SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for Nightwing #55 by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Chris Mooneyham, Garry Brown, Hi-Fi and Andworld Design, on sale now.
DC's current Nightwing arc is proving to be a defining chapter in quite a few people's lives. After being shot in the head by the KGBeast, Dick Grayson is now recovering as Ric Grayson, piecing together bits and pieces of his old life after losing his memory. However, he seems to want nothing to do with the Nightwing mantle anymore, which has allowed other Blüdhaven cops, inspired by the wily Detective Alphonse Sapienza, to become vigilantes known as the Nightwings.
It's a new era in crimefighting for the city, as this gang is excessively violent and unforgiving. But as Ric watches a place he calls home slowly change, uncertain if it's for better or worse, one particular Batman rogue has come to town to wreak havoc: Scarecrow. Only this time, he's wielding a massive weapon upgrade that makes him a way more formidable and lethal opponent than ever before thanks to his new "fear germ."
Since debuting in the '40s, Dr. Jonathan Crane has been a thorn in Batman's side. A crazed psychologist, he used his knowledge of the human mind and his biochemical expertise to create a toxin known as "fear gas," which drove those exposed to it insane, cowering, panicking and on the verge of a total mental breakdown. Coupling this tool in his arsenal with a scary and oh-so iconic mask, and it's no surprise why so many Batman cartoons, as well as Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy and the current TV series Gotham, have proven so eager to use the character.
Now, Nightwing #55 levels him up in a subtle yet sinister manner. When the ambitious Detective Elise Svoboda investigates a shady doctor in town, Dr. Gruidae, she reveals she knows he's really Crane. She believes she has him trapped, but it's all part of Crane's ruse in his apartment. As she spots a John Doe dead in the room, she pulls her gun, but Crane laughs it off, revealing it's too late -- his master plan is already in motion. We find out the corpse has been emitting the fear germ all along, and obviously, Crane has vaccinated himself to it. Before she can react, she falls to the ground as the germ's side effects kick in.
However, this germ doesn't make you afraid. It's quite the opposite: Crane wants to make people "unafraid of fear." The result is, people go into a fit of rage and attack their fears, which is manifesting throughout Blüdhaven as riots, with good citizens turned into mindless lunatics trying to kill each other. The germ was secretly seeded out in morgues since Issue #52, and the city's been slowly infected since. Everything's now coming to a boil with Ric also witnessing the place descending into something resembling a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Crane dons his Scarecrow attire as Blüdhaven burns, literally and metaphorically, and seeks out the Nightwings for a confrontation. He gets his wish, clearly intent on breaking them and drawing out the real Nightwing -- and hopefully other members of the Bat-family.
After using the dead as ticking time bombs, Scarecrow is watching the living tear each other apart, revelling in this murderous glory. We all know fear is contagious, but here, the good doctor has found a way to make pure, unadulterated hate -- and by extension, death -- just as infectious. This could be what shunts Ric back into action as Nightwing, but it might also place him at loggerheads with his impersonators. Whether they can work together remains to be seen, but it's pretty clear that without Dick, Blüdhaven's future looks as bleak as ever.