Book Review: Nightwing: Fear State Collected Edition

Fear State
Writers: Tom Taylor and Tini Howard
Artists: Robbi Rodriguez, Cian Tormey, Daniel HDR, Raül Fernandez, and Christian Duce
Color Artists: Adriano Lucas, Rain Beredo, John Kalisz, and Sarah Stern
Letterers: Wes Abbott and Becca Carey
Review by Steve J. Ray
Huge thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Nightwing: Fear State is the second collected volume of Tom Taylor’s stellar chronicling the continuing adventures of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. It collects issues #88-#86 of Nightwing, the Nightwing 2021 annual, and the Nightwing/Batgirls story, written by Tini Howard, from Batman: Urban Legends #10. Also included are the main and variant covers, by luminary talents Bruno Redondo, Jamal Campbell, Max Dunbar & Hi-Fi, and sketches/designs by Bruno Redondo.

Nightwing: Fear State

This book provides a roller-coaster thrill ride of adventure, which sees our heroes joining the fray for the epic Bat-Family crossover event of late 2021.

Bruno Redondo is the lead artist on Nightwing, but he took a well-deserved break after his incredible work on issues #78-#83 (collected as Nightwing: Leaping Into The Light) and to allow him to complete work on the now legendary Nightwing #87.

In the meantime, the art on the first three chapters of this book was in the safe hands of the hugely talented Robbi Rodriguez, and the ever-present master of the hues, Adriano Lucas. I love Robbi’s work, and his art on the last Batgirl remains a firm favorite. His Nightwing is cool, slick, and as badass as you could hope for. Of course, any excellent artist always looks even better when his work is polished and finished by someone as remarkable as Adriano Lucas. The night sky, the setting sun on the lower half of a skyscraper, and a hero leaping into the void. From the very first page, this story grabs your attention.

Oh, and some guy with a pointy-eared cowl turns up in this issue too. It’s pretty cool.

Blüdhaven Looks Great

We get street fights, cute laughs, another Ikea catalog moment, characters, carnage, and kick-ass color. What more could a comics fan ask for?

I love the way the three chapters of the Fear State tie-in manage to work, both as part of the ongoing Nightwing series and as an event tie-in without alienating readers who may not be collecting both the  Bat-books or Nightwing series (though anyone who isn’t buying this title is seriously missing out). Every guest artist we’ve had has excelled, and recruiting Robbi Rodriguez to draw the crossover issues will delight Barbara Gordon fans. This was a stroke of genius; he’s the man who drew the last Batgirl Arc, which itself was a part of the previous major crossover, “Joker War“.

What I particularly love and appreciate is the way that you can read this book by itself, but if you also picked up any of the Batman: Fear State Saga issues, or collections, this book will make those feel even better, and answer some possibly nagging questions for completists.

Dream Team

I miss Barbara Gordon in her own book, but having her as a co-star in Nightwing and Bargirls every month is fantastic. In this book, Oracle is hacked, and our titular hero’s drawn into a trap that almost costs him his life, simply because he was called there by someone he believed to be Barbara Gordon. That was just the beginning, because “Fear State” kicks into full gear with Simon Saint and Jonathan Crane’s plans coming to terrifying, lethal fruition.

Scarecrow’s fear gas has always been one of the most disturbing weapons in any villain’s arsenal, both in comics and on-screen. Let me say right now that this tale only increased my… admiration is the wrong word… sheer incredulous respect and terror for what it can do. This stuff has always fuelled my nightmares, but Tom Taylor, Robbi Rodriguez, Adriano Lucas, and Wes Abbott turned up the flames of hell big-style with their version. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but 2018’s Batman #55 and Nightwing #50 came screaming back into my brain for all the wrong (right?) reasons.

Nightwing’s Escrima sticks put Bond’s gadgets to shame, and the fact that Tom Taylor still has new applications for Bruno Redondo, Robbi Rodriguez, and any other guest artist to draw every issue is a source of constant joy. The fact that all these talented illustrators are handling these like flat pack catalog instructions also makes me giggle every time.

