Tumblr is going NUTS over the latest Grayson issue. And it is indeed very awesome. Check out my rather long commentary post below!
Can we take a moment to rave about Mikel Janin’s covers for this series? They are always striking and dynamic, using simple composition and sometimes a kind of “painted” look to the colours to catch the reader’s eye. I also love how Janin sneaks the spiral motif in there, sometimes in a subtle way, and other times less so. Like this rad cover to Issue #6 which sees Midnighter and Agent Grayson facing off. Even the logo has been shunted to the side to make both men even more prominent.
Another thing I’m excited about is seeing Tim Seeley back on scripting duties for this issue. He and Tom King make a great team, and I’ve enjoyed King’s issues, but there’s something about the way Tim Seeley gets people and the craft of story-telling–as seen not just in this book, but also in his other work like Sundowners, Batman: Eternal, et. al–which appeals particularly to my own sensibilities as a reader.
While I’ve enjoyed most of the Grayson issues so far, this was the first that enraptured me from start to finish (legit, I moved from the living room to the bedroom without taking my eyes off because I couldn’t stop reading–this is a huge milestone!!). There are many things happening within the book’s prettyful pages, but given that the overarching story seemed to have stagnated in the last issue, the heavy plot movement was completely welcome.
Let’s break it down:
Agent Grayson & Midnighter
As the cover teases so wonderfully, we finally get that full-on confrontation we’ve all been hankering for ever since Grayson #1, and it is as amazing as we (fine, I) hoped it would be.
Ehehe. This panel set is EXPLODING on Tumblr. I’ve seen at least a dozen people post it, and dozens more liking and reblogging.
But seriously, the entire confrontation between Midnighter and Dick is a delicious dance of wits, power and “chest-thumping”, as our dear Agent 37 phrases it. Midnighter is most definitely out to kick Dick’s ass and possibly beat him to a pulp, but he doesn’t bother to hide his appreciation for Dick’s good looks (“once I found out who was hiding behind that cute swirl…”). There’s even a bit of possible mock-flirting (“I can hum along with your jazz now”) but it’s all put across with an equal measure of brutal aggression and derision. Not so much against Dick, perhaps, but certainly against Spyral.
There’s a scary moment where it looks like Dick may have lost what little advantage he has against Midnighter’s enhancements, but being Batman’s protege wasn’t just about beating up baddies–Dick’s clever, a detective in his own right, and he quickly figures out how to regain an advantage.
The Paragon Brain
So the running thread in these issues has been Dick & Helena tracking down and retrieving the various Paragon organs for Spyral. Here’s they’ve tracked the brain to a remote, desolate island somewhere in Asia. They’re too late for the brain, unfortunately, but they find someone to interrogate. The famed “mind-erosion” tactics of Spyral make a welcome return as Helena interrogates their prisoner. Whatever she sees horrifies her– anything that can disturb her must be pretty damn horrifying, right?
And as it turns out, the Fist of Cain (the terror group that first showed up in Nightwing #30) plan to psychically manipulate innocent civilians into committing a mass homicide attack. What’s interesting here is that Mr. Minos seems to know exactly what the deal with the Fist of Cain is, which leads me too–
The Secret Origins of Mr. Minos
Who is this guy, anyway? I didn’t think before that he was someone we might already be familiar with, but the hints laid out in this issue do make me wonder. He has links to the Fist of Cain. Very personal, painful links. He has a secret past. He’s extremely paranoid, as we found in Grayson #4. The little hints to his past that we see in this issue are just that–little. But they are very effective in making him less of a mysterious blank slate, and more of someone to keep an eye out for.
Speaking of which: I’ve been hoping for a while that the use of the name Cain isn’t just a biblical thing–but rather, a reference to Cassandra Cain. I mean, how better to introduce Cass into the New 52, than through Grayson? Teen assassin meets Agent 37 and Matron, shenanigans ensue. Let me make a weird, illogical leap of faith and irrationally wonder if Mr. Minos could be David Cain, Cassandra’s dad. They don’t look anything alike, but so what? Helena doesn’t look like her pre-boot counterpart either (a development I am totally on board with).
