The first three-quarters of Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikel Janin’s “Grayson” #16 don’t advance the main Spyral plotline much at all, nor does it reference the events of Robin War. Instead, it’s a comic romp about the double act of Agents 1 and 37, a.k.a. The Tiger and Grayson, who are working together (again). As previously established, Dick is the banana man and Tony is the grumpy, no-nonsense straight man, but — in this issue — they get more one-on-one time than ever before. The frequent objectification of Dick’s body in “Grayson” is joyously and deliberately gratuitous. It manages the feat of being subversive while intentionally providing fan service via beefcake and slash fodder.
The opening scene of “Grayson” #16 is a spot-on parody of James Bond, complete with jokes about Bond girls and preferred drinks. Dick’s indignation about “#007” becomes part of a running gag about his spy ranking. Throughout, “Grayson” #16 maintains a cinematic feel, especially in the jump to a breathtaking, wide-angle double page spread. Jeromy Cox’s color work is too flat and monochromatic in other scenes, but here, a cherry red car pops against an ice blue landscape and takes full advantage of Janin’s dramatic, swooping panel composition.
Janin’s facial expressions are stiff, particularly in the first scene when Dick leans close to Agent #7’s ear, but the graceful movement of his images, clean linework and energy make up for that most of the time. The weight of Helena’s hand and face look wrong in the panel where she’s talking to Dr. Netz, but Janin’s linework for Helena’s hair is also especially attractive in the same panel. Mid-issue, there’s a montage sequence and Janin gets to go wild with panel and page compositions. Janin and Cox’s psychedelic arrangement of sharks against a polka-dot swirl background is visually my favorite page in “Grayson” #16; it manages to be bizarre but still visually balanced and full of clothing details and imaginative color choices. The ridiculous lyrics in Dick’s little ditty don’t hurt, either.
The banter between Dick and Tony is nonstop entertainment, mostly because Dick won’t shut up no matter how much Tony may order or wish it. Seeley and King devote a whole page to a longer joke about Tony’s driving, and there’s a killer line where Dick sums up his old friend and mentor Batman. It’s all enjoyable, but the writers’ focus on laughs has a cost. Seeley and King are so focused on the back-and-forth zingers and comic pacing that none of the scenes in “Grayson” #16 have a feeling of danger. All the tension is courtesy of Janin’s artwork.
“Grayson” #16 only gets serious about tone and plot advancement in the last few pages. Tired of abject failure, Helena brings in seven formidable new allies to take down Dick and Tony. Janin’s splashes down lots of dark ink for a pier scene in Portugal, but Cox’s monotone neutrals and plastic-looking gradients for Helena’s pitch make the visuals feel bland. I admit I was excited to see some of the faces in the rogue’s gallery-like grid, but I’m also concerned the combat scenes to follow will slow down the larger plot even more, just like a crossover mashup would.
The last page reveals a surprising alliance that changes the odds again but also adds even more players in the game. However it goes, the rest of this story arc will still be great fun, especially if Tony remains by Dick’s side.