Sure, Dick Grayson faced off against a zombie orca with spider legs in “Grayson” #6. And yes, the superhero formerly known as Robin, Nightwing and Batman was teleported off-world to God Garden, which is basically a safe house for meta-humans, on the final page of the latest issue too.
But “Grayson” truly is grounded in reality. It just so happens that in DC Comics’ New 52, reality includes superheroic gods and supervillainous monsters — and all types of other characters in between.
CBR News connected with “Grayson” co-writers Tom King and Tim Seeley, who discussed the opening arc of the series and revealed that the master plan is to build an overarching story like “Breaking Bad,” where readers really don’t quite know what to expect each and every month.
King, a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer, and Seeley, a comics industry veteran, also shared their thoughts on telling “escapist” comic book stories about superheroes and super-spies at a time when the real world is dealing with fundamentalist terrorists that have attacked civilians on no fewer than five Western targets over the past four months.
The dynamic duo also expressed their collective admiration for Midnighter — a Batman analog created in 1998 Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch in the pages of WildStorm’s “Stormwatch” — and why having him face off against Dick made perfect sense on multiple levels.
CBR News: Before we discuss anything else, talk to me about the zombie orca with spider legs that appeared in “Grayson” #6. That was awesome.
Tom King: That comes from the brilliant and beautiful mind of Mr. Tim Seeley. I’m actually quite worried about him. [Laughs] We’re actually seeking professional help.
Tim Seeley: It was just one of those times when we said, “We really need something crazy for Mikel [Janin] to draw.” That’s one of the cool things about this book. I always know it’s going to look awesome. You can throw “zombie orca with spider legs” at him and you know it’s going to turn out great.
In “Grayson” #6, the Fist of Cain is planning to attack the Rally for Peace. With recent terrorist attacks in Ottawa, Sydney and Paris, the gathering of intelligence has been in the news every day for months. But this isn’t the 1980s, so Russia isn’t the bad guy. How do you go about addressing modern day terrorist organizations versus the global superpowers of the past?
King: If we are doing spy stories today, you have to talk about non-state actors. That’s where the danger is and that’s the monster under the bed that the superheroes have to fight. Fist of Cain is basically a stand-in for whatever you want to call al-Qaeda these days. We want to hit that. We want Dick Grayson to be against that enemy because our stories are hyperboles and metaphors but they have to be based in the truth that people experience. For people that have grown up with terrorism, this is the threat they feel.
Seeley: We want to be able to touch on aspects of what is real in the game of espionage and world relations but that stuff tends to be too depressing and too dark and heavy for the scope of something that we want to be escapist. But it’s impossible not to address the rise of fundamentalist beliefs that are used by some people to justify really horrible acts. We obviously didn’t know that attacks like you mentioned would happen when we wrote these issues three months ago but it was a pretty good guess that there would be some kind of act by some fundamentalist believer that thought they would be justified in killing people in the name of whatever so this book looks like it’s a little bit timely but sadly, it’s always timely to deal with this kind of stuff.
When the series launched, I asked you if “Grayson” was a spy book or a superhero book. At the time, you said it was a global book. Six issues in, is it still a global book?
King: We’ve stuck with that vision and I think it’s a vision that works. This is a spy book that’s set in a superhero world. I don’t think it can be easily pigeon-holed into the spy genre or the superhero genre basically because we want to play with both. It’s the interaction between those two that really make it something interesting. Everyone has read a thousand spy stories and everyone has read a thousand superhero stories. A superhero-spy story is something new and exciting.
Seeley: There are aspects of both that weigh heavily on the story. Clearly “Grayson” #6, #7 and #8, which forms a through-line, mix those two genres immensely. We have a dastardly villain, which is a trait of both superhero and spy stories.
King: I think Tim and I would agree that more than anything, this is a Dick Grayson book. That’s where we start every issue. We don’t start with let’s tell a spy story or let’s tell a superhero story. We want to tell a fantastic Dick Grayson story and we let the rest of the world, and the conflict, develop around that idea.
Which is awesome news for fans of Dick Grayson. All the talk has been about the 75th anniversary of Superman and Batman but 2015 also marks Dick’s 75 anniversary.
