This week is apparently Annual Week for DC Comics. Annuals serve two purposes – they either tell stories unrelated to the main series, sort of a palate cleanser, or they tie up loose ends and serve as a good jumping on point for the title. Nightwing’s first annual in the New 52 performs the latter. Even in the new universe, there was a powerful relationship between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. The relationship was tumultuous, ending due to both timing and circumstances. Now, with Dick moving to Chicago and Barbara retiring Batgirl since the costumed icon is wanted for murder, the rekindling of their relationship seems impossible.
Writer Kyle Higgins, who’s been breathing new life into the Nightwing character, decides to address the finality of the first bat power-couple. The story itself is a simple one – somebody posing as Firebug is attempting to ruin the life of a wealthy Hollywood producer. The Firebug has burned her production company and killed her ex-boyfriend as well as a number of her co-workers. With Batman out of town, it falls on Nightwing to solve the case. Not wanting to work alone, Grayson convinces Gordon to don a ninja outfit and be his co-pilot. One last job together.
The mystery of who is behind the Firebug isn’t hard to solve, but that isn’t the point. Higgins uses the case to pepper in some difficult conversations between Dick and Barbara. The two crime fighters reminisce about their first dates, then talk about the horrible timing they always have, Grayson even attempts a stab at “Hey we can make this work.” Higgins does a good job at keeping the outcome of their relationship in the shadows. Logically, we know that the two must split, but Higgins manages to craft the story in such a way that we root for them to stay together. If this comic book thing doesn’t work out, Higgins has a strong future as a romance novelist.
Outside of the finality of his relationship with Barbara Gordon, Nightwing Annual #1 is a great place to jump onto the story. Nightwing has gone through multiple changes, storylines and life twists since the series debuted with the New 52. Higgins wraps those ideas up here, and sends Nightwing to Chicago on a permanent basis. Having been reading for the last ten issues, I’m a fan of the Nightwing series, and I highly suggest those looking for a reason to get on board, take Annual #1 as an invitation.
Art for this annual comes from three sources. The main pencils belong to Jason Masters, assisted by Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes. With three times the artistic power, you’d think the work here would rise above standard comic book fare. It doesn’t. Nothing happening within the pages is bad, it’s just nothing to get excited about. Having no idea who is responsible for what, it’s hard to say who owns what errors. In several panels, there are problems with body proportions, which takes you out of the story. The faces are pretty interchangeable, such as the female Hollywood producer and Barbara Gordon. While those mistakes are glaring, the movement and action in the panels is executed very well. The overall effect is that the art tells the story, but never establishes itself as part of it.
(4 Story, 2.5 Art)