Note: BETTER THAN BATMAN is culled from seven NIGHTWING stories that did not appear in a single run of issues. I'm reviewing the TPB collected edition. This NIGHTWING series followed on the heels of a previous serial, GRAYSON: AGENT OF SPYRAL, in which Dick Grayson briefly gave up his superhero ID to work undercover with the titular spy-outfit. Tim Seeley, writer of BETTER, was one of the collaborators on the GRAYSON series.
Prior to Stan Lee's application of soap-operatic continuity to the medium of comic books, ongoing serials-- such as DC's "Batman"--observed an implied status quo. On occasion the hero might discover some unknown facet of his personal history, like the 1956 tale "The First Batman," wherein the Caped Crusader learned that his father once wore a costume like his own. The ascendancy of Marvel Comics made it difficult for a writer to toss out such "big revelation" stories that failed to affect the series as a whole.
Soap operas depend on uncovering secrets. It was relatively easy in the sixties and seventies to reveal, say, that Captain America's girlfriend from World War II was still alive. However, by the 21st century, writers had to stretch credulity to disclose brave new enigmas. For the 2002-03 Bat-series HUSH, Jeph Loeb concocted the notion of "Bruce Wayne's best childhood friend," who, rather predictably, turned to be something of Bruce's "evil double." For the 2011 COURT OF OWLS storyline, Scott Snyder posited that for centuries Gotham City had been ruled by a secret society of criminal financiers, whose existence went undetected by Batman for the entirety of his career, up until the "Court" revelations.
BETTER THAN BATMAN has a specific linkage of COURT OF OWLS, wherein it's disclosed that at one point the evil Owls had planned to abduct the orphaned Dick Grayson, in order to make him one of their assassins. Bruce Wayne's adoption of Grayson inadvertently foiled that scheme. Grayson
-- now a twenty-something superhero who gave up the Robin-identity to take the name "Nightwing"-- took this revelation personally. He became an agent of Spyral as part of a long-range plan to infiltrate and undermine the international forces of the Court. However, at the start of BETTER THAN BATMAN, he's forsworn his role as a secret agent and has resumed his Nightwing identity. The Owls are aware of his double identity, as well as that of Batman, but the arrogant aristocrats believe that they've succeeded in blackmailing the former Boy Wonder into their service. In order to monitor Nightwing more closely, they assign him a partner, an international criminal named Raptor.
From their first meeting, Raptor-- who also knows the secret identities of both Nightwing and his former Bat-partner-- shows an unusual personal interest in his new ally, telling him that he Nightwing needs "a better mentor," since "everything Batman taught you is wrong." This assertion comes at a time when the off-and-on association between Batman and Nightwing is under some strain. In this Seeley is also following a "series bible" that generally finds Nightwing to be more human and thus more fallible than the monomaniacal Batman. Yet, rather than simply parroting this observation, Seeley attempts to give this psychological myth some sociological support.
The Court of Owls represent "the new plutocracy." continually seeking to advance their goals at the expense of underprivileged people-- including their tendency to swell the ranks of their assassins from low-income families, such as Dick Grayson's family of circus-performers. However, according to Raptor, Bruce Wayne is no better, having adopted a young orphan purely for the purpose of bringing him into the superhero fold, just as the Owls would have made young Dick into an assassin. Raptor does not belong to the "one-percenter" class of the Owls, and he constantly calls attention to this fact in his quasi-Marxist lectures to his new partner: "The three-headed beast of branding, marketing, and advertising is the most powerful human force in the world." Nightwing cooperates with Raptor for the same motive he had during his earlier service to the Owls: seeking to gather more information on both the Owls and their criminal opponents. However, while the Owls had no power to sway Nightwing's sympathies, the hero is somewhat fascinated with Raptor's devil-may-care attitude and his casual defiance of the law. Both Batman and Batgirl (the Barbara Gordon version this time) fear that Raptor could tempt Nightwing into a life of criminality, if only because Dick Grayson grew up with an abiding love of the Robin Hood mythos (hence the origins of the name and costume of "Robin the Boy Wonder.")
More significantly, though, Raptor turns out to be A Person From Nightwing's Past. His identity is a little less contrived than that of the aforementioned villain Hush. Yet the Hush-story is probably an influence on Seeley's tale. Not only is Raptor an acquaintance of Dick Grayson's parents, he's been watching Nightwing's career from a distance for as many years as the hero has existed. In the end, not only is Raptor oriented on taking down his alleged employers the Owls, he also wants to exterminate wealthy philanthropist Bruce Wayne, on the theory that everyone rich deserves death.
On an intellectual level BETTER THAN BATMAN appears to be a refutation of the Marxist politics of Christopher Nolan's revamp of the Batman-origin. However, Seeley's mythopoeic imagination gives this basic notion more affective appeal, by lending far more resonance to the tropes of child-abduction and/or child-murder. One of the side-plots of BETTER includes Nightwing and Raptor venturing into a labyrinth, not unlike the one Scott Snyder introduced in COURT OF OWLS. But Seeley explicitly relates the Owls' maze-fetish to the Classical Greek myth of the minotaur, which is all about-- the sacrifice of the young and innocent.
In the end, the status quo is naturally preserved: Nightwing rejects Raptor's embrace of criminality and remains faithful to his adopted Bat-family. But in keeping with the story's repeated motif of the hero as an acrobatic circus-performer ("Being up in the air is my first love"), Seeley gives his audience what it wants: the illusion of danger, in keeping with an artful balancing-act.
Dojo Classics - Death Of A Space God!
2 hours ago