Nightwing #42 is the first of two fill-in issues between the end of the last creative team’s run and the start of the next. The issue is written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, drawn by Jorge Corona, colored by Mat Lopes, and lettered by Carlos M. Mangual. Fill-in issues are usually considered worse than main story arcs, and Nightwing hasn’t been very consistent lately to start with. Does this issue rise above expectations to deliver a strong standalone story?
I was on the fence about checking this issue out, and I’m glad I did. I haven’t had so much fun with Nightwing in months, if not over a year. Lanzing and Kelly do a great job with pacing, helping to craft an enjoyable one-and-done with a smooth beginning, middle, and end. In the age of writing-for-the-trade, it’s rare to see a single issue with such a strong narrative arc unto itself. Dick spends most of the issue taking down different members of the Crimson Kabuki, a criminal organization that has kidnapped Dick’s ex-partner, Damian Wayne.
This issue impresses with the ways it creatively pays attention to detail. Three of the Kabuki’s warriors’ designs and motifs reference to the meanings of the word kabuki‘s kanji components: song, dance, and skill. Dick taking on one major opponent after the next feels reminiscent of a videogame protagonists progressing through boss fights. Just like in a videogame, there’s a clear final boss here, and although he isn’t as cool as the rest of the villains, the final battle still has well-executed twists that make for a satisfying climax. Another one of this issue’s main strengths is its narration. The speaker conveys the events in the style of a classic fable or journey story, which fits the narrative structure very well.
This adventurous tone is further matched by the issue’s artwork, which is among the series’ best thus far–and that’s saying something given what other artists have worked on Nightwing since Rebirth. Corona delivers fantastic page layouts throughout, with a variety of compositional choices that help the action feel fresh and epic (in the poetic sense). I especially appreciate that Corona doesn’t abuse two-page-spreads; he only uses a few of them, and they always feel warranted by their content and strong execution. Lopes’ colors are also fantastic. The palette is varied, with a mixture of fun, bright tones and moody black shadows that deepen the sense of danger around every corner. Mangual also does a great job with the issue’s lettering, which matches the story well.
Ultimately, Nightwing #42 is way better than I thought it would be. It’s not just good for a fill-in issue, it’s good in its own right. From the narration to the line-work to the coloration, each part of the story works well in concert with the rest. I don’t have very many complaints–the final villain could have been more unique and the narration might feel a tad cheesy to some in spots. Besides those cons, and an occasional awkwardly rendered face, there’s nothing about this issue that I would change. It’s just good fun all the way through.