It’s not easy being Batman’s sidekick. First, you have to deal with the questionable short shorts and pixie boots, that can only of course lead to ridicule from other teen heroes. Then there’s the small problem of having a target on your head, thanks to all of Batman’s crazy villains wanting to kill you. However, if you’re the newest Robin, Tim Drake, you may have bested your mentor’s greatest villains and may have earned the right to wear pants while fighting crime, but now you’ve got a whole slew of bigger problems, such as Batgirl trying to kill you. If that’s news to you, then you may not have checked out DC Comics’“Robin,” which has returned as a quite different book after the “One Year Later” jump, wherein all DC Comics’ superhero comics jumped forward a year, with many of those skipped events shrouded in secrecy. Writing the adventures of the Boy Wonder is Adam Beechen, who took the time to speak with CBR News about some of the controversial storylines, as well as introduce readers to all the changes in Robin’s world.
Following the “One Year Later” jump, Robin’s back in Gotham after the destruction of Bludhaven, has been framed for murder and learns it was at the hands of Cassandra Cain, the former Batgirl. “Cassandra, having discovered she was not the only child to be raised by master assassin David Cain and that she’d essentially been lied to growing up, decided to become a force for the justice of her own definition, taking over the League of Assassins to use as her instrument,” Beechen told CBR News in catching readers up on what’s been happening in the title of late. “The framing was an elaborate test for Robin, whom Cassandra wanted to join her. Robin refused and the two battled, but Cassandra remains at large. Next, Robin encountered the new Captain Boomerang, the son of the man who killed Robin’s father. Boomerang wanted to make peace with Robin, but the two remained uneasy allies at best as they teamed together to prevent a long-forgotten nuclear device belonging to the Joker from exploding and destroying Gotham.
“On the personal front, Tim Drake, newly adopted by Bruce Wayne, started at yet another new school, where he took on a tutor to present the appearance that he’s working hard to catch up to his classmates, even though in reality Tim needs no such help. He’s become fast friends with his tutor, a bright, beautiful young woman named Zoanne.”
The change of having a sudden one year story gap in DC’s superhero titles has spurred a lot of debate on online forums, in regards to both the storytelling merits and the resulting final products. In the case of “Robin,” Beechen said he didn’t mind the gap at all. “For me at least, it’s been a clean slate to start with, which is always helpful. I happened to like a lot of what Bill Willingham had done in the issues before I came aboard and would have been happy to pick up where he left off, but I was encouraged to really go from square one and not feel bound at all by what had come immediately before, in order to make it seem like there really had been a significant passage of time. That’s a great sense of freedom. Also, Robin as a fundamental character, and Tim Drake as a fundamental character, really didn’t change all that much in the aftermath of OYL. He’s in Gotham again, he’s Bruce’s adopted son now, he had some adventures and a chance to bond with Bruce and Dick in the year away and he’s come back having dealt with some of the tragedy he’s experienced, but he’s pretty much the same guy.”
Beechen’s involvement with “Robin” arose out of his work on “JLU,” and as a life long fan of Robin, it’s been a dream come true for the scribe since he took over with issue #148. Unlike previous Robins, such as Dick Grayson and Jason Todd, current Robin Tim Drake took up the mantle by his own choice, not as the result of tragedy. Not only does that angle appeal to Beechen, but he also loves the opportunity to look at how a teenager could realistically balance life as a high school student and as a big name superhero. “That’s nothing new, of course – that goes all the way back to early ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ but sometimes I feel like the division between the kid in the mask and the kid under the mask gets to be pretty wide, and I wanted to bring them closer together so that they don’t feel like separate people,” said Beechen.
The scribe is also finding it fun to get inside the head of Tim Drake, who at times can seem like the only sane member of the Bat-Family. “In one respect, Tim’s the only one who determinedly set out to become a superhero,” explained Beechen. “Bruce would say he was destined for it by circumstance, Dick was offered the opportunity after the death of his parents and didn’t go looking for it, but Tim had a goal of becoming a hero, worked at it, and accomplished it. So he’s coming at the job from a different motivational standpoint to start with, and I think that gives him a different perspective on what Bruce considers ‘the mission.’ I think it is Tim’s different perspective that makes him so valuable – he comes at things from a different angle than the others.”
