THE BAT SIGNAL: Fabian Nicieza

Come this October, Bruce Wayne walks the road home back to Gotham City and the present day after a well documented trip through time. But before DC Comics' Dark Knight can walk that path, someone needed to lay down the bricks. Enter writer Fabian Nicieza, a man extremely familiar with putting together and participating in major comic book events.

"Bruce Wayne - The Road Home" consists of eight self-contained, but interconnected one-shots written by various creative teams and each highlighting a major player in Batman's life and their reaction to his return to the modern day DC Universe. Well known in the comic community for his involvement in countless Marvel Comics events throughout the '90s, Nicieza not only wrote three of "The Road Home" issues, but also handled the herculean task of mapping out and laying the groundwork of the October event - all in conjunction with his current stint authoring the ongoing series "Red Robin."

Despite his workload, Nicieza donned his figurative cape and cowl and quickly responded to CBR's ongoing weekly feature THE BAT SIGNAL. Below, the writer talks about his building plans for "The Road Home," giving the details on Vicki Vale's quest to unmask the Caped Crusader, what the future holds for the entire Bat-family and where exactly reporters rank on the ladder of evil.

CBR News: Fabian, from what we understand thus far about these "Road Home" titles, they seem to be one-shots exploring Bruce's return and the impact that has on the lives of the characters - is that accurate?

Fabian Nicieza: Yes, but it's more than that, too. The way it's working out is that it's a continuing story told in self-contained single issues. There is an absolute running through line in the books. There's two running through lines, really. One of which is Bruce Wayne's return and how he is evaluating the current status quo of the individual characters that are involved in the one-shots, as well as gauging the role those characters may or may not play in his larger plans, which is "Batman, Inc." The majority of the characters he is evaluating don't even know that he's returned. Some of them find out during the course of their individual one-shots; some of them don't learn yet at all. It depended on how each individual story worked out, and that's part of the self-contained aspect of the issues. Each issue has its own story to tell that's part of what these characters do during their evaluations.

The second running through line in all the books - which is actually picking up cleanly off a running subplot that's been going on in the Bat-family for a year now - is Vicki Vale's knowledge of the secret identities of Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. She has knowledge of this, but she doesn't technically have proof. She can't print a story until she has proof, so she's trying to find proof. That running subplot is picked up on to a lesser or a greater extent in the individual one-shots. By the later chapters in the event, it takes on a greater focus.

That's very interesting, because it's pretty different than what readers would originally expect upon first glance at all this.

[Laughs] Yes, it is, but we hope different in a good way. It evolved from the Bat-family editors talking to me about helping to structure the October event and trying to find a way to make the individual issues provide readers with a complete story, but the readers who read all of them are going to get a bigger picture, a bigger overall story and resolutions to subplots that have been running in different books.

Every writer had to handle their individual issues with different approaches. I'm the writer of "Red Robin," so I could treat it as if it were an insert into my monthly flow. Bryan [Q. Miller] is the writer of "Batgirl" and he used the issue to do a fantastic job cementing Stephanie Brown's place in the Bat-family and the reason she has the mantle now. In essence, we really wanted to have our cake and eat it, too. It's not an easy thing to do, and everyone involved, Bryan, Marc Andreyko, Mike Barr, Derek Fridolfs and Adam Beechen, have really worked hard in a tight time frame to find the right way to tell their stories and still make them part of the bigger whole.

If you look at the titles coming out, you're writing three of them. From what you said, DC came to you to design the whole thing, so your involvement in this is actually pretty sizable.

Mike and Janelle talked to me about working with them to use existing on-going events in the Bat-family to flow into a logical course for Bruce to take upon his return that would, hopefully, smoothly flow into, but not interfere with, Grant's "Batman, Inc." launch. I knew how my Red Robin plans comfortably worked into Grant's plans, and I knew the Vicki Vale subplot was sort of simmering, so we realized there were definite ways to make it all work. In addition, because Peter Milligan was unable to write Batman #703 on his schedule, Mike had offered that issue if I wanted to use it to help set-up or introduce Batman's larger readership to the planned storyline. Of course, I said, yes. Not just because I could use the issue to introduce the Vicki Vale sub-plot, but because "Batman" is the flagship title and I get my damn name in an actual issue of the comic, which, for a kid who came to America and whose first memories being here are watching the original 60's TV show, is a pretty damned phenomenal treat.

Originally, I was only going to write one of the one-shots, two at most, but I lobbied to be able to write "Red Robin." Mike wanted me to write the first "chapter" and the last one, which were the "Batman and Robin" and "Ra's al Ghul" one-shots, but I really whined a lot that I didn't really want anyone else writing the "Red Robin." I even tried to see if Chris Yost had a free minute so we could co-write it. I was trying to get my fingers into that one, no matter what. I understand that having me write three of them is more than most readers, retailers and DC sales guys would prefer, but the only other option would have involved whoever else was chosen to write "Red Robin" dying in a tragic brake-line cutting accident before they could have finished their script. So, lots of whining, maybe an implied threat to the life of an innocent writer and several compromising pictures later, Mike acquiesced and let me write "Red Robin."

Well, I want to break it down myself and talk about each of the titles you wrote, beginning with "Batman & Robin," which as you mention, starts the whole event. What can you say about Bruce's reaction to Damian being Robin and his thoughts on how Dick has been shepherding him?

