I’ve had mixed feelings about Nightwing ever since the series’ creative team changed. At first I thought the shift seemed promising, and hoped the title would be consistently enjoyable again. But then last issue was average at best, and it curbed my enthusiasm. Does Nightwing #38 bring the series back up to its previous good quality level?
One of my main qualms with the last issue was that the main artist was replaced by two fill-in teams. Bernard Chang is back now, and this issue is all the better for it. The characters are very well-drawn throughout, and I’ve grown to really like Chang’s take on Dick. He also does a great job with Blüdhaven’s architecture; the giant casinos actually feel imposingly large and present, not just like background patterns. The best page in the issue is composed unlike any other comic page I’ve ever seen; Dick is dancing shirtless and the form of his body is made up of panels detailing the scene’s events. Of course, colorist Marcelo Maiolo also deserves a shout-out. Their mixture of bright neons and solid blacks throughout is fantastic, and the way Dick flits in and out of shadows is a lot of fun.
There are also some strong elements to this issue’s writing. Sam Humphries has solidified his take on Nightwing. It’s a familiar version of the character, and Dick is still that nice guy fans are used to, but he also has an undercurrent of stubbornness. It makes sense given Dick’s motivations in this arc and his feelings of guilt over not having already taken down the Judge. We also get a quick off-panel cameo from an important figure in Dick’s past, which is cool.
With all of that said, I still have some pretty major qualms with this issue. This is the fourth installment of the current arc, but it feels like at least the sixth. The progression of Dick’s antagonism with the Judge feels glacial, and nothing about the Judge makes him positively stand out among the myriad of supervillains with mind control powers. The end of the issue includes what is portrayed as a major twist but…isn’t. Instead of an engrossing reveal, we get more of the Judge chewing on the scenery, and that’s gotten very tiring. It’s also worth noting that, while we get short moments with some members of Dick’s supporting cast, none of them have received particularly poignant or extensive focus as of yet.
Overall, Nightwing #38 is good, but it’s not great. There’s a lot to love about the issue’s visuals, both in terms of line-work and coloration. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t stack up. There are several nice moments throughout the issue, but ultimately this just feels like the latest in an overly drawn-out story about a villain with no meaningful connection to the protagonist. The Judge can’t go down fast enough.