"Nightwing/Magilla Gorilla Special" #1: The Case for Corson
A curious thing has happened over at DC Comics. Over the past few years they have released several crossover specials, with superheroes and villains meeting characters from Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes cartoons. Given that all three companies are owned by Warner Bros., this type of synergy isn’t that surprising. What is surprising is how seemingly incompatible characters come together in some genuinely good stories.
Then again, maybe it’s not that surprising; tell me that there’s a book out there where Lobo and Wile E. Coyote team up to hunt the Roadrunner and you already have my money, or that Deathstroke is hired by Yogi Bear to find Boo-Boo and I’m at least intrigued (this one is out today, and yeah, it’s hilariously bananas and really good). Not every book has been a winner, but the ones that work are great stories on their own, not just “better than you’d expect it to be.” No joke, the Batman/Elmer Fudd Special from last year is hands-down my favorite Batman story from the past ten years, and I am completely serious about this. It’s that good.
Today marks another round of DC/Hanna-Barbera titles, with such pairings as Green Lantern and Huckleberry Hound, Superman and Top Cat in an on-the-nose but nonetheless hysterical spoof of modern consumerism, and the aforementioned Deathstroke and Yogi Bear. The best of the lot, though, is a murder mystery featuring Nightwing and Magilla Gorilla.
If Batman/Elmer Fudd was noir by way of The Big Sleep, this is noir in the style of Sunset Boulevard: hard-boiled drama about the effects of fame and the fast Hollywood lifestyle. Dick Grayson is called to the lavish manor of one Magilla Gorilla, a legendary movie star who is still riding high on his acclaim. Magilla was recently nominated for an Oscar, for instance, and while his manager believes he was robbed, Magilla humbly notes that it’s an honor simply to be nominated. He’s a larger-than-life star in more ways than one, and Dick Grayson is a bit starstruck in his presence.
For his next project, Magilla has called upon Dick to serve as a producer and consultant, for he plans to write, direct, and star in the story of the Flying Graysons. He wants Dick’s approval for the project more than anything, not wanting to film a story that the survivor of a tragedy doesn’t wish to be told. Though he thinks the story would be in good hands with Magilla, Dick is reluctant and declines the offer. He leaves the grounds, all while Magilla gets in an argument with his manager Mel Peebles.
Later that evening, Peebles turns up dead, and Magilla is the prime suspect.
What struck me the most about this story is Dick’s characterization. He’s confident without being cocky, knowing precisely how to respond in every situation. He behaves exactly how you think the first Boy Wonder would, assessing each situation and utilizing the detective skills he learned from Bruce, while above all providing sympathy and support for someone in need. That’s one of my favorite aspects of Dick’s personality, and what makes him my favorite comic character: he has a past that’s mired in tragedy, but he never lets the darkness consume him. Take the relative attainability of Batman’s skills and mix in the optimistic outlook and inspiration of Superman and you have Nightwing. Writer Heath Corson recognizes that, to the point that his surprisingly heavy murder mystery never gets mired in darkness and cynicism. There’s real drama, and the mystery is genuinely affecting, but it never forgets that one of the leads is a talking gorilla. While the story is played straight, there’s still an underlying playfulness to the whole thing.
Case in point: there’s a fight between two gorillas in the middle of a night club, which is a sentence that is an absolute joy to type.
So why “The Case for Corson”? Well, even just based on this one-shot, it’s clear he has a good grasp on Nightwing as a character. I’d love to see what he could do on an extended run, as a steady guiding hand—something that the Nightwing title could really use right now. He wrote the hilarious Bizarro series from a few years back, which had some deep pulls for its jokes and some strong character work, both of which are evident here. Take the gag where Magilla dresses up as Batman to sneak onto a studio lot, which is hilarious without being distracting. There’s good interplay between Corson and pencilers Tom Grummett and Tom Derenick, mich like Corson had with Gustavo Duarte on Bizarro. They’re very different books, true, but that’s even further evidence of Corson’s skill as a writer.
I don’t know what the future holds for the Nightwing ongoing, nor do I know what projects Corson has lined up. If this is the only time he writes Dick Grayson then it was certainly a good showing, but I’ll still bang the drum declaring he should be given a shot at the main title. Let’s put Dick Grayson’s story in good hands.