It’s the fifth week of the month, which means it’s time for Annuals! But first, a look back to a gem from the “worst period of comics” – the 1990s. Birds of Prey (1996) #8. It is hailed as one of the greatest “one-and-done” issues of the last 25 years, and one of the priciest comics to come out of the 90s (a single issue can go anywhere from $80 to $250 on eBay). Despite its acclaim, it has never been reprinted in any of the myriad of Bat-collections over the years.
So what drives the popularity of this single issue? It’s the forever teased, but never fulfilling relationship between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, which is material Kyle Higgins mines in Nightwing Annual #1. Regular series artist (a term used loosely based on the first 25 issues) Will Conrad takes a break as Higgins is joined by the trio of Jason Masters, Daniel Sampere and Vincente Cifuentes.
Nightwing’s history has been unclear since the New 52 launched two years ago, but here Higgins gives us a glimpse at the past while at the same time exploring a possible future for Nightwing and Batgirl. If you weren’t a fan of how Dick and Babs’ relationship worked out in the old continuity (see: everyone), the good news is that they haven’t been an item yet (confirming suspicions from way back in issue #4). Higgins ties the romantic tension between the two leads to the case they’re working on. While at times a little too on-point, the storylines wrap up in a satisfying manner that is bittersweet and optimistic.
Though this issue has three credited artists, the transitions between Masters, Sampere and Cifuentes are relatively smooth and do not take the reader out of the experience. The animated style shared by the three works well with the characters, invoking the optimism of Grayson without undercutting the emotional scarring he and Barbara share. Whichever pages Masters drew look much better than his fill-in work on Batman, Incorporated.
As much as people enjoy seeing Dick and Babs together, the issue’s antagonist left much to be desired. While the changes to his backstory work well in giving the readers a dark mirror to the Dick/Babs relationship, his motivation here does not leave much for future creators to build on.
Nightwing Annual #1 is a great use of the oversized format. Higgins and Company give longtime fans what they want in a standalone story that develops the characters of Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson without derailing their respective titles.