Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly climbed up the water spout. Down came Roge Antonio and Jeromy Cox who washed the spider out. Out came DC Comics and dried up all the rain. And in April, 2016, we read Grayson again. Yaiiiii!

TO QUOTE Major John Smith: “You are going up to the castle tonight as, well, yes as a domestic.”

Well now, this is certainly an interesting turn of events.  I was a bit worried last month when the new writing team of Lanzing and Kelly seemed like they might just be setting this story on cruise control to glide through the last few issues.  When we first heard of Rebirth, I was hoping that Dick Grayson might be at the center of it, what with him being promised access to a magic spy satellite in the sky that can selectively erase -- or, presumably, restore -- everyone’s memory.  (And he still might be, as it’s clearly a Flash- and Titans-centric story.  But that’s not this story, now, is it?)

The good news is; that while they might still be on cruise control, Lanzing and Kelly are still flooring it on open roads.  (Because, as you know, when you’re on cruise control you can still accelerate above that speed, right?  You just won’t be able to slow below it. Kind of like how there's only a certain number of issues left. Right? Oh forget it! Stop picking on my analogies) [Editors Note: Sorry]

Despite the all-hell-breaks-loose chaos of last issue, it ended with a big reveal.  A reveal that those who pay better attention than I may have picked up on more accurately, but is clarified in the opening pages of this issue -- and that reveal was just the opening of the big Spy Game climax.  We have two moles revealed, four double-crosses, allies jumping ship in the face of one of them, and of course, all manner of secret Nazi strongholds.  Or more specifically, one secret Nazi railway and one super-secret Nazi super-castle, but I’m pretty sure that’s still far more secret Nazi strongholds than we’ve seen anywhere else in the whole of post-Flashpoint continuity combined.

Alas, it seems we still haven’t seen the elusive Headmistress of Spyral in this entire series.  That reveal at the end of last issue, with the Carmen Sandiego looking figure wearing Katarina’s hat and Elisabeth’s goggles, was apparently not Kathy Kane, but Helena Bertinelli herself, with Doctor Daedalus’ consciousness in the driver’s seat -- and that’s the big turn for this end-run story.  Strategically, this Second Coming, in all its Yeats-reference-heavy glory, forces the hands of all the other players in this game.  And story-wise, it shifts the focus from the global espionage chess game to that of Dick Grayson as a character.

By taking our dear Matron Bertinelli and making her both our primary villain who many want to kill, and the damsel in distress who Dick wants to save, I suddenly care very much about the outcome of this series.  Yes, there’s a certain degree of fridging going on here, with reducing Helena to a prop to build up Dick’s character.  Her predicament is solely to show us that The Man Without Hate cares more about saving someone -- who until very recently was trying to kill him -- than he does about the most efficient means of stopping Doctor Daedalus. Saving Helena is more important than burning bridges with a UN-sanctioned global espionage organization or Syndicate of not-so-sanctioned espionage organizations. But, to be fair, this series is Grayson and not Huntress.  In the end, it needs to be his story.  All alone in the Bavarian Alps, no safety net, trying to prove that his way works!  That no matter what name he goes by -- Robin, Nightwing, Agent 37, Big Dick -- he is still Dick Grayson.

I think we all know that, story-wise, had Helena known what players were on what team, she would have been quite capable of defending herself.  Plus, we know she survives this, given her post-Rebirth saga.  It sounds like Julie Benson and Shawna Benson’s Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, while continuing “straight from the Grayson pages,” might just be ignoring Helena’s prior post-Flashpoint meeting with Batgirl.  They also seem unlikely to make any attempts at explaining why she was believed dead.  Perhaps the recovery from being Daedalus’ vessel involves some clean-slate brain washing?  Or perhaps that magic mind-wiping satellite in the sky will still come in to play?

Enough speculation.  The point is that the stakes matter to Dick, and that makes them matter to me. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how he manages to defeat Daedalus without killing Helena.  It would be great if they’re able to somehow leave it so Daedalus persists in another vessel or web so he can be kicked down the field for another tale.

