"Nightwing Annual" #1 has Kyle Higgins, Jason Masters, Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes bring back an old b-list Batman villain: Firefly. (No, Joss Whedon fans, not THAT Firefly.) While it's likely no one was clamoring for Firefly's return, Higgins, Masters and company have turned out an enjoyable comic. Well, provided you turn a blind eye to the incredibly obvious mystery.
The core of the story feels like it's supposed to be the long-simmering relationship between Nightwing and Batgirl, but it actually never quite rises up in prominence past that of the hunt for Firefly. That's not a bad thing -- if anything it provides a good set of balance between the two -- but those expecting a comic that's solely about their relationship might be a little disappointed. That part of "Nightwing Annual" #1 works well enough. Readers will know where it's going right from the start, but there's enough heart in how their relationship is depicted that you'll enjoy that part.
That relationship plays out around the Firefly story, and that's both a good and a bad part of the comic. Firefly is given a slight visual tweak courtesy Masters, and it's definitely for the better. The basic outfit is still there with the large bug eyes, but the wings have been transformed into large fiery tendrils, as well as other spots on the armor where fire belches out. It's instantly eye-catching and it's fun to look at. I do wish that there hadn't been so much attention paid to the idea that we don't know who's under the mask. It's the sort of mystery where as soon as you play the "least likely suspect" game (which is how more and more mysteries are structured these days) you'll realize what's going on. Fortunately, while the mystery itself is a bust, I like how Higgins sets up the attacks. Firefly's plan actually isn't that bad, and it keeps "Nightwing Annual" #1 moving at a brisk pace from start to finish.
Masters' art in "Nightwing Annual" #1 is gorgeous. The two-page splash that introduces Firefly in the burning apartment is elaborately drawn, and coupled with Chris Sotomayor's colors it actually looks hot to the touch. The flames pouring through the apartment are excellently rendered, and Firefly standing in the center is an evil, ominous figure. Dick and Barbara look good too, both in and out of costume, and it's a reminder that Masters is an artist who's definitely on the rise. Sampere and Cifuentes fill in for some pages too, and while they're unfortunately not quite at the same level as Masters, they're a good choice to help finish off the comic. They're very much in the same style and overall feel, and the transition isn't jarring.
"Nightwing Annual" #1 is a reminder that Higgins's run on "Nightwing" has been regularly pleasant and fun to read, and this follows that trend. It's got a story that works on several different levels, and while it's not amazing, it's solid and enjoyable. Add in some great visuals, and all in all it's a good way to fill out the dreaded 5th week gap in the shipping schedule.