Dick Grayson will have an old friend from the DCU as he begins his new career as a super-spy — Helena Bertinelli will be his partner in the July-debuting Grayson series.
After the Forever Evil mini-series, which concludes next week, the world believes Dick Grayson is dead. In the new Grayson series, Dick goes undercover as a spy for the international organization Spyral, seen last in Grant Morrison's Batman Inc..
In Grayson, readers will also meet a new version of Helena Bertinelli, who was the superheroine Huntress in the pre-New 52 universe. King said he and Seeley have "put a pretty different spin on her" as she becomes Dick's partner in Spyral, training him as a spy.
Readers will get a peek at what Grayson will look like — and a hint of what its writers call the book's "innovative storytelling techniques" — in Nightwing #30 on May 28th. Written by Grayson scribes Tim Seeley and Tom King, the Nightwing finale will also have several pages by the new series' artist, Mikel Janin.
"Nightwing #30 is divided into three parts," King told Newsarama, "as Nightwing transitions from what he was to where he's going to be. And the last third is basically the beginning of Grayson, and that's when Mikel comes in. So you're getting almost the third of the issue as a preview of what Grayson will look like and be.
According to the writers, Nightwing #30 is "something to talk about, so people should pay attention."
While Seely's resume in indie comics is extensive, he recently began working in the Batman office at DC as one of the writers on the weekly series Batman Eternal. King's background includes the acclaimed graphic novel, A Once Crowded Sky, but his experience in the CIA as a counterterrorism operations officer has also come in handy, since Dick Grayson is now working for an international spy organization called Spyral.
Newsarama talked to the pair of writers about Helena Bertinelli, Nightwing #30, and why Dick Grayson is carrying a gun on the cover of Grayson #1.
Newsarama: Tim and Tom, now that we know Dick Grayson is becoming a super-spy in the July-launching Grayson comic, what can you reveal about the transition we'll see in the May 28th final issue of Nightwing?
Tom King: This issue basically sets up the stakes of the series. It's why Nightwing decides to remain dead. It's a request that Batman makes of him, and he has to decide whether to accept the request or not. It's Batman asking Nightwing to make one of the biggest sacrifices of his career, if not the biggest, and him wrestling with that issue.
Nrama: I assume this is linked directly to the fact that his secret identity is no longer a secret?
Tim Seeley: Yeah, yeah. We definitely wanted to use the story elements that were there from Forever Evil, and then put our own spin on it.
King: You've already seen in Batman Eternal the effect this is having and what this is doing to his family. And Nightwing knows, by sort of staying dead, that he's having an impact on his friends and family, and it just tears him apart.
Nrama: I know you guys were approached by DC with the idea of making Dick Grayson a super-spy, but you pitched that he should work for Spyral, the Grant Morrison-created organization. Why did you think that international organization would be a good fit for this series?
Seeley: Spyral was left over after the awesome stuff in Batman Inc., and it just seemed like such a shame to waste a Batman universe-tied, morally questionable, spy organization.
King: And it seemed a unique fit for Dick, because their basis is this idea of manipulation and getting other people to do what they want. Dick is so good at that — he's s good at seducing people. So it seemed like it would create a lot of conflict with him, in terms of their seduction powers and his own.
Nrama: So does this highlight that part of him? I mean, how does being a super-spy change Dick Grayson as a person? We remember the way he acted as Robin, as the happy bouncy kid, and as Nightwing, where he had more responsibility as a solo hero, and even when he was in the Batman cowl, working with a Robin. How does being a spy alter him?
Seeley: At heart, Dick is always going to be that happy, bouncy kid, and we kind of played with the idea that Dick is sort of a rock. He's not really conflicted; he doesn't really worry about his "dark side."
King: Dick is a good guy. Like Tim said, he doesn't have a dark side to him. He does the right thing.
But this is him having to work for an organization that's not 100 percent good, that doesn't always do the right thing. And having to choose whether to go along with that or not.
And that creates — this is a guy who's worked for the best and has followed a lot of great leaders, and now he's following someone who's not a great leader, who's not doing the right thing.
