[and here's an exclusive preview of this week's Red Robin #21]Now that the new direction of the Batman books is up and running, each title has worked to establish a unique niche in the Bat-universe after the return of Bruce Wayne.
In the case of fan-favorite character Tim Drake, that new direction has writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Marcus To taking the ongoing Red Robin comic into the heart of Bruce Wayne's "Batman Inc." plans, but in a way that lets the hero work independently.
Launched in 2009, Red Robin began under the premise that Tim was the only hero who believed Bruce Wayne was still alive. While Dick Grayson settled into the role of Batman and Damian Wayne became the new Robin, Red Robin gave Tim room to search for his adopted father apart from the events in Gotham City.
But now that Bruce is found, Red Robin #17 set up a new status quo for the hero. As an international detective working in conjunction with Batman Inc., the highly intelligent former Robin finds himself working with heroes throughout the DCU. The title recently crossed over with Teen Titans, and in March, Red Robin #22 begins a three-part story called "Judgment on Gotham," shared with Gotham City Sirens and the main Batman comic.
Newsarama talked with Nicieza to find out more about the crossover and what readers can expect this summer in Red Robin, including the long-awaited confrontation between Tim and Captain Boomerang.
Newsarama: Fabian, now that Batman Inc. has been established and fans are beginning to understand the role of each of the Batman characters, how would you describe Red Robin's mission?
Fabian Nicieza: Red Robin's mission remains, what I would call, "synergistically independent" of Batman Inc. The goals of the characters in both books are similar and can overlap, but Tim had already begun doing — on his own level — the same things Bruce intends to do. I think we pretty clearly established the parameters for the characters in Red Robin #17. Bruce apprehends criminals on a worldwide basis using a network of operatives, Red Robin investigates international crime on a more covert, comprehensive level while his Neon Knights social organization tries to keep young people away from a life of crime before they begin.
Nrama: We're coming out of the Teen Titans crossover, and next month, the series will be part of another crossover, this time with Gotham City Sirens and Batman. Is this a case of you loving to collaborate with other writers? Or is there an effort in the Bat-office to make sure these characters are interacting with others in the DCU?
Nicieza: I think it's a combination of lots of things, including those you mention. The Titans crossover happened because both J.T. Krul, and I wanted to see Tim involved with the Titans characters again. The "Judgment on Gotham" story came about because David wanted to flow things he'd been doing in Azrael into a larger Gotham-based story, so it made sense, based on the approach to the story, that Tim could serve an interesting role in the proceedings.Sometimes it comes from writers, sometimes from editors, sometimes from larger publishing initiatives.
Nrama: The Teen Titans crossover brought together Tim with Cassie and Conner, which was a great reunion for readers. But how do you think Tim has changed since the days when he first formed those friendships? What's the nature of the friendships now?
Nicieza: I think he's changed a bit in that he's gone through a lot of hard times and come out of it with a healthier perspective on the fragile nature of life and death for metahumans and humans, along with a slightly darker Machiavellian though-process about how crime can be prevented by understanding the patterns of behavior criminals take and then knowing how to control those patterns.
But how it affects Tim in Titans is honestly more J.T.'s province than mine!
Nrama: In March, you'll be finishing up the story of the Unternet and the Mad Men. What was the theme you were exploring with this story, and how does it play into what's coming up?
Nicieza: Blah blah blah the writer is going to talk about oh-so-important themes in his superhero comics. If I have to tell it to you then I didn't do a good enough job writing the story!I will say, a lot of what I try to do with Tim is about him learning now so that he can become a world-class borderline dictatorial control freak when he's an adult. "The Rabbit Hole" storyline shows Tim learning that he can't control all aspects of free-form information flow and that even when he can. it's not always a good thing.
Nrama: What's the story behind Red Robin #22? And how does it speak to the core of Tim's character?
Nicieza: Oh, even though it's part of the larger "Judgment on Gotham" storyline, it's a great "self-contained" issue that I think shows Tim at his best, facing countless obstacles and managing to figure out how to overcome all of them, until the final obstacle he can't overcome to win the day is the stumbling block called: the truth.
Nrama: That all gears up the series for the "7 Days of Death" story in May. What type of story can we expect, and what will Tim be facing?
Nicieza: Red Robin goes on an international chase to figure out the depths of a worldwide Assassination Tournament, which is a lot deeper than Tim first thought, combined with being the object of that tournament when he becomes a target for assassination. Lots of twists and turns, some unexpected guest stars, an unexpected death and issue #24 contains the single best cliffhanger I've ever written.
Nrama: What's coming up for Red Robin this summer?
Nicieza: Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but in issue #26, I hope we'll finally have the confrontation between Red Robin and Captain Boomerang that I've been foreshadowing for a while, but it won't be like any confrontation you could expect.
Nrama: What does Marcus To bring to the Red Robin comic? How does he add to the tone we see each month?
Nicieza: He brings the sexy.Seriously, I mean, month in and month out, he keeps getting better. His storytelling has always been a tremendous strength for him, but now he is also improving his anatomy, figure drawing, facial drawing, shading, everything. Check out the details in #21 this week, the facial drawings, the background details, the panel compositions — all technical stuff that a writer really appreciates.
I've been so lucky writing Tim in that I've gotten to work with Freddie Williams II when we did Robin together — and having him draw issue #22 was a blast and a half — and now Marcus. Great guys who produce consistently strong monthly work, and believe me, that's not to be taken for granted in our industry!