“Grayson” #5 becomes a solid character piece with next to no plot after Midnighter, Helena, The Hero Formally Known As Nightwing and a baby get stuck in the desert.
Written by Tom King
Story by Tim Seeley & Tom King
Illustrated by Mikel Janin
Grayson is on a mission to stop Paragon from using the body parts of a dead villain to create something far more sinister!
When Dick Grayson prepared to make the transition from costumed hero to secret agent, is seemed like it might be an opportunity for DC to quietly reboot the character. Instead years of sidekick/survivors guilt baggage, the character could just embark on globetrotting adventures. Entertaining adventures, to be sure, but it would still be straying from the core of the character. Fortunately, the creative team on “Grayson” use the latest issue to show that even though the mask is gone, the core of the character has survived the transition.
Grayson and Helena are on a mission for Spyral, when suddenly they are forced to deal with some unexpected passengers. One thing leads to another, and suddenly Grayson and Midnighter are delivering a baby in the back of the helicopter as A.R.G.U.S. nails them with a missile. They crash into the desert, and unfortunately the new mother doesn’t survive. The trio now face a 200 mile hike across the desert, with next to no water, and carrying a newborn baby. Where’s Superman when you need him?
Tom King and Tim Seeley made the interesting choice to tell a standalone story, the barley has anything to do with Grayson’s new career in espionage. At only the fifth issue of the new series, it would be understandable if the creative team was trying to cram the book full of as much spy vs spy action as possible. Instead, however, they have a produced a dialog driven character piece. Each character gets their own mini arc. Helena is forced to mediate between the other two as her injury worsens, Midnighter is trying to enforce his own survival-of-the-fittest doctrine, while Grayson faces person internal than external adversity has he presses forward with the baby. King’s dialog gives a good glimpse into all three, especially Midnighter. Even though he talks a good game, it become apparent that no one else quite believes him, and soon we see the false bluster behind the bravado.
The emotional climax of the issue comes when a dehydrated Grayson tells the newborn baby about one of his past adventures as Robin. It’s a fanciful story about an alien monster, made all the more poignant upon realizing that this is an actual Batman and Robin story from the Silver Age. This scene feels like the perfect response to those eho worried that “Grayson” would move the character away from his Gotham-based roots. Here we see that it was the lessons Dick learned during his sidekick days that make him the capable hero that he is today. The past of the character can’t just be ignored when it defines who he has become. King could have just made up a quick story to make the same point, but by invoking real past adventures, it snaps the entire character into focus. And after the New 52 made a mess of Bat-history, it’s nice to see that some of the sillier adventures have made it through.
While the typical superhero comic at least provides the opportunity for the artist to show off a little bit with a big fight or two, this issue provides Mikel Janin with minimal plot or action to work with. Instead of producing drab art, Janin creates some stand-out scenes. While a desert could be one of the most visually boring locations, Janin uses the emptiness to enhance the feeling of desperation that the characters are experiencing. As Grayson plods his way across the sand, Janin draws the scene as one giant splash pages, with vertical panels indicating the agonizing slow passage of time.
With art set in such a barren location, it’s the characters that are really going to stand out. Janin renders their faces with a great deal of skill, detailing every bead of sweat and furrowed brow. He uses the characters to indicate the passage of time, with Grayson and Midnighter reaching a Miami Vice level of stubble by the end of the issue. The facial expressions actually change over the course of the story. Big reactions are found in the first pages as they react to the crash but as the desert grows hotter and the water gets used up, everyone becomes harden and worn out. When Grayson is talking about his previous Robin adventures, Janin pencils his eyes and mouth as little more than slits. It’s a very effective way to display the drain felt by the character.Continued below
Colorist Jeromy Cox deserves a special mention for his work on the desert scenes. During the day, the bright blue of the sky, the barren color of the sand and the white glow of the sun will bring up painful memories for the pasty folks among us. The moments set at dusk, on the other hand, are awash with faint colors as the sun rises and sets. It almost looks like a water color painting. Cox also uses color to blur the distant landscapes together, and makes it look like the sand dunes could go on forever.
Some critics will surely point out this issue is a little light on the plot, and they are not wrong. In the grand scheme of things, this will not go down as one of the most essential issues of “Grayson”. The issue, however, is an excellent character piece that speaks to the creative team’s larger intentions with the character. They acknowledge and respect his past, and use to build his present day personality. If fans were worried that the Dick Grayson they loved reading as Robin and Nightwing was gone, this issue will set their minds at ease. Throw in some great art, and the result is an issue that is quite impressive in its minimalism.
Final Verdict: 7.9 – “Grayson” #5 is light on plot but heavy on character. It’s a surprisingly effective change of pace for the series.