The God Garden
At the end of his fight with Midnighter, Dick is introduced to an old lady who calls herself the Gardener of the so-called God Garden. What is a God Garden? No idea, except it’s apparently a big ship in outer space, and who Midnighter works for now.
The Gardener talks about the Midnighter being her “first child”, which makes me wonder what that’s in reference to. Did she put the enhancements in him? Or did she ‘save’ him from the people who did? I haven’t followed Stormwatch in the New 52, so I’m clueless on that front, but I’m pretty sure this is the first instance we’ve seen of the God Garden anyway.
In any case, this is a very intriguing bit of world-building that Seeley and King are doing here, and I for one am dying to learn more.
Dick Grayson, Dick Grayson
A recurring motif in Grayson has been Dick grappling with his sense of identity. Forever Evil saw the Crime Syndicate unmask Nightwing to the entire planet. Grayson has seen Dick on the run, isolated from most of his family, and wondering just how well he fits in with the fluid morals at Spyral. But as Seeley and King have proven to us time and again–and which they do particularly well in this issue–is that fact that Dick Grayson hasn’t changed. It’s in the way he closes a dead man’s eyes, or in the care he shows for his partner, and even in his “return to the ocean and swim free, Willy” quip at the end of a fight with a zombie orca (speaking of which, did anyone else think of this scene from Black Mirror?).
What I liked particularly about this issue was how Seeley wove Dick’s Grayson-ness throughout the whole story. Because, really, you don’t need to make a point about how great Dick is–he just is. It comes across best when he’s allowed to play off others, and when he’s given stuff to do.
Grayson fans for Mikel Janin
So who do I bribe at DC Comics to make sure Mikel Janin stays on Grayson? I knew he’d be great from the get-go (The Death of Magic arc on Justice League Dark, anyone?), but he just keeps knocking it out of the park and I’m a bit nervous now because it’s all too good to be true, right?
Grayson #9 has an epic fight with a zombie orca, a more intimate fight between Agent #37 and Midnighter, weird hypnotic shenanigans, but the art very capably keeps up with the intense pace. The battle between Dick and Midnighter is particularly exciting, dynamic, and full of movement–the former is acrobatic, flipping and kicking all over the place, and there’s no way you could mistake the latter as anything other than extremely strong and powerful.
And that’s not even getting into the details that Janin infuses: whether in the weird spaceship backdrop of the God Garden or the stark, rainy landscape of Gageo-do island, or the spectrum of expressions we witness on Dick, Helena, et al. during their individual character journeys in this issue.
It’s not fair to mention Janin’s work here without also noting that Jeromy Cox’s colours are equally important in setting the very distinct tone on Grayson — for example, Spyral scenes tend to follow a palette of reds/pinks/purples, a motif I’ve found incredibly effective. Somehow Cox also makes sure that this whole issue feels like it’s taking place in very lightless settings, without losing the contrast and nuance of Janin’s pencils.
The unsung hero might just be Carlos Mangual, though. They say the mark of good lettering is that you don’t notice it–and for an issue that’s very heavy on panel-action and dialogue, I didn’t notice the lettering at all. Or I did, in as much as it was positioned just right to the art and composition to keep me completely hooked from page 1 to page 18.
I tend to be conservative in my reviews; indeed, I was quite critical of the last Grayson issue. I have never scored a comic 10 out of 10, mostly out of principle, but mostly also because I find it hard to be that overtly, objectively positive about anything. But I am presently hard-pressed to find anything about Grayson #6 that felt weak or poorly executed. My one crit is that I wish this issue was longer, but that hardly seems fair, as commentary goes.
Overall, the creative team have managed to pack in a whole lot of mythology building, plot development and character study into a story that is both emotional and exciting. My hope for Grayson in 2015 (his 75th year of existence!) is that Seeley, King, Janin & Co. get to stay on the book and tell the stories they want to, because creatively it’s been a long time since Dick Grayson had it this good. This first issue of the year has certainly gone above and beyond in delivering a nuanced, evocative and fun tale. Fingers crossed they can keep up the momentum in the next two issues before we hit the Convergence hiatus.
[This post can also be found on Word of the Nerd here.]