Nightwing #39 continues “The Untouchable” story arc, featuring new villain, the Judge. New to readers anyway, because as past issues in this arc have established, Nightwing has actually fought the Judge twice before the present day. The characters’ first tussle was covered two issues ago and occurred when Dick was still Robin; this week’s issue recounts their second battle from back when Dick was in college. Sam Humphries continues on as the series’ writer, while we get separate art teams for the portions of the issue taking place in the past (Phil Jimenez – pencils, Matt Santorelli – inks, Alex Sinclair – colors) versus the present (Jamal Campbell – art and colors). So far this arc has gone up and down quality-wise; is this issue one of the better ones?
This issue is set up as a frame story, with the Judge talking to an imprisoned Nightwing in the present day, and Dick flashing back to the pair’s second meeting. The portions of the issue that take place in the past are more interesting than those that take place in the present; this is largely because the flashback scenes address more of Dick’s emotional turmoils. We get to see Dick put his investigative skills to work even though he was supposedly done with superheroics at the time. The tension between Dick’s desire to step away from crime-fighting and his need to do the right thing effectively render him as a conflicted character, not just the straightforward fountain of rage that he’s been lately.
Speaking of rage, that’s more or less all Dick has in the present-day portions of this issue. He spends the whole issue shackled to a chair as the Judge taunts him. Once Dick’s flashback is finished, the Judge delivers yet another flashback, this time in the form of a speech about his origins. This new potential lore for the character is interesting, but time will tell if the creative team utilizes that potential or just reveals that the Judge is lying about his past. The issue ends not long after the Judge finishes his speech, and though we got two extended flashback sequences, it feels like there is little narrative progression here. The issue begins with Nightwing in chains and it ends with Nightwing in chains. Sure, we get some new information about the Judge and Dick’s past emotional life, but the here-and-now story remains much the same as it has been for the entirety of this arc.
Unfortunately, the art doesn’t really prop the issue’s quality up. The aesthetics of the past and present-day scenes clash considerably, and not in a way that heightens any sort of thematic concerns. The flashback scenes have some solid page compositions, fitting several panels in small amounts of space without feeling cramped. Unfortunately, much of the line-work and coloration just feel kind of “meh.” They’re not bad, but there aren’t any moments that take my breath away either, and a lot of the pencils feel quite rough. The present-day visuals fair a little better. While some of the line-work feels a bit stiff, the lines are still sharper, and the colors are pleasing to look at.
Ultimately, Nightwing #39 is yet another decent but not stellar issue in the series. I don’t regret reading it, but I don’t feel particularly enriched by the experience either. There are glimmers of promise here with the focus on Dick’s past emotional state and the Judge’s supposed origin, but neither is in-depth enough to ultimately make this issue a must-read. If you’re not already a longtime Nightwing reader, this issue isn’t a great place to start.