DC’s Zero Month really has not impressed me so far. There have been a few good ones, but mostly, I find myself reading issues that are really thirteenth issues for all intents and purposes or origin stories that haven’t been properly thought out. Nightwing is neither of those. Nightwing is actually by far the best zero issue I have read.
Seriously, this is more like it. This should be shown to other writers and editors at DC so they can learn from it. I don’t mean just for zero issues. I mean for thinking about the new continuity in general.
What we have here is light on the arbitrary changes that litter the New 52 overall. Kyle Higgins and Tom Defalco aren’t fixing anything that’s not broken. They take the origin of Dick Grayson, and for the most part, they simply modernize it. Facets are added to it that make it more believable, but the core substance of it remains the same. ...This is how you do it!
There’s a really strong grasp of Dick’s character on display here that makes the story work as well as it does. One of the key aspects of Dick is that he is a natural talent. He just has the right instincts for what he does. This is shown in the parkour race that opens up the issue and built upon later, showing Dick’s affinity for reading people in a similar way to how he can read the environments he runs around on. It has always made sense to me that Dick’s strengths as an investigator came mostly from his ability to interact and read people. This reinforces that in a major way.
DIck Grayson and Bruce Wayne are supposed to be differnet. We’re always told they are different. But this is distinction is often times hard to see as Nightwing tends to be characterized as Batman-lite, albeit a more lighthearted variation. The lightheartedness never really made a clear line of difference, though. That changes with this issue. Higgins and Defalco cleverly use Dick’s reaction to his parents’ deaths to show how he is fundamentally different from Bruce. Dick mourns and in a healthy manner, moves on. There is some guilt in him, and the tragedy does propel him into become a superhero. But unlike Bruce, h’s not traumatized and able to get over the tragedy. That works really well as the root of the differences between the two.
As good as this issue is, there’s really no getting around the elephant in the room. It’s not Nightwing’s fault, but DC has totally wrecked Batman’s history by trying to have it both ways. The timeline has been condensed to five years, but DC has refused to make Batman give up anything. This means Batman has gone through at least four Robins within five years. That’s not at all believable, especially with how Dick’s origin is portrayed.
Months pass between the death of Dick’s parents and his debut as Robin. The exact number of months isn’t stated, but it doesn’t really matter. Months is still months. And hey, that’s a good thing story-wise. It’s an improvement on Dick’s origin, making it more believable that he became Batman’s sidekick. Bruce didn’t just go for the idea right away. It’s a role that developed over the course of however many months. It’s good. It just doesn’t fit at all in what DC is trying to force Batman’s timeline to be. Given that Bruce had obviously been Batman for awhile before Dick comes along, this would probably put the debut of the original Robin in the second of Batman’s five years. So that makes it four years for four Robins. I admit this is overthinking it somewhat, but that’s not entirely the case. How are we supposed to buy into the idea of the father and son relationship between Bruce and Dick if the condensed timeline has them only together for less than two years? That’s the bottom line here.
Eddy Barrows really adds to the story with his art. There are great little touches like the old Nightwing emblem being a part of Dick’s circus outfit. His take on the original Robin outfit isn’t bad either. It does suffer a little from busying it up with unnecessary details, but that’s a far worse problem with other New 52 designs than it is here. For the most part, Barrows simply takes the original outfit and makes it more reasonable for the 21st century.
And let’s not forgive Lady Shiva. The New 52 version of her appears as a key part of Dick’s origin story. There’s really not much to say about her, though. This is clearly set up for something more. As it is, it’s just Lady Shiva. She’s a highly skilled assassin. It’s not substantially different from how we have always known the character. Final judgment on her will have to wait for what the plans are for her from here on.
Nightwing is a refreshing change of pace for what has overall been a lackluster string of zero issues. Sure, it makes the mess of Batman’s ridiculously condensed timeline harder to ignore, but it has everything else going for it. This is a retelling of Dick Grayson’s origin that has been updated in reasonable and interesting ways. It’s a sadly uncommon approach to take with the New 52.