Nrama: Is his role more like James Bond, walking into a casino and pretending to be someone he's not, or is he more like the guy who sneaks in at night with a mask on?
Seeley: I think he's both those, really. I mean, he's whatever the job requires.
I think he's more of a James Bond type, but he's really good at the sneaking thing.
Nrama: Yeah, with all the acrobatics and the experience of wearing a mask.
Seeley: Yeah, exactly.
King: I come from this weird CIA background, so… I mean, this is not anything what it's like in the real world, but we tried to minimize some of the fantasy and give you some of that high tension of what spy life is like.
Nrama: Wow. Can you give any examples of something you brought into the book that's a little more realistic than what we normally see in spy movies or comics?
King: Uh… [laughs] it's so funny. Welcome to the former spy's brain: You ask me a question like that, and suddenly I flash back to 16 briefings of what I'm not supposed to say.
There's an old quote I love — an old movie quote — that, "Going to the movies is not about going to Paris, but it's about going to Hollywood's conception of Paris." And I think that's what this is. I've been to Paris; I've been to Hollywood's conception of Paris; I'd rather go to Hollywood's conception of Paris.
This is Hollywood's conception of spies, but I'm bring that realism to it.
Nrama: How did you guys end up working together?
Seeley: The editor, Mark Doyle, when I pitched for it, he said, "Hey, we have this other guy who's got these great ideas. What do you think about working together?" And I've been doing Batman Eternal, which has me working with three or four other guys and two editors. And it seemed like, well, I'm pretty well trained up in how to do this.
So bring it on!
So we just kind of jam on everything.
King: Yeah, Tim and I had a weird background because we both passed in the night as Marvel interns, back in the late '90s. We were in the same building — probably throwing paper at each other; we don't remember it.
And also, I'm just a huge fan of Revival and Hack/Slash, so when they said Tim Seeley, I jumped at it.
Nrama: What were each of you doing as a Marvel intern? Were you in editorial?
Seeley: Yeah, I was an editorial intern in the Spider-Man office in the summer of 1999, under Ralph Macchio.
King: I was Chris Claremont's assistant when he was creative director.
Nrama: OK, Tom, you have to explain how you can go from a spy career to a comic book career. How does someone from the CIA switch to writing comics?
King: Well, I grew up in comics. I'm the classic kid in the corner who didn't have a lot of friends and sort of turned to a fantasy life. I grew up on Batman and X-Men. And I always wanted to work there — I interned for both DC and Marvel in college.
But… basically, I wanted to be a comic writer, but then 9/11 happened, and like millions of other people, I wanted to help. So I became a spy.
That's the aberration, rather than comics being the aberration. This is sort of a return to my first love. Once I had kids, I had to leave that, so I came back to comics.
Nrama: That's really interesting. But I wanted to hear your thoughts about how you're balancing the fact that Dick Grayson can't be seen by anyone else in the DC Universe, yet Spyral exists within the DCU. How are you dealing with that?
Seeley: I think that was one of the things that everybody expects — that we're not going to be able to pull that off. "He's got a famous face! Everyone's going to know who he is!"
But this is comics, and we totally thought of something. We have a way, using the sort of Spyral thing, the mind erosion and all the other techniques for which they're famous, to allow Dick to be so deep cover that no one knows who he is.
King: Yeah, I mean, spies are supposed to do things in front of you, where you think they're doing one thing, but they're doing another.
So that's the trick of the book. When you see, oh, Dick Grayson can't be a spy — that's exactly right. But it's because he can't be a spy that he makes a great spy. You don't see him coming.
Nrama: Does this exist within the Bat-universe then? Dick's not going to be in Gotham City, is he?
Seeley: No, but I think it firmly exists in the DC Universe.
Yes, we'd like to bring some of the real aspects of what it's like to be a spy, that Tom can totally help us with, but the other thing is, we want it to be a cool, DC Universe book too. We want it to be part of the tapestry. We want to play with all the cool toys.
It's not apart. It's definitely wound into a lot of the current universe stuff.
And we use some characters you might not expect.
Nrama: Let's talk about his costume. What's the "G" on his chest?
Seeley: It's supposed to be just a visual reference to the old "R," but it's actually a carabiner on his chest — like, a clasp, you know?