King: You’re right. He’s been around longer than Wonder Woman. And he’s one of those characters that if you ask your grandmother to name five comic book characters that she knows, she’ll say Robin and she’s referring to Dick Grayson. And he has a solid core. He’s been through a thousand writers but that solid core remains. He’s the man that has Batman’s past and Batman’s sorrow but somehow got away from that. He somehow came out of that as a balanced, normal person. And the tension between the sorrow in his past and what he is today makes him unique and awesome to write.
Seeley: I totally agree with Tom. And the other aspect of it is that because his legacy includes a number of identities from Robin to Nightwing to even Batman, that’s always at the heart of his stories: Who am I? What am I? And who is influencing what I do? The answer is always that he is his own man but there are always interested parties. There are always people, like his mentor and friend Batman, who help mold him.
You explore that very well in just a few panels when he’s conversing with Midnighter during their fight and Midnighter says that he’s studied Dick’s life as a Flying Grayson, as Robin and as Nightwing, and Dick replies, “But I’m always Dick Grayson!” That drives home the point that Dick Grayson is the sum of all of these parts.
King: Dick Grayson is a character that evolves and stays true to himself. It seems like a contradiction but a man flying is a contradiction. That’s why it’s comic books.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved dreaming up unexpected grudge matches between superheroes and villains or even, as is the case here, superheroes versus superheroes. How did you arrive at pitting Midnighter against Dick?
King: Again, this came right from Tim Seeley and it worked so well when you saw it on the page. Midnighter is this classic Batman stand-in that was created in another world and brought into this one. And to put that character with a character that has been with Batman for 75 years and see what happens, makes so much sense.
Seeley: There are two things that really made me want to bring Midnighter into “Grayson.” First off, he’s political Batman. That’s the way he was originally developed by Warren Ellis. He has these worldly goals, which set him up nicely as a character to explore in a story about espionage.
And also, the notion that he was gay Batman. For years, people have pointed out — and it’s really rather silly — that a man having a young ward that is a boy is hiding something about his sexuality. It’s great to confront that notion head on. What does a gay character that is a parody of Batman really feel about Dick Grayson?
Tim, you were obviously very familiar with the character, but Tom, how familiar were you with Midnighter before writing him?
King: I read “The Authority” until those pages fell apart. [Laughs] I knew the character really well. I loved what Garth Ennis did with him and obviously what Warren Ellis did with him. The modern gods of comics have played with this guy and now we get to do our thing. It’s such an honor.
Seeley: Yeah, and when I used to draw “WildC.A.T.S.,” he was a character in it and I have been harboring my feelings to work on him again since that time. I think he is great. There is something really fun about him. Everything about him just reeks of cynicism, which makes him a great foil to a really optimistic guy like Dick Grayson.
This series has hypno-interrogation and, as we discussed, a zombie orca with spider legs, but “Grayson” was still fairly firmly planted in reality through its first five issues and then you go and sweep Dick off-world to God Garden. You couldn’t leave it well enough alone, could you? [Laughs] Can you talk about God Garden and the Gardener?
King: That’s exactly the point. We don’t want every issue to be the same. We want the audience to be surprised every time they pick up an issue. We want “Breaking Bad.” We want people to talk about it as soon as they put it down. They paid $3 for this thing. They better get at least an hour-long conversation out if it on the internet. We don’t want it to always be grounded. We want to bring the reader to space. And who knows where we will be tomorrow? We’re going for it.
Seeley: The God Garden is based on the notion that when the New 52 launched, superheroes were an oddity. And when Superman was introduced into the world, it changed everything. And that goes back to “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller. There is this idea that it changes the politics and the balance of power. The God Garden was essentially created to be a weapon, by someone who turned on that idea and now uses her resources to save other experiments and to basically stop humans from experimenting on themselves to make them better. And that someone is the Gardener. And Midnighter is someone that she has rescued. But she does not have awesome control of him because he is a mean bastard covered in leather.
Is she friend or foe?
King: [Pauses] You’ve got to tune in to find out.
“Grayson” #7 by Tom King, Tim Seeley and Stephen Mooney is on sale now from DC Comics.
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