Not being a teenager himself, Beechen’s cognizant of the way times have changed since he was a teenager (not that he’s that old either), and hasn’t tried to make his Tim Drake, or the other teens, seem overly “hip” with a plethora of pop culture references, or trendy fashions. That doesn’t mean Tim Drake and his co-stars wouldn’t fit into a real life high school setting, but Beechen has been careful not to heavily date the material by appealing to some of the more trendy fashions or dialogue. “I just feel like if I were to try and make Tim trendy, it’d feel very self-conscious,” he admitted. “Plus, the danger of writing something incorporating a trend is that, by the time the book actually comes out, the trend might be over. And even if it weren’t it almost certainly would be five years from now when someone might read it again. I’d rather try and stick to issues all teenagers seem to deal with, and then approach them from Tim’s individual take. Beyond that, I just try to remember what I felt like, spoke like and thought like when I was roughly Tim’s age, as well as how my friends did the same. I most certainly was not trendy when I was Tim’s age. And Tim doesn’t strike me as the kind of kid who’d worry about trends anyway. If anything, he wants to blend in and avoid too much scrutiny.”
Part of Tim’s “other life” involves his relationship with Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, and one of the only other people to be so personally involved with every Robin thus far. Not only does Tim’s unique motivation to be Robin affect the nature of his bond with Alfred, but there’s also the matter of Tim’s father being around well into his tenure as Robin (though he was murdered recently). While other Robins have needed Alfred as a father figure, and have been borne out of much larger tragedy, Beechen doesn’t feel that Tim relates to Alfred in a way that’s so different, despite his unique circumstances. “Alfred has been a big part of the lives of all the Robins, current and past. Bruce, because of all the things he does, isn’t around all the time, so at least some of the guidance Dick, Jason, Tim, and even Stephanie in her brief tenure, received came from Alfred. He’s dealt with them all slightly differently because they all have different personalities, but essentially, he’s served as an uncle to every one. In terms of Tim specifically, I think Alfred has a lot of respect for Tim’s intelligence and really sees the potential in him, not just as a superhero, but also as a human being. I think Alfred is pretty invested in Tim’s future and wanting him to reach his full potential.”
Ever since the reintroduction of Cassandra Cain as a villain (and we’ll get more into that in a moment), Beechen has given “Robin” an epic scope that the book hasn’t seen in quite a while, while maintaining a steady stream of strong single issue stories. “I like single issue stories, personally, because you can change the pace and tone and play around a little more,” explained Beechen. “But I also like continuing storylines, and the idea of laying lots of seeds that you can go back and develop later. Since our first, four-issue arc, we’ve been trying to keep arcs short, I think mostly because it’s easier for new readers to come to the book that way. But I’ve been agitating for slightly longer stories, and we do have a three-parter coming up in the near future.”
Those future stories probably won’t involve Tim reminiscing on his time spent in Bludhaven, even though the town was recently destroyed as a result of “Infinite Crisis.” “Bits of Tim’s Bludhaven life will be showing up now and then, but Tim’s had a lot of time off-camera, as it were, to deal with what happened to the city,” revealed Beechen. “I don’t want to spend too much time on him anguishing about it, preferring to concentrate on his present.”
It’s unlikely fans will find that decision controversial, especially in light of Cassandra Cain’s continuing turn as a villain in “Robin,” which hasn’t sat well with many. The popular heroine had her own series, “Batgirl,” which had a devoted fan following, the same fans who were outraged at Cassandra’s re-appearance as an antagonist. Readers have wondered who made the decision to turn the former Batgirl into one of Robin’s foes and when asked about the decision, Beechen explained, “When I came to the book, I was told that the first arc would deal with presenting Cassandra as a major new enemy for Robin. From there, I worked out the details of just how that would come about with our initial editor, Eddie Berganza, and then his successor, Peter Tomasi.
