“Nightwing” #9 pits the titular former Boy Wonder against his great-grandfather — who just so happens to be the first of the Court of Owls’ Talons. With that revelation readers are treated to an eight-page history of the circumstances that led William Cobb to become the pre-eminent Talon.
The balance of the issue is the battle between Talon and Nightwing, who attempts to foil the plotted murder of the mayor and deputy mayor of Gotham. Eddy Barrows uses untraditional panel layouts to open the story and draws up a brutal struggle between Nightwing and the Talon. The unorthodox pages add dynamic effects to the story, but when the fight falls to Gotham’s streets in a splash page, it just seems out of place. It’s not that Barrows cannot draw a good sequence in the splash page, rather it’s that the splash page is so straightforward that it just puts the brakes on the frenetic pace of the skewed panels.
Somewhere around the fourteenth page, the art dramatically shifts as Andres Guinaldo replaces Eddy Barrows for the remainder of the story. It’s an awkward transition that is somewhat telegraphed earlier in the issue via colors that are not evenly blended and appear to be run through the paper cutout filter in Photoshop. It would be harsh to say that the art fell apart in this story, but it certainly did show signs of instability. Luckily the action sequence to conclude this chapter was solidly delivered, so that helped to balance things a bit.
One final note on the art: Nightwing apparently has water for blood. The streams of blood that flow out of Nightwing are abundant and quickly soak into the background with alarming frequency. I know it’s supposed to be for dramatic effect, but it really just comes across as a poorly executed choice that borders on distraction.
This installment of the “Night of the Owls” melee falls into the pattern most of the other Bat-books (outside of the main title) have adopted: pit Talon against Bat-ally, pause fight, reveal origin of Talon, resume fight to conclusion or pseudo-conclusion. Kyle Higgins completes this cycle and largely manages to keep Nightwing’s supporting cast out of the action. The story is boiled down to the simple matchup of Nightwing against Talon. The writer enables Cobb to be overly verbose, but in doing so extends the edges of Nightwing’s history and establishes some parameters for the origins of Nightwing’s existence in Gotham.
“Nightwing” #9, while immersed in the “Night of the Owls” story, seems like a detour from where Dick Grayson’s character was headed. Connections to “Batman” are ingrained and roots in Gotham are defined, but this just doesn’t feel much like an issue of “Nightwing” as much as it feels like a one-shot that happens to include Nightwing. I’m looking forward to Nightwing getting on past this run-in with his genealogy and hitting the rails and rooftops once again.