Wednesday, June 13, 2007

War Games: Casualty of War Act 3 Part 3 (DC comics)
Nightwing #98 When: December 2004
Why: Devin Grayson How: Sean Phillips

The story so far...
The vigilante called Tarantula has murdered Blüdhaven criminal mastermind Blockbuster, and by doing nothing to stop it, Nightwing has taken on the responsibility of the death in the harshest of ways.

While Grayson is trying come to terms with his inactions, the deaths of several major criminal bosses leads to an all-out gang war in Gotham City. With the violence spilling willfully into the streets, Batman rallies all of his available forces to put a stop to it, unwittingly placing additional stress on his former ward.

Charged with clearing Gotham-West, Nightwing heads out into the city, still troubled by the secret he keeps from the Batman. A welcome distraction comes in the form of a cluster of fires: The work of the pyromaniacal villain called, Firefly!

Previous Form:
Nightwing (#44): Team-up victories with Batman over Amazo and Two-Face.
Firefly: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Nightwing 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Nightwing 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Nightwing 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Nightwing 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Nightwing 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Firefly 4 (Arsenal)

I don't want to upset the contingency of Firefly fans out there straight off the bat, but this guy isn't exactly what you'd consider a threat.

Okay, so Batman is the designate who gets to go toe-to-toe with Darkseid and what have you, but these guys are all street level. Which means I have to be honest and say sure, these are the guys who are going to deal with Firefly, and that makes perfect sense.

Even so, even if you don't let Nightwing into the 'with prep time...' club, you still have to assume he's going to be pretty well equipped to handle a guy in a bugsuit with a flame thrower.

For starters you've got a really obvious balance issue. Nightwing would, of course, be well versed in concepts of balance because if his lengthy martial arts training, and the bulky suit - which takes away Firefly's touch - with the big wings on the back is a keypoint for Nightwing to take the advantage.

While the Firefly suit protects against a lot of the basic non-lethal projectiles the Bat-family carry, because it doesn't have any major offensive function, it's a relative moot point. At the very least, Firefly probably doesn't have to worry about Nightwing using his flammable equipment against him, but then again... He's already tasted the blood of Blockbuster! HE COULD BE OUT OF CONTROL!

The Math: Nightwing (Meta Class)
The Pick: Nightwing (Sorry, Garfield...)

What went down...
From the rooftops, Nightwing easily spots Firefly as he enters a closed bar.
Making a bee-line for the offices upstairs, Firefly begins ransacking until he's interrupted by a voice from somewhere behind: The ninjaesque stealthy Nightwing!

The two discuss some matters of crimes comitted and the current employee survival-rate in the Gotham City underworld, before Nightwing uses his acrobatics to leap over a stream of flame thrown from Firefly's gun.

Hiding beneath the office desk, Nightwing protects himself from the barrage of flames before lifting the table and tossing it at Firefly! The suited villain somehow manages to duck the attack, shocked by the wanton violence of a Gotham City hero. It's at that point that he identifies Nightwing as "that Blüdhaven guy" and recalls that which Nightwing would much rather forget -- the murder of Blockbuster.

The front doors of the establishment swing open as Firefly is unceremoniously hurled from the building. Nightwing follows, a blazing inferno casting a dramatic light over him.

Firefly recovers and sprays off another jet of flame as the rain begins to come down, but Nightwing leaps it easily.

Firefly continues to blast his flames uncontrollably as the Gotham police roll up to the scene. Not that their presence is noticed on either of the costumed fighters.

Nightwing connects with a good left, but the helmeted Firefly quickly retorts with a clunky boot that knocks Nightwing back enough to leave him wide open for an unrelenting two-gun flame attack!

Nightwing does his best to roll-up, covering his body whilst moving offensively toward the subject. He does so successfully, sliding between the two flamethrower barrels to get right up into Firefly's face.

Nightwing nails Firefly at close quarters with a well placed elbow, but even as Firefly gets knocked silly with the following punches, the GCPD get their orders to shoot-to-kill any costumed characters on sight in response to the recent gang wars. Bad news for Firefly and Nightwing, alike.

With Firefly out on his feet, the unsuspecting Nightwing makes the tactical decision to use Firefly's armored suit and wings as a shield from the barrage of police issue slugs.

