REFLECTIONS #225: Chuck Dixon

I think that somewhere mathematicians are trying to figure out the formula for how to write the perfect comic book; how to perfectly mix deft characterization that turns characters into people with crackerjack action that makes your tongue wag and eyes go "wow!"

I really doubt they'll ever figure it out, because Chuck Dixon already knows the formula and I don't think he's telling.

As much fun as it is to see a comic book literally overflowing with dialogue and character interaction, it gets old. And as much fun as it is to see entire issues with barely a word spoken and just action sequence after action sequence, it gets old too. And, much as I hate to say it, most of the comics on the stands right now are either one or the other. There seems to be no middle ground, which sucks, because comics that mix the two approaches seamlessly tend to be the most entertaining.

That's what Chuck Dixon does best, and that's why he made such a huge imprint on DC Comics' Batman family of titles during the 11 years he worked on them, and why he is still considered the definitive "Nightwing" and "Robin" writer.

In 2008, Dixon is coming home to "Robin."

Robert Taylor: Now I'm trying to remain as calm as possible, but that's difficult with the news that you are on "Robin!" The Bat-books have missed you so since you were gone, have you missed them as well?

Chuck Dixon: Honestly, I think I needed the break.

I went hard at the Batman universe for 11 years. That's longer than Jack Kirby was on "Fantastic Four." I think I knew when to leave before the stuff started getting tired. Now I'm re-charged and ready to charge the net again.

RT: How do you feel about the state of the Batman books right now, with Batman getting another son, Catwoman getting a daughter and Gordon a Commissioner again?

CD: Those changes aren't as radical as the ones when I was on board. We retired Batman, replaced him, killed most of Gotham with a plague, knocked the whole place down with an earthquake and turned it into a "Road Warrior"-style wasteland. The addition of a couple of rugrats doesn't seem so momentous.

But I love the idea of Jim Gordon back in place.

RT: Robin has had his own problems to deal with, too. He lost two best friends, as well as Stephanie Brown and his father. Ouch. How much do you plan to incorporate those plot developments into your run?

CD: Obviously, Tim is still hurting. Grief is a process. Sometimes a very long process.

In the first arc, Tim deals with this loss in a way that will floor Robin fans. I'm not given to hyperbole but this is big.

RT: Tim also got adopted by Bruce. Yay! What do you plan to do with the new family dynamic?

CD: Tim's going to have to get used to this arrangement more than Bruce. I plan on making some changes to Tim's living arrangements.

The best part of the adoption is that it makes it far easier for Tim and Alfred to interact and I always look forward to those scenes. Alfred is a great character and I think he and Tim have the best exchanges.

The only complication the adoption presents to me is actually the removal of a complication. All of Tim's secret identity problems are solved by his dad's death. He is answerable to no parental authority other than Bruce and Bruce knows his secret and is complicit with it.

So, I'm going to stir things up and make sure things aren't so easy for Tim in the area of keeping his Robin persona hidden from prying eyes.

RT: Now I know you aren't the kind of guy to keep reading a book after you've left it. Have you picked up any of the issues of the writers who followed you? I felt Adam Beechen in particular did a standout job on the title.

CD: I don't make it a habit to critique other freelancers.

That said, I think Bill Willingham was having fun and that's what it's about. And Adam Beechen understood the tone of the book and introduced some very cool elements. He also had the unenviable task of dealing with some very tangled continuity threads left over from multiple crossovers.

RT: What story threads do you plan to keep playing with from those guys?

CD: Don't look for me to turn everything on its head. This book isn't about me. It's about Robin.

A sense of continuity is more important than "there's a new sheriff in town." I like how Adam made Robin's relationship with the [Gotham City Police Department] more strained and complicated. I'm going to build on that. The "teen romance" angles in the book work fine for right now. I'll only change them as we go on because these things change. Tim's life never has a status quo and I'm going to shake up his private life with some story twists.

Sorry to be so vague but, y'know, I've scripted four issues but I can't really be specific about anything.

RT: How do you think Tim has most changed since you last wrote him?

CD: Essentially, he's the same. But the different losses and tragedies in his life have made him a bit more unforgiving to the bad guys he runs up against.

RT: I know you mostly go into your books planning to stick with them for the foreseeable future, but most creators go into DC books these days with a set run planned. Are you on for a set number of issues or arcs, or is it open-ended?

CD: Till the wheels come off, Robert.

RT: That statement couldn't have made me happier, Chuck. You can't see me, but I'm doing a jig right now in celebration.

What have you most missed about the book? And how differently are you approaching this book now, a few years later?

CD: I missed the cast of characters. I really did love this book and worked hard to justify the Boy Wonder having his own monthly.

I'm not going to do anything different just for the sake of change. But I am amping the book up with denser sub-plots that play out and resolve over more issues than my previous run. It'll be more the way I paced and plotted "Nightwing" when I was on it. I want to make each issue more of a breath-taker than the last. DC editorial has given me the story-telling tools to make this work.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I'm going to prove them wrong. This is no nostalgia tour for me. I'm attacking this series fresh as though I've never written it before.

