Tom King, Tim Seeley and Mikel Janin's "Grayson" #5 switches up the series' formula, trading the high-flying spy antics for a soul-searching trek across the desert. Tom King and Tim Seeley dive deep into what motivates Dick Grayson and makes him a hero, while artist Mikel JanÃn and colorist Jeromy Cox create arresting visuals, and as a whole, it's a lovely, heartfelt issue. However, the writing duo doesn't quite amp up the tension enough to maintain my interest in a desert trek for this many pages. The result is a fine story that stays shy of excellence.
Luckily, most of the missteps in this issue happen early on. King opens in a somewhat ill-advised in medias res, with no context for the mission, the crisis or the characters currently in-panel. A death-in-childbirth plot then briefly ensures, with the requisite and unnecessary use of a nameless mother. (If the mother is being used only as a birthing mechanism, rather than as a person, please just begin the story with the baby already born.)
After that, though, the story becomes a battle against nature and each other, with Midnighter's psychological warfare and the heat of the desert both oppressing Dick. King and Seeley transform the survival story into a character piece that makes touching use of Dick's history in the DC universe and also illustrates what makes him a compelling hero. It's a show-don't-tell story of grit and determination, and at its highest points, it works.
However, the setting detracts from the issue's power. Not only is it somewhat monotonous, providing little variety of visual, but it also makes Dick's introspection feel more navel-gazing than it otherwise might. When he's the only real visual focus of the page, as well as the subject of all the text, the scenes feel overdone. Both King and artist Mikel JanÃn do fine work; it's just the combination that waxes maudlin.
JanÃn puts serious effort into this deeply challenging setting, and on many pages he's successful in making the desert more dynamic. His layering of smaller panels over the sweeping desert creates some interesting and emotionally resonant transitions, and allows the reader to experience both the scope of the space and the immediacy of the characters' interactions. He also plays with viewpoint and shadow, experimenting with the storytelling tools available to him. However, an entire issue is a whole lot of pages, and eventually I wanted the visuals to switch up.
Formless landscapes like the desert are an open invitation for the colorist to take center stage, and Jeremy Cox certainly accepts that invitation. His deserts look epic and endless, with soft peach dunes, burning orange sands and parched yellow flats. The cloudy, swirling sky is also sweepingly beautiful, with an ombre that ascends from blue to yellow. Cox also softens and blurs the colors, fueling the illusion of endlessness and creating scenes that feel like storybook archetypes. While the deserts in this issue are occasionally monotonous, they're always gorgeous.
Altogether, "Grayson" #5 offers strong emotional beats and an intriguing ending, despite lagging when taken as a whole. It certainly hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for the series, and it sells the relevance and heart of its protagonist. This team is doing good work.