New Writer Nicieza Says RED ROBIN is "The Smart One"
New Writer Nicieza On RED ROBIN
It’s been a tumultuous last few years for young Tim Drake Wayne. He’s seen both his parents die, both his best friends die, and his girlfriend die (though granted, those last 3 came back). His adoptive father was going to give him another chance of happiness, till he went crazy and died, too.
For the last year, writer Chris Yost has helped Tim establish a new identity as Red Robin. The character, and his solo book, have been all over the world, working with surprising allies, going toe-to-toe with (and holding his own against) one of Batman’s greatest foes, and oh yeah, helping prove that Bruce Wayne is really alive.
Now as Yost departs, Fabian Nicieza joins regular series artist Marcus To as the new steward of Tim Drake Wayne, Red Robin’s journey. The writer sat down to talk with us about Tim’s motivations, his place in the bat-verse (and the greater DCU), and what’s to come for the next year and beyond.
Fabian Nicieza: I think that Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis series started Tim on a direction towards very fundamental changes, which, by the nature of what he has been through, required growth, maturation and progress for the character. It was a road written by various writers across various titles, but I think the bigger picture is only now starting to become clearly defined.
When you run the litany of that Tim has gone through, it sounds more than a bit depressing, even by comic book soap opera standards! His father is killed by Captain Boomerang, followed by losing Kid Flash and Superboy, thinking his girlfriend Spoiler is dead, a year away from Gotham, his stepmother becoming a victim of Bludhaven’s destruction, Batman starting to go crazy, Batman dying, the Battle for the Cowl vs. Gatman and Tim’s unshaken belief Bruce Wayne was still alive when no one else would listen.
Now that one paragraph took place over the span of several years of publishing time, but in character-time it was a lot less. That’s quite a load to put on the shoulders of any teenager, even one as intelligent and capable as Tim Drake.
The last time I wrote him to close out the Robin series, Tim had to be in a much darker place than I prefer, but it was all part of a larger plan and the natural progression readers have gotten to enjoy in the first year of Red Robin under Chris Yost’s keyboard. Now, I’m very happy to be resuming the writing responsibilities with Tim in a better place and moving him forward into young adulthood.
Nrama: What differentiates Tim from any of the rest of the bat-family? How does he stand out from the pack?
Nicieza: First and foremost, Lucas, I think it’s his intelligence. He is “the smart one” of the Bat-family, the thinker and planner. I mean, of course Bruce Wayne/Batman is what he is, and Tim isn’t quite there yet, but Tim at 17 has a more developed intellect than Bruce at 17 did. That’s not to say Dick Grayson or Barbara Gordon are dumb, of course they’re not, but Tim’s level of thinking is a bit… thicker… than theirs. For me, Dick is about superior reflexive thinking, Barbara about superior operational thinking and Tim is about superior comprehensive, or all-encompassing, thinking.
What I love about Tim is that he shares some of the strongest traits of various Bat-family members. The intellect and detective skills of Bruce, the ability to lead others and be a friend to others like Dick has and even the ability to make cold, harsh decisions like Jason does. I’m not sure Damian has “best traits” yet to emulate. I kid, I love Damian.
Nrama: You're picking things up with Tim just having finished a long time (mostly) alone. Now that the rest of his peers believe him and know Bruce is alive, will we see him brought back into the fold a bit?
Nicieza: Check out pages 1-3 of #13 for a fun answer to that question and a kick-ass double page spread by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy!
Yes, Tim is assimilating and feeling more comfortable again with the other members of the burgeoning Bat-family, but, the word “burgeoning” is a key aspect to his internal conflicts during our opening arc. Are there too many people in Gotham now fighting the good fight? Can he do what he wants to do and how he wants to do it without tripping over too many other people? Can he live at the Tower with Dick and Damian or back at the Mansion where Oracle and Batgirl train? Or should he get his own place?
In the first year of Red Robin, he had a taste of international adventure, which he’s also done plenty of in the past, but I think the last year got Tim thinking about how external crime can and does affect Gotham and vice versa. A poppy bloom in Afghanistan affects Des Moines, so for Tim now, the intricate web of how things tie together is getting even more complex.
And all of that is part of his evolution.
Nrama: Is Red Robin, as an identity, something Tim used as a means to the end of finding Bruce, or has it become something longterm for him? In a universe with multiple characters frequently using the same name; why did Tim feel the need to adopt this new identity in the first place?
Nicieza: Both, I think, Lucas. While making the decision to go a bit rogue in his search for Bruce, Tim needed a little distance from his Robin identity – especially with Damian coming into the fold and Dick’s decision to let him assume the Robin mantle.
I think assuming the Red Robin identity – complicated and slightly tainted as its past might be – was appropriate for him. It was originally the identity of an adult Robin – which Tim aspires to be. It was the brief identity taken by Ulysses Armstrong, a villain who used it to mock him – which Tim would take as a challenge. And it was also the identity of Jason Todd, who couldn’t handle the burden of accepting a role as an adult Robin – again, something Tim would embrace.
I’m not even personally a huge fan of the name, but dang if it doesn’t all start to fit together nicely when you really start to put the thematic pieces together.
Nrama: Is Tim back in Gotham City to stay now? Are there threats there unique to him that say, Batman & Robin, the Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Ragman, and other Gotham heroes are somehow not equipped to take on in comparison?
Nicieza: The plan is for Tim to spend some of his time in Gotham and more of his time doing international operations.
