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Willingham On His “Robin” Run And Beginning Anew With “Shadowpact”

by  in Comic News Comment
Willingham On His “Robin” Run And Beginning Anew With “Shadowpact”
Cover To “ShadowPact #1”

In December of 2003, Bill Willingham (creator of “Fables”) took over the writing reigns of “Robin.” Since that time, the boy wonder (Tim Drake) has gone through many dramatic changes: his father found out about his secret identity; he was forced to quit his role as Robin – a role which his girlfriend took over; said girlfriend dies; his father dies; and to top it all off, he leaves Gotham and moves to Blüdhaven. Not to mention, the Robin he originally replaced – Jason Todd, who died in the line of duty – recently came back to life. To say it was an interesting time to be writing the world’s most famous sidekick is something of an understatement.

At the moment, every character in the DC Comics universe is embroiled in the company-wide crossover “Infinite Crisis.” At the end of this miniseries, all of the books in the DCU will leap one year ahead time-wise (in terms of story). We’ve been told to expect new creators and new directions, and “Robin” is no exception – Adam Beechen (“Hench”) will be writing the book post-Crisis. Fans of Willingham need not fret though, you will be seeing even more of the creator in this new story universe.

Thanks to the success of Willingham’s “Day of Vengeance” miniseries (which directly led into “Infinite Crisis”), readers will have two more projects from the writer heading their way. First up is one-shot titled “Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special.” From the title, you can clearly surmise that this spins out of the original miniseries and ties into the Crisis event.

The second book from Willingham will be an ongoing series called “Shadowpact,” which also has its origins in “Day of Vengeance.” In the DOV miniseries, several magic-based characters formed a team called Shadowpact (consisting of Ragman, Blue Devil, Nightshade, Nightmaster, Enchantress, and Detective Chimp) to defeat the Spectre, who was out of control and trying to destroy all magic in the world. This new book will obviously continue the team’s adventures. And fans of Willingham are in for a special treat with this new series, because not only is Willingham writing it, he is providing the art for the book as well.

CBR News contacted writer-artist Willingham to find out how he felt about his experience writing the boy wonder, what his plans are for his new ongoing series, and how he manages to juggle all the work he has on his plate nowadays.


CBR: While writing “Robin,” the character has gone through some major changes, including his father finding out about his secret identity, the death of his father, the death of his girlfriend, and relocating to a new city. How many of these changes originated with you, and how many were given to you to explore by editors?

BW: What a nice way to put that – “…given to you to explore by editors” as opposed to, “inflicted on you against your will and better judgment,” Well done. Very diplomatic. The death of Spoiler was locked in before I was asked to take over the series, but it was my idea to let her become Robin for a short time before that. My thinking is that it would be nice to give her at least one moment of glory, accomplishment and success, before all of those horrible things that were destined to happen to her. The death of Robin’s dad was something I found out about a short time after starting the series. That really threw a giant monkey wrench into my long-range Robin plans. I’d already outlined a long subplot where Tim’s fidelity and loyalty was caught between two huge forces: Batman on one side and his own father on the other. The climax would be when Tim’s dad found out he was Robin and all hell broke loose. Once I’d learned his dad was doomed, I had a very few issues in which to squeeze a storyline I had hoped to have much more time and room to do. As a result, we got a very truncated version of what I believe would have been a powerful story. Robin’s move to Blüdhaven was also something that was hatched somewhere else. Don’t hold me to this, but I believe the notion originated in the Nightwing camp – where they wanted to move Dick Grayson back into Gotham to get more involved with Batman again – and the thinking was Robin should make himself scarce, so that Batman didn’t have too many sidekicks running around with him.

CBR: Despite all the changes the character has gone through, all of Robin’s actions seemed true to his character.

BW: How nice of you to say, but some readers might disagree with that.

CBR: How difficult was it to write a book during all the crossovers that occurred during your run (“War Games,” “Identity Crisis,” “Infinite Crisis,” etc.)?

