FABIAN NICIEZA on RED ROBIN's Place in BATMAN, INC.
NICIEZA on Future of RED ROBIN
But with Red Robin #17, the hero's new status was clarified and his partnership with Bruce put back into order, as he began helping with the global mission for "Batman Inc."
And series writer Fabian Nicieza had a welcome surprise for fans, as former Batgirl Cassandra Cain showed up in Issue #17.
The series, which originally focused on Tim's search for Bruce, launched in 2009 under the tutelage of writer Chris Yost. After Issue #12, writer Nicieza took over and guided the character through the Return of Bruce Wayne with the help of regular artist Marcus To.
Now Bruce is back, and Newsarama talked with Nicieza to find out more about what the future holds for Cassandra, Tim and the Red Robin comic.
Newsarama: Fabian, I know you didn't want to make too much of a big deal out of Cassandra's appearance in Red Robin, but her fans have been hailing her return in Red Robin #17. Can you describe why you felt she fit with what's happening in the book now and with the world of Batman?
Fabian Nicieza: I just felt the time was right to give Cass a chance to reclaim her status as a strong character. The loss of Bruce Wayne and his subsequent return seemed like the right time to address her "absence" and knowing Tim was expanding into more coordinated international operations, Red Robin seemed like the right book to give her some face time.
She works very well as a wandering warrior looking to help people in trouble and that fits in with the Batman, Inc. -- and the Red Robin -- approach to expanding the use of operatives all over the world.
Nrama: For those who may be looking at this article without having read the story, how would you describe her current status, and what was the character was feeling during her time with Tim?
Nicieza: I'd say right now, all we know is that Cass is in Hong Kong and she is clearly patrolling at night and helping innocent people from getting harmed. Other than that, it's all up for interpretation depending on who uses her next or who uses her the most.
Nrama: Who came up with her costume? Do you think that costume will stick, or is it a temporary thing?
Nicieza: It's just a look we wanted to give her to show she's still operating undercover, but not using the bat-motif. Marcus designed it and did a great job as he does with everything. I might have suggested the half-mask to connote her "mute days" when she first appeared.
Nrama: Gail Simone has mentioned the possibility of a Cass appearing within the pages of Birds of Prey. Will she be returning to Red Robin? If so, can you say when or give any indication where it will fit into what's coming in Red Robin?
Nicieza: I know Gail has mentioned that, but I don't know if there are specific issue plans. If it does happen in Birds of Prey, I'm sure it'll be a great opportunity for the character. If I were a character, I'd want Gail to write me!
I do know Cass will be returning to the Red Robin book to guest-star in a couple issues in the spring as part of a larger storyline between #22-25, but in no way am I claiming "propriety" over the character.
Nrama: This issue also had a touching moment between Bruce and Tim. How would you describe their relationship at this point? And how is it different from what they had before Bruce's departure?
Nicieza: I think they should be in a very comfortable place with each other. Tim has grown up to the point where Bruce is less worried about him and trusts his decision making more. I don't think Tim has to prove himself any more to Bruce or anyone else for that matter.
The Red Robin book is no longer about the training of a young hero, like the original Robin series was. It's about the decisions and actions that an established young hero takes in learning how to best wield the power and intelligence he has.
Nrama: During the absence of Bruce Wayne, Tim was so driven by the evidence of Bruce being alive. Now that Bruce is back, what's Tim's motivation?
Nicieza: Tim's motivation, in my mind, changed a little after his father died. Whereas he originally became Robin to help Bruce Wayne become a better Batman, his father's death has spurred him to embrace his costumed identity as his life's mission and become a better Red Robin so that no one ever endures what he did.
For better or worse, Tim Drake is a crimefighter 24/7 now and we'll explore when it's for the better and when it's for the worse as an ongoing aspect of his series. I've read some interesting comments on some message boards by a few people claiming that with Bruce's return, there is "no purpose to the Red Robin" book, which I found almost sad in how little an understanding they had of the character they were reading every month.
Tim Drake carried 183 issues of his own series as Robin and the entire maturation process for him has been to show the purpose he has on his own, without the need for Batman as the reason to do what he does.
He is unique in his approach to his mission, just like Dick Grayson is and now Stephanie Brown.
I think the stage we're at now with Tim is almost equivalent to watching your kid go from High School to living away at college. There is an independence, a process of learning responsibility, making choices on your own, making mistakes, etc. He is absurdly intelligent -- this is a kid who guessed Batman's identity at 14 -- he is absurdly driven and he likes to think of himself as "the man with the plan." That doesn't mean he won't screw up, or make decisions that others won't agree with, in fact, part of the fun of what's coming up is when his choices don't go the right way -- or when he makes a choice that other people (including his best friends) have a problem with.
Nrama: And what's his new role within the Batman universe -- and the DCU?
