Robin the Boy Wonder made his debut nearly a year after Batman in “Detective Comics” #38 in 1940. And while the Dark Knight is celebrating his historic 75th anniversary in 2014, Dick Grayson’s 74 years is still a pretty good run.
Arguably the most famous sidekick in the history of comic books, Grayson has starred in a number of solo series over the years, and now that he’s dead, he’ll be headlining yet another when the eponymous “Grayson” debuts in July.
Well, OK – he’s not really dead, but that’s what he and Batman want the world to believe following the events of “Forever Evil.” And thanks to the Crime Syndicate, everyone on Prime Earth also knows his secret identity is Nightwing, so fighting crime and saving the day as Grayson actually makes sense, according to the dynamic duo writing the series: Tim Seeley, who is currently part of the all-star writing team tackling DC’s weekly series “Batman: Eternal,” and Tom King, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer-turned novelist/comic book writer.
With “Nightwing” #30 — the final issue of Dick’s current series — available now, CBR News connected with the “Grayson” co-writers to discuss the new title, which features Dick operating as an agent of Spyral after Batman sends him on the toughest mission their long-time friendship has ever had to endure.
Seeley and King also shared their thoughts on the unique storytelling method being used in “Grayson,” working with artist Mikel Janin to create a new, espionage-filled corner of the DCU and introducing a reimagined Helena Bertinelli as Dick’s S.O. at Spyral, a clandestine organization first introduced in Grant Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated.”
CBR News: As Robin, Dick Grayson is right there with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in terms of name recognition. Does Dick belong alongside the heavy hitters headlining his own series? Because we’ve never seen any series titled “Kent,” “Wayne” or “Prince.”
Tom King: Dick has always been the fulcrum of the DC Universe. He’s almost always the entrance character for every kid coming in, the person kids see themselves as. He’s the person they want to be, and it’s been that way for four generations. Basically, he’s at the center of everything, and now we’re going to bring him up to the top.
Tim Seeley: When you move Dick Grayson to a solo series and make him another guy that patrols Gotham, you inherently run out of things to do with him that don’t involve him being Batman Lite. With this series, you get to really take what makes him such an interesting character and push him into a situation where he has to take the spotlight because there is no one else to help him. Especially when we are working with him outside of the shadow of Gotham City.
You and artist Mikel Janin are using a novel approach to comic book storytelling with “Grayson,” which you teased in this week’s final issue of “Nightwing.” What is it you’re doing, exactly, and why you feel this is the approach to take when telling spy stories with Dick Grayson?
King: With “Grayson” #1, we’re taking out the captions. There will be no interior monologue. I come from a novelistic background, and of course show don’t tell is what every novelist gets banged into his or head as they’re going through school. We’re really going to go with that. Mikel is a beautiful artist, and we’ll let the pictures tell the tale and have the dialogue reflect his inner being. I’m all for action is character, and Dick’s character accounts for his inner monologue through his actions. We want this to be a fast-paced story.
Seeley: The other innovative thing that we did in “Nightwing #30,” because we had not so much time to complete this issue — we were already late when Tom and I started — we broke it down to three chapters. This made it completely appropriate and feasible to have a different artist do each chapter. One chapter is a Nightwing story, one is a Dick Grayson story and the third is a Batman story that leads you into why he has to send Dick on this special mission. But it was initially driven by Tom and I going, “Holy crap. We have to get this book done. And we are going to do it by keeping the quality of the artwork very high, so we’re going to give these three artists, including Mikel, who is our artist on ‘Grayson,’ enough time to do an awesome job on this.” It goes right from two great stories into another great story by the guy that is actually doing the “Grayson” series.
I was going to ask you if this is a superhero book or a spy book —
King: Is this a superhero book or a spy book? It’s both. This is a book that takes place in the DC Universe and is meant to explore all of the DCU, but it’s a global book. We look as Dick as a global hero. He’s a guy that grew up in an international traveling circus, and he’s going back to that origin. Every issue is going to take place in a different place. We’ll see Kuala Lumpur, we’ll see Dubai, we’ll see Bangkok, we’ll see all over the world, but that said, we’re not leaving the DCU to do this. This is totally ensconced in that world of superheroes and their powers. To me — I come from this CIA background where I’ve actually done spy work, so when I see a James Bond movie, that, to me, is both a superhero and a spy movie because that’s obviously not what it’s like in the real world. They’re adding these elements that no regular human being could do. I think we’re going for that feel of the best James Bond movie — the one that really kicks you in the ass.