Nightwing rips one of the flamethrowers from it's connection to Firefly's suit, and tosses it toward the law officers, looking to buy some time -- it doesn't work.
Nightwing throws another left to keep Firefly on the back foot, but it leaves him open to renewed gunfire. Nightwing takes a tag to the leg.

Nightwing rips the remaining gun from Firefly's costume, and calls for the police to cease fire. Then, dragging Firefly like a ragdoll, he tosses them the threat and tells them to stop wasting their time.

Any momentary sanity quickly fails, as the GCPD again open fire on the unarmed Nightwing. Even with the injured leg, he proves agile enough to shoot a batline to the buildings above, using it to swing himself upward to the raining skies.

Finding salvation on a fire escape, Nightwing patches a contact to Batman.
There, with the rain pouring, Nightwing loses consciousness.

The hammer...
Despite suffering a crippling gunshot wound (and an appearance in a frustrating crossover), our winner is Nightwing!

As you might have just surmised, I wasn't much of a fan of the War Games crossover that spread across the bat-family books in 2004. Which provided a steady contrast to my opinion of the titles just previously. It's almost hard to imagine that a mere three years ago the entire comics landscape was a very different looking place.

At this point Infinite Crisis had not yet taken off, and I don't think anybody really knew what Civil War was going to be. This was a time where comics had been on an upswing thanks largely to strong, well built storytelling and character development.

Batman and Detective Comics, for me, represented two of the most exciting scenes in the industry. Likewise, Catwoman remained one of the sleeper hits of the early part of this decade. It was a pretty good time to be reading Batman.
The flagship title was sporting hyped storylines by Jeph Loeb and Brian Azzarello, which boasted pencilling collaborators like the top ten enducing Jim Lee, and the grim and gritty Eduardo Risso.

Meanwhile, Detective Comics was consistently among my favourite reads, with grey palette stories from the streets of Gotham. Something like a blend between the best early episodes of the animated series, and the kinds of characterizations and developments I might have imagined myself. It was a very enjoyable period, of two-six parters, and solo stories by talents that included Ed Brubaker and Brian Vaughan.

War Games was really the first big multi-title crossover to rear it's ugly head in a time that still considered the crossover to be one of the key components in the downfall of the nineteen-nineties. It seems, however, despite the exhaustian of company-wide events like Infinite Crisis and Civil War, the sands have shifted to point blame more to characters (like Ben Reilly), than the formula of the multiple title crossover itself.

As revolted as I was to realise I'd grabbed a handful of War Games issues, which marked the first conceited effort to avoid Batman and Detective after years of automatically buying; there was a silver lining.
I had wanted to have a look at Nightwing, which had been one of the titles I wasn't terribly interested in. While War Games represented something I specifically did not like, this particular issue presented the opposite within.

A lot of the features on Secret Earths have some sort of motivation or conceit to them. They're often a part of a larger plot or scheme, and connect to things before and after. In that respect they are quite unlike this crossover issue, which features the throwaway battle between Nightwing and Firefly.

Unnngghhh... Somebody stole my watch, and I think I just... soiled... my tights!This really could've been a fight with anyone. As far as I know there was no real significance put upon Firefly's intentions, or actions. This was purely a situation where a writer needed to display difunction in that area of town, while also pursuing the emotional story of Dick Grayson coming to terms with his part in the murder of a gangster.

This is a fun issue. A fight that need not be cast under any pretentions. This is about a superhero swooping in and whooping butt in the name of protecting the innocent.
This is exactly the kind of fight that belongs on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, and as simple a review as it provides, I greatly enjoyed it.

Devin Grayson proves competent, if not spectacular, while Sean Phillips' pencils range from phenomenal to average. Some of these scenes look truly amazing, with colouring by Gregory Wright that times is so dramatic, it really feels as thought it's an animated scene. All the while, other scenes appear awkward and clumsy, as though they were the results of a latenight cram session before Phillips' deadline.

A lot of people talk about Nightwing as a broken character. A character whose value falls somewhere in the middle of a triangle of Batman, Tim Drake and Jason Todd. I personally like to think there's more to the character than that, but we might save that discussion for next time...

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4

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