But longtime fans don't need to worry. I'm very aware of what made this book work and will bring more of that on.

RT: Are any of those major big plans you had for "Robin" #100 that never happened because of your signing with CrossGen going to pop up again?

CD: Not really. The time has past for them, continuity-wise. But I have stronger storylines to replace those; stuff of the "rock the house" variety. The folks at DC have been very generous with some heavy continuity artillery. They're letting me have a major surprise to deal with on my own that they were originally planning as the spine of a major crossover. But I'm carrying it on my own in the pages of "Robin." It's the 180-degree reversal of the position I was in when I left for CrossGen in '01.

RT: I love you for teasing it, and yet hate you because I want to know now!

What characters, both new and old, might be popping up soon?

CD: Can't give anything away this early.

RT: Not even a hint?

CD: We'll see some old friends again. One will make "Robin" fans happy. The other will knock them out of their chairs. I'm expanding the supporting cast and incorporating them more into the book. They're a big part of what made "Robin" a fun book to read.

And I have some new characters as well. Robin's police contact will change and not for the better.

RT: Any hints as to what villains are going to be showing up?

CD: Couple of classic villains. I've already made it plain on my Website that Condiment King will be making a memorable appearance.

In the first pages of my first issue, we'll meet a new character that will be an adversary for Robin, if not a true villain.

RT: Tell us about working with Freddie Williams.

CD: Actually, they're making an art change starting with my first issue.

RT: Aww, shucks. Can you tell us who it is?

CD: I'm not at liberty to reveal who that is. I was looking forward to working with Freddie. But his replacement is dynamite.

RT: What about new Bat-editor Mike Marts?

CD: He's my kind of editor. He's very experienced in this business and has had a long and varied career in comics. He's very quickly settling in on everything Batman.

For a freelancer, the most important aspect the relationship with an editor is faith. And Mike shows a lot of faith in me and has equally encouraged and challenged me to come back on this book and produce some quality comics.

My immediate contact on "Robin" is Jeanine Schaefer. She's been a lot of fun to work with. Most editors call you with problems (usually on a Friday afternoon to ruin your weekend) but some, rare, editors call you with problems and possible solutions. Jeanine's one of these. She's also an avid "Robin" fan and counts it as her favorite book. So I have to make her happy first and foremost. She's gonna keep me honest on this book.

RT: On your message boards, you've been teasing another ongoing monthly title you are going to be taking over. Any new not-so-subtle hints for us?

CD: Not a one. They can't hold off the announcement very long. The book will be coming out before my "Robin" start.

RT: So, will we ever see any more "Claw" miniseries?

CD: I was hoping the trade paperback would do well enough to beg for a sequel.

It didn't.

But I think it was marketing. DC has entered into a new partnership with Random House to sell to the book and library market. I'm hoping they see the "sleeper" hit that "Claw" could be. With "Conan" doing so well for Dark Horse in this market, there's plenty of room for other sword and sorcery stuff.

RT: What would have happened had the series continued? I'm dying to find out!

CD: Things would have gotten worse.

RT: What else do you have coming up?

CD: Not much I can talk about! [laughs]

I'm still doing lots of "The Simpsons" work for Bongo. I met with Hyperion about continuing "El Cazador" as a series of trades. The first volume comes out next month.

RT: That news is more amazing than anything I have heard all month. I'm so excited, I'm doing that jig again.

Ready for the lightning round?

CD: We'll find out.

RT: What was your first comic book?

CD: The first comic I clearly remember is an issue of "Tales of Suspense." It was when that title was pre-superhero and featured Big Monsters. The title featured what looked like a huge, angry vanilla pudding named Sporr!

RT: Favorite comic of all time?

CD: " Fantastic Four" #5. Doctor Doom is introduced and we get pirates!

RT: What comics can you never miss?

CD: That changes a lot. Right now it's a massive 240 page annual album of "Tex," an Italian western comic.

RT: If you could only write one comic for the rest of your career, what would it be?

CD: " The Punisher."

RT: Who would be drawing?

CD: Ow! A rotating team of Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, Wally Wood and John Buscema. We are fantasizing here, right?

RT: So you are writing a yearlong weekly comic book series with three other choice writers. Who would they be?

CD: Beau Smith, Scott Beatty, Ty Templeton and Larry Hama.

RT: What's your biggest strength as a writer?

CD: I keep things moving. Plots don't scare me.

RT: Biggest weakness?

CD: I just care too much!

RT: What advice do you have for aspiring comics writers?

CD: Get a job in any other field of entertainment first.

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

CD: " Spider-Man 2."

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience? Here's hoping I'm not in it.

CD: A scary fan at a New York con who knew more about me than Hannibal Lecter knew about Clarice Starling. He even made a comment about my expensive handbag and cheap shoes!

RT: If you could only be remembered for one thing in your career, what would it be?

CD: No book of mine ever shipped late.


Now discuss this story in CBR's Batman forum.

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