Seeley: When Tom and I first started talking about this, we decided that “Grayson” is a superhero book with a lot of information from the spy genre. We’re really taking advantage of some things that Tom knows to be there in the real world but can’t tell too much about because he’ll get in trouble with his former bosses. [Laughs] We don’t want to drag it down and make it realistic for the sake of being realistic but we want to hit the emotional beats that come with what it’s like to be undercover, what it’s like to travel the world and be a part of your family. All of those things are informed by reality, but again, it’s a DC Universe superhero book. It’s proud of the legacy of Robin. It’s proud of the legacy of Nightwing. It’s not embarrassed about it. It’s not trying to escape a superhero series. We just want to have a great comic book and take advantage of all of the toys in the toy box.
King: We’re not doing a spy book with a character that happens to be named Dick Grayson — we’re doing a book about a guy named Dick Grayson that used to be Robin, used to be Nightwing, and came up under Batman. It’s his story, the story of that specific DC character.
Dick’s transformation from superhero to undercover spy comes at the request of Batman, following the events of “Forever Evil,” which featured Nightwing’s secret identity being revealed to the world, as well as his apparent death. Does Batman/Bruce Wayne play a role in “Grayson?”
King: It’s safe to say yes, Batman does play a role in this book — and it has to do with that mission that you saw in “Nightwing.” This mission that he gave Dick will be a point of both pride and tension between the two of them. This is not something that they are on the same page on. They’re going to fight about this a bit — if not a lot.
Seeley: One of the things Tom and I wanted to do, beyond the drama and conflict between Dick and Bruce, was not another story about the drama and conflict between Dick and Bruce. We didn’t want to do another story about how the Robins are exploited and used and eventually turn against Batman. This is still about the two best friends in the DC Universe, but they fight and they have to ask each other to do things that they don’t want to. But when it comes down to it, these are the two best buddies that there could be. When they have conflict, it’s because it’s important. It’s because it means something. It’s not something to falsify the drama.
Though he did use guns in his earliest appearances, Batman is a famously anti-gun character. The cover for “Grayson” #1 features a gun-wielding Dick. I know he’s not becoming Punisher, but does this change in policy trigger another point of conflict between the dynamic duo?
King:[Laughs] He’s definitely not Punisher! [Laughs] But yes, it does change the dynamic. Not only are Tim and I aware of how much it changes the dynamic, Dick is aware of how much it changes the dynamic. It makes him uncomfortable. He knows that he has the skills necessary not to need a gun, but to be in this organization and to be in the places they are, it is necessary for him to carry it, and as we go on, necessary for him to use it. That tension and that conflict with him — “I have to carry this gun. I don’t want to carry this gun” — is going to make great comics.
Seeley: I think it’s fair to say that in the history of DC Comics it’s not as though neither Batman nor Dick has ever used a gun, because there was a whole issue where Batman used the gun that killed his parents to fight the Reaper back in the day. And also, Batman has guns mounted on his car and his helicopter in the movies so it’s not unheard of. Plus, Dick was a cop in [the earlier “Nightwing”] series.
The thing with a gun is that it means something in the United States. It has an instant context. We know that Dick was trained by a guy that distrusts guns. He’s come up knowing every solution to avoid using a gun. If he’s carrying a gun in this series, it’s going to be about those situations where he can’t avoid it. He’s a guy that’s fought alongside Superman and Wonder Woman, and like Batman, doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s an amazing guy, so for him to need a gun in these situations, that’s going to be part of the story.
It’s been revealed that the organization in question is Spyral. For those who didn’t read Grant Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated,” what can you share about Spyral and what separates it from the other clandestine organizations operating within the DCU?
King: Spyral and its agents are masters of the art of deception. You think you are seeing one thing and you are actually seeing something else. And also, for us, Spyral stands in for where we are with our own intelligence organizations as a country. We wanted to do a little commentary on the idea that the people that protect us also bring up these other issues, like the more safe you feel, sometimes the less safe you are. It’s both of those things. We are using the Spyral from Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated” as a metaphor for international intelligence organizations that have cropped up over the past 25 years.
