SDCC: DC's Upstarts Talk "Black Canary," "Midnighter" & More

Towards the end of the day on Saturday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, a group of creators relatively new to the DC universe gathered to talk about some of the publisher's most buzzed about books. Present at the panel were Lee Bermejo (writer, "We Are Robin"), Tom King (writer, "Grayson"), Steve Orlando (writer, "Midnighter"), Mark Russell (writer, "Prez"), Tim Seeley (writer, "Grayson"), Cameron Stewart (writer, "Batgirl"), Babs Tarr (artist, "Batgirl")and James Tynion IV (writer, "Constantine: The Hellblazer"). Moderator Brenden Fletcher (writer, "Black Canary," "Batgirl") kicked off the panel with a quick video presentation highlighting the "Upstart" creators' books.

"We're going to talk about new DC books and the first one is mine," said Fletcher when the presentation showed "Black Canary." "Dinah Lance was one of the supporting characters in 'Batgirl' and we didn't want to make it 'Birds of Prey' so we put her in a rock band, and this is that series. It's drawn by the incredible Annie Wu who couldn't be with us today. This is rock and roll, kung fu road trip. It's her on the road, singing songs as her day job just like Clark Kent goes to the Daily Planet... Issue #2 comes out next week." Fletcher said that issue #2 will feature Dinah showing her human band mates the super hero ropes. "The first few issues will focus on what this band is and how they can stay together," said Fletcher. "In issues #4 and #5, someone new will take the stage and maybe this will be the next new villain for Black Canary."

The presentation moved on to "Gotham Academy" -- or, as Fletcher exclaimed when he saw the slide, "Another one of my books!" After joking accusations of this presentation being rigged, Fletcher spoke about the series. "It's essentially Hogwarts in Gotham City," said Fletcher. "What happened last month when we came out of 'Convergence,' we did a special issue with Maps and Damian Wayne. They might have butted heads or become friends, but now we're in the main story... The tag line for this issue should have been 'Poor Kyle,' hearts will be broken."

The cover for "Gotham Academy" #9 features the kids draped in the shadow of a werewolf. "There's a werewolf on campus!" said Fletcher, to a chorus of disappointed "awwwws." "Spoiler alert," said Fletcher. "It hasn't gone to press yet, we could change it to something else!"

"Moving on from my books," said Fletcher before "Batgirl" -- another book he co-write -- popped up on the presentation. Stewart spoke about issue #41, which features the new robot Batman -- Jim Gordon -- "hunting" Batgirl. "I was thinking I needed a dramatic image to trick the reader, and Batman vs. Batgirl would pique interest," said Stewart. "Commisioner Gordon is now Batman -- and he's a werewolf. The visor of the Batsuit blocks out moonlight."

Stewart noted that issue #41 was the first issue that Babs Tarr did from start to finish. "It's official, I'm in it now," said Tarr. "There's no going back! I can't get away!"

"She did an amazing job," said Stewart. "The first six issues, I was doing layouts and storyboards for because she was brand new to comics. I was training her. She's killing it."

The cover for "Batgirl" #42 shows Batgirl squaring off against the Tarr-designed Livewire. "I think if you read #41, you see that her roommate Frankie came to her rescue," said Fletcher.

"She now knows that her roommate is Batgirl and she wants to beinvolved with the superhero life," said Stewart. "She's seen a lot of people she knows get hurt and she doesn't want Frankie to be one of them."

The first non-Fletcher comic, "Prez," came up next. Writer Mark Russell discussed the series' origin, saying, "The original 'Prez' ran for four issues in 1973 and it was a response to the fact that 18 year olds just got the vote then. They imagined that hippies would take over the world and create an Aquarian age," said Russell. "The youth movement of the '60s failed, leading to the problems we have today, so I wanted to set it 20 years in the future for the first election decided by Twitter." Russell said the series' lead goes viral right when the election is happening after she deep fries part of her hair into a corndog, thus leading to her becoming the President via Twitter.

Russell also talked about his artist Ben Caldwell, saying that he comes up with "a lot of cool details" to put in the background. "I don't know how I got paired with him but I'll take it," said Russell. The second issue will feature the House of Representatives squaring off to break the electoral college tie after the general election.

"Grayson's" slide elicited some whistles from the crowd. "This is the greatest comic currently being published," joked King. "'Grayson' #9 starts the second season of 'Grayson.' The fact that you guys, this audience, gave us a chance to do such a weird and radical thing, we're grateful. This is the beginning of the second season, which is the return of the character to the DCU. We want to see him interact with the other DC characters -- and also you find out if he wears boxers or briefs."What's the answer? "He goes both ways," said King slyly. The "sexy dancing" scene from issue #9 was shown next, with Seeley saying that King posed for all of the dance moves. "I feel like I got Jim Lee in 1990," said King of working with artist Mikel Janin.

"Issue #10 is where Dick found this crystal which is actually kryptonite and he's on the run because he doesn't want to give it to his contact, which is Lex Luthor," said Seeley. "And Luthor is the one who killed him in 'Forever Evil.' Dick is supposed to do his job and meet his contact but he gets there and it's that bald, evil guy."

"Issue #12 is our big tentpole issue where Grayson comes back to Gotham and he's been gone for a long time," said King. "He went undercover and pretended he's dead, and he has to talk to Jason and Tim and Barbara after lying to them. This is the huge buildup to that moment and it's about Dick's impact on his family and their impact on him."

