Since Batman first debuted in 1939’s “Detective Comics” #27, the series has starred the Dark Knight continuously, with a few exceptions along the way. But in DC Comics‘ current “Rebirth” era, Batman’s had to share the spotlight — as the series headed by writer James Tynion IV and artist Eddy Barrows has shifted focus to a Bat-family team, consisting of Batman, Batwoman, Tim Drake (recently known as “Red Robin”), Spoiler, Orphan and Clayface.
While fans were excited to see Tim Drake — who was Robin for about two decades starting in 1989, encompassing the formative years of many current readers — working closely again with Batman, his run in the series ended (for now, at least) with September’s “Detective Comics” #940. In that story, Tim seemingly sacrificed himself to save Gotham City — but in that very same issue, it’s revealed that he’s actually not dead, but instead has been kidnapped by Mister Oz, a mysterious character first seen in recent Superman stories. Tim’s being held prisoner for unknown reasons, which are presumably connected to the DC Universe-wide, “Watchmen”-propelled mystery introduced in May’s “DC Universe Rebirth” one-shot.
With Tim Drake out of the series and new arc “The Victim Syndicate” — featuring a new group of antagonists with very personal motivations against Batman — starting this week in “Detective Comics” #943 (illustrated by the newly exclusive-to-DC Alvaro Martinez), CBR News spoke with Tynion and Barrows (whose answers were translated from Portugese by fellow comics artist Joe Prado) earlier this month at New York Comic Con about crafting a Tim Drake death that felt “real,” the upcoming storyline and the cast’s latest addition, Batwing.
CBR: James, Eddy, let’s start with the big news from the book last month — what initially appeared to be the death of Tim Drake, though it was soon revealed to be just part of a larger story for the character. For both of you, what was the process like of crafting that issue — the readers know that he’s not dead, but to the characters in the book, it’s real, and you have to give it that weight. What went into crafting that scene; where you know a major character is not actually gone, but it still has to have an impact?
James Tynion IV: It was hard. It was really hard. To make that moment work, I needed to sell the fact that he was dead, and I also had to make readers not see it as an unnatural step. It had to be something that felt real, that we saw all the emotions of everyone on the page.
Geoff Johns had me come into the office to talk through the beats of that scene, especially the aftermath. He sat me down: “The most important scene isn’t so much the death scene, it’s the scene after. It’s the scene with Spoiler and Batman.” That was already always going to be a part of it, but it was just like, “No, no, don’t do that in just two pages. You need to give that space.” You need to see her cry. You need to feel the emotions, and then you need to see Batman realize that [Tim] was about to quit and go to school, and fulfill other possibilities in his life, and realize he kind of took it from him. Then you needed to sit with that, and then you hit them with the fact that he’s still alive.
In crafting that myself, and then going over it in the room with Geoff, and then seeing Eddy come in and do one of the most emotionally devastating scenes, I think, of any Bat-comic in years. Ever, honestly. I’m so happy the moment landed the way it did.
Eddy Barrows: My job is tough, because I have to read what [Tynion] wrote, and I have to believe it. I don’t read the whole thing at once, i read in parts, like I’m a reader. That makes a huge difference, the way I interpret a script. I have to believe that death that I’m drawing. For a second, I did. I called [Prado]: “Joe! Red Robin died!”
That was the biggest challenge, believing in it like a reader, and putting it in motion on the page; translating that to images. Tim is leaving everything behind for a bigger purpose. It’s huge.
Curious to hear more about how Tim Drake’s absence will affect the book — it appears that this is something you knew was coming and could plan for, but how does his absence change the direction of the series?
Tynion: We established Tim as really the heart of the series, and we just ripped that heart out. That’s going to have tremendous ramifications. Tim is a unique character — the way he looks at what Batman does comes through a much more optimistic lens than any other Bat-family character. He sees the good they’re doing, and he can latch onto the good. Now we’re seeing Batman, who can get mired in the darkness, and then you have a group of villains who are coming, in the “Victim Syndicate,” whose lives were all destroyed by Batman’s war with his villains. They are all victims of the fights between Batman and his villains, and you can see in some of the designs that they’re kind of twisted versions of some of the iconic Bat-villains. That’s going to be a really important thing, because he’s being thrown into the darkest ramifications of everything he does, as he’s trying to move forward without the one person who could actually put it in a positive light. That’s going to be really devastating.
The character it’s going to be most devastating for is Spoiler. Stephanie Brown, who came to this world through necessity — through trying to fight back against her father in the first “Batman Eternal” — we’re seeing her emotional grounding to the Bat-family ripped apart. She’s always been the one most willing to question what Batman does; she wants to be doing what’s right, but she’s not always sold that Batman’s doing the right thing. Now we’re going to see all those questions come to the forefront in this second arc.
We’re bringing Batwing into the cast. He’s the new tech guru coming in. He’s a very different character than Tim Drake.
Barrows: I need like two issues to understand a character. I have to find my way integrating how Batwing will be part of the book — how he behaves among these heroes. Like James said, it’s a different set of emotions, it’s a different guy, he doesn’t come from a tragedy. For him, it’s really operational, problem solving.
The “Victim Syndicate” arc is coming up. Let’s talk the origins of it — it feels there’s much more thought given in superhero fiction lately to consequences and the ramifications of what this stuff would have on average people. How did the story came together?
Tynion: It really was in response to the first arc. You have such a big, action-packed, bombastic first arc, and then you want to go with something a little different for the second one. You don’t want to just keep hitting the same button over and over. This is going to be a scarier arc. It opens with a really frightening scene. The other artist on the book, Alvaro Martinez does the first issue [of the arc], and it starts with a really, really terrifying scene that brings the Victim Syndicate into Gotham.
It lets us stretch different muscles, after something so operatic and action-heavy — moving into something that is quieter and more terrifying, and emotionally darker. I went to keep playing with that balance. I don’t want to keep hitting the same thing over and over again.
Barrows: This is a totally different story in tone. It’s more like a horror story. When you see the pages, you’re going to get it. Really, really scary images. I’m preparing some new stuff to incorporate in the story. This week, we had a change to brainstorm a little bit. To say the least, it’s going to be interesting. There are going to be lots of surprises down the road — for James, too.
Let’s talk broadly about this series, and what it means. It’s a different thing for the Batman titles to have a true team book. James, I first heard you talk about it back at WonderCon, and you were clearly excited about the relatively unprecedented nature of the series and opportunity it provides. Now that you’ve both been doing it for the better part of a year, what has that experience been like?
Tynion: Honestly, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted to do. There’s a lot of weight to writing the book, but it is something that I’ve always wanted to exist. It’s more trying to do right by it. I couldn’t be more excited. Working on all of my favorite Bat-characters at the same time, not in their own different stories, putting them all together and doing something big and bombastic, it means everything to me.
Barrows: It’s not an easy task. I have to understand each of the characters, and make them work together. Understand them visually. That’s not an easy task for any artist — drawing group books is one of the nightmares of the industry. [Laughs] There are characters I never drew before. It’s cool for me. I’m touching new ground.
“Detective Comics” #943, the first chapter of “The Villain Syndicate,” is on sale this Wednesday, Oct. 26.
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