For many people, Robin, the Boy Wonder was the first super hero that they identified with. Whether it was from the Batman live-action TV show, or from Super-Friends cartoons, or on the pages of comic books, there was something enticing about the young sidekick to the cool and powerful superhero, Batman. I was very much that person.
My affinity for Robin became specific. I am a fan of Dick Grayson, the original Robin and also Nightwing. As a pre-teen and teen, The New Teen Titans, by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, was my jam, to use a term I am far too old to use. As Dick Grayson grew past the Teen Wonder persona in the comics, I was growing, and while other youngsters took up the mantle of Robin, I remained committed to my Grayson fandom.
Over the decades, my passion for the character only grew. Many of my comic creator friends, and anyone who has read previous episodes of this column, know how much Nightwing/Dick Grayson means to me. However, that character has been effectively removed from the current DC Comics Universe for the past eighteen months.
For a quick spoilery synopsis of current events: In Batman #55, Nightwing is shot in the head by the KGBeast. He survives and suffers from amnesia, completely forgetting that he was ever Robin or Nightwing. He prefers to go by Ric Grayson (Ugh!) and does not want to embrace the role of masked vigilante. Subsequently, there have been other story lines in Nightwing involving Talons and Owls, and a group of cops wearing old Nightwing uniforms, but as of this date, and for the foreseeable future in the solicitations for the Nightwing comic, Ric Grayson is still around.
I have voiced my displeasure of the current state of affairs to numerous creators and broadcast it on social media. My understanding is that when the injury to Nightwing was needed for the Tom King’s Batman story, DC Editorial took the opportunity and ran away in this direction. Even the recent Pennyworth R.I.P. special edition comic that was meant as a tribute to the late Alfred Pennyworth, another casualty of King’s Batman epic and awesome story, was marred by the clueless Ric Grayson being unable to mourn Alfred in an appropriate way.
While figuratively screaming into the void of Facebook and Twitter about the loss of my favorite character, I was directed to piece of indie comic work that I had been unfamiliar with, and my world is better for it. I have discovered Stray by Vito Delsante and Sean Izaakse, published by Action Lab, and it is wonderful.
Stray began as a four issues mini-series and was collected in the trade paperback Who Killed the Doberman. It debuted five years ago this week, and it provides a terrific tale of a challenged father-son relationship set against the backdrop murder mystery in a world of superheroes.
Stray is the superhero persona of Rodney (Roddy) Weller. Roddy as a young teen loses his mother in a car accident and then finds out his father is The Doberman, a dark brooking detective type. His father agrees to train him and Roddy becomes The Doberman’s partner, The Rottweiler. In the first story, a now grown Roddy, strikes out on his own due to tragedy and takes the name Stray.
After the initial Stray story, the character appeared in shared universe adventures with other Action Lab characters such as Molly Danger, created by Jamal Igle, and Midnight Tiger, created by Ray-Anthony Height. Those “Actionverse” stories were collected in two subsequent trade paperback editions.
Izaakse’s character designs and visual narrative are wonderful. There is a certain feeling of creator care that emanates from every line. There is definite power imbued to the action sequences and tender emotion when needed in the quiet moments.
Delsante orchestrates the overall tale for the first arc in an effective mix of current action and backstory. The amount of history that is presented is just enough to equip the reader with the tools necessary to navigate the murder mystery that Rodney is investigating. At the same time, there are seeds of the past being sewn that I am itching so eventually see bear fruit.
There is a certain level of late-teen / young-adult independence-seeking rage that most people experience, and the story deals with it in a way that is tempered with a realistic flare. That is one of the great aspects of this book. It regulates the amount of melodrama that usually saturates superhero comic stories.
The characters in the world created by Delsante and Izaakse have easily translatable counterparts in mainstream comic publishing. Roddy even has his own group of teen crime fighters. The amount of ingenuity that made the page, makes one think that the brainstorming sessions on this world building must have been fantastic.
The parallels between Stray and Nightwing are not hard to trace. This book presents an excellent portrayal the type of hero that is my favorite straight superhero comic story.
I have to say that if you are missing Dick Grayson, pick up a copy of Stray to fill that need. You won’t be disappointed. But more than that, this is great storytelling. We can only hope to see Stray show up again soon to fight crime.
You can check your Local Comic Shop to the collected first trade of Stray, or you can also find it on Amazon or Comixology.