Never Google “Comic Books for Adults”. Just don’t.
Most people I know read comic books as kids. I didn’t. When I was a kid, I read manga. I never watched anime. If it wasn’t Disney or South Park, cartoons images just didn’t interest me, I can’t explain why, but I loved mangas. I would read Fruits Basket and Inuyasha, and later Death Note. It was my guilty pleasure.
It was hard for me to juggle school and recreational reading though and I felt it necessary to give up on reading for fun. After graduating college and getting a job (which turned out to be more manual) I felt this lack of nourishment to my intellectual side. I didn’t have a ton of free time per se, but when I did have a down minute, it was different than in college when my brain was already tired and watching 4 hours of Netflix was enough to entertainment. This is when I got the opportunity to get back into reading. And I could read anything I want. I remembered how important reading was to me, and how much I loved it.
When I first got back into reading, I was reading a lot of YA novels about dystopian future societies, and after a while I was craving variety. I remembered reading manga as a kid, and decided to try reading some again, but I was quickly disappointed by them. Maybe because I read them as a kid, or maybe it was the ones I was choosing, I just felt like every manga I attempted to read felt like they were for children. That’s about the time I started reading comics.
When I first started I had some stumbles. I didn’t understand the difference between graphic novels and single weekly comics, or how storylines connected and for some reason, a lot of the comics I picked up always seemed to have very complex artistic styles that I couldn’t follow. However, as I’ve experimented and explored I’ve found a very deep appreciation for comics. I’m still learning how to pick good ones and exactly what I like, but it’s definitely a process that I like.
The point of all of this is it led me to DC’s The New 52 and to reading about Nightwing. I originally ended up decided to get these volumes after reading a The Joker: Death of the Family. That specific collection was not a smooth ride for me, I didn’t realize that despite technically having a storyline, it just compiled other heroes experiences with the joker, so oftentimes I felt like I was missing so much starting in the middle, and it was until close to the end of each section to feel like I was finally getting my bearings just to be thrown into a new storyline. One of the good things about it was that it gave a quick glimpse into what each hero was doing in regards to the New 52.
I ended up getting Nightwing because the way the story was presented was clear and fast moving, and the storyline itself, being about the circus, really grabbed me. The series did not disappoint in those aspects. The storyline was very engaging. The transitions between each week’s issue were largely smooth. I loved the artwork, and was never overwhelmed by it. I think the artwork was not only effective but also built a connection between me what was going on from the start.
I didn’t know a ton about Dick Grayson before reading these, but I knew that the New 52 was DC’s way of re-energizing the heroes to a new generation, so they would start more or less from start and explain a lot of backstory. I appreciated this for the most part. You don’t know need to know anything about Nighthawk, and even though a very basic understanding of the Bat Family and Gotham is useful, most of that is explained throughout the series as well.
However, because so much of the past is being explained, at times the story seemed a little cliche or even shallow. I think this is because, unlike some other comics I’ve read, they are not building on top years of character and universe building that the audience is supposed to know. The overarching theme of the book is whether to face or run from your past, and whether healing is done through moving forward or looking back. A lot of this is done through the plot device of “your past coming back to haunt you”. Much of Dick’s past is revealed through flashbacks inspired by what is going on in “present time. I feel like the Dick’s personal life is much more developed throughout the volumes and have the more intriguing conflicts, when comparing to the actual supervillians and Nighthawk’s conflicts.
Now, I think it’s important to talk about the criticisms and controversies regarding the New 52. The main one being the lack of representation of The New 52. DC was heavily criticized for having so few female writers involved in The New 52, and when asked about it, they basically brushed it off. They were also criticized for “downgrading” some characters of color and female characters from being titular characters into secondary characters. There was also criticism of Batgirl regaining her ability to walk at the start The New 52, taking away representation of characters with disabilities. These kinds of things and their response to it kind of makes me, I don’t know, disappointed in DC, especially when Marvel is making such an active effort to include more diversity in their comics.
I’ve come to like DC comics more than Marvel ones, because I’ve found they are generally darker and feel more appropriate for adults. But hearing about and Miles Morales as Spiderman and Kamala Khan as Ms Marvel and seeing Luke Cage all over Netflix, I felt a little let down reading this. My biggest problem with these specific Nightwing books were the female characters. Like, they weren’t realistic. Most of the female characters in the book that were given more than a few passing moments were introduced as love interests of Dick. That aside, the romances seemed so sloppily put together, I rolled my eyes too many times to count. The author’s way of dealing with romance was to set up a high emotion encounter and ending it with the female character shocking Dick with an badly timed kiss that left Dick like, wait what?! and the reader like, seriously, this is the best you can come up with? Like it was generally annoying, and honestly, personality wise, all the women could have just been one woman because they basically all had the same personality with a different background story. Luckily it was a small part of the actual storyline, but left me frustrated as a female reader.
In terms of other types of representation, I honestly can’t remember there being a single black character until Volume 4. Wait, I’m wrong, there is one black woman in Volume 1, she’s a voodoo priestess from New Orleans that only appears in one issue and never brought up again. I wasn’t thinking too hard about this as I was reading, but now I can’t stop rolling my eyes. There was one recurring character who was identified as a gay man in a sort of abrupt way that felt super forced, but his sexuality was only minimal to the plot and never really brought up again. Batgirl’s past paralyzation was only mentioned once in passing in a later volume, I’m not sure if it’s been brought up more in her own volumes. There’s really not much else to comment on, as there wasn’t that much in these.
Overall with the series, I was left moderately satisfied. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was decent entertainment, and I really liked the way it was presented in terms of style and artwork. I enjoyed Dick as a character and I really liked his backstory. The end of this collection is basically a segue into the followup collection called Grayson: The New 52. I’m intrigued enough to try that out in a little while, but I definitely don’t feel a burning rush to go out and get it. I think I’ll give a few other books a shot first.