As far as how Red Robin’s approach is unique in comparison to the others you cite, well, our first arc is called “The Hit List” and it plays off themes I’d touched on in my last Robin arc with the “Search for a Hero” story, specifically, how much can Tim control of the actions and reactions that create the supply and demand dynamic of crime in Gotham? If you create a literal hit list of targets you want to proactively go after, can you fashion a system of organized chaos that allows dominos to topple smartly from one to the next and create a pattern of success? Can the planning used to capture Lynx lead directly into bringing down Scarab, which in turn gets corrupt detectives Cavallo and Wise arrested and results in reporter Vicki Vale getting thrown off the trail of the Bat-family’s secret identities?
Most other Gotham characters, except for maybe Oracle, and superheroes in general, tend to be reactive to metahuman criminal activity rather than proactive. Even Batman tends to react a bit more. Tim’s method of operation will focus on his meticulous planning
Part of the reason for that is crafting the kinds of stories that require carefully thought-through cause and effect, action and reaction, within an issue and between issues isn’t easy. Trust me, jumping back into Tim’s adventures reminded me of that. It takes me twice as long to write an issue of Red Robin than an average assignment, but it makes me four times as happy!
Nicieza: Yes. Nothing Chris was percolating will be abandoned, though the focus and timeframe on individual subplots will vary. For example, Tam Fox is in every issue I’ve scripted so far, but during those issues, Prudence is mentioned, but not shown. Ra’s will be put on the backburner for a bit, as will the mysterious shadow woman at his side, but they are both in the plans with issue #25 in mind.
And all this is done while we are also following up on lots of the Gotham-centric Robin-centric villains I’d developed during “Search for a Hero” and hinting at future storylines to come as well.
Nrama: How involved will Tim be in the coming months with the big Return of Bruce Wayne?
Nicieza: He’s not overtly involved during the series, because it’s a little out of his comfort zone. It’s more science-fictiony characters in a search through time. Red Robin can work fine in that context when involved with the Titans or in a big crossover, but not as much in his own solo title. We touch base on the search for Bruce on a regular basis during the course of that mini-series run, but it’s not a driving force of the book itself now that that particular baton has been handed off to others.
Nrama: Is Tim too far gone now? Is he past the point of having a "regular" life?
Nicieza: Very good question, Lucas. I would say, “yes,” but I don’t think Tim would want to hear me say that. I think he would like to continue to cling to the possibility of a “regular” life but his decisions and his actions continue to take him away from that.
Part of the fun of taking over Tim’s life right now, in light of some great twists Chris threw out to end his run in #12, is that all those questions are open for Tim to consider. What will he do? Does he need to finish high school? Does going to college make sense? Is being Red Robin a fulltime job now? If he does take on a job, like at the Wayne Foundation, should that have something to do with his role as Red Robin or just the opposite, a “regular” job? Superior high school basketball players go to college for a mandatory freshman year then jump right to the pros. Isn’t Tim sort of in that same boat regarding his abilities and desire to embrace his “career?”
All of those are great questions that Tim will have to answer for himself as he proceeds through life. I can’t wait to get to all of them!
Nrama: Are there any specific things you're doing to write for Marcus To? What's that partnership been like so far?
Nicieza: Not yet. I think we’re still feeling each other out. As he finishes more material and I get a better sense of how he makes my ridiculously over-rendered pages work in a clean, open fashion, I’ll have a better idea of how to craft to his strengths, which are many.
Marcus is an excellent storyteller. At such a young age, he gets things that most artists that age don’t even have a clue about. He understands mood and environment, character, emotion and humor, his figure work is fluid and graceful and FUN.
He has many of the same strengths as some of the best artists I’ve had the luxury of working with, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be working with him now.
Nrama: Any possible interaction with Brightest Day and white-ringed Boston "Aliveman" Brand Planned? It seems Tim would have quite the reaction to Digger Harkness being brought back from the dead but not his own father...
Nicieza: There won’t be any direct, specific ties into that series, but we will certainly touch on Digger’s return very early in my run – with a face to face meeting that will brew and percolate into a larger storyline down the road.
Nrama: Back stateside, will Tim have some more interaction with his OTHER other family, namely some kids named Conner and Bart?
Nicieza: As far as I’m concerned, having a teenage daughter, a huge part of a teenager’s life is their access to an active social network, so that’s a big part of the book. The question is who comfortably fits into that network now. No matter how hard he’s tried, Tim has never had the same comfort level or rapport with his “regular” high school supporting cast in the same way he’s had with “professional” friends, like the Titans.
I think now more than ever, consistent contact between Tim and his metahuman friends, even if it’s done solely as cameos in Red Robin, is important. We would all very much like to see a more smoothly coordinated flow between the Red Robin and Teen Titans books. I have just begun discussions with the various editors on how to more effortlessly work the Titans characters between books, including even early talks of a direct crossover story between the titles for a month. I’d like to do the same thing with Superboy’s creative crew over on Adventures once that’s settled down. A three-way crossover would be just as fun at some point too!
Nrama: Any other teases you'd like to drop our way about Red Robin and/or Tim Drake's near future?
Nicieza: Teases? I honestly could rattle off story ideas I’m developing for the next ten pages. The “Hit List” runs from #13-16 with an epilogue in #17 and it really helps settle Tim down in Gotham, take down a few outstanding villains he’s wanted to address, confirm his relationship with the Bat-family and establish his method and base of operations.
We can also tease a few questions that take us towards issue #25 and beyond, like:
- “Why does Tim need crutches when Red Robin doesn’t?”
- “What is Lynx’s big surprise and what if Tim doesn’t believe it’s true?”
- “What international operatives does Red Robin have hunting for the Council of Spider Assassins?”
- “Who has Ra’s al Ghul ordered to take away Tim’s v-card – and will she succeed?”
- “And if she doesn’t succeed, who else is on that ever-growing line looking to draw that card?”
Seriously, I’ll stop now or else I’d never stop at all. If the readers enjoy reading this book just a fraction of how much I enjoy writing it, I think everyone will be in for a real fun time!