By Jarrod Jones. Making the Bat-books fun would seem to be a thankless task. Strip the bone-crushing gravity and bleak world-view from Bruce Wayne’s world, and all we’d have left is a billionaire crime-smasher with amazing gadgets and really cool, super-powered friends. (Wait a minute – what’s so wrong with that?) Since the days of O’Neil and Adams, Batman and his cadre of like-minded vigilantes have always grimly operated in the shadows, trading quips at a slow trickle, almost as if humor was the life blood running through Batman’s body: let too much out and death would surely follow, right? Right.
Maybe that’s why most of the eleven Bat-books currently published by DC Comics really don’t have much to do with the Dark Knight Detective himself, so much as they focus on his illustrious supporting crew. Let Batman keep his morally-complex war against criminality; much of the comic book world is plenty abuzz over DC’s latest slew of books concerning Gotham City’s other civic-minded citizens, and those books (Gotham Academy, Batgirl, and Grayson) have a freeing, breathless enthusiasm about them, making the stern, unwavering battle for Gotham feel – for the first time in too many years – well… fun.
Consider Grayson, a book that has stemmed from one of DC’s more violent and joyless inter-company crossovers in recent memory (Forever Evil); a book that is – in spite of its grisly origins – easily one of the more enjoyable and consistently engaging comics in the company’s current slate of books. (Just so long as it’s not obligated to any of DC’s astringent crossovers.) With co-conspirators Tim Seeley and Tom King running the show, aided by Mikel Janin’s slick artwork, Grayson covertly operates just outside of the Bat-books’ periphery, never forgetting who Dick Grayson was, who he is, and who he may soon become. Dick Grayson’s future hasn’t been this uncertain (or exciting) since the former Boy Wonder left the BatCave.
“Outed to the world. Murdered. Surrounded by crazies. Maybe covered in evil mini robots that could eat my skin. And chased by college girls.” If the entirety of Grayson #4 could be summed up more succinctly than that, I can’t imagine how: silently crouched over the heads of some of St. Hadrian’s more boy-crazy acolytes, Dick murmurs over the present state of things, a small but significant moment of truth that leaves the man to simply smirk to himself at the absurdity of it all. And his feelings are infectious – even though Grayson‘s existence comes off of the momentum set forth by Forever Evil, that shouldn’t suggest that the man (and by extension, the book) will be mired by doom and gloom. It’s quite the opposite. Because Grayson‘s central conceit is so concise – a man believed to be dead infiltrates the lurid world of espionage – the book’s narrative potential is near-limitless. But King and Seeley aren’t only concerned about the trivialities of their favorite secret agent man, they take aim at what truly makes Dick Grayson tick. The effects their efforts have is staggering.
Not a book to rest on its laurels, Grayson kicks off issue #4 with an appropriately ludicrous assignment issued forth by Mr. Minos, Spyral’s visually unsettling head of command. The squidgy-faced super-agent has assigned Dick Grayson – here referred to as “Agent 37” – to infiltrate a massive airship alongside his pensive partner-in-arms, Helena Bertinelli. Their mission? To recover yet another in a long line of Grayson‘s MacGuffins, a hard drive that contains pertinent information that would be better served in Spyral’s methodical care. That the actual mission is received, executed, and finished within the book’s introductory three pages doesn’t matter; the book’s real intrigue (and its real enjoyment) is found in the pages that follow, offering a series of giddily amusing events that offer depth, not just to Dick’s place among this shifty-eyed agency, but to his place in a world that has all but forgotten him.
And even though Dick is trying his damndest to remain invisible, somehow his intermittent brooding has drawn the attention (and affections) of four students from Spyral’s own finishing school – Bryce, Janni, Paris, and the blue-haired Lotti, who herself creepily snapped images of our strapping, shirtless hero from the grounds outside of his bedroom window. It seems that studying at an elite finishing school where alumni have the opportunity to become the world’s most deadly assassins, compounded with St. Hadrian’s lack of any real boys, has left the four girls feeling a bit frisky for some action – both figuratively and literally. What is then proposed is a “man-ty raid“: a full-on chase after our would-be Nightwing, who – after some covert strategy-building with his former mentor – is only happy to oblige them. The subsequent race around the grounds of St. Hadrian’s gives Grayson added comedic heft, while at the same time strongly encouraging the concept of Dick Grayson: Sex Symbol.
While most of issue #4 is an enthusiastic romp through the playground that is Dick Grayson’s life, when it comes to the mission at hand, Grayson is all business. Tim Seeley (along with Tom King’s covertly-savvy guiding hand) gives Dick plenty to engage with: while he’s very much ensconced with Spyral, Dick operates as a double-agent, reporting back to Bruce Wayne with the daily comings and goings (under the adorable pseudonyms “Birdwatcher” and “Mr. Malone”). It’s not easy spying on spies, and watching Dick cook up seemingly innocuous tricks in order to get the information he needs is priceless. (In order to sweep Mr. Minos’ office for clues, Dick slurps obnoxiously on a sucker so that the prickly Helena smacks it from his mouth in the middle of a debriefing – an act hilariously realized through Mikel Janin’s artwork – letting the sticky candy collect fibers for Batman to analyze.)
And while Dick watches the watchers, so too are eyes fixed upon him: Minos knows that someone is broadcasting communications from within St. Hadrian’s, so he sets Helena to find the culprit, which brings her right into Dick Grayson’s bedroom. While Dick is hopping across rooftops in a lovely chase with St. Hadrian’s best and brightest, Helena collects information. What she does with that info isn’t revealed by issue #4’s end, but damning evidence isn’t the only thing about Dick she’s amassing: watching the former Boy Wonder euphorically leap through the night reminds her that Dick is a man who misses the life he left behind, a life that Helena seems to appreciate. “I want to you remember the night,” she coos to our hero, as she leaps out from his bedroom window. “Chase me.” And with those words, Dick is out of bed, out through his window, and gone. Seeley and King’s care and appreciation reminds us that any story can send a hero hurtling through the skies, but to bring them back to Earth it’s important to employ a little gravity.
Written by Tim Seeley.
Plot by Tim Seeley and Tom King.
Art by Mikel Janin.
Colored by Jeromy Cox.
8.5 out of 10