Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral Review (Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin)

If you haven’t read Forever Evil (lucky devil!) and don’t want to be spoiled, skip ahead a paragraph.

So in Forever Evil Nightwing was unmasked to everyone in the world to be Dick Grayson. But Geoff Johns wasn’t done with his punching bag yet because Dick got a bomb wired to his heart and was “killed”. Except of course he wasn’t and only he and Batman (and several other DC characters) know it.

Now Dick Grayson is a “dead man” who’s decided to help Batman infiltrate Kathy Kane’s secret spy organisation, imaginatively called Spyral, to discover the identity of Mr Minos (so-called because his face can’t be remembered as it’s labyrinthine AND a literal spiral – spiral/Spyral, geddit? Groan) and what they’re up to. Dick Grayson is Agent 37 aka Boring Bland, I mean, Boring Bond, I mean, gosh, this comic sucked! 

Dick has undergone many transformations through the years: he was the original Robin, then he was Nightwing, and he even moonlights as Batman when Bruce needs him to. Now he’s a secret agent – and it’s his worst role yet. He’s simply not cut out to be a ruthless secret agent. Spyral use guns to kill people – Dick reluctantly uses guns to not blow his cover but he doesn’t kill. Which makes me wonder: why didn’t Minos ask Dick to kill someone to prove he was one of them, in the same way he made another character? I guess the writers didn’t know how to get around that so glossed over it, hoping nobody would notice!

This might be unfair because Ed Brubaker is so much more talented than the Grayson writing duo, but I’m going to use his series Velvet to highlight the problems in this book. Grayson and Velvet are also both recent spy thrillers but at polar opposites in terms of quality.

In Velvet, the action is never gratuitous. An action scene is part of the plot with every scene informing the next and progressing the story, ie. the perfect way to tell a story. Velvet needs to find information in dangerous places and has to use her skills to get it – often breaking into heavily guarded areas, fighting highly-skilled agents, etc. to continue her mission. She’s also an older woman, weaker and slower than younger male agents so there’s an element of uncertainty over her fate in each encounter.

In Grayson, the action is completely gratuitous and entirely separate from the wafer-thin “plot”. Dick is covertly working for Batman, finding out what Spyral is up to and who Minos is. This is actually a background “plot” because the bulk of the book is taken up with missions that have nothing to do with anything. Dick has to rescue (or something, it’s never made clear) a Russian human bomb; Dick has to fight a guy whose eyes are in his gun barrels (seriously!); Dick has to bring in a Flash-like cannibal. Of course he accomplishes his missions every time – which means no tension - but they’re totally inconsequential to the overall story – which means no stakes. If you accept the idea that every scene should be driving the story onwards, Grayson’s “story” is almost entirely static.

Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress is in this though she doesn’t wear the purple outfit or call herself Huntress; instead her codename is “Matron” - yuck! Midnighter is also in this for absolutely no reason. I guess besides Batman, the writers wanted gay Batman to make an appearance to re-emphasise the Batman background of the character? Are we supposed to like any of these characters? Because I hated this version of Huntress and Grayson himself comes off as a male model play-acting at secret agent – little more than a one-dimensional dimwit. It’s just so unconvincing that a serious organisation like Spyral would take on someone as light and fluffy as Grayson especially given the way he acts here.

There are some nods to Grant Morrison’s awesome DC comics in Grayson: Spyral is based at St Hadrian’s Finishing School in England which is where Stephanie Brown (aka Robin #4 - though not in New 52 continuity) went; Dick calls Batman “Mr Malone”, a reference to Bruce’s character “Matches” Malone; and the first page of the first issue is a direct callback to the first page of All-Star Superman #1 (Mikel Janin’s art even faintly resembles Frank Quitely’s, though it’s not nearly as accomplished). All they did though was make me wish I was reading those comics instead of this one!

Continuing DC’s recent approach of courting female readers, Dick is shirtless, showing off his insanely sculpted body (abs and bum EVERYWHERE!), for most of the book. It’s like they’re trying to make up for decades of gratuitous gawping at the exaggerated female form (Power Girl) by displaying tons of man-candy. Even a group of horny teen schoolgirls spy shirtless Dick (oh the humour of names!) in his window and stage a “man-ty raid”!

That said, DC once more can’t help shooting themselves in the foot. In one issue, a blonde woman is introduced purely to fuck Dick (literally!) and then later get a bullet in the head for her troubles. It’s the return of that heinous cliché of a female character dying to act as motivation/character development for the male lead. I don’t see many readers, male or female, being impressed with that nonsense. 

The tone of the book is strange. I appreciate that DC are going for a less dark ‘n’ gritty tone that seems to be their house style but Grayson is so uneven. It swings from deadly serious with characters getting shot in the head to bizarrely comedic with near-naked Dick barrelling around the school grounds, drooling schoolgirls in tow. Fun romance – dark and tragic. It’s all over the place and none of this is well-written. Besides the introduction to Dick Grayson at the start (useful, I suppose, for totally green readers), there is nothing but bad exposition throughout which becomes tediously repetitive to read.

If New 52 Nightwing made me realise how ambivalent I was towards the character, Grayson hammers home the banality that is Dick Grayson in a solo series. Tim Seeley and Tom King write bad Bond/Bourne fanfic with dribbles from the Batman universe, the result being an utterly boring “spy” “thriller”. Boredom as a book = Grayson! Read Brubaker’s Velvet instead to see a spy thriller comic done right.

Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral

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