Dick Grayson, the DC Comics superhero known as Nightwing, has always been ready and willing to step out from under the shadow of his Dark Knight mentor. And now in the wake of the relationship-shattering “Death of the Family” event, the hero is going solo in an all new way.
This week, “Nightwing” #17 hits comic shops and marks a change in direction for the book in more ways than one. Series penciler Eddy Barrows has taken his leave of the comic after the crossover event wrapped last month, and following a two-issue stint by Juan Jose Ryp, new ongoing artist Brett Booth joins the book with #19. To match the stylistic change, “Nightwing” writer Kyle Higgins has worked behind the scenes to give Dick’s story a whole new direction.
With all these changes in store, CBR News invited Higgins to swing by THE BAT SIGNAL — our regular discussion on Batman and his allies — for a chat on making Nightwing’s life all-new. Below, the writer describes his plans for the two-part story of #17 and #18 which wraps Dick’s days in Gotham, why that story will set up mysteries that drive the hero to Chicago, what unheroic history the Windy City holds in the DCU and how romance will continue to make a mess of Nightwing’s life from the dangerous Ursa Major to Sonia Zucco, daughter of the man who killed his parents.
CBR News: Kyle, with “Death of the Family” having just wrapped, I get the feeling that the crossover will have a big impact on where “Nightwing” goes from here. Off the page, we’re about to see new artist Brett Booth join the book after a few guest spots by Juan Jose Ryp. On the page, the Joker story really hit Dick hard in terms of his circus family and Gotham City in general — two big parts of the story to date. Were you looking to use the crossover to turn the page from some of those storylines?
Kyle Higgins: That was actually a big conversation I had with my editor, Brian Cunningham, as we were getting ready for the event. We’d just finished issue #0, and Tom DeFalco came on to write #13 and 14, so we basically had a chance to take a look at the book and where we could go coming out of “Death of the Family.” We had a dialogue about what my thoughts on the series were and where I was planning to take it, and Brian weighed in with his thoughts on where the series could go. We made the decision to definitely use “Death of the Family” as a springboard for a new direction essentially.
We also knew that Eddy was leaving the book and that Brett was going to be coming on. So it made sense from a logistical standpoint as well as a story standpoint with what Joker was throwing out at Dick that there was an opportunity to steer the book in a certain direction. So we are taking Dick out of Gotham. He’s moving to Chicago, and it’s so cool. Brett and I are building a whole mythology around that city. The idea is that there used to be masks in Chicago, but there aren’t anymore. There haven’t been any in several years because they’re all dead. So there’s this whole world-building aspect of the city being afraid of masks and not wanting them there. When Nightwing shows up, he’s moving to a town that doesn’t want him. And what happened to the former masks and how they died are all questions Nightwing will be faced with. However, none of those mysteries are the reasons he’s moving to Chicago. For that, you’ll have to read issues #17 and #18. There is a very specific reason for him to leave.
One of the things that’s been building up in the book are some romantic subplots, and you also wrote a Nightwing story for the recent “Young Romance” anthology. That felt like the rare anthology where all the stories were written by the regular series writers to play directly into their own books. You introduced this possible love interest called Ursa Major who left Dick high and dry. Will that be coming back around sooner or later?
Yeah. DC asked me to do an eight-page story for the anthology, and their idea to begin with was to do something with… not a happy ending. [Laughs] It was something revolving around an unrequited love or a missed connection. So I developed this character Ursa Major who’s described in the story as being in the protection industry. There’s a whole back story I have for her where if Nightwing and her cross paths again, it’ll make sense why she didn’t show up [at the end of the short story]. So I have a plan for her, though I’m not sure when I’ll bring her back into the series. I know very little about her made it into the eight-page story, but as I’ve developed who she is, I’ve come to like her quite a bit.
On the other side of the coin, one person we know will continue in the book is Sonia Zucco whom Dick has a whole separate set of issues with. As you’ve been wrapping up other stories from Dick’s past with the circus, what made you want to keep her around a little longer?
Well, there’s a conversation that she has with Dick in issue #18 where we get into some of her upbringing and what it was like with Tony Zucco before he died and before he went on the run. Her upbringing kind of mirrored Dick Grayson’s in a certain way in that she went into the foster care system, but unlike Dick who had Bruce come and look out for him, Sonia never had that. And being an only child in the system, she bounced around from home to home. The aspect I liked about her is that who she is now is a product of the same tragedy that Dick is a product of. But it affected her in a very different way than it did Dick. That’s what the story is really about in issues #17 and 18 — showing Dick dealing with the fallout of “Death of the Family” while Sonia starts to recognize some of the qualities in herself in the way Dick deals with that fallout. It’s not necessarily the way you’d expect Dick Grayson to deal with these things. That may bring them closer together, or it may push them apart. But that aspect of them being linked in who they are now by the fact that her father killed Dick’s parents I think is very fascinating.
And as far as the romantic angle of it, we’ll see. If Dick can get past who her father was, that’s the perfect embodiment of him being able to move forward and not dwell on the past.
One of the big themes in the book early on was about Dick coming home to Gotham and how he deals with that. As he’s moving towards Chicago, what is the newer idea you’ll be playing with in the series?
I can’t talk about that too much because the reason he’s going to Chicago is so specific. To get into it would spoil why he’s going there and the mystery he’s heading to investigate.
Well, another aspect we have seen some of is new characters coming that Brett will be designing. On the cover to #20, there’s an electric villain of sorts that makes an appearance. I know Brett does a lot of pre-design work on characters like that. What’s the collaboration been like?
Brett actually did some designs for Nightwing while Eddy was still on the book. He’s got a great sense for it — a great style and feel for design. So that makes it a lot of fun to work on this idea of a city that used to have heroes and villains and masks. It allows us plenty of opportunities to create new characters. We’ve been having a lot of fun as we’ve been able to show a lot of the old Chicago characters in flashback — who they were, what they looked like and what they were called. Brett and I talk a lot about this. He’ll have an idea, and I’ll work it into the script. We just had a discussion the other day about one of his ideas that deals with the color pallet of Chicago and why it would be this one color you’ll see going forward. It was a very specific overtone, and we came up with a great story reason for it that I really dig.
The whole process has been a true collaboration in every sense of the word, and we’ve been working on this new direction for a long time. It’s really cool to see it starting to take shape. The first issue of this run will be out in April a few days before C2E2. It’s an exciting time for me on the book, and I’m feeling very reenergized by it, and I hope people will check it out. Coming out of “Death of the Family,” I hope it will help Dick spread his wings.
“Nightwing” #17 is on sale today from DC Comics.