Title: Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral
Publisher: DC Comics
Writers: Tim Seeley and Tom King
Artists: Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, Guillermo Ortego, and Juan Castro
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Collection Cover Artist: Andrew Robinson
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. Read at your own risk!
I have to admit I had my doubts about this title. Dick Grayson is important to me as a character, particularly as Nightwing, and I was disappointed when DC made Dick a secret agent, even if I hadn’t been impressed by the New 52 Nightwing title. But after more than 15 issues of praise from critics, fans, and community personalities, and on the strength of The Vision, which Tom King is writing over at Marvel, I felt it was time to put aside my misgivings and pick up the new paperback edition of the first collection. I’m not too proud to admit when I’ve been wrong about something, and my bias against this book was definitely wrong.
Grayson is one of the best ongoing comic books being released right now.
King and Tim Seeley have crafted a fascinating spy tale with all the trappings of a classic genre yarn, but with a liberal sprinkling of superhero fun and bombast. During Forever Evil, the Crime Syndicate publicly unmasked Nightwing and supposedly killed him. With Dick dead to the world, Batman assigned him to infiltrate Spyral, the clandestine organization that first appeared in Batman Incorporated. It moves Dick from the good vs. evil of superheroics into the gray shades of espionage, and to see the creative team balance Dick’s usual fun-loving, carefree personality with the struggles he faces in his new role. During a mission, he tells other agents, “The problem with spies is that you’re not fun.” But Dick is. He’s the first Robin, a circus acrobat, an incorrigible flirt, and all of that contrasts with his new compatriots, highly-trained and gravely serious.
Even as Agent 37, Dick can’t stop acting like Nightwing. He takes the superhero approach to each mission. When he wants to arrest a super-fast scientist who fed her artificial stomach with human flesh, his partner (a new character with the name Helena Bertinelli, formerly the civilian name of the Huntress) instead offers her a job with Spyral. When a crazed gunman has another artificial organ Spyral wants, Dick appeals to the man’s humanity and retrieves the organ without violence, even though the other agents want to, and do, kill him. Dick’s empathy and desire to do the right thing motivated him to be Batman’s inside man and still inform his decisions, but the other agents see it as a weakness, and it has no place in their work. The fact that it’s there, however, that Dick can dodge bullets while jumping out of a train and still have a big smile on his face, proves that King and Seeley know what makes Dick a great, likable character.
Grayson also does some good work to address the absurd preponderance of espionage organizations in a superhero universe. Grayson Volume 1 name-drops the fictional agencies Spyral, the God Garden, A.R.G.U.S., Checkmate, T.H.E.Y., and the Ghost Dragons, as well as real ones like the SVR and the KGB. The book presupposes that they would all run into each other and make similar goals, which makes sense; in the first issue alone, Dick encounters the Midnighter from the God Garden and SVR agents. None of these groups exist in a vacuum, which most comics don’t usually bring up, and in retrospect, it feels obvious they might find themselves at odds, so kudos to Grayson’s team for considering this.
The art team never stopped impressing me, either. Most of the collection is penciled by Mikel Janín, with Stephen Mooney providing the linework for material from Secret Origins #8 and the Future’s End issue. While Guillermo Ortego and Juan Castro provide assistance to Janín in issue 2, I couldn’t tell where the difference was, which is proabbly a testament to how well the three worked together. Jonathan Glapion is credited for inks on the collection’s credits page, but not in the title splashes for the individual issues, so unfortunately, I’m not sure where his contributions entered. All the same, Janín turns in great work, especially with layouts. They bend time and space, with Dick’s acrobatics flowing through multiple panels or elaborate gymnastics taking place in the space of just one. Dick is as handsome as ever, and a “G” on his breast recalls his Robin “R.” Appropriately, a spiral motif runs through environments: visualizations of psychological effects and women’s earrings, for example. Facial scramble technology turns the faces of Spyral agents into swirl patterns in their facades, erasing all their features in photos and videos with a neat piece of spy gear.
Mooney’s no slouch, either. The Secret Origins story features collage-like two-page spreads while Helena recounts Dick’s history to Mr. Minos, the director of Spyral. Much of the strength of Mooney’s art comes from colorist Jeromy Cox, who uses darker, moodier colors that complement Mooney’s stark lines and cross-hatching. It fits well with the darker tone of the Future’s End issue, which opens with Dick being hung for treason. Cox works differently with Janín, however. With Janín, Cox uses sunny spy-movie tones and occasional color-filter like panels. The afterimages of Dick’s acrobatics are done entirely in red, for example. Cox also really knows how to set a tone – when Midnighter and Batman are around, everything gets a bit darker. There’s even some great synergy between Cox and letterer Carlos M. Mangual at the end of issue 1, when a nuclear-powered man glows purple and speaks with orange lettering.
Don’t sleep on Grayson. I feel like I might be one of the last people to come to the party, but if you’ve waited longer than I have, pick it up. The character work is complex and consistent with who Dick has been, the art is astounding, and the genre elements are compelling. If Dick can’t be Nightwing, then this is a great place for him to be.