Nightwing: Ties That Bind
by Dennis O'Neil, Alan Grant,
with various artists
(DC Comics, 1997)

After Dick Grayson had grown out of his short Robin pants but before he'd grown into his role as protector of Bludhaven, Ties That Bind helped to define his new identity in the DC universe.

The first story in this collection -- Alan Grant's 1995 one-shot "Alfred's Return" -- focuses more on Batman's once and future butler, Alfred, then it does on the gaudily dressed Nightwing. Dick flies to London to track down his old chum after learning that Alfred has resigned from Bruce Wayne's employ. He's just in time -- as these heroes typically are -- to help Alfred face down some merciless criminals who hope to overthrow the British government and economy at the cost of a few hundred lives. Alfred, always the wise counselor, here proves himself to be quite capable on his own; the subplot involving a long-lost lover and her son is tacked on as emotional window dressing.

Next, Dennis O'Neil's four-issue Nightwing mini-series from 1996 gives the hero a new costume and cements his ongoing relationship with his mentor, Batman -- but builds it around a long-winded story that casts doubt on the reasons Dick's trapeze-artist parents were murdered so many years ago.

Nightwing, like Batman, is at his best as an urban vigilante and detective. Globetrotting stories that set him against despots in other countries don't work nearly so well, and the links that a modern racial purging have to the old Grayson murder is stretching things too far. Much better is a subplot involving a beautiful young socialite, a kidnapping gone badly and an abusive, alcoholic father -- but this storyline gets too little ink. The best part of the book is the final interaction between Batman and Nightwing -- their mutual respect peeks through the usual antagonism.

Grayson fans of course should read up on the tales from Nightwing's early days, and if nothing else, O'Neil's story left Dick with a much better outfit. These aren't the greatest yarns from his archives, but they'll pass a pleasant hour nonetheless.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 30 April 2005

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