SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “All Star Batman” #2, on sale now.
Despite the Dark Knight patrolling Gotham City primarily sans sidekick since Scott Snyder started writing “Batman,” the superstar writer says the high concept of the Dynamic Duo is certainly not dead — it’s just different.
Ahead of this week’s release of “All Star Batman” #2, CBR connected with Snyder and artist Declan Shalvey, who are collaborating on a backup story starring new Bat-protege Duke Thomas. We discussed the new dynamic of the Dynamic Duo as Bruce Wayne mentors Duke, not as the next Robin, but as the next generation of superhero.
Snyder also shared spoiler-ific details about “The Cursed Wheel” story arc, which he says serves as the spine of the series as it takes place before the events presented in the main story featuring Batman and Two-Face illustrated by John Romita, Jr.
And there may be a tease about a Duke Thomas solo series, too…
CBR: In “The Cursed Wheel,” we’re really digging deep into Batman’s relationship with Duke. I love this exchange from Issue #1, where Duke says, “Robin today doesn’t need a Batman.” And Bruce responds, “Good, Batman doesn’t need a Robin either.” I grew up in a time that Batman and Robin were inseparable, but this new generation has seen plenty of Batman without Robin in comics, movie, TV and video games. Is the dynamic duo as we knew it truly dead?
Scott Snyder: No, I don’t think it’s dead. One of the things that is so great about working with Declan and Jordie [Bellaire] is that they are tremendous innovators. Working on “Batman” the last few years with Greg [Capullo], one of the things that we kept coming back to was this idea of, how would Robin function today? I think Damian is an incredible character and makes a great Robin, but if we were putting someone next to Batman now, how could we construct someone who would be relevant both as an inspiring character and as a sidekick?
We realized that, in a post 9/11 world, Batman is so much more about inspiring people to live bravely than he is about intimidation or scaring bad people back into the shadows. That’s a theme that you and I have talked about many times before, Jeff. Here, that lends itself towards this idea of a Robin, who says, “We’re separate. We’re the generation that you have inspired. We’re empowered. And that doesn’t mean that we’re not indebted to you because we are but we fight crime and offer our own brand of heroism.”
When Declan and Jordie came on and were so dazzling to me in terms of designing Duke’s suit like nothing we’ve seen before, down to giving him his weapon that’s strapped to his back — this all-purpose bat-nunchuk — it really became about what we’re talking about. It’s not that the dynamic duo is dead. It’s about, how do we re-contextualize or reconfigure the concept of a Robin that’s someone’s training under Batman to be their own hero, something new that we haven’t seen before?
Declan Shalvey: I think, as well, that the concept of Robin has been stretched and moved so much that it has become so much more than what it was. Being Robin doesn’t necessarily mean that you are Batman’s partner, anymore. All of the Robins have grown up and become their own thing. I’m working on a cover right now that can only be classified as a duo cover, so no, the dynamic duo is not dead. There is nothing to say that Duke is not his own man and a partner to Batman.
Declan, Scott mentioned it, and I love what you are doing with Duke’s super-suit. Can you talk about its design?
Shalvey: Thanks, but Scott should probably start, because when I started, Scott had some very clear ideas of what he was looking for. There were some things that he wanted, and some things that he didn’t.
Snyder: [Laughs] I’m happy to start, but all of the credit goes to Dec and Jordie, because they really designed it from scratch. My ideas were basically that we needed something bright and yellow — a color that we haven’t seen before, and something that’s tied to Duke’s future in certain ways. But I don’t want to get into that too early. [Laughs] We wanted you, as a reader, to enjoy the design — something that felt like a new morning.
Really quickly, something that I maybe didn’t articulate well enough with the press when the first issue was released, while there was great response to Duke and Duke’s story in “All Star Batman” #1, and we were so appreciative of that response, there were some who believed that what we were saying with this new program that Bruce is using with Duke is better than what was done with Damian or other Robins from the past. That was the farthest from what we were saying. We were saying that Batman has realized that the characters that have trained with him, the Robins that have come before, are really at their best when they develop into the characters that can be his ally rather than his sidekick. He’s inspired by how well Damian and the other Robins have done, so he is now skipping the step of Duke being beside him as a full-time partner. He’s saying that Duke has already been Robin, in his own way, for the last year while [Bruce] was missing. Now, it’s time for me to help you figure out who you are.
I think the design of the costume speaks to so many elements of that because of how brilliant Dec and Jordie are in terms of both design and storytelling.
Shalvey: I agree, 100 percent with Scott, especially that bit about the brilliance. [Laughs] Can we make sure that stays in there, please?
