This week, former Nightwing Dick Grayson started his spy career with Grayson #1, and there were a few surprise guests — and a mission that has a real-world motivation, but with a superhero twist.
Co-written by Tom King and Tim Seeley with Mikel Janín on art, Grayson #1 gave readers more insight into the comic's style, as well as establishing the New 52 version of Helena Bertinelli as Grayson's partner. According to what the writers told Newsarama, her new look doesn't change her Italian heritage, and serves more as a way to distinguish her from the already-established character, Helena Wayne.
And in a surprise appearance, Midnighter (from Stormwatch) not only showed up in issue #1, but the writers told Newsarama he'll be a recurring character, as they incorporate some of Warren Ellis' work with the former WildStorm character into the DCU's spy mythology.
Readers who enjoyed issue #1 also shouldn't get to used to the way things are for Dick Grayson. According to King and Seeley, this first issue introduces the premise of the initial "season" of the comic, with Dick reporting to Batman about his undercover work for the international organization Spyral — but there are already plans for Dick Grayson's status quo to change during the comic's coming months.
The new writing team combines Seeley's extensive comics experience (including co-writing the current Batman Eternal) with King's background in the CIA as a counterterrorism operations officer as well as a writer.
In an interview filled with spoilers for Grayson #1, Newsarama talked to King and Seeley about this week's introduction of Dick Grayson, super spy, and what's coming up next for the character.
Newsarama: OK, first I have to ask about the blond wig. For those of us who saw the "Happy Batsgiving" teaser, it seems like maybe this plays off that idea? That he's blond, just as he starts off his new series?
Tom King: Dick Grayson, for this series, is a spy undercover. He's undercover as an undercover agent. And so he's going to wear a number of disguises. He's a super spy, so he's going to use all the tools a spy would use, and one of those tools is disguise. So you'll see Dick Grayson looking a lot of different ways.
Tim Seeley: Plus the blond wig, specifically, was one of those things that, when we started writing the series, we knew that the first five pages would go out as a preview, so we thought, you know, this would be a perfect opportunity to go, like, "whaaaaat??" And just have it start out with that.
He clearly came in from some other mission. To get here, he was on some other case. We kind of catch him in mid-adventure. And then eventually, he's like, I don't need this anymore, and you get to see good old former-Robin, former-Nightwing Dick Grayson in action.
Nrama: We had seen the cover with the vertigo-looking lines, and I noticed that's a theme throughout the issue.
Seeley: Yeah, the Spyral organization appeared previously in Batman Incorporated, and that was a visual decision on that, to make it feel like a '60s, sort of Jim Steranko, Agent of SHIELD sort of thing, and it also fit in great with the name Spyral.
So yeah, that was something we decided early on was going to be sort of a visual call-back to that.
And it would also work toward his new spy power, with is the Hypnos implant that allows him to temporarily confuse or hypnotize someone. And it's sort of indicated by that great, swirly, '60s, hypno sort of lines that look so great in a comic book.
It was just a great way to indicate something, and also have a very great graphic to go along with it.
King: And I also thought of it as paying tribute to some of the greatest spy and thriller movies, sort of that Saul Bass/Hitchcock design, a call back to those vertigo lines and sort of paranoia movies of the '60s, dealing with who's a good guy and who's a bad guy and the corruption — the themes of this book. So it's great to kind of echo that.
Nrama: Yeah, the art also features a lot of Dick Grayson flipping and using his acrobatic abilities. Was that also a decision you made as a creative team, to showcase Dick as an acrobat?
King: Yeah, Dick Grayson is the world's greatest acrobat. At the age of five, he was going without a net, if you look back in the comics. That's part of his skill set. It's part of what makes him the greatest spy. And we wanted that to be part of the first issue. So we have just a great panel of him showing off how the world's greatest acrobat would use his skills while falling off a train and a bridge.