Nicieza: I don't necessarily think it's a new role, just an extension of the role he'd been playing, the difference being, now that he can do this as his "full time job" without the worries of school (or truthfully, worrying over his father and that family dynamic), he will be quite the little Machiavellian master chessman.
Nrama: You've really rounded out Tim's cast, particularly his rogues. Was that a goal you had when you took over the book? And what can you tell us about how each of these new villains you've established fits into his cast?
Nicieza: Yes, when I took over the Robin series for its end-run, one of my main goals was to reenergize the one part of the book I'd felt it had been lacking for a very long time, which was Tim's rogue's gallery.
I thought there were lots of available characters already who just needed some face time and more fleshing out of their back-story, so a new Lynx, a new Anarky role for Ulysses Armstrong and a new role for the former Anarky, Lonnie Machine were at the top of my list. Follow that with characters that have an interesting look but whose back stories I plan to flesh out even more, like the assassin Scarab, and you start percolating a nice core cast of bad guys.
I broke down all of Tim's attributes as a character, his personality traits, archetypes, etc. then I created a list of potential opposites of those trains, or similarities to hone the roster of antagonists for Tim. For example, Tim is all about rationale thought and reason, so a great opposite to that would be a group of chaos-mongers like the madmen would make great foils for him (and they do in Issue #21!).
Nrama: Will we see more new villains? Or other cast members added? Or is the focus now on interacting with established heroes/villains?
Nicieza: We'll see more new and pre-existing characters mixing it up on a fairly regular basis. In Issue #18, which is out this week I think, we see the return of Red Star, a former Titan, plus we introduce a new wild card, a vigilante named Promise who is seeking vengeance on a Russian oligarch named Victor Mikalek. The core of the story is Red Star's conflict in trusting Red Robin while trying to protect Mikalek, who is vital to his country's economy. But the plans are for both Promise and Mikalek to take on greater roles in upcoming months.
The benefit of my long-term planning for the book is that I can introduce a character or subplot in a "soft" fashion knowing what the long-term payoff will be. The downside is I have more stories to tell than time to tell them, so I've been lobbying my editor Sean Ryan to make the book weekly. Just kidding. Marcus just fainted.
Nrama: How instrumental has Marcus To been to the stories you're telling and the tone of the book?
Nicieza: I can't even begin to tell you how much I love seeing his pencils pop up on my screen when I download the pages from one of his emails. Marcus is so perfect for this book -- he has a great, clean line style that fits the tone of the character, he draws one of the best versions of Tim Drake I've seen. As he continues to improve, I'd rank his art right up against some of the best this character has ever had, including Tom Lyle, Tom Grummett, Mike Wieringo, Pete Woods and Freddie Williams II.
The best part is that Marcus has been there every month, as has Ray McCarthy, Sal Cipriano and Guy Major on inks, letters and colors -- and that month in and month out consistency is vital to a book's growth and development, and also shows respect to the monthly reader.
Nrama: What's coming up in the next few issues?
Nicieza: The next arc, starting with issue #18, is called "The Rabbit Hole" and it deals with Tim's growing interest in exploring, and ultimately controlling, the Unternet, the supervillain communications grid established by Grant Morrison in Final Crisis.
I thought it was a great concept to explore and right up Tim's alley in terms of how he'd approach a "big picture" look at tracking villains’ activity. We get a fun trip into the Unternet in #19 where Marcus gets to draw some pretty fun stuff, including an all-new look for Red Robin (and for his friend Tam).
The crossover with the Teen Titans follows in #20, still folding into the "Rabbit Hole" storyline, but serving as its own separate two-parter as well. My issue really serves as set-up, as half the issue is Red Robin getting his ass handed to him by Catman and the second half is Tim reuniting with the Titans.
This is a bit of a "superhero story" arc. I like to mix up the tone and feel of the different arcs. "The Hit List" from Red Robin #13-17 was about tightly plotted self-contained stories involving lots of Machiavellian plotting, so I wanted a different vibe for the next arc.
Nrama: What does 2011 look like for Red Robin? Will we see some things play out that you've dropped hints about?
Nicieza: The next big storyline for 2011 after "The Rabbit Hole" picks up on some story threads that were hinted at during the Bruce Wayne: The Road Home issues. There's a world-wide underground assassination tournament -- basically, someone offers up a challenge and "players" all over the world are encouraged to claim a kill that corresponds to the challenge, like "Murder a Mayor," "A CEO is DOA," "Perforate a Magistrate," etc.
A new round is about to begin, but this time, Red Robin is ready for it -- but is he ready for the secrets he uncovers about the tournament or the double-crosses coming his way? I won't say much more except it's called "7 Days of Death," and should be a very fast-paced rollercoaster ride through a grimy underworld of blood and bullets.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about your work on Red Robin?
Nicieza: Buy the book, because you always claim to only like good superhero comics and Red Robin is a good superhero comic. So there.