Scott really wanted Duke to be his own character. Sometimes Robin is too close to Batman. But we wanted Duke to be his own character, like Nightwing is his own character. Aesthetically, Duke is a brawler — he’s not a flying through the sky-type guy. He’s very much on the ground. Scott and I had a big discussion about the weapon. We wanted something iconic for Duke that wasn’t something that came before. We really wanted to add something new to such a long legacy of characters. It’s basically another Batman costume — but it’s not. It’s not for Bruce Wayne; it’s for Duke Thomas.
In “All Star Batman” #2, Bruce explains to Duke that the next step in his evolution as a hero — not a sidekick — is to “look past the evil to motivation, to the threads of causal behavior that allow you to solve things.” That, to me, might be Batman’s greatest strength as the World’s Greatest Detective. Does Bruce see Duke as his true heir apparent as Batman — even greater than Dick, Tim, Jason or Damian?
Snyder: He definitely sees a lot of himself in Duke. I think the potential for greatness is really there. One of things that was really interesting when we started talking to Geoff Johns when we were developing Duke was the question of, should he be the next Robin, or the next Nightwing? What should he be? What role should he play? What it really came down to was trying to do justice to the character in a way that took the strongest elements of his personality and psychology and find out if there was a role in Gotham that had never been filled before, like the way Barbara became Oracle, or as she is Batgirl now. There is a real niche there for her to serve that isn’t taken by anybody else in the same way that Dick’s mission in “Grayson” was something that we hadn’t seen before. It’s about finding where these characters can fit that both does justice to who they are organically, and tries to carve out a place or a role for them that hasn’t been occupied by any other character.
In this way, it’s fun to think about Duke as the figure that could be the next one to take on the mantle of Batman, but the most important thing is finding a role for him in Gotham right now. It was really Geoff Johns, honestly, talking to [Geoff] and okaying a lot of this stuff with him that was terrifically helpful. I think we have something really special here with Duke, and I have a long runway with this character in terms of setting him up here and trying to do a series with him myself, with other creators, as well, once he is up and running.
Declan, you’ve drawn Deadpool and Moon Knight for Marvel since coming to North America. Obviously, beyond Duke, you’re also drawing Batman. Were you a fan of the Dark Knight, growing up in Ireland?
Shalvey: He’s the one with the Bat-ears, right? [Laughs]
I like to play it super-cool, like it’s no big deal that I’m drawing Batman and I don’t care, but, especially growing up in Ireland, there wasn’t a lot of great stuff on TV. But “Batman: The Animated Series” — and I know I’m not alone — warped my brain. It’s always been ambition of mine to draw Batman. Every comic artist has that ambition, and the fact that I am back in Ireland and actually drawing this amazing Batman book with Scott, I’ve actually had to pinch myself a few times. It’s also crazy intimidating, because everybody has an idea of how they would like to portray Batman. Then, when that actually comes to reality, it’s very, very overwhelming. I am very, very appreciative to get a chance to do something and add to the legacy of the character. It’s such a long legacy, and in the last few years, Scott has added so much to it. To be part of such a great project with all of these great artists, I just want to do my best work and hope that I don’t let Scott and everyone else down. That turned very down-beat. I couldn’t possibly sound any more Irish. [Laughs]
Snyder: You’re not letting anyone down. What you and Jordie are doing is the spine of the entire series. Each stand-alone story, first with Two-Face, and then with Mr. Freeze and then Catwoman, feel as though they are compartmentalized. But the thing that runs through the entire year is this “Cursed Wheel” story that begins with them. It’s a story largely about figuring out what your worst demons are, what your best qualities are — not just for Duke, but for Batman, too. What I brought them in to do was launch the beating heart of the whole entire thing. I wasn’t calling them up to do a backup. “The Cursed Wheel” is an integral part to the DNA of the series. The fact that their art is so emotionally resonant and has such great storytelling and dynamism and just so vibrant, it speaks to all of the things that are at the very core not only of the arc but the entire series.
“The Cursed Wheel” will also tie back into the feature stories. One of the secrets is that “The Cursed Wheel” happens before Two-Face arrives in Gotham, and it ends with him arriving after he’s captured. It’s one big meditation about seeing past the things that people do and who they really are.
I have to say, Dec and Jordie are exceeding all expectations and really bringing an entirely new aesthetic to Batman. I am really thrilled and honored to get to work with them on it, above and beyond the fact that the whole series is about working with creators that can re-invent Batman in all kinds of ways.
Shalvey: And if I can add, it’s a huge relief to know that I have Jordie coloring my work. The whole concept is based on a color wheel, and it would fall apart without the right colorist — and Jordie is the right colorist. Even the yellow in Duke’s costume is perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prettier yellow. I am so happy with her work.
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