Seeley: And that's the great thing about working with Mikel, is I know I can write that stuff in the script — stuff that I know I wouldn't be as good at drawing, you know? If I wrote this script for myself, I would be like, dammit, Tim, I have to draw this now! But I know I can write that for Mikel and he'll be excited to do it. And he was! I mean, he loves that sort of stuff.
The first page, where he's sort of jumping through his history — I wrote it that way, and I got it back 10 times better than I envisioned it.
This is me cutting loose with an artist who can draw way better than I can imagine it.
Nrama: Before we get into some of the revelations of this issue, first I want to address one of the main things people reacted to after that final issue of Nightwing, which was the change to the way Helena Bertinelli looks. I assume that, if her real name is Bertinelli, her heritage is still Italian, but did you want to address the fact that she's got a different skin color than she did in the pre-New 52 universe?
Seeley: She's a dark-skinned Italian woman. That's not some fantasy world thing. That's a real world thing. I'm kind of surprised people were weirded out by it.
We just thought we should take advantage of the chance to redo aspects of the character, because there's already a Helena Wayne. And we thought she looked great.
Nrama: Will we find out more about her background? Because there was a mention of the name Helena Bertinelli in the Worlds' Finest series.
King: Yeah, we have an answer for that, and yeah, she'll get a full origin story as the series progresses. We have it all plotted out. And she has such an awesome, cool origin, especially when compared to Batman and Nightwing, and the parallels between them, and the small differences, and how their parents were killed — we're going to sort of play with the themes of those origins and how they affected the characters and affect their relationship to this day.
Seeley: We want to make this character very important. We'll get to do all the cool stuff with her.
We recognize that she had a great pre-52 story that is definitely worth mining and sort of updating a little.
Nrama: The story also introduces what I assume will be some of the antagonists for the Spyral organization, and perhaps for Dick Grayson in particular. And yet they don't feel like they're really villains. You introduce another spy organization into the mix, and also Midnighter. Is that the way this series will kind of play, with Dick dealing with other organizations that are trying to beat each other?
King: Yeah, the DC Universe has a very twisted web of spy organizations, and we're going to go right into that web and break through it.
The general idea of the series is that Spyral thinks of itself as the best, the one that can manipulate the others. And as the series goes on, they're going to test their ability to do that.
Seeley: That's one thing we kind of play with, too, is that — obviously, coming from Gotham — there's a usually a pretty clear line between the bad guys and good guys. You know, Joker is totally bad, and Nightwing's totally a good guy. But in the world of espionage, that stuff gets blurred.
So it's more about people on opposite sides of a cause, or opposite sides of a case.
So yeah, in this first issue, what he's going after — which we've set up as these bio-implants that turn people into weapons – we'll see that there are other people after those, some with good intentions but bad masters and some with bad intentions. They're all racing for the same stuff.
That allows us to play with that gray morality stuff that we really wanted to mess around with as we try to do this great espionage story.
Nrama: And we'll see more of Midnighter?
Seeley: Midnigher's in issue #2, so yes!
Nrama: Is that something that's ongoing — is the Stormwatch organization coming into play here, or is this Midnighter on his own?
Seeley: No, he works for someone. He's obviously a member of Stormwatch. But we haven't seen, in the New 52, what his background is and who he works for and stuff, so we're combining some of that great old Warren Ellis stuff with some of the DC spy stuff. And I think we're coming up with a pretty cool reason to keep him around.
Nrama: At the end of the issue, we're shown that Dick is, indeed, on a mission for Batman, reporting to him. But the cliffhanger ending also reveals that this is important to the entire DCU, as Spyral searches for secret identities.
King: Yeah, absolutely. What we're trying to set up is this tension between security and privacy in a comic book world.
So what we did in Nightwing #30, and even more explicitly here, is you have a spy organization that does good things, that will take on terrorists and stops bad guys. But the spy organization has decided to seek out the secret identities of all the superheroes, and to collect those, and to use them for purposes unknown.
And Batman has sent Grayson inside this organization to find out what they're doing, how they're doing it, and why they're doing it — and possibly to disrupt the organization.
So Dick Grayson is a spy within a spy.
