Dick Grayson, ex-Robin, current Nightwing and one of DC Comics’ oldest characters, is confronting his past thanks to “Nightwing” writer Kyle Higgins and artist Eddy Barrows — but whether he’ll survive that confrontation is anyone’s guess.
Originally introduced as Batman’s Golden Age sidekick by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane, the New 52 incarnation of still has much of his continuity and past intact, including being the son of two murdered circus acrobats. Now the titular star of DC’s ongoing “Nightwing” series, Dick is dealing with that past more closely than ever as Higgins and Barrows’ first arc sees the circus Dick grew up in re-enter Gotham for the first time since the Grayson murders.
Speaking in-depth about Dick and the mysteries surrounding Haly’s Circus, Higgins answered the call of THE BAT SIGNAL, explaining the challenges of writing the one-time Robin and “Nightwing’s” place in the upcoming “Night Of The Owls” crossover.
CBR News: “Nightwing” seems like it was one of the most challenging of the New 52 books to write as a lot of the title character’s underlying continuity remained the same — while other books got to wipe the slate clean, “Battle For The Cowl” and all the Batman continuity pretty much still stands. Was revisiting Haly’s circus in the first arc designed, not just to get readers onboard, but to clarify where Dick stands and what point he’s at now in his continuity?
Kyle Higgins: You kind of hit everything. It’s definitely challenging, as Dick Grayson is a character built on the idea of change, of growing up and trying to become your own person. Of course, just as he’d done that, he was forced to step in and fill his mentor’s shoes as Batman, essentially embracing the shadow he was looking to escape. With that in mind, getting all that continuity across in a first issue of what’s supposed to be a relaunch is really, really tricky. [Laughs] If you look at issue #1 compared to the rest of the series, there’s a lot more captions and voice over.
As far as the circus goes, one of the things that interested DC [in my pitch] was that no one had done much with Haly’s in a while. With the relaunch, bringing the circus back seemed like a nice way to kick off the book and re-establish Dick’s past. From there, I came up with the idea that Haly’s hadn’t returned to Gotham since the night Dick’s parents died. Combining that with the fact that I’m going to continue exploring Dick’s relationship to Gotham City, as was started by Scott [Snyder] in “Detective” and our “Gates of Gotham” [miniseries], this seemed like a nice way of dovetailing the circus into the thematic material of the city. Gotham will continually twist the things its protectors love the most, and the circus coming back now is just one more example of that. Just as Dick had gotten settled, Gotham City starts looking to use his past against him.
How does Saiko fit into the idea that Gotham is creating villains for Dick?
Well, he’s claiming that Dick Grayson doesn’t know himself and that the person or people that Saiko is working for are trying to kill Dick Grayson because they view him to be the fiercest killer in all of Gotham. Saiko is a pawn in Gotham’s game. He’s the piece that’s coming back to physically challenge Dick Grayson through the circus. Gotham has secrets about Haly’s and Dick Grayson, and Saiko is the inciting element.
You’ve said several times before that this first arc is about things being in transition for Dick. With Dick traveling with the circus outside of Gotham, is transition going to continue to be an ongoing theme for him, an underlying theme for the book?
It is. There’s a line in issue #3 that I think sums it up perfectly, that Dick Grayson is someone who always looks forwards and never backwards. Raya quips that it’s probably why he’s so good at the trapeze, but more seriously, Dick is someone who has a tendency to avoid certain things he doesn’t want to deal with — as everyone does. From changing cities in a subconscious attempt to avoid Gotham, to staying at arm’s length from Haly’s and his past, this opening arc is designed to force Dick to confront certain things. Going forward, that idea is going to continue, but more in the way that Dick is actively looking to embrace these things rather than move past them.
On the topic of avoidance, in issue #4, Batgirl arrives. She and Dick sort of avoid the elephant in the room of their past relationship, trying instead to be buddy-buddy. How did you approach writing Barbara Gordon, and is she a character who will be playing a big role in “Nightwing?”
I think she’s definitely going to have a place in the book, although it’s not something I’m focusing on too much at this point because “Nightwing” and “Batgirl” are in a place where Gail and I are both still re-establishing the characters — Barbara is a superhero again, and Dick is Nightwing.
As far as my approach to Barbara, I was taking a cue from where Gail left things between them in “Batgirl.” Dick and Barbara are very close. They’ll always be close. At the end of “Batgirl” #3, it’s clear that she wants to be alone, although I didn’t think it was farfetched that she might feel bad about the way they leave things — which brings us to “Nightwing” #4. I tried not to overanalyze their dynamic too much — things between them are different, but they’re still close.
