It's February, 2016, and time to see the DC Comics world championship title bout between The Spy Wonder and The Red Hanky, with promoters: Tim Seeley, Tom King, Carmine Di Giandomenico, and Jeromy Cox, backing their favorites for their final tale in this arc! Ka-Pow! It's a knockout!

TO QUOTE Vorn the Unspeakable: “I am Vorn the Unspeakable. I am the enemy of the enemy of he who summons me. And you are?”. 

Did you see what I did there? Quoting Vorn the Unspeakable, a Cthulhumaniod, in a book where Dick and Tiger are attacked by Monkthulus! Yeah, I'm pretty amazing. Hey, no problem. You're welcome. If only I could work in Rob Zombie's Ichthultu as well, then it would be complete.

But I digress. (Can you even digress if you haven't really started yet?).  If you weren't already aware, this was sadly Team Seeley & King's final issue on Grayson. Starting next issue, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly are taking over for the final three issue run up to Rebirth. As far as I know, as of this writing we don't know if the post-Rebirth Nightwing will be penned by Lanzing & Kelly, Seeley & King, some other team, or, heaven forbid, a single writer. Frankly, I'd be happy with either team, as I loved Lanzing & Kelly's work on both volumes of Alissa Milano's Hacktivist series, and have been enjoying Batman & Robin Eternal quite a bit, with no bones to pick with their issues (9, 10, 15, and 16 so far). We know Tom King will be writing … something for DC when we come out the far side of Rebirth (Don't worry – if you're enjoying Vision, we've been promised he will see that through to the end!). I just hope we don't lose the pairing of King & Seeley, as the combination of the two of them is unlike anything either produces solo (Which is also good stuff!) .

Anyway, (there, now I've digressed), my point was that this issue picked up feeling like it skipped a beat. One would speculate that perhaps this is where the powers that be said,“hey, we're doing this thing called Rebirth and y'all have to wrap things up in four issues”. Personally. I'd like to think it went more kindly than that, but the result is that it feels like there was some goings down between Tao and the Syndicate between issues 16 and 17. Perhaps it had something to do with the rest of the Syndicate members playing out their chase of Dick and Tiger? Whatever it was, it wasn't there. So we just have to pick up this issue feeling like we missed something and suddenly Tao is locked up and Grifter is acting as if he was the one at the Syndicate meeting with Helena. Maybe it's a mystery that we're supposed to speculate on and Lanzing and Kelly will fill in the gaps at some point. Maybe it's just the harsh reality of writing characters that aren't creator-owned. Maybe I'm just missing out on something pretty obvious. 

Then again, maybe it'll be “fixed in the trade.” I know that Grifter's comment “Now, Spyral's Helena Bertinelli asked for the our assistance.” sure as hell needs some fixing. I'd speculate that the name of their organization was redacted out of that bubble? Is it not WildC.A.T.S.? 

Beyond the abruptness of the cold opening, “You can take the spy out of the shadow...” was a great final issue for the O.G. (Original Grayson) team to go out on. The art shift to Di Giandomenico is a little jarring from the prior issues, but it still works. His style is a little rougher than the bold superhero style Janín has been delivering, and we'll be moving on to Roge Antonio next month, so it's an odd break in style, but it works. What Di Giandomenico lacks in the mid-shot abstraction, particularly in shadowed or pupil-less eyes, he more than makes up for in absolutely magnificent close-ups and some majestic architecture rendering of a real life building (the Metropolitan Cathedral in Zócalo square). If I have to nag (which I don't, but let's not nag on my unnecessary nagging), I'd ask that Frankenstein be a bit more 'hulky' and Dick be a bit more pretty. 

I'll let that pass in exchange for the slick reflections in glossy photos. That, my friends, is a smooth technique. I'm also handing out bonus points for the shit eating grin Max Lord gives Dick after being criticized for framing him in earlier issues. 

My only big story disappointment in this issue is that Dick didn't ask Tiger “is it someday yet?”, not even once. Has that thread just been dropped? It delivers in all other areas, though. Despite a lot of dialog to thicken the plot, there's a ton of incredibly well choreographed and illustrated action. Even though he exists in a superhero-filled world, the world of Grayson is still stuffed with fisticuffs and acrobatics rather than laser eyes, plasma blasts, magic lightning, and other 'special effects attacks'. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but when it's done as well as it was in this issue, it's some of my favorite stuff. 

While the boys aren't doing quite the globe-trotting they did in last month's montage, we get a good variety of locales to keep the spy-theme cruising. We get two locations for Dick & Tiger, a cut scene visit to Tao and Grifter in an undisclosed location that is later disclosed, and brief glimpses of Faraday, Bronze Tiger, and whom I think is Gwisin in a third location that is not even disclosed as undisclosed. We've also got Cthulhu monkeys, Spy Wonder swinging like Tarzan in the jungle and tumbling like Yang Song on a Cathedral rooftop, secret elevators elevating in the most ludicrous of places, and some bromance heart to heart time between our (likely) heroes. 

While it's not explicitly stated, I'm going to go ahead and headcanon that Camp White Stag is named for Jonah Hex's lady friend and not just something random that King and Seeley made up for Dick and Bruce. Please, some day, let one or both of them write the story of how the camp was founded.

