Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nightwing #148 Review

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Penciller: Rags Morales

After last issue's extremely dubious advertisement as a crossover to the R.I.P. storyline, Nightwing #148 finally delivers on its promise of being a tie-in. However, it is not a tie-in in the way one might expect. Like Robin #177, this issue takes place after the events of R.I.P., in which the climactic events of R.I.P. have already taken place and Bruce Wayne has since retired as Batman. This has a curious result, and one that I'm not sure is such a good thing: it in effect spoils the ending of R.I.P. True, we do not know what exactly happened at Arkham Asylum, but now we know that just about every major character comes out of R.I.P. alive, although perhaps not unscathed. Robin survived, as we know from his book, and now we discover that both Nightwing and Alfred also survived the encounter. While one can never really expect a major character will get killed, Dick Grayson's fate has always been up in the air ever since we learned there was originally a plan to kill him off in Infinite Crisis #7. If anyone was going to be killed or seriously hurt, it was him (well, maybe Alfred). Now we know that they are both perfectly fine. No matter what happens in the rest of R.I.P., some of the tension of the story has been irrevocably lost, and that is not a positive thing.

This book does, though, reveal that something indeed may be up with Alfred in R.I.P. At one point in this book, Dick Grayson asks Alfred, "Nnn--when did you learn arthroscopic surgery?". That's a really good question, and Alfred's answer of "osmosis" doesn't really sound plausible. If Alfred is a doctor, who is he really? I doubt he is Thomas Wayne, but there is some implication here that he is a lot more than simply the former actor turned butler that we all believed he is. One positive element of this book is that, while it spoils some of the ending of R.I.P., it actually has the effect of adding to some of its mystery. Aside from Alfred's strange and sudden medical skills, there is also a very interesting scene where he washes the blood from his hands and for some reason splashes a little on the case holding Jason Todd's old uniform. Clearly, something happened involving Alfred in R.I.P., and this book is quite clever in giving us some hints but really no answers.

In terms of the story itself, this book has several promising elements. It is an interesting story in which Nightwing has to protect Carol, Two-Face's old flame, from people trying to kill her because she is a witness in a crime. Moreover, somehow the crime itself is becoming more interesting. The potential assassins have somehow gotten a hold on Scarecrow's fear serum, using it to cause Nightwing to start hallucinating. If they have access to that, who are they involved with really? The story has been suitably vague and in leaving it a mystery. If the story somehow involves Scarecrow, could Hush also be involved? They are working together over in Detective Comics. At this point, we don't know, but the conspiracy behind the attempted assassination has moved from being a plot device to a real mystery, and the book is stronger for it.

Unfortunately, Don Kramer is no longer the penciller on Nightwing. His visuals were one of the best things about the last issue, as he draws some of the best action sequences I have ever seen. Instead, Morales' strength seems to be his character elements, writing suitably ambiguous expressions on people's face, so that we aren't sure, for example, what Alfred is thinking or what Carol thinks of Nightwing. There is a nice moment in the book when Nightwing leaves Carol, yet again, in the safehouse (located at the Cloisters in Manhattan, which I found rather a clever idea). She asks him if he promises to come back, almost like a little kid might ask a parent when feeling a little insecure. It is a nice moment, because it reminds us that normal people don't actually encounter superheroes on a regular basis, and she is so impressed with him, she's starting to regress a little. I wonder if perhaps she won't become a love interest for Nightwing in the long run, which would be interesting since Two-Face is still in love with her. There's a lot of potential to this character, and I hope we see her again. However, because Rags isn't quite as strong in drawing action as Kramer, there is more dialogue than action in this book, and I miss the pacing of the last issue.

Overall, then, this is a solid issue of Nightwing. There are a lot of nice character moments and, despite spoiling some of the outcome of R.I.P, it also finds a way to add to the mystery.


1 comment:

Michelle said...

Actually, Alfred's medical skills are neither sudden nor unexpected. Since the mid-80's after the first "Crisis" continuity clean-up act, Alfred's been described as an Army vet who was a field medic, and he's been shown performing different levels of sugery for a long time. Not until we reached "Knightfall" did we see an injury Alfred *couldn't* take care of.

Throughout most of the "No Man's Land" story arc, we were told time and again that Alfred spent a good part of the day in the MASH sector with Leslie tending to the sick and injured, helping her with all kinds of surgeries.

And during the "Hush" storyline, after revealing his identity to Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Bruce even takes Selina back to the Batcave with him where she watches Alfred stitching up yet another open wound on Bruce's back. Commenting on all his scars, she asks Bruce, "Do you go through this often?" Though he says, "Not really," Alfred replies "Every day, miss." (Granted, this whole scene wasn't in the books themselves, but in a mini found in the pages of Wizard magazine. Still, it was done by the same team working on "Hush" and was always meant to tie into the story.)

Alfred's an observant man who pays attention; given that he spent at least seven years in the house with a top-notch surgeon and then spent another couple of decades in close friendship (and a possible love affair) with Leslie--who's no slouch herself--isn't it conceivable that Alfred's learned what he needs to to be of service in this area as all others?

Personally, if I was in his shoes and had known from the time "Master Bruce" was 14 years old that he intended on becoming some dark avenger for the helpless--as Bruce made clear when he left home for the training he needed--and I had a friend/lover who was a doctor and geeral surgeon, I would have been begging her to teach me everything she knew as quickly as possible so I could be ready for Bruce's return 10 years later. Given my field medic status and the fact that I was already used to seeing wounds and being able to dress and occasionally stitch them up as needed, I would think the rest would just be a matter of learning what to do and practicing it as often as possible. Doctors only go to school for four years, and--what? 6 or 8 years if they specialize? In 10 years of waiting for Bruce to return, I would HOPE Alfred learned what to do to treat Bruce's wounds. And with another decade of daily practice in the skills, by now he should be a damn fine surgeon.

Maybe, you might say, but arthoscopic surgery is a bit of a specialized field, no? Yeah, maybe, but that's all the more reason Alfred should know it. Arthroscopy can be used on a variety of joints (shoulder, knee, spine, etc.) and for a variety of procedures — in this case, removal of a foreign body. Healing time is quicker than traditional open shoulder surgery since only 2 incisions need to be made--one for the scope, another a blunt probe or, as used here, a pair of forceps to remove the bullet. Since arthoscopy minimizes the trauma from surgery and speeds healing time, athletes can usually return to action within a few weeks to a month. And what are the members of the Bat Family if not fine athletes? Why wouldn't Alfred keep abreast of the latest medical procedures designed to minimize traums to the body, especially knowing as he does how stubbornly his patients get up off the table and go right back to "work"?

Hey, in a world where aliens from other planets live here and get superpowers from our sun or give superpowered rings to test pilots, all while a guy who dresses up as a bat swings from rooftop to rooftop, what's so hard to swallow about a former field medic turned actor turned butler learning surgical techniques and performing them on his employer?