BW: Certainly that sort of thing added to the difficulty level. When I agreed to do the book, of course I knew that his actions would have to meld into the rest of the Bat-Books (but not his appearances in Titans, which, though not out of continuity, the thinking is that the Titans book was sufficiently far removed from the Bat-Books as to be more or less safely ignored), but I didn’t realize quite how many events, decisions and changes would be handed down from above. Let’s just say it’s not the easiest thing to do to write a book where outside events have to constantly be accommodated and those outside events are constantly being altered at the last moment. Perhaps a better writer than I can successfully make long-range plans under those conditions, but I was beginning to have some problems with it.

CBR: Were you able to do everything you wanted with Robin? Or did you run out of time?

BW: I was able to do some things and was blocked, by rapidly changing events, from doing others.

CBR: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the way things will occur is that your run will end, and then Adam Beechen will take over and everything is one year later.

BW: Correct. My final issue ends just before the “One Year Later” event and Mr. Beechen’s first issue will be one year later. One item of note though is that Bill Williams (not me, despite the similarity in names) came onboard to co-write my final two issues of Robin – which will be 146 and 147, I believe. Bill is one fine writer and I thought it would be a good thing to help him get his foot in the door at DC.

Cover to “Robin #146”

CBR: So, do you feel you were able to wrap up all of your dangling plotlines in a satisfactory way? Did you plant anything that Beechen will use down the line, or should fans expect his book to be completely different?

BW: I have no idea what Mr. Beechen’s plans are. I didn’t wrap up all of the dangling plotlines simply because the nature of the “One Year Later” event is that everything specifically isn’t wrapped up in nice tidy packages before we move ahead for the year. One hopes that’s part of the mystery and excitement. But I did write a note to the new “Robin” writer (I didn’t know who he would be at the time) welcoming him aboard and detailing some of the things I left for him to determine, outlining preferences where I had them, and listing those characters I didn’t want him to continue using, because I had specific plans for them in different upcoming DC books. But I didn’t gut the series. I left plenty of supporting characters behind, under the old Boy Scout rule of always trying to leave a place better than when you found it. Actually, I left dozens of new potential Robin characters, new villains and such, for him to play with, should he decide to do so. But that’s entirely for him to determine.


CBR: “Day of Vengeance” ended on an ominous note, with lots of questions left unanswered. Was the expectation to answer these in “Infinite Crisis”? Or was it realized that a Special issue was needed during the miniseries?

BW: Some of the dangling plotlines were left because they would be addressed in the “Infinite Crisis” series. Some were left because they’d be addressed in the upcoming “Day of Vengeance – Infinite Crisis Special” issue. And some were left to be taken up again in the new ongoing “Shadowpact” series. Between all three of these projects, most of the unanswered questions should be answered, but then more questions will be raised to be dealt with at some later time. Such is the nature of serial fiction.

CBR: I know other sorcerers/magicians appear in the Special issue. Are the members of Shadowpact the main characters of this story?

BW: Not really. The Special is when the big guns of the DCU get to step up and grab the spotlight again. Though Shadowpact is certainly in it, they take more of a secondary role – but an important secondary role all the same.

CBR: Does the Special issue answer the leftover questions from the miniseries?

BW: Some. Not all. And raises more questions.

CBR: Does this book address Spectre’s fate? Or is that resolved in “Infinite Crisis”?

BW: That would be telling. You’ll just have to read the Special and see.

CBR: Does the Special end on a more definitive note than the miniseries?

BW: Yes and no. The final page presents an all new mystery that will be resolved in a book entirely out of my hands.

CBR: After the Crisis is over, you’ll be writing and doing the art on “Shadowpact.” It’s one year later in the DC Universe – what can you tell me about the landscape of magic one year later? Has it calmed down? Is it as bad as ever?

BW: Magic will be changed and continue to change. Rewriting the rules that govern one of the most powerful forces in the universe doesn’t happen overnight. One year later, some things will have settled down but some will still be in flux. Barriers that once were sound are breaking down. And lots of bad things that had been defeated in the ancient past will think that this time of upheaval is an apt time to try their evil schemes again. It will be interesting times.

CBR: Will the members of Shadowpact be the same as we saw in “Day of Vengeance”?

