THE BAT SIGNAL: Fabian Nicieza

The Seven Days of Death are sweeping through the streets of Gotham City, and Fabian Nicieza is the culprit.

The writer's latest arc for DC Comics' "Red Robin" brings to life a deadly underground tournament that sees the Wayne family and friends as its targets. Hinted at for months within the pages of Tim Drake's solo title, the story kicks off its bloody beginning in May's "Red Robin" #23.

While Tim Drake has been through a lot since Nicieza's arrival on the series, from the attentions of Ra's al Ghul to the uncontrollable dangers of the Unternet, the writer isn't pulling any punches as the teenaged crusader walks the line between being a hero and being a criminal himself. In the midst of this madness, THE BAT SIGNAL shines its light on the veteran Nicieza as he teases readers with what they can expect from Red Robin's "Seven Days of Death."

CBR News: "Red Robin" #23 is the first chapter of "Seven Days of Death." What can you tell us about both the tournament and story arc? 

Fabian Nicieza: I introduced the idea of the tournament during the "Red Robin: Road Home" issue. The basic idea was to create a mystery that frustrates Tim because of its seemingly random nature, it's international scope and appeal to the thrill-seeking nature of many assassins as well as their sense of greed, which means it will draw a lot of killers out of the woodwork. But the most frustrating part, as we'll see, is growing evidence that this tournament has possibly been going on for a very long time -- and it had escaped the notice of the Bat-family. I like putting Tim in situations that challenge his need for control, letting the bad guys know more than he does.

From your one-shot on, Tim Drake as Red Robin has mainly faced off against assassins and mercenaries. Is this a trend you plan on continuing after the "Seven Days" arc? 

I hadn't even thought of it that way, to tell you the truth. I don't think of Lynx, Anarky, a corrupt billionaire like Viktor Mikalek, the Unternet, Calculator or the Mad Men as either assassins or mercenaries, per se. I think its kind of splitting hairs when you narrow down what kinds of bad guys our good guys fight, and I really have tried to have a bit of balance.

Fair enough! As you point out, you have pulled a lot of established Batman villains (Ra's, Calculator, the Mad Men, etc.) into Tim's life. Do you plan to introduce new characters that might serve as Red Robin's arch-nemesis?

I think turning Ulysses Armstrong into Anarky, bringing Lonnie Machlin, the original Anarky into the fold, fleshing out the new Lynx and, soon, digging a bit deeper into the assassin Scarab and her background answers a lot of those questions regarding new characters or Red Robin-specific characters. [But] "Seven Days of Death" will also feature some recently introduced characters that are also "Tim-centric."

We've seen old villains pop up -- will we see other members of the Bat family swing in to help Tim during "Seven Days?" 

Yes, we'll see Dick Grayson in the opening chapter and we'll see Cassandra Cain in the story as well.

What role does Tam Fox play in this new arc? As her father is one of the assassination targets, is she going to take a proactive role? 

She plays the part of the grieving family member. It's a part she plays well, considering what happens in Part One.

Going back to Tim's need for control, you've said before that there's chemistry between Tam and Tim, and you flirted with that idea a little when they got "engaged." Is the relationship with Tam one of those areas where Tim is not fully in control?

Any relationship with a woman is one where Tim is never fully in control. Maybe that's one reason he doesn't have any successful ones under his belt -- then again, how many 17 years olds do? I like how Tim is so competent in so many other aspects of his life, but he is still an awkward doof when it comes to dealing with girls.

According to the solicitations, Red Robin might be breaking Scarab out of jail. First he frees Lynx from the cops, and now Scarab -- what's with Tim springing all the ladies from prison? 

Notice a pattern there? That was meant to both play on the arrogance of thinking you can make the right call by making the wrong decision and also to set up potential problems down the road between Tim and [Commissioner] Gordon.

He seems to constantly walk the line between heroism and breaking the law. Is this Machiavellian gray-area going to intensify? 

I think so. Tim enacts a plan to get inside the tournament structure that is long on technical foresight and short on emotional consideration; as with many decisions Tim makes, I think they'll hurt him long term even if he can rationalize them in the short term.