“As for the criticism, I understand it completely. I’d be angry, too, and I sympathize with fans of the character. It’s a big change, a fundamental change, and it represents a big twist in the longtime path of the character, her quest to overcome her upbringing. The way I think about it is, I know lots of people who’ve struggled against bad decisions or circumstances in their lives for a long time, only to suddenly backslide into their previous behavior. It’s a really painful thing to watch, and a terrible feeling, but it does happen, and I think it’s what happened in this case. But I don’t think Cassandra’s story is completely told yet, so I hope readers will continue to follow the character.”
Since Beechen arrived on the series earlier this year, the book has been home to some well-received artists, from Karl Kerschl (“Who everyone knows is brilliant,” said Beechen) to current artist Freddie Williams II. “Freddie’s a dream collaborator,” the scribe said. “I like to think we ‘get’ each other. Early on, he seemed to have a really good understanding of the scripts and what I was looking for, and after seeing a couple of issues he’d drawn, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what he draws really well, and I try and tailor my scripts to that. Additionally, we talk a lot and have a really good rapport. Freddie’s bounced some great ideas off of me that we’ve incorporated. It’s a real team effort. Freddie’s getting a well-deserved break pretty soon, though, as Frazer Irving – who did such an amazing job on the ‘Klarion’ miniseries with Grant Morrison a while back – comes in for a quick two-issue story. I’m a big fan of Frazer’s, and it was fun to try and write to what I perceive his strengths to be. I can’t wait to see what he came up with.
“I also want to give a shout-out to the incredible Patrick Gleason, whose dynamic covers for the book really make it pop off the stands and get fans’ attention. He’s doing tremendous stuff, aided by talented folks like Prentiss Rollins and Wayne Faucher.”
While “Robin” is most definitely Tim Drake’s book, there have been quite a number of interesting guest-stars in the book, from the son of Captain Boomerang, to a new hero with a mysterious ability to teleport. It almost seems that no one is off limits, even former Robin Jason Todd, who Beechen said could appear in future issues, noting, “Anything’s possible.” As for the near, concrete future, Beechen revealed, “Well, we’ve got Klarion himself, of all people, coming up in Frazer’s arc. That was a bit of a challenge, finding a good reason for them to meet, but it was a blast to write. After that, I’d say it’s a fair bet that you’ll see any or all of the Teen Titans show up at some point. And while there aren’t any definitive plans in the works, my predecessor on the book, Bill Willingham, created an astonishing number of cool, fun characters for the title, not all of whom I’m sure went down along with Bludhaven. It’d be great to sprinkle some of them in to the comic, here and there.”
And for those fans of Beechen’s “Justice League Unlimited” comic book series, don’t think that the writer isn’t still pouring his heart and soul into the book. He’s got big plans for the “World’s Greatest Heroes” and said that fans can expect, “More single-issue stories written by me and a host of talented scribes like Paul Storrie, Mike McAvennie and Bill Williams, spotlighting either individual team members or the team in action as a whole. Speaking for my own plans, we’ve got stories about Black Lightning, Animal Man and B’wana Beast, Rocket Red and Metamorpho coming up.”
There’s also another big project on the horizon from Beechen, this time at the home of his graphic novel “Hench.” His new AiT/PlanetLar graphic novel will be produced with “Hench” collaborator Manny Bello, with a scheduled 2007 release. “It’s called ‘Dugout,’ and it’s a prison break/baseball/period story (seriously), and it’s coming out really, really well,” revealed Beechen.
With so many teen superhero books on the market, not to mention the plethora of regular superhero titles, it might seem hard for “Robin” to really stand out these days. Beechen is undaunted by the challenge, believing not only that Tim Drake’s characters makes the book unique, but that the series can offer readers a unique perspective on the superhero world. “I want ‘Robin’ to be a book where readers really feel like they’re inside the head of the character, where they understand the decisions made and the actions taken by the character,” explained the scribe. “I want Robin himself to be someone readers see themselves in, to a degree. I want it to be a book where we, as readers, are on the inside looking out, almost, rather than the other way around.”