I loved this three-issue arc. Not only did it prove to be an action-packed thrill-ride, but it also gave us all some crazy dialogue, great character moments, laughs, and even a hint of romance. As Tim Drake said in the second chapter (and Stephanie Brown re-iterated in the third)… “Finally!”

Usually, massive inter-company crossovers leave me cold, particularly those that don’t number each chapter. “Fear State”, however, was so well handled, that this looser way of tackling a multi-part event has really worked. You could just read the Batman issues and be fine, or you could read the Nightwing chapters in this book as one, fun story. Of course, you could also read the huge, sprawling 30-issue arc. It all works. I wish all crossovers were handled this way. Great stuff.

Brothers

Nightwing: Fear State also features the amazing Nightwing 2021 annual., where fans get a brilliant tale of brothers-in-arms uniting, as Dick Grayson and Jason Todd find themselves in muddy water.

This story is awesome. We see the two men as they are now, and also get a new adventure from their past. We see Nightwing and Robin help each other in a crisis at Alfred’s behest (God, I miss him), see vintage costumes, and classic villains. This is a tale that will delight old nostalgics, and modern action fans alike.

Tom Taylor’s grasp on Jason Todd in this tale is every bit as strong as it’s been on Dick, Barbara Gordon, and Tim Drake in the pages of the monthly book. We’ve frequently seen Jason portrayed as angry, reckless, and dangerous, and while we still see that here, rarely have we had a Jason Todd that’s all of those things, yet relatable, likable, and believable at the same time. Tom may hate me for saying this, but I think he should be heading up ongoing books about every Bat-Family member.

The fact that this chapter features two pencillers and three inkers would usually bug me, but Cian Tormey, Daniel HDR, and the always-excellent Raül Fernandez Fonts delivered a cohesive look and style which made the book feel as if it had all been handled by one artist. Every character looks great, the action’s top drawer and we get some great characterization too.

The colors by Rain Beredo and John Kalisz are also pitch-perfect. The fires feel hot, the lights shine brightly and day and night are clearly differentiated. Wes Abbott also delivers, with some terrific, understated effects as well as the pre-requisite sounds of violence, all handled with style.

We get the two oldest Bat-Sons working like real brothers would, fantastic guest appearances from Alfred and Babs, and a great Teen Titans cameo too. Every single creator gives us a Bat-Family that actually feels like one. This chapter, alongside Robins, Batgirls, and the wonderful WebToon Wayne Family Adventures strips, really tick a ton of boxes. I’d love to be there when Dad finds out that the boys borrowed the car…

Family

Nightwing: Fear State closes with a delightful story from Batman: Urban Legends, written by the hugely talented Tini Howard. “The Bats of Christmas Past” wraps up the collection with some classic good vs. evil action, whilst also delivering a Dickens of a Tale (see what I did there). Nightwing takes on the role of Scrooge when he encounters his own three ghosts of Christmas, after a hefty dose of Scarecrow’s fear toxin. The Batgirls have never been portrayed like this before!

I love the way that Tini’s tale ties in with everything else in this book. One would never know that this story didn’t form part of the main Nightwing series, and the writer handles every single character beautifully. The art and colors by Christian Duce and Sarah Stern are also gorgeous. We get to see so many of Dick’s nearest and dearest beautifully and faithfully rendered, and it’s a joy.

I also want to send out love, respect, and kudos to the most under-appreciated talents in comics: the letterers. Wes Abbott and Becca Carey provide text and sound effects that add so much to these pages, and I only wish that more people respected these artists and designers more. Thanks to both of you… you’re amazing.

Conclusion

In a very short space of time, Tom Taylor has created a setting and a group of supporting characters for Dick Grayson so well-realized and crafted, that you feel you’ve known them for years. Haley (AKA Bitewing) is adorable, and Dick’s neighbors are a joy. There’s also a certain Ms. Barbara Gordon, someone you may have heard of. I’m not going to give away spoilers, but any Babs fans are going to simply LOVE this book.

The art is great and the action is non-stop, but never at the expense of providing excellent characterization and wonderful storytelling. Nightwing: Fear State is a book that’s well worth picking up.

Review copy courtesy of Penguin Random House. Art courtesy of DC Entertainment. ISBN: 978-1-77951-550-6


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