Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Javier Fernandez and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Nightwing faces the monstrous Orator of the Parliament of Owls in Nightwing #4, as Tim Seeley and Javier Fernandez continue to flesh out Raptor's shades of grey persona while shattering the last remnants of Dick Grayson's spying days to set up the incoming "Night of the Monster Men" Bat-Family crossover.
Tim Seeley focuses heavily on action here, as Nightwing and Raptor touch down at the hedonistic Parliament Grove, only to immediately wish they hadn't as the owl masked Orator transforms into a demonic hulk of fur and fang. Seeley capitalizes on the real-world growing resentment of the world's elite to create a truly dastardly group of villains, more interested in keeping “the dirty poor people” who built their kingdom locked away so they can focus on a life of drunken debauchery. It's old-school villainy, free of pretension and big on eeeeevil. As Nightwing and Raptor struggle to free the Parliament's imprisoned refugees, Nightwing's cover as a Parliament double agent is blown; causing the duo to speedily attempt to steal the Parliament's precious Book of Wisdom and high-tail it out of there. Seeley quickens the pace as the issue progresses, lending their mission a sense of snowballing momentum and things slide from bad to worse.
The deepening relationship between Raptor and Nightwing has thus far been the heart of "Rebirth"-era Nightwing, and this issue is no different. Beyond their shared penchant for witty repartee, Dick's discomfort with how he and Raptor share similar attitudes to the distribution of wealth drives the narrative forward. Once Raptor becomes gravely wounded by the vicious Orator, Dick's desperation to save him feels real. Sure, they don't love each other. They're not even sure they like each other. But they've been through tough times, pulling each other out of trouble, and have built a strong bond. Four issues in, Seeley finally expounds on the mysterious gauntlet Raptor calls Suyolak to provide some insight into his past life under the circus tent; giving Raptor and Nightwing yet another shared experience, deepening their companionship to build for a truly gut-wrenching final panel. Considering he's a drone enthusiast obsessed with her own “personal brand,” it's a credit to Seeley's character work that Raptor is as likable as he is, a trait that makes his final villainous reveal truly pop.
Javier Fernandez's design for the genetically modified Orator is monstrous: a vicious abomination with wild, animalistic eyes and a mouth of razor-sharp teeth. Between the monster, Nightwing and Raptor, Fernandez barely has a chance to illustrate a human-looking pair of eyes, occasionally zooming in to show us a glimpse of pupils behind Nightwing's domino mask; those tiny pin-pricks carrying the heavy emotional weight of Seeley's story. Away from expression, Fernandez tackles Seeley's blockbuster script with aplomb, offering up a dynamic range in perspective and staging to make the Orator seem like a true threat, and also to underline the acrobatic nature of Nightwing's offense. Meanwhile, colorist Chris Sotomayor brings the horror with atmospheric tones of orange and black and hint at the Halloweeny nature of the crossover to come. Sotomayor makes heavy use of darkness to enclose Nightwing in the labyrinthian Parliament Grove, while the neon blue and orange of Nightwing and Raptor's domino masks and uniform provide the much needed dashes of color against their grim environment.
Tim Seeley and Javier Fernandez reveal the terror behind the mask in more ways than one with Nightwing #4, succinctly bringing Dick Grayson's first arc back behind the domino mask to a close. Seeley finally lifts the veil on Raptor's ambiguous driving forces, solidly establishing him as a force to be reckoned with while shifting power from the Parliament of Owls to an even more theatrical (and mutated) force. Equally weighted between pulse-pounding action and heartfelt drama, Nightwing #4 is the last ray of sunlight before the "Night of the Monster Men." A very worthwhile read.