This Is How You Do Side Stories
Is it just me, or is it every odd numbered cover of Nightwing is solid? 1 was good, 2 was pretty lackluster, 3 was fantastic, 4 was atrocious, and this cover is quite solid. And it reminds how good Eddy Barrows is at varying his art style, because the art looks kind of grainy on the cover, but is anything but on the interiors. The covers have a faded almost poster quality to them, but the interior art is solid superhero stuff, with the right amount of shadows for a Batman family book. And the panel layouts are really impressive, generally they've been great, but here they finally reach a perfect balance of whatever to be just right. When things are normal, I feel like I'm on solid ground. When Dick's moving around a moving train, my arms are shaking as if I'm riding as well. When Nightwing is performing acrobatic stunts, things are loose and wild. It helps you really 'feel' the story.
While this issue is mostly another side story like the last issue, it functions infinitely better as its own story, even if it is as predictable, the character development is much better handled, the tension is more palpable, and its not trying to trick me. It also build character between Dick and the circus, rather than Dick and Barbara who is only tangentially connected to this series. I would actually like to see more of these side stories, it shows that the mystery can be ongoing, but take a side seat next to a new and unique status quo. Like an action-adventure TV Series, some episodes in the season are standalone stories, but the ongoing subplot is reminded here and there, especially in key episodes dedicated to fully continuing the main arc. This one worked that way unlike the messy previous issue.
But this also doesn't change the fact that the story feels a bit rushed. Higgins did cram in a lot more of the main saga into this issue than the last one, but it eats up the room the main story of this issue was trying to tell. A few scenes were great for juxtapositioning and pacing and such, but detracted from the time given to tell this side tale.
And Nightwing's thinking about this demon being beyond unexpected because he doesn't normally get rhyming demons in Gotham? Well, for starters, why is he talking about not expecting this in Gotham, he's in New Orleans. I mean, I guess he's comparing this unexpectedness to how unexpected it would have been if he was in Gotham? That's a weird and awkward offhanded thought. But at the same time, is he forgetting about Etrigan? I mean, I figured the reference to Etrigan was the joke, but saying he doesn't get him much in Gotham just.... makes no sense for starters, and doesn't even work in the context given. Maybe if he said he doesn't usually get rhyming demons this far south or something.
As for this issue's place in the ongoing 'Haly's Circus Secret / Dick Grayson is the Greatest Killer' mystery, we're treated to a pretty big revelation that explains a lot of inconsistencies. While I appreciate the information itself, I don't feel the timing was right for it. Dick was not shown investigating this issue, he was involved in a side story. A reveal to the audience instead of the hero should come after something more like the hero having pursued a lead that came up empty. This just feels out of place alongside the story we were given. The revelation itself also makes me a bit nervous about what Dick being the greatest killer might really mean, as well as Saiko's motivations; but the idea that Haly's Circus itself holds a deep secret does reassure me a bit.
In Conclusion: 3.5/5
While this issue does a supremely better job at telling a side story that is just a device to drive character development and interaction, it still comes a little short as an issue. It's not 'bad' by any means, but it's a little uncertain of itself. But it does give us key pieces to the puzzle of the ongoing mystery, and it is a neat little aside.