Nightwing has certainly had an eventful year with his 2022 focused on improving things in Bludhaven while dealing with Blockbuster trying to stop him. Nightwing finally defeated Blockbuster at the end of The Battle For Bludhaven’s Heart. After that happened Blockbuster met his unexpected end when Heartless found him in an alley and killed Blockbuster by ripping his heart out of his chest. Now with it looking like we will see Heartless play a prominent role in 2023, it is time to learn about Nightwing’s newest nemesis origin story. Let’s find out who Heartless truly is with Nightwing 2022 Annual.
Writers: Tom Taylor (Heartless Origin); Jay Kristoff (Bitewing: Niteout); C.S. Pacat (Nightwing/Superman: The Lesson)
Artists: Eduardo Pansica (Heartless Origin and Bitewing: Niteout); Inaki Miranda (Nightwing/Superman: The Lesson)
Inkers: Julio Ferreira (Heartless Origin and Bitewing: Niteout)
Colorists: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Wes Abbott
A con artist kills a guy named Gerald Chamberlain on a cruise and assumes his identity to take the job with the Lyle Family in Gotham City. When noticing the homicidal tendencies of Lyle’s expressionless son (Shelton Lyle) Gerald decides to take Shelton under his wing.
During a trip to Haly’s Circus, Gerald uses Shelton’s happily reacting when witnessing the death of the Flying Grayson to build a close relationship with Shelton.
Shelton grows up to be a bully who goes to school with Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. (Shelton is the bully a teenage Dick Grayson knocked out as seen in the Nightwing #78 flashback scene.)
One day Shelton ends up being the only survivor of a helicopter crash. To save Shelton’s life Gerald has the doctors implant Charles’s heart in his son. This quickly gets Shelton addicted to the transplant process and convinces Gerald to turn him into a cyborg using his family’s wealth.
After transforming into Heartless and stealing Blockbuster’s heart Shelton has Gerald transplant it into his body to better use all the cybernetic enhancement he’s made to his body. End of the first story.
Nightwing 2022 Annual is exactly what you want from the room to tell several stories with the additional page count the annual format should provide. The three stories in Nightwing 2022 Annual are each stand-alone stories that expand on the work Tom Taylor and his collaborators have been working on throughout this run.
The first story detailing the Heartless origin story will likely be the most important of the three stories. This is because Heartless is being positioned as filling the hole left behind Blockbuster’s defeat and death. Telling Heartless origin story was something that definitely needed to happen if he truly is to be the next big bad Nightwing will be dealing with long-term.
Honestly up to this point Heartless has been irrelevant after his debut. It did not help Heartless case of being a big threat that the last time we saw Heartless he lost to both Nightwing and Blockbuster in separate fights. While killing Blockbuster was a notable development it did not build up his credibility as a big threat since when Heartless did this Blockbuster was in an extremely weakened state physically and mentally.
So Nightwing 2022 Annual’s spotlight on Heartless went a long way in finally building credibility for the villain. What I particularly liked about how Tom Taylor handled Heartless’ origin is tying it back to the first flashback we got in his run by bringing things back to the bully we saw Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon deal with in high school. This was a smart way to use the history that Taylor has been building up in modernizing some of Dick Grayson’s backstory in a way that makes sense. Now that throwaway line Shelton Lyle said that got his teeth knocked out by Dick Grayson is given even greater meaning.
Tying Shelton’s origin story indirectly to Dick Grayson’s superhero origin also makes things much more personal between Nightwing and Heartless. I specifically liked that unlike Tim Drake, who similarly witnessed the Flying Grayson’s death as a kid as part of his own Robin origin story, we see that this event fed into Shelton’s already homicidal tendencies. The Flying Grayson’s death was the final trigger needed to put Shelton down the path that would ultimately make him into a villain as Heartless.
Giving Heartless an Alfred Pennyworth-like assistant in the man now known as Gerald Chamberlain was also a good way to use some parallels to Dick’s own childhood. Because while Dick had Alfred be a positive influence the opposite can be said about Gerald and Shelton’s relationship. Gerald was all about feeding into Shelton’s worst tendencies, specifically his love of death and killing others. This makes it even less surprising that Shelton having experienced death personally led him to become the homicidal Heartless.
Taylor also did a good job giving multiple reasons for why Shelton as Heartless was stealing others’ hearts. Not only did Shelton take pleasure in killing others, specific adults with children, but he and Gerald were searching for a heart strong enough to withstand all of the Heartless cybernetic enhancements. Now with Blockbuster’s heart, there is a question of how powerful Heartless will now be as he gains full access to his cybernetic capabilities. It all works to build the credibility of Heartless as one of the major villains Nightwing will have to overcome moving forward.
The second story by Jay Kristoff and Eduardo Pansica involving Haley’s dream adventure as Bitewing was the palette cleanser that was needed after the dark direction of the Heartless origin story. The story makes great use of the fact that because of how busy Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon have been personally and as Nightwing and Oracle that they haven’t had time to dedicate to training Haley.
Because of that when they do have time for a date night Haley acts out her own adventure to kill time. And since her parents are superheroes of course Haley would imagine saving both of them while fighting off Batman’s entire Rogues Gallery as Bitewing. It all leads back to the reality of how Dick and Barbara find Haley having destroyed Dick’s apartment because of this imaginary adventure a fun story to have in the middle of Nightwing 2022 Annual.
Like the Heartless origin story, the third story in Nightwing 2022 Annual by C.S. Pacat and Inaki Miranda works well to set the stage for the future direction of Dick Grayson. This time we see more time dedicated to developing the mentor-protégé relationship that Dick Grayson and Jon Kent have built. Jon turned to Dick for help in controlling his powers better after accidentally using to much power when dealing with criminals was a great setup.
What I particularly appreciated was how Pacat and Miranda used flashbacks to Bruce training Dick during his Robin days with the present-day training Dick was putting Jon through. We once again see how Dick is taking all the lessons Bruce taught him and making them his own. Specifically, we see how Dick adjusts the training to best suit Jon when he quickly realizes he can’t use the same training he put Tim Drake or Damian Wayne through. This shows the flexibility that Nightwing has and how well he is able to understand others.
This was also a story that Jon Kent needed as well. Because of how quickly Jon Kent was aged up and made to become Superman it’s often forgotten how he lacks the experience other heroes have. Even for his age Jon barely has a year of superhero experience, if that, when he became Superman. Jon turning to Nightwing for help shows maturity and understanding that even as Superman he still needs training. This actually has me hoping that we see Jon join the Titans as there could be a lot of potential with a sub-plot of Donna Troy, Wally West, Cyborg, and Starfire also helping in Jon’s development as Superman.
Nightwing 2022 Annual maximizes the opportunity by the format to deliver three distinct and enjoyable standalone stories. Diving into the Heartless origin story and furthering the mentor-protégé bond Dick Grayson and Jon Kent have strengthened the foundation for the future of the Nightwing series. The story with Haley as Bitewing was also just a fun time. Overall if you are a Nightwing fan this is a comic book that you should pick up.
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10