Without giving too much away, Bruce's narrative in the story is about him coming to a sense of conclusion about how he feels about watching them in action. I don't want to give too much away about how he feels, because that's the emotional flow of the story, but I can say that you can imagine he might feel tremendous pride at what Dick has been able to accomplish, and possibly even a little bit of insecurity or jealousy that maybe it's been done far more easily than Bruce expected.

Looking at that issue, there's three generations of Batmen - Bruce, Dick and according to Grant Morrison's issues of "Batman," Damian as well. From your perspective, how does that influence your approach to writing them and their eventually carrying on of the Batman name?

I don't speculate about Grant's future stories. I think they're fun stories when he writes them and they're interesting, but I have plenty of experience with future stories that become a benchmark everyone expects you to aspire towards or an anchor that weighs franchises down. The truth of the matter is, when I write these characters, never once do I think about Damian being Batman, because continuity-wise, it would never happen in my lifetime. It would be so far in the future that I'd be dead, so as a writer, it seems pretty moot to me. I approach Damian as who he is now: longing to be Robin.

As far as Dick is concerned, he's my favorite character in comics and has been since I was about six or seven years old. I'm the wrong guy to ask, because in my opinion he should be the leader of the free DC Universe. The fact that he was able to assume the role of Batman - although he wasn't necessarily thrilled about it - and comfortably make it his own so quickly is a testament to the character. It's enjoyable for me as a reader to see other writers get it and have him smoothly assuming a leadership role in the Justice League with all the other characters accepting it, or to see writers understand how he would interact with Commissioner Gordon and handle Gotham City cops in a way that is so different than how Bruce does it. The writers who understand Dick Grayson, and I honestly don't think there are that many of us, have clearly had fun writing him, but they've enabled a whole lot of readers who didn't understand the character to see him shine in a new light.

Shifting over to the one-shot you demanded, "Red Robin" - Tim originally was off on his own for a while. Now, he's back in Gotham working with Dick and Damian and seems very happy and comfortable in his role of Red Robin. What does Bruce's return mean to Tim and how does it change his current situation?

I had already been doing things with Tim that very, very smartly - or luckily - end up dovetailing into plans that Grant has with Batman about how he is going to structure things. To me, Bruce would look at what Tim is doing and say, "You know, those are really good ideas. I'm going to steal some of them and use them myself." [Laughs] In essence, Tim is almost doing a more ambitious, long term adjunct to the things Bruce wants to do, which is expand the web through which they ensnare crime. That's exactly what Tim's been moving towards for the last couple years.

You joked that Bruce sort of looks at Tim's plans and goes, "That's a great idea and it's mine now." But if you look at Tim - I don't want to say he's the smartest Robin, but he's certainly the most detective-based. He's the one that actually deduced that Bruce Wayne is Batman. So, it makes sense for the character to come up with something similar to what Bruce wants to do.

Yeah. The way I approach Tim when I write him is that he's much smarter as a kid than I am or our readers are as adults, much less when we were 18 or 17 years old. One of the very few complaints I've read about my take on the character is that sometimes he comes across as a little too smug or arrogant. I plead mea culpa. Yes, he does sometimes, because sometimes his 17-year-old maturity and experience is incapable of masking his thinking that operates on a level deeper and beyond what the average person thinks. Very few people try to control the dominoes the way he does and have them fall the way he wants them to fall. The beauty of that is that his plans work out all the time, but they don't always work perfectly. There're little touches you've seen, from the unexpected deaths of Anarky's siblings to stuff in the coming months, where these elaborate plans look really cool when they come to fruition and make him look like hot poop, but then a few months later, some of those things didn't work quite that perfectly.

The final issue you're writing, and the one that wraps up the event, is "Ra's al Ghul." What can you say about this issue and how it ties into both Bruce's return and the Vicki Vale storyline?

The only thing I'll say about "Ra's al Ghul" is that he knows Bruce is back and he'll be damned if he's going to allow a reporter - of all things - who is third from the bottom rung of human evolution after lawyers and oil executives - to spoil the return of his greatest challenge. So, that's the gist of that story. It's almost about the symbiotic nature that he has with Bruce. In every time period of his long, long life, he has needed someone who can challenge him. In this time period, at this point in his immortal life, Bruce Wayne has been it. It's almost about his joy at having him back and his refusal of having something as plebian as a reporter revealing his secret identity spoil that for him.

Well, now that you've sufficiently destroyed my self esteem with that reporter comment, this interview is over! [Laughs]

Hey, I did make you third from the bottom. [Laughs]

Fair enough! Well, to actually close out the interview, looking beyond these one-shots and looking at these characters, what can you reveal about what the future holds for these guys?

I cannot speak to that at all. What Grant has done very, very well in the few years that I've been dabbling in the Bat-family is that he comes down from the mountain with a tablet, and 99.9 percent of the time he has something so interesting that you want to jump into it and become involved in it. His ideas are so unexpected, but at the same time so organic and pure and true to the character, the truth is that although you don't have to tie into what he has planned if you choose not to, what is happening is so cool that you want to. It's very, very hard for monthly books to always tie into each other, because then it becomes a tangled knot. What you really want is that everyone has a solid foundation of what the destination is. It's almost like railroad tracks. At some point, multiple railroad tracks converge on one station. If you follow those multiple railroad tracks from all different parts, if you look down and see those tracks from high in the sky, each one of those tracks can be an individual comic book title on their own path, but there are points along the way where some of those tracks intersect and there are central meeting points where all those tracks come in. That's how Grant's ideas allow us to intersect, but still leave the station on our own path.

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