Nightwing #44 On The Bleeding Edge – An AOL Hero In An AR World

by Richard Bruton

Every so often I go into the comic book store and pick up something from the new racks purely on a whim. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Last time I did it was with Hellblazer issue #20. Oh, that so didn’t work.

But this time, I’m not picking Nightwing #44 on a whim. This time, I’m picking it up after hearing Warren Ellis talk up the issue, and particularly talk up new writer to the title, Benjamin Percy. Ellis has long been one of my favorite comic writers, and his weekly newsletter, Orbital Operations, (when it doesn’t have Ellis giving us instructions to make the perfect omelet) has various recommendations for stuff. And this is what he had to say about Benjamin Percy‘s first issue on Nightwing:

It’s like a classic old 70s DC comic run through Ben’s novelist brain while Ben’s brain is in a mangler with a mouldering boot-sale longbox and eight episodes of Max Headroom and a season of Black Mirror. It is all at once shockingly retro and eight minutes into the future.—Warren Ellis on Benjamin Percy’s Nightwing 44.

Yep, now that’s a recommendation. So I picked it up, and yes, he’s spot on. It’s an intriguing start to a longer tale, pitting poor Dick Grayson against technology, a foe he’s simply in no place to understand.

A lonesome, reflective Dick Grayson makes his way down to a Bludhaven subway. Meanwhile, smartphones are showing skull screens and exploding. You want a perfect moment, the sort of Ellis-y thing that Percy does real well? That moment you go… hmmm, I hadn’t thought of that but now you come to mention it… well, here it is…

Yep, after a perfectly paced opening few pages, that made me smile, and made me think yes, I’m in for this one. Percy plays Grayson as a man out of time, bemused by modern life, bemoaning things to Barbara Gordon over the phone later. And after a little tech advice, she nails him…

“You know what weirds me out more than anything?”
“What?”
“That you use a landline. Do you have an AOL account too? Are you actually seventy years old, Dick Grayson?”

Another little moment of writing class in an issue full of them. And as good as Percy’s writing is, artist Chris Mooneyham matches him panel for panel, beat for beat. Nightwing #44 looks for all the world like a great superhero comic should be. It’s full of slightly exaggerated anatomy grounded in real life, another classic call back to comics of old. Jose Garcia Lopez style classic artwork should never go out of fashion, and this is all class, all the way from Mooneyham.

The issue is all setup of course, but it’s a fine bit of setup. You get the feeling that Percy is right there in Dick’s head, knows what makes him tick. And is going to present him with a foe he’s just completely ill-equipped to deal with.

That foe is all to do with the ‘Phantasm’ project, an augmented reality thing rolling out across Bludhaven. Grayson calls it virtual gentrification, but it’s coming, and you know it’s going to mean bad news. Although, slight problem here… if even the local Deli owner knows about ‘Phantasm’ and has the wrist gadget, how come Barbara Gordon, Ms. tech wizard herself, doesn’t seem to have a clue? It’s a small slip up for Percy’s first issue, but I’ll let it slide, seeing as everything else fits together so well.

Everything comes to a head here when Grayson turns up at another Bludhaven murder, or what looks like one. One of Falcone’s lieutenants, but this doesn’t feel like a mob hit. And the dead guy’s got one of the fancy ‘Phantasm‘ wrist pieces. Dick’s got that nagging feeling, that unease. A detective’s hunch that something bad is just around the corner…

Something bad is going down in Bludhaven, and Nightwing’s life is just going to go downhill, an AOL guy living in an AR world.

“The Bleeding Edge” promises to lay the groundwork for a centrally important threat to the DC Universe. And according to Percy, “It’s ironically Nightwing’s off-the-radar status that makes him the ideal detective for the case”.

Now, I care not one whit about the whole DC Universe (nor the Marvel Universe, nor the [insert whatever name here] Universe, and haven’t for a long, long time. But Nightwing #44 really does open up as a switched-on first issue for something really promising. I think I’ll be back next issue to see how it all comes together.

Nightwing #44 is out right now from DC Comics. Written by Benjamin Percy, art Chris Mooneyham, colors Nick Filardi, letters Carlos M. Mangual. Cover by Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire.

Variant cover by John Romita Jr, Danny Miki and Tomeu Morey.