BW: Not entirely. Some changes will be minor. For example, if you’ve seen the first issue’s cover you’ll notice that some characters have changed their costumes and Nightshade has had time to grow out her hair a bit. Some changes won’t be quite so superficial. Blue Devil has started looking more like his old self. Nightmaster has begun finding new powers in his magic sword. Are those old powers that he’s just never fully explored before, or are these new changes brought about by the wild magic that’s loose in the world? Nightshade is going to discover new ways to use her standard powers. There are other things, but let’s keep those secret for now.

CBR: Does this new team have a specific mission (such as keeping the Spectre at bay)? Or is it a more general mission of keeping dark magic at bay?

BW: I’m not going to give away anything about the fate of the Spectre. After the first “Shadowpact” story arc, which takes place in the first three issues, the team is going to work out a very specific mission statement. Whether or not they’ll be able to adhere to it is the stuff of stories to come.

CBR: The team in “Day of Vengeance” was considered B-list in the magic universe. Is this still the case at the beginning of “Shadowpact”? Do other sorcerers/magicians take them seriously? Does the magic world know they defeated the Spectre?

BW: They were definitely B- or C-list characters before the events of the “Day of Vengeance” miniseries. Whether or not they continue to be seen that way depends on my skills as a storyteller and their public relations skills within the story. Somehow I doubt someone like the Detective Chimp will be content with keeping mum the fact that they sent Spectre running for the high hills, not once but twice.

CBR: Your current schedule consists of writing “Fables” and “Shadowpact,” in addition to doing Shadowpact’s art (unless I’m forgetting something).

BW: My ongoing commitments are writing “Fables,” co-writing the new “Jack of Fables,” in collaboration with the remarkable Matt Sturges, and both writing and drawing “Shadowpact.” In addition to that will be the odd extra miniseries of something, or special project. For example, right now I’m still in the middle of writing the new “Space Ghost” miniseries and still putting a few finishing touches on next year’s “Fables” hardback Original Graphic Novel.

CBR: What is your daily schedule like? Do you feel this is the maximum you can take on? Or are you just hitting your stride?

BW: After years of inactivity on the art front, I’m still getting back in the swing of things art-wise. However, with that as a caveat, this is more or less how my schedule goes: Every day – Monday through Friday – I get up and immediately hit the drawing table to produce one page of “Shadowpact” art. Then I take a break and then spend the rest of the afternoon working on whatever script is next in line on the deadline schedule DC provides to me every month. On weekends, I’m free to goof off or catch up on something that didn’t get done, or work on a novel I’ve foolishly agreed to do for a book publisher (not DC).

CBR: Are you inking “Shadowpact”? Or is someone else doing this?

BW: I’m inking the first issue in order to more firmly establish the “look” of the series. But beginning with the second issue, we’ll be bringing in a separate inker. As much as I would prefer to pencil and ink both, my full schedule simply won’t allow that on a regular basis and still have a hope of “Shadowpact” coming out monthly. The new inker hasn’t been chosen yet, but let me caution your readers: when I foolishly mentioned this in a recent Newsarama interview, Joey Cavalieri (the editor on “Shadowpact”) was deluged with calls about inking proposals. While I’m a rabid capitalist and applaud freelancers boldly perusing their careers of choice, I should mention that our short list of possible inkers is already in place. Trying to contact Joey or me simply won’t result in a job. By the way, I humbly apologize to Joey for unleashing that storm on him the last time. I should have realized that would be the result of saying we’d be taking on an inker, but I simply didn’t think it through. But, all things considered, better poor Joey than me.

Cover to “Robin #147”

CBR: Can you give readers any further hints about what they can expect from “Shadowpact”?

BW: Only that the readers should expect and will get the best stories I know how to write (and draw in this case). For those who’re not yet reading my books, or who’ve not yet decided to pick up “Shadowpact” when it begins, I’m inviting you right now to give it a try. For those who do currently read my books, and who do plan to pick up “Shadowpact”: Thank you. I hope we’ll continue to share interesting adventures together.

And now you can discuss this story on both CBR’s DC Universe Forum and CBR’s Batman forum.

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