Review by Ian Keogh
There’s a big change for Dick Grayson near the start of A Darker Shade of Justice. He’s long known corruption is endemic in Blüdhaven, trickling from the top down, and while he picks up some tips working in a bar where the police drink, he figures Nightwing would be far more effective if Dick were a policeman. There’s no faulting Chuck Dixon’s logic, but the career change is a surprise nonetheless, presenting scenes of Dick going through training to accompany his crime fighting activities as Nightwing.
When considered as ideas, a fair bit of what Dixon funnels into his Nightwing stories isn’t inspirational, but it’s all about the treatment. For instance, there’s a nod and a wink to the audience about Blockbuster’s costumed henchmen being distinctly second rate and a pair of agile acrobats calling themselves Double Dare shouldn’t be much of an attraction, but there’s a charm to them. There’d be more were it not for Scott McDaniel’s art prioritising style over accuracy and storytelling, but A Darker Shade of Justice features his last regular series work.
What’s presumably an editorially dictated switch occurs midway as Nightwing returns to Gotham in order that his activities tie in with Batman’s No Man’s Land continuity. It’s ordinary. Dixon has Nightwing in Blackgate prison at Batman’s request, but an indication of how it’s just going through the motions is that the one or two pages of subplots each chapter are more interesting than the main story, and subplots are pretty well always an afterthought for Dixon. Blüdhaven’s corrupt police chief puts Nite-Wing to work, and Blockbuster is concerned with an impending need for a new heart. McDaniel’s at his worst here. He can’t be faulted for detail, but draws Blackgate’s inmates as if the cast of The Walking Dead, with assorted crimes against anatomy.
The final two chapters are more entertaining. They’re a different type of escape story, this time with something more personal at stake and involving Huntress as well. Before the continuity reshuffle restoring Barbara Gordon as Batgirl she was largely used across assorted DC titles as the hacking expert Oracle, but with her hidewaway under attack Dixon has us marvel at her preparations.
Given the average quality of so much here, the most entertainment is had from the opening chapter of Superman dropping by. He might not be able to solve all Blüdhaven’s problems at a stroke, but he’s handy intimidation for Nightwing to have in tow, and Dixon works that well.
A Darker Shade of Justice closes with the fullsome set of encyclopedia pages dealing with Dick’s past, present, targets and threats. The Hunt for Oracle is next, sharing the name with a later book reprinting Nightwing’s 1990s activities, but not exactly the same content. Some is there, and the remainder in False Starts.