Nrama: This all feels like it kind of echoes real world issues, but in a comic book way.
Seeley: Yeah, we did talk about how we're going to parallel a lot of real world issues, so it made sense to me, right off the bat, we're sort of doing the DCU version of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, to a degree, but obviously putting it through a filter that's a little more action-packed and full of crazy guys in costumes.
But that's something we wanted to talk about in this story — the way the intelligence community would feel about masked power.
That would be a huge problem not only for governments, but for citizens who believe there should be disclosure.
Nrama: And these people have the organs of superheroes? Can you explain that a little, and is it the central motivation during this story arc?
Seeley: Yeah, there's this set of enhanced organs that contain the DNA of these various superheroes, and they allow the owner to sort of extrapolate who these heroes are, based on that information.
So it'll all be this sort of chase for those things, and against other organizations who are also interested in the same information. And also the power you can harness by having, you know, the DNA of Superman's heart, or the stomach that processes calories for The Flash. Like, all these super powered tools that will allow them some pretty impressive devices, should they be able to weaponize them.
King: Or Aquaman's eyes. Eyes that can see through miles of oceans.
Nrama: We talked a little about Mikel's art. What has he brought to the series?
King: To me, Mikel's style is a bit of a miracle. He can draw very tightly and very realistically — on the scale of cartoon to realistic, he almost falls on the realistic end. But unlike some realistic art, Mikel puts so much movement into his art. A lot of people lose that movement — that sense of pace and sort of thrust to the story.
His characters flow. They're not stiff. And it's just brilliant. I feel like Chris Claremont when he got Jim Lee. I think he's just going to explode and be in everyone's household after this.
Seeley: Yeah, Mikel did Justice League Dark before this, and I think he did a great job on it, but I think this is actually more of a match for what he really likes to draw and what he really excels at. He comes from architecture, so he loves to draw cities. And we're getting a chance for him to draw all these global hotspots, and running around the world. He's also really good at capturing fluidity and movement, so having a guy like Dick Grayson who's all fluidity and movement is really playing to his strengths.
I've worked with a lot of artists and I've drawn a lot of stuff, but this is definitely one of the most perfect pairings between writers, characters and art that I've seen.
Nrama: OK, so… I'm going to kind of tread lightly with this next question, but in the solicitation for this issue, and for ads we saw for Grayson #1, the tagline was, "you might think you know Nightwing, but you don't know Dick," and that got me thinking that it must be really difficult to use this character's name in the comic. Do you guys have to kind of dance around his name sometimes?
King: Yeah, and you can see in the first panel of the first page that we have, like, a few adjectives describing him, and then we put the name forward. And the fact that his name is also a pejorative adjective is a problem right on the first panel.
So we kind of wanted to acknowledge that right up front and be like….
Seeley: Get it out of the way.
King: Yeah! [Laughs.] So it's sort of a double joke that we open the whole series with, to say, yeah, we know this is here.
Nrama: Let's talk about what's coming up in September. You guys are doing the Futures End: Grayson #1 issue.
Seeley: Yep, that one's mostly Tom. It's almost 100 percent Tom.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about the issue, and what you got to play with in that Futures End future?
King: Ah, yeah, this may be one of my most favorite things I've ever written.
Basically, we get to talk about the entire history of Nightwing, Robin, and Dick Grayson in one issue, and then flash forward to sort of where that story ends.
We have great guest stars too — Batgirl makes an appearance, and Batman's in it. So the whole cast of characters is in that issue.
Nrama: We've seen the solicitations for only the first couple issues, and then the September issue. So can you describe what we'll see beyond that? Are you doing story arcs? And can you tease anything about what's coming up?
King: We're doing it season by season, and the first arc will have an ending. We've set up this plot with Dick Grayson under cover, and that plot, we have the ending in mind and plotted out.
And then there will be a new sort of mystery after that. So people don't have to worry that this is a sort of Gilligan's Island show where he "almost" gets discovered for five years. There's an end to each of these seasons, and it's going to be awesome.