As promised, Batman #55 ends with Dick Grayson being shot in the head, leading the character into his upcoming storyline about the challenges of fighting crime with his disabling brain injury.
Although the outcome of the issue isn’t surprising, the circumstances of the gunshot are.
Solicitation copy had advertised that Nightwing would be “injured in the fray” of the Beast’s “rampage across Gotham City.”
Instead, the villain simply uses a sniper rifle to assassinate Nightwing from the window of a building near Gotham City Police HQ.
And the shot doesn’t appear to have been a near-miss of Batman. All signs point toward this being an assassination attempt on Nightwing himself.
The majority of Batman #55 portrays Batman and Nightwing fighting the mummy army of a new villain in town — the “Phantom Pharaoh” — emphasizing just how much fun Dick Grayson adds to the Bat-family (and how difficult it is to get Bruce to smile when he’s in the cowl, even with the joy of Nightwing making puns beside him).
At one point, as the two heroes stand atop a skyscraper, Nightwing proposes a contest. (Bruce only agrees to participate because it will “hone” their skills.)
“We jump,” Nightwing says, holding up a grappling gun. “First one to fire his rope loses.”
But in the middle of the “contest,” the Bat-signal appears in the sky, and the two heroes head in the direction of the Gotham City PD.
The banter between the two characters throughout the issue is a reminder of their years fighting crime as a team, back when Dick was much younger and wearing a Robin costume.
Jim Gordon even remarks, as the two arrive at the GCPD rooftop, that “this feels familiar.”
The issue also traces the deliberate set-up of the assassination attempt by KGBeast. As the issue opens, readers see him in an airport, having his passport stamped as he enters the United States. Then the villain checks into a hotel and showers. He goes to a corrupt Gotham gun store and bribes the salesman to break the law, getting himself a particular type of sniper rifle.
After having dinner in a hot dog joint and biding his time until the middle of the night, the villain pays his bill, then tricks and murders his way into a well-positioned window that overlooks the GCPD.
As Batman and Nightwing arrive at the rooftop, Gordon informs them that patrons in a hot dog shop found a napkin with the message, “Who’s afraid of the Joker?”
“The question mark at the end was … oversized,” Gordon says.
Batman informs him that today is the anniversary of the end of the “War of Jokes and Riddles.” But Gordon says both Joker and Riddler are still in Arkham.
When Bruce asks if there were any witnesses to the napkin incident, Gordon says he got “conflicting” reports: “Everything from a six-year-old girl to a one-armed man.”
As Nightwing starts another humorous quip, he’s suddenly shot in the head.
KGBeast puts the sniper rifle into a bag, places the bag on his shoulder, and leaves the room.
After hearing the hint about the “one-armed man,” there’s no doubt Bruce will figure out who shot Nightwing. The promotional copy for the next issue of Batman indicates that Bruce will get “grimmer than usual” as he hunts for KGBeast.
Solicitation copy for future issues indicate that the shooting is connected to Bruce’s recent court case involving Mr. Freeze. But the clue on the napkin means that either the Joker or Riddler was behind the assassination attempt, or some mysterious villain wants Batman to shift the blame for the shooting in that direction.
Whoever ordered the hit, it’s pretty obvious that the person didn’t want Batman dead. He or she just wanted Batman to be further devastated, aiming for Nightwing instead.
Doomsday Clock has already revealed that the Joker will be part of that storyline in the near-future of the DCU. The Doomsday Clock future also includes a Gotham City that doesn’t want Batman around anymore because of his “vigilante terror,” so his turn toward a “grimmer” approach in coming issues might be the first step in that direction.
Batman has already experienced a significant emotional blow as Catwoman basically left him at the altar in Batman #50. The guilt he feels about Nightwing’s injury might be enough to substantially affect his future as the Caped Crusader.
As for Dick’s future, the oversized Nightwing #50 (which will be Benjamin Percy’s final issue as writer) appears to pick up with the aftermath of Nightwing’s injury. The solicitation says the hero will deal with a “blow he did not see coming.”
Then as writer Scott Lobdell takes over with issue #51, Dick will struggle to fight crime as he did in the past, his head injury causing him to lose the memories of his training and his time in the Bat-family. With the character recently growing close to Barbara Gordon again, some people have guessed that Nightwing might have a future similar to her time as Oracle.
But Lobdell’s issues will take Nightwing back to Bludhaven, causing him to be confronted by an attack on the city that’s connected to the Scarecrow. That city’s fate appears to hinge on whether Dick Grayson can remember his life as Nightwing and the skills he developed fighting crime.