Orlando spoke about his book, "Midnighter," which he described as a book where "somebody gets killed with a steak." "He lives life doing what he wants, which is why people love the character. No secret identity, no qualms about it, and he's the guy that responds in the most creative way when it comes to violence. That's why I think he's unique. We stepped away from the idea that he's on a team, but what he is is still there -- the guy that does the most insane action movie stuff when he can." Orlando spoke about the artist on "Midnighter" #1, ACO, saying that he's creative and detail-oriented. "If someone's in the background, he wants to know who they are and what outfits they have in their closet even if [those outfits] never show up," said Orlando.

Past the second issue, Midnighter will fight Multiplex; "A man with infinite clones is the gift that keeps on giving for Midnighter," said Orlando. "Grayson is going to be a guest star in the book. It's them going to Russia and investigating black market vampirism. To me, Midnighter and Grayson are the best frenemies in all of comics. I could write an issue of them just talking over weird food but no one would read that except me."

Bermejo spoke about how he came up with "We Are Robin," saying that he had a Robin pitch just before the New 52 launched. "It didn't work with what was being done at the time," said Bermejo. "Last year I got a call from editor Mark Doyle and he had an idea, and those mixed with my previous concept became 'We Are Robin.' It's about what happens when the youth of Gotham City form a movement based around Robin's imagery. I'm focusing on six kids that are involved in this movement. Duke Thomas from 'Batman' is in the book, and he's our way into the story. He gets introduced at the end of the first issue to these crazy kids, who are taking justice into their own hands." Bermejo applauded his art team, complimenting Rob Haynes' layouts, Jorge Corona and Khary Randolph's art and Trish Mulvihill's colors. The following issues will reveal more of who the Robins are, with each issue "taking things up a notch." Bermejo teased that issue #3 will feature a "buttload" of Robins. Batgirl will show up in issue #4, which will be drawn by James Harvey.

Tynion spoke about "Constantine: The Hellblazer" next, the book he co-writes with Ming Doyle. "We found out at the start of the week that the first issue sold out," said Tynion. "I want to thank you guys. Obviously Constantine has been around for a long time, and we wanted to reinvigorate him with a sense of urgency that he had back when he was introduced back in 'Swamp Thing,' not in a way that's beholden to the classic stories but that feels very now and today. I love working on this book. Every page from Riley Rossmo is an absolute dream. Working with Ming Doyle has been incredible. I've co-written a lot, but Ming and I is pure co-writing; we each write half the issue. It has a playfulness because we're each bouncing off of each other."

Constantine's ghosts -- the people that died due to his influence -- are now dying. "This isn't something that should be possible," said Tynion. "John will dig into his past to find out why this is possible, and we will meet a character -- Georgiana Snow -- who I can't wait for you to meet. Riley will step away for a little bit to finish his Image series, 'Rasputin,' and while he's gone the book will be in the hands of Ming Doyle and Vanessa Del Ray."

The audience gasped big time with the reveal of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming to Gotham City. "I know it's insane that the world is kind enough to give us this," said Tynion. "I'm working with Freddie Williams on this. This is a project I'm so so so excited about. Through the machinations of Krang, the Turltes and Shredder and Foot Clan endup in Gotham City. I know, it's amazing! Basically, Batman has no idea what's happening. I remember describing how each of the turtles would respond to the Batcave, which is how I found the emotional core of this book. Both the Turtles and Batman are about family. This is a story that I really want to focus on. This is the first time these characters have interacted and I want it to be special."

Tynion then spoke about the other big DC announcement, the new Batman weekly called "Batman and Robin Eternal." "This October, it's going to launch in stores," said Tynion. "A weekly series that will run 26 issues. I'm working with an incredible team, some of which are on the stage here, like Steve Orlando and Tim Seeley. Also Ed Brisson, Ed Hiccox, Nate Graft and Genevieve Valentine. We wanted to tell the quintessential Batman and Robin story. Part of it will be Dick Grayson as Robin in the past alongside Batman. This is Dick's first international mysteries, he thought it was the most harrowing case of his life but he didn't know who he was up against. He's going to stumble into a mystery that shakes the foundation of the concept of Robin. This is the series where we will bring back Cassandra Cain to the DC Universe. She's been one of my favorite characters, I came up in the era when she was front and center. Bringing her into continuity in this story in particular -- the three leads in this story are Dick Grayson and Harper Row and Cassandra Cain. It's going to take us all over the world and bring in all of the Robins. The whole Bat family."

During the Q&A session, a fan asked if Grayson's cameo in "Batman" was coordinated with King and Seeley. "The return is more about him being publicly back in Gotham," said Seeley of the characters upcoming journey in "Grayson."

"He returned to Gotham for that one mission to do that one thing, but this is him actually interacting with everyone," said King.

Another fan wanted King to clarify if Grayson is canonically bisexual, and King stammered into the microphone. "I think Grayson being a suave guy as being part of the character," said Seeley. "I don't think [him being bisexual] is part of how we handle the book."

King's history with the CIA came up next, with King saying that his previous career cannot be used to influence "Grayson." "They would kill me," said King "But seriously, some of my friends are still going through that. I did have to lie to my family and make sacrifices for missions, so I relate to Grayson. The emotional truths of it I put into every issue."

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