Seeley: In the “Batman Incorporated” storyline, it was purposely set up to be this organization with really questionable allegiances. Sometimes they do good, sometimes they do bad and sometimes they do things that conflict with what they already did. In one instance, they appear to be training little girls to be assassins, and in the next instant, they appear to be trying to save the world. That’s exactly what we want to play with. What do these guys want? I think that’s a great question to ask about all of our intelligence agencies. Obviously, nothing is uniform in the world. One hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. Everyone is just trying to mold things to their views, and that’s exactly what we want to play with. We’re putting this guy with immovable morality into this position where everything is gray. He’s always on his feet, trying to figure out what their next move is. That’s really what’s most fun about this story.
I always raise a Spockian brow when James Bond enters a casino or a dinner party and introduces himself as “Bond. James Bond.” This guy is terrible at keeping a cover. Doesn’t everyone know who Dick Grayson is after “Forever Evil” thereby making him a terrible spy?
King: It’s actually perfect, because the art of espionage is really about making people think something that is the most obvious, the thing you are looking at, not what you think it is. The fact that Dick can’t be a spy, the fact that it’s almost absurd, is perfect, because no one expects him to do it. The fact that he is famous, the fact that everyone knows his identity — that’s the first thing that you don’t expect that he would be a spy. And that’s what Spyral wants. Look over here. This is the guy that you’re looking at, but actually, he’s the one doing the spying behind your back.
Seeley: We don’t want to reveal what we set up, but we knew that going in, obviously. We knew how “Forever Evil” ended, so it was up to us to figure out how to play with things that are already set up by Spyral and what they do and make that a part of our story. We have it covered. There is a reason that Dick can walk around in our story and not have people know who he is. Worry not. We totally have it covered. It’s a pretty cool, silly little spy trick, but it’s perfect for dealing with Spyral and the DC Universe.
King: Tim and I are both comic book continuity nerds, we’re both former Marvel interns, so we spend a lot of time challenging each other over how different plot threads and storylines will unfold. It’s very fun. We are just a couple of comic book nerds arguing to come up with the answers.
As revealed in “Nightwing” #30, Dick is going to be working alongside Helena Bertinelli at Spyral. Dick and Helena have a history — both professional and romantically — pre-New 52, but this is her New 52 debut. And it’s also a fairly dramatic new take.
King: Helena is so much fun to write. She is the greatest superspy, and Dick is trying to be the greatest superspy. Once again, Dick is in one of those relationships like Batman and Robin where he’s being trained by a superior. Helena is just as tough and just as cruel as Batman. Dick is a cocky guy and he thinks he can do this all himself, so it’s almost a parallel to what he’s been though before. The first arc is going to be about their relationship and how they evolve together.
Seeley: We wanted to have the best aspects of the old Nightwing/Huntress storyline, but through a new filter, moving that character up into a position where we don’t want Helena to be a shade of Helena Wayne. We wanted her to be her own character. I think that what we came up with is pretty cool.
Will we see her as Huntress?
King: [Pauses] There’s already a Huntress. This is about Helena Bertinelli. And honestly — it’s best to read it — but I think the cool thing is that we’ve figured out a way to not make her a shade of an existing character.
Are these going to be done-in-one adventures or will you be telling multi-part stories over five or six issues?
Seeley: The first two set it up, and then we have the “Futures End” story. Systematically, it’s an arc, but it starts out pretty done-in-one until we get through #3 and #4.
King: It’s kind of like “Serenity,” where each episode was a closed episode, but you develop a longer story throughout the whole season.
So Dick is up against a specific villain in “Grayson.”
King: Yes. We have this planned out for quite a few issues.
Finally, I’ve always loved Dick’s secret origin and his upbringing in a family of acrobats. Are there any touches to Dick’s past with the Flying Graysons in “Grayson?”
King: Yes. We’ll actually hit the Flying Graysons in the “Futures End” issue, so look out for it there. And there will be some impacts that will hit the main series.
“Grayson” #1, by Tim Seeley and Tom King and featuring art by Mikel Janin, is available on July 2.