Most importantly, this issue ups the stakes on the whole Syndicate, Spyral, and Dick and Tiger triangle. Or, rather, the Syndicate, the oroboros of Spyral and Leviathan, Dick and Tiger, and Checkmate… thing. It's a messy polygon, especially with the new info that Dick gets from Grifter. Who knows how many layers there are? With seven different organizations known of thus far in the Syndicate, there's a lot of room for further layers of espionage in these last four issues after the hand off. While I'm bummed that the O.G. team is leaving, I'm excited to see how things go (And, if Seeley and King will share it once the canon story is published, how their original ending would have gone!). 

Oh, and speaking of big secrets, this issue also established two important plot points that affect the whole DCU; one regarding Checkmate's official U.N. purpose, apparently a bit different than its pre-Flashpoint intention, and another regarding Tiger's cinematic inclinations. 

Don't worry. There's some more singing as well. 

Oh yeah. This episode is going to be set to Kiseki no Gyakuten Fighter, the theme song to Kinnikuman. No, not just because it makes a great theme song for spies fighting Cthulu monkeys on the Mosquito Coast and metahuman agents on a Mexican Cathedral rooftop (How did they get up there, anyway?! They didn't park the spy plane in the middle of Mexico City, did they?).

Even though the Kinnikuman anime was never broadcast in the U.S. (or anywhere outside Japan, as far as I know) the keshi toys based on the same manga as the cartoons were so popular that Mattel decided to import them for American kids anyway, re-branding them as M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere) to compensate for Americans having no idea who Suguru Kinniku was. Maybe not the first keshi outside of Japan, but I'm pretty sure the earliest most people remember. Surely you remember them, and they instantly popped to mind when Keshi's powers were revealed, right?!

This issue has to be compared to Peter Joshua, Cary Grant's character in Charade, constantly changing sides as the ultimate Double Reverse Quadruple Agent. Don't worry, Dick is still on Team Dick. But with this issue's revelations, both to him and to us, things look like they're about to get a whole lot more complicated with whom he can and can't trust. If we're going where I think we might be, the mechanics of Rebirth seem to be pretty clear from last issue. If not, well, maybe I should have dropped a Trust No One X-Files reference in here?

Nah, sorry Duchovney, but Cary Grant's always going to win that decision.

Or, How 'bout that Keshi?

1) Yes, boom, she's like a living keshi eraser toy. Shrinking and growing, weird, but the whole kinetic reflection power thing is pretty awesome. While Tiger's solution to her is amusing, I certainly hope she'll be back so we can learn more about her and whatever sect of the Syndicate she represents. (Are there more like her?)

2) I love comics that take the time to write out what a character is saying in the language they're saying it in and leave it to readers to translate. It feels more vested compared to just throwing less than and greater than signs around the text. But I'll have to admit that Keshi's Japanese is a little slower going than, say, Ava Ayala shouting some Italian warnings as a White Tiger on White Tiger fight flies out in to the streets of Trevi.

3) Because I love you…
  • In response to Grifter's comment that he and Keshi will “keep the boys busy” (or, probably, in response to referring to her as “his little back-up”?) はあなた がパートナーとし てで参考にしてい ないことを憤慨し ています(Wa anata ga pātonā to shite de sankō ni shite inai koto o fungai shite imasu) means more or less that she “is outraged that you [Grifter] don't reference her as a partner.” 
  •  When she first embiggens to interrupt Tiger's big bro love moment, that's just こんにちは! (Kon'nichiwa!) which you all know, right? “Hello!”.
  • And finally, in the next frame, the question that prompts Grifter's reassurance based on his invisible alien hunting days, あなたは これらが右の男 性であることを 碓認していま すか? (Anata wa korera ga migi no otoko-seidearu koto o usu Mitomu shite imasu ka?) means, as best I can figure, “should you confirm that these are the right men?”.  The literal translation has a bunch more articles in there that comes out sounding like stereo instructions, but I believe that's the intent. 
As with last month, if you've got any Japanese skills beyond my twenty year old college classes and Google-fu, please help out with the translations. 

Did I miss something on the Checkmate loaner equipment? Have we seen that before or is it a new revelation? I think it's new. Are we talking full-on Sinestro Corps and Indigo Tribe equipment here? I wouldn't put it past King and Seeley. After all, if you're not reading Omega Men, Tom King established a smuggler in the Vega system as the origin of Spyral's hypnos tech. Could he have provided Lord with power rings as well? From a sector that forbids them? Could Lord be the Earth-man that traded a shoe for hypnos, maybe selling it to both Luthor and Spyral, resulting in the perceived theft? 

Or did he somehow harness a variant of Bunker's power? Or… didn't we see a similar hard light tech in the hands of Amanda Waller (wielded by Harley Quinn) in the pages of Suicide Squad? Someone go back and check that for me, please.

I'll leave you with one final thought. Take Dick's teasing nickname for Grifter in the context of the hanky code and reassess that scene. Sorry. Not sorry.

*** Just reading and writing and rambling in the back of the Joker's old Ho-Home-On-Wheels... Keath.


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