Antonio and Cox’s art has its moments.  I love the way they do Elisabeth Netz when she’s not wearing her goggles.  Both Elisabeth and Katarina’s eyes are somewhat simplistically rendered, but Elisabeth spends so much of the issue looking so perfectly aghast, that her turn to cruel triumph is absolutely magnificent.  I’m admittedly not well versed in the history of Checkmate, but if this is the first occurrence of the Knight ship, that’s simply fantabulous.  It’s pretty amazing and brilliantly rendered even if the design isn’t new.  Heck, I’d love to see more of that preposterous vessel in action.  On the down side, I think they’ve scored the least threatening looking version of Midnighter ever published.  (“Dick, I hate to be the one to tell you this...”)

I’ll forgive them one cute-and-cuddly kill machine in exchange for landing the Frank Miller Dark Knight Rises homage in the least likely of places.  Even if Dick is screaming about how much he likes to be tied up at the time, Ha!

My only real disappointments with this issue were the lack of a theme song for the trans-Europe chase and Lord not even trying to grab a hard drive to restore deleted data.  Anyone who’s ever worked in IT can tell him that if it’s not a melted pile of slag it’s always worth trying to restore the data, especially when all he’s looking for is a single file with maybe 18 names.

As an ode to Helena’s little... err... situation, the musical selection for this issue is The Chemical Brothers’ Setting Sun.  She may not have intentionally brought Dr Daedalus in, and probably doesn’t really like the fact that he’s coming on strong.  Or, as he claims, completely erasing her own consciousness.  But he’s certainly part of a life she’s never had and it certainly is too bad.  Too, too bad.

“Yes, nice to mole you, uh, meet you.  Nice to meet your mole.  Don't say mole.”  Yes, that’s right, in honor of all the double crosses and mole reveals in this issue, the comparison du jour is, in fact, Number Three, everyone’s favorite secret agent mole, baby.

Anyway, well done, old chap.  (What did I tell you about picking on my analogies?!)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere;
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst,
Are full of passionate intensity.

It’s finally someday!  Huzzah!  They… just… completely dropped the ball on following through with the running gag.  I guess we can’t have everything, eh?

Chip Zdarsky would be so happy that Katarina Netz executed his favorite ESL character trope with “You did not come here to gloat, schwarze könig...”  He’d be so proud.  (What?  You don’t know what I’m talking about?  For shame.  Go read Howard the Duck today! Don’t tell me you’re too cool for a book starring a talking alien duck.  If you enjoy my reviews enough to get this far, you’re clearly not all that cool.  You’re probably still making fun of my analogies, aren’t you?  Jerk.) [Editors Note: Sob!]

While I’m recommending other things you should be reading, if you were confused about Lord’s comments about puppets sometimes going mad with power and trying to conquer the world with God Garden super-robots, psst! I was a bit confused as well.  I’m pretty sure he’s referencing recent events in Midnighter, which you should certainly be reading if you enjoyed Midnighter’s regular guest starring spots in Grayson.  I’m just not sure if the implication is that Checkmate was controlling Bendix or Waller.  The latter would certainly be an interesting layer.

All in all, I’m reassured with the new team's efforts on this final stretch.  They haven’t captured every element of what made the King & Seeley opening run so wonderful, but have done a good job in honoring it as they play the story through to the end.  We’ve got some loose threads and missing characters, but overall the focus on a hero in a spy’s game where every organization is the enemy is carried on very well, with plenty of heavy handed Spyral imagery and dark intent.

With just one issue to go (plus the Annual, which sounds more like an episode of “Dick Grayson, this is your life” than a continuation of the story), I’m okay leaving a lot of those loose threads out there for other writers to pick up in other stories.  Even Amelia Spellman.  We can get an origin for Gwisin another day.

But I’m still really hanging on to the whole Robin War thing.  If Grayson is all about the strength of Dick’s core character, how does that play in?  Assuming Dick saves Helena next issue, and they trigger the mind-wipe satellite, was all of Robin War for naught?  A seed left unsown?  That’d be a shame.

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

GRAYSON #19 GRAYSON #19 Reviewed by David Andrews on May 23, 2016 Rating: 5

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