Why does he keep making these decisions? Is it simply because he's still just a teenager?

Not really because he's 17, but rather because the short term needs usually outweigh the long-term ramifications. Saving someone's life or apprehending a criminal now matters more in the big picture than hurting someone's feelings, damaging a relationship, etc.

Tim, I would think in many ways to his emotional detriment, has decided the big picture is the more important long term target, and the only way to address it properly is by handling the short term "little pictures" as expediently as possible.

Is it important to you that Tim is allowed to make these mistakes to have room to grow as a crime fighter?

Of course it is. I've been accused by some of making him "perfect," and my response is, since I started writing him in "Robin" and now "Red Robin," how many times has one of Tim's intricate plans worked out without problems, mistakes and glitches?

But more importantly, out of trying to avoid those mistakes or dealing with their consequences comes real character conflict, and that's the fun meat to monthly storytelling.  Between Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne and Jason Todd, there is an abundance of Robins and former Robins currently in Gotham. What makes Tim stand out from all the others? 

Each has their own personality, style and approach. I think what sets Tim apart is his intelligence, his planning and his "long term approach" to the problem of crime in the world. I think he also has aspects of each of the other characters in his personality, while they don't have much of his. He has the social comfort of Dick, the willingness to cheat that Jason has and even a bit of the arrogance that Damian displays.

Does Tim's Hit List come out of his "long term approach" to crime fighting?

The Hit List was just to get the ball rolling. The Neon Knights Foundation is [designed] to work legitimate channels to rehabilitate criminal youths or get to them before they become hardened criminals. His working with the Titans and forming his own covert brand of operatives like Cassandra Cain is also part of his plan to create a network of loyal, trusted agents in the field. Ultimately, the "bigger picture" I see for Tim is one I will never get the chance to display in print, since in terms of real publishing time vs. comic book fiction time, I'll never get to writing a thirty-year-old Tim, unless I'm writing Red Robin #3,450 -- which, you know, what with renumbering all the time and everything, not really likely.

Needless to say, the longer-term plan for him would be to make him King of the World!

How has it been working with "Red Robin" artist Marcus To? 

It's been great! He is a really nice guy, draws all the ridiculous things I ask him to without complaining, always tells the story in clear, concise manner. He's not a selfish artist who takes your script and turns it into pin-up shots that stroke their ego rather than service the story. He choreographs his fight scenes really well, composes the panels with foreground, middle ground and backgrounds, busts his hump drawing cityscapes and he does his work on time and on schedule.

So much to complain about, huh?

To many fans, you are still known best for writing the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. With "Red Robin," do you try to interject humor into the comic, or do you find you have to restrain yourself from putting too many jokes in Tim's mouth?

With many other fans I'm known for writing bad X-comics or comics with groups of villains in them. Why, some even know me for having edited "Barbie Comics," so there you go!

And no, it doesn't take any effort at all to write Tim in character without forcing humor out of him that's not inherent to his character. He has a dry wit, which I enjoy writing. So, in order to get stupidity and obscure cultural references out of my system, I brought in the Mad Men for this week's #21.

Maybe someone at DC will get a laugh out of it and offer me a monthly Mad Men comic where I can get all the crazy stuff clogged up inside my brain out to the public in a legal and medically safe manner. It sure would make my family happy, because without the outlet of writing "Cable & Deadpool," they've become the recipients of that insanity!

Along those lines, are there other books in the works for you, either for DC or independently? 

I've been very involved in non-comic work for years now, working on intellectual property management and development with Starlight Runner Entertainment, and now I'm also Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of a kids sports themed virtual world called FunGoPlay that is launching this year, so the time I have to do comic book work is limited.

I'm very grateful that I've been able do it for DC, and though we are talking about some other things, it's still way too early to say how it will go. I know I haven't enjoyed writing comics as much as I've enjoyed writing "Red Robin" in years, so the ideal option for me would be writing that title forever, but that being said, you never know what interesting opportunities could pop up!

"Red Robin" #21 is in stores today. Issue #23, chapter one of "Seven Days of Death," hits stores May 11

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