The combination of Dick Grayson shirtless + carrying a baby from Grayson #5 is proving popular on Tumblr. Those were great aspects of the comic, definitely, but I was left more ambivalent by the issue. It was like literary fiction in comic form — and gosh, I do hate literary fiction. Which is interesting, given that most of my own fiction work seems to emulate the style of literary fiction by being character-driven, rather than plot driven.Perhaps that is why I prefer the fiction I read to be plot-driven — because it provides a form of creative expression that I, personally, struggle to create.
Regardless, have my thoughts on Grayson #5 below, taken from my write-up(s) for Graysonology & Word of the Nerd. Please do also check out my pal A.’s excellent commentary over at the Graysonology post — as always, she nails it!
“Here’s hoping we get another Dick Grayson/Midnighter encounter, and soon,” I said in my review of Grayson #4 last month. I did not expect that “soon” would turn out to be the very next issue, and that “encounter” would turn out to be Dick & Midnighter delivering a baby together — on the very first page of Grayson #5, at that.
I read this issue with a pal, and upon finishing the book, I turned to them and pondered: “But what was the point of this issue?”
Indeed, what was the point? The obvious answer is that it is character-driven, rather than plot-driven, exploring how each character copes with the incredibly challenging wrench thrown their way.
For her part, Helena remains strong, barreling on despite injury and leaping into action when Midnighter threatens her partner and their charge. Meanwhile, Midnighter relies on his bodily enhancements to see him through, or at least outlast the other two.
We see Dick push on, through torturous heat with no water, driven only by his determination to save an innocent life. It’s a very Batmanesque feat, and most certainly a very Dick Graysonesque one. “What do you have?” whispers the formidable Midnighter as he too is ultimately defeated by the unforgiving desert, and Dick’s answer is three simple words: “I have her.” In one powerful panel, Tom King (the main writer for this issue) has elegantly summed up just why Dick Grayson has been one of Batman’s staunchest allies over the last 75 years: because they’re both united in their mission to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
Dick’s sense of duty is the driving force of his journey through the vast desert, a fact that is thrown into sharp relief by a story he relates to his infant charge. The story involves Dick as Robin trying to rescue Batman on an alien planet, and it doesn’t really make sense unless you know it’s from a classic Golden Age comic called “Robin Dies At Dawn” from Batman #156 (Grayson #5 is titled “We All Die At Dawn”; its cover of Agent 37 cradling the baby echoes Batman carrying Robin in Batman #156‘s iconic cover). I adore this particular story, which Grant Morrison heavily referenced in his Batman run, specifically in Batman R.I.P.; but I have to admit I missed the reference completely until BleedingCool posted a handy guide juxtaposing the relevant panels from both Batman #156 and Grayson #5.
It’s an interesting choice of story to call back to. The Morrison link is the first thing that pops out at me. Grayson so far has done a great job in building on the extensive groundwork laid out by Morrison during his epic run, particularly with its use of Spyral and and St. Hadrian’s Finishing School. There’s also the psychological element, of course: the alien space adventure in “Robin Dies At Dawn” turns out to be a chemically-induced hallucination thanks to a military experiment Batman consented to participate in. Dick, of course, has had more than his fair share of weird mental crap lately thanks to Spyral.
There’s also the fact that Dick/Robin dies in Batman #156, sacrificing himself to save Batman. Contrast that to the situation in Grayson, where Dick “sacrificed” himself (faking his death) not only to once again help Bruce by infiltrating Spyral, but to also protect his mentor and the rest of his adopted family by staying dead and apparently out of their lives. More relevant to Grayson #5, this generosity of spirit comes through once again as Dick does what he can to get the infant to safety. Not only that — there’s an implication (as I’m reading it) that Dick lies to Mr. Minos that the heart they were after, which is really in the baby, was lost in the helicopter crash. All so the baby remains unharmed and safe with two adoptive parents who want and love her.
Overall, King’s script is possibly a bit too subtle and esoteric to be appreciated, except by the more obsessive Bat-fans. Fortunately, the art keeps everything beautiful enough so we don’t really notice or mind it as much as we otherwise might. Indeed, if nothing else, this issue was a lovely showcase of the artistry and skill that artist Mikel Janin and colourist Jeromy Cox bring to every Grayson issue. Janin’s layouts here are stark, just like the vast expanse of desert that our protagonists must slog through. By necessity, Cox’s colours follow a limited palette of yellows, reds and light browns, but he uses the occasional splash of colour from the sky or character’s outfits to great effect. The double-page spread where Dick recounts his strange dream, while walking through the never-ending desert, is a particular standout, marrying incredible art design with atmospheric colouring.
So what, indeed, was the end-point of Grayson #5? Perhaps to show that Dick will never lose sight of what is important – helping and protecting the innocent? To see that Dick’s resolve and priorities remain unchanged despite his career change? Is it a useful sign for readers to see that the Dick Grayson we know and love remains unchanged, or is it ominous foreshadowing of things to come? I’m left with more questions and uncertainty than answers, but there is enough of a hint of an overarching plot here that I’m willing to stick it out a little longer. I’m just not sure most other people who pick up this issue will feel the same. Here’s hoping the next installment of Grayson picks up the momentum.