Dick Grayson may be new to Chicago, but writer Kyle Higgins is far from a passerby.
In issue #19 of DC Comics’ “Nightwing,” the writer dove into the task of taking the hero to his hometown alongside new ongoing artist Brett Booth. And Higgins felt some love from local fans during the most recent C2E2 after they’d seen the start of the new status quo which included Chi Town landmarks like the Willis Tower, the L train and Wrigley Field. But beyond the surface features of the city, the story also includes a number of new twists to Nightwing’s world including the introduction of a new supporting cast and the hero’s hunt for his parent’s murderer Tony Zucco amidst a city where masked vigilantes have been outlawed.
CBR News spoke with Higgins in Chicago for THE BAT SIGNAL, our ongoing discussion of the Dark Knight’s world, and the writer explained how he and Booth set out to reinvent the series. Below, he tells how making the city feel like itself and more was central to adding a new vibe to “Nightwing,” how each of the new cast members helps expand Dick Grayson’s world and why cyber judge and jury villain the Prankster is different from anything fans have seen in Superman comics of the past.
CBR News: I feel like a premium has been placed on making Chicago feel like Chicago in this run — particularly in the scenes where Dick is riding the L train past the backs of apartment complexes and such. Did you and Brett plan a lot of this out before the run started?
Kyle Higgins: Yeah, I sent him a lot of reference. Brett and I had long conversations about how we were going to do the city, because he’s never been to Chicago. Brett lives in the middle of Texas in a trailer with like 20 dogs on 50 acres. [Laughs] To him, a city is kind of just a city. But I wanted to make sure we nail it as much as we can — the specific qualities that make Chicago unique and make Chicago “Chicago.”
This is kind of like “Chicago plus” is how we described it. If you look at New York in “Spider-Man,” no one ever addresses the fact that swinging from downtown to midtown would be impossible because there aren’t enough tall buildings. It’s kind of the same thing with our Chicago. There are extra buildings — it’s more of a glamorized, stylized version of the city. But having said that, in issue #20 there’s some stuff with the Congress Hotel and the Museum of Science and Industry, so there’s definitely callouts. I’m looking forward to those future issues coming out.
I’ve got to say, when we get to the end of issue #19 and see that Tony Zucco is working for the mayor of the city, I really wanted it to be Rahm Emanuel.
[Laughs] Well, DC doesn’t want to get sued, but the mayor we’ve got is an interesting character. You’ll get to know more about him.
I feel like there’s a tradition of fictional politicians at DC, including things like President Lex Luthor, that allow you to play with the stories.
Yeah. He’s kind of an amalgamation of a few different mayors that I’ve pulled from. His back story is pretty interesting, and once we get to it, you’ll see how he fits right into Chicago.
You’ve expanded out the supporting cast in general, from Dick’s new roommate Michael to a number of underworld figures who aren’t quite masked characters because of the law in the city. What was your overall goal in introducing these new players?
I was trying to build a world that’s inherent to Dick Grayson. Him having to live with roommates brings a little more everyman quality to the story. He doesn’t have the financial resources he used to, and I also wanted to bring a bit of a younger feel to the book. The roommate’s in his 20s. He’s scrapping for work. Even characters down to Johnny Spade and Mali who we meet here have a sense of energy about them. I wanted to make things a bit more vibrant in the supporting cast. I don’t think what we were doing in Gotham was quite as vibrant. It was a different feel and tone.
A lot of this comes down to Brett. Eddie Barrows is fantastic, and I loved working with him, but that’s definitely a different style than Brett’s stuff. Eddie’s a little darker and grittier while Brett is flashier, which fits really well for Nightwing. It’s bright. It’s energetic. It’s kinetic. I think that’s where a lot of the choices I’m making about the supporting cast and even the villains come from a place of looking at what Brett can do.
On the villain front, let’s talk about the Prankster. Unlike a lot of characters reinvented for the New 52 who maintain their traditional rivalries, this is one who’s getting rewritten from a Superman villain into a Nightwing villain. Did you look at any of his old appearances in Superman comics before doing this version?
Honestly, I didn’t. I’m not that familiar with the original Prankster. We were talking about villains to bring into Chicago — and I have some more that I’ll be bringing in in future issues — and there was a desire to do something with the Prankster up front. So my whole take on it was that we needed to reinvent him. It’s an interesting name if it started as something of a cyber criminal. The first thing I thought of when they said the name “Prankster” was, “That sounds almost like a hacker name or a message board handle.” I started spinning with that, and it turned into this amalgamation of a couple different kind of characters. His back story is also pretty cool, so I’m looking forward to getting that into the book.
But he’s completely different from the original Prankster. The hook at the end of #19 with the morality death trap is something that was a lot of fun to come up with. He’s a guy who doesn’t really consider himself a bad person. He’s just his own judge and jury, and that’s going to create quite a dynamic for Nightwing later on.
Well, and Nightwing is also a name that comes from Superman comics but was reinvented for Batman’s world. Maybe you can just keep pulling from that, and soon we’ll have a Beppo the Super Monkey in this series.
You know what? Krypto is going to be his new love interest. [Laughter]
The last big question raised by #19 is, like I said, the revelation that Tony Zucco seems to be working on the straight and narrow. What was your conception for how to play this guy different than we’ve seen in past Dick Grayson stories?
Where he’s at in his life right now is not what people are going to expect. There’s definitely a “Les Miserables” quality to him, where he’s living a life where he’s happy. There are certain components and people in his life that make him really happy. The only problem is that it’s all built on a lie. What Tony’s done over the past couple of years and the life he’s built is going to define a lot choices he’ll make going forward. You’ll see what he’s willing to do to avoid losing that life.
We get into the history of this in the next issue where Tony will talk about the last time Nightwing hunted him. He had to abandon his life and his daughter and move to Chicago. But he’s not ready to abandon this new life. That’ll be a big point of contention as Nightwing hunts him through the city. And what that all adds up to is a twist on Zucco that we’re playing with. I didn’t just want to do “Evil mobster who’s still working as an evil mobster, and he killed Dick’s parents so now Dick has to take him down.” I wanted it more complicated than that. I wanted the character to feel more complicated and morally ambiguous. When you see Tony and what he’s doing, there’s a certain part of you that roots for him because he’s got his life together. Now, here comes big bad Nightwing to tear it all down.
“Nightwing” #20 hit stores on May 15 from DC Comics.