After doing an arc so focused on Dick and his past, where do you go next? What sort of things are you exploring in the second arc once the Haly’s Circus story wraps up?
Well, these seven issues are clearly an arc. However, the revelations coming up are very large and very impactful. When you get to the end of issue #7, there are a lot more questions then there are answers, and that’s going to be driving things as we go forward. Issues #8 and #9 are part of the “Night Of The Owls” crossover. You don’t have to have to read “Batman” in order to enjoy them, although you’ll enjoy them much more if you are. Issues #8 and #9 are structured in such a way that they’re natural connections from the first arc of “Nightwing,” but they also play into the larger story that’s happening in Gotham as well.
Coming out of #8 and #9, Dick is going to be in a place where he’ll be looking at the way he and Bruce operate in the city, perhaps even questioning some things. Dick’s methods may change a little bit as his role in Gotham changes as well. I’m calling this next big arc, which happens after the Owl crossover, “The Prince Of Gotham,” and my goal is to elevate both Dick Grayson and Nightwing in the city. I’ve said this in other interviews, but to me Batman will always be a symbol of fear to criminals whereas Nightwing can be something more. I’m going to be exploring what that means and what his place within both the superhero community and the civilian community is.
Both you and Scott have been saying that the plan was to have characters cross over between your books — was that always going to be the “Night Of The Owls?”
Yeah, I’ve known what Scott has been planning for over a year now. He first pitched me the Owl story when I was writing the Nightrunner backups and had just started at DC. With that in mind, I structured “Nightwing” in a very specific way that ties into those plans. Scott has a great affinity for Dick Grayson, having written him for a year in “Detective,” so it’s all been quite natural. I don’t want anyone to think this was just thrown together; this was very meticulously put together and planned out. I’m very excited to see what people think by the end of issue #7!
Coming out of this first arc, have there been any characters that surprised you or you really enjoyed writing and you’re going to keep around or bring back?
There’s a character in the circus named Jimmy the Clown who initially started as a one-off gag. I always wondered what it would be like to be a clown, having to perform in Gotham, in the shadow of the Joker. [Laughs] He’s actually developed into someone rather interesting, as he’s the spotlight character in issue #5. He’s been a lot of fun. The circus itself and the cast isn’t super-prominent at this point because we’re dealing with the mystery that Dick’s trying to uncover as well as different superhero adventures he’s tackling while on the road. But Haly’s does have a place in Dick Grayson’s future, as well as the book’s future. It’s going to be much different from what it is now. There’s going to be both a practical need for the circus as well as a thematic need. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play with some of the other characters I’ve started to develop in the background or in my notes but actually haven’t done much with them yet.
As a writer, what are you looking most forward to in exploring in “Nightwing” or in the big Owls crossover?
I’m really looking forward to exploring Dick Grayson’s place in the city. Even though he decided to settle down in Gotham at the end of Scott’s “Detective” run, he’s been on the road with Haly’s these last six months of “Nightwing.” Now, as he comes back to the city, I’m really looking forward to developing his place in it. He’s going to be taking a bit more of a systematic approach to crime fighting, focusing on a specific area of the city at a time. First up is Old Gotham, which in my mind is the soul of the city. As a nod to anyone who read “Gates Of Gotham,” this is the area where the old Wayne Tower was built — which is also the tower in “Batman” #2 that Bruce falls out of. Old Gotham is a slum now, arguably the worst part of the city, and with its historic significance, [it’s] the perfect place to start.
Finally, you’re working with Eddy Barrows, and while his Nightwing is acrobatic, he also puts him in a lot of strength poses and makes him a bit bigger than artists have in the past. What’s it been like working with Eddy and what do you like best about his approach to “Nightwing?”
The relationship has been fantastic. We’re into issue #7, and at this point Eddy and I talk online almost every day– he doesn’t speak very good English, and I speak zero Portuguese, but somehow we manage to get our ideas across. [Laughs] The book has really started to open up. Even with a lot of the “strength” poses you mention, the page layouts are so dynamic that there’s no loss of energy. To that point, issue #5 is a fantastic example — it’s absolutely gorgeous and by far my favorite thing I’ve seen Eddy do, and with Ruy Jose and Eber Ferreira inking and Rod Reis on colors it’s amazing.
I’m looking forward to seeing what he does during the Owl crossover because I certainly wrote some very challenging sequences that I really push him on. I think it’s going to be very exciting.
“Nightwing” issue #6 hits stores February 15.