcome Nightwing, thanks to a special blend of Joker gas that functions more like Scarecrow’s fear toxin.
And then, there’s the ending. I’m not going to spoil it here -- but I will say I wish I would have read NIGHTWING before some of the other Bat-family comics this month. If you’ve read them too, you’ll know why. It’s one of the rare examples where these stories can become too interconnected, know what I mean? Still, it’s a very small complaint that doesn’t affect how much I enjoyed these two issues of NIGHTWING.
Artist Eddy Barrows puts in some of his absolute best work of the series in these issues, and it’s very fitting as they’re his last (he’s rolling over onto TEEN TITANS). But don’t fear -- NIGHTWING is in very good hands. Kyle Higgins continues to put out one of the most well-written and consistent Bat-titles out there. I can’t wait to see what he does next with the character -- after The Joker is through with him, of course. - Ryan Hoss