But it's just sort of a visual reference because, in comics, it helps for the person to have a visible, easily identifiable thing, so that when a different artist draws him, you still go, "hey, that's the black haired guy with the 'G' on his chest." It's a reference. It actually has a functional use, because people will instantly call you out of putting a "G" on him, but it's supposed to be there to help identify and also reference Robin who had an "R" on his chest.
King: Yeah, Robin's a character that's been around for 75 years and is built into American culture, and we're not taking this and starting over and saying this is a new person — he's a spy. This is Dick Grayson, who was Robin, who was Nightwing. And we wanted to reference that history and build upon that history. So the "G" is a call back to the "R."
Nrama: The thing that sticks out about the cover to Grayson #1 is that he's got a gun. Obviously, he's not Batman, but was there some thought about him being a kid who was raised to fight without a gun, and has done so for years?
King: We had quite a back-and-forth about that. I was pro-gun. I carried a gun at times, in my former job. And I wanted that involvement.
We realize that it's an issue. We know that he was trained not to use it, and we're going right at that issue.
Part of his character development is how he's going to deal with that gun. His struggle with what Batman's taught him and what he's currently being taught revolves almost symbolically around that gun. We're going right at that issue. It's there for a reason. It's not just because it looks cool. It sort of builds on his legacy.
Seeley: It worked nicely, because I'm anti-gun. So with the combination of the two, we've made it work. I mean, Tom's right: He would carry one. But then I'm thinking, but how do we deal with that? And I think the way we came down in the middle is actually pretty cool.
And you know, Dick doesn't need a gun. He's Dick Grayson, right? But also, as a visual, it makes people go, "What the hell?" And that's what we want! we want you to say "What the hell!"
Nrama: Is there a supporting cast around him of other spies? Or maybe a female character or two? I don't know if I'd go so far as to call Dick a player, but the man does usually have a lady in his life. Can you talk about who's going to be around him in Grayson?
Seeley: He does have a lady partner, but she's not the type of woman he's dealt with in the New 52 before. She does have ties to the old DC Universe, but we put a pretty different spin on her.
King: Dick is a sexy character, and this is going to be a sexy book. So we're going to play a lot with that image of him as irresistible — how he uses people with that, and how people use him with it.
Nrama: And that's based on your time in the CIA, right?
King: [Laughs.] Please don't tell my wife.
Seeley: [Laughs.] Aw, man. Now I was I was in the CIA. Bummer.
Nrama: Is there any way you can tell us the name of this female character?
Seeley: Helena Bertinelli.
Seeley: Oh! Yeah!
Nrama: But it's not Huntress. This is a different, New 52 take on the character.
King: This is the New 52 appearance of the new Helena Bertinelli.
Seeley: Yeah, it's not Helena Wayne, the Huntress. It's Helena Bertinelli.
Nrama: That's kind of cool, because Dick and Helena did have a relationship in the old universe. When you say she's a "partner," she also works for Spyral?
King: Yeah. She's an amazing spy. She's definitely better than Dick; he has to learn from her.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Mikel Janin. I assume you've seen some of the work. Is he working with you on the Nightwing issue?
Seeley: Yeah, we've seen it. We saw issue #30, and we've seen the first few pages.
King: It's amazing.
Seeley: Yeah, Mikel loves drawing locations. So for a world-hopping spy book, he just jumped into this, and was so excited to draw real cities and even made suggestions about places he wants to draw.
But yeah, his storytelling is fantastic, so we're actually able to play around with it, some really innovative storytelling techniques. That's exactly what this book needed, I think.
King: And you'll see that Nightwing #30 is divided into three parts, as Nightwing transitions from what he was to where he's going to be. And the last third is basically the beginning of Grayson, and that's when Mikel comes in. So you're getting almost the third of the issue as a preview of what Grayson will look like and be.
People should pay attention to issue #30. It's more than just a transition book. When we turned in our scripts and got them back from our editor, they were like, "We've never done this in the Bat-universe." It's something to talk about. So people should pay attention to it.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about Grayson? I assume you've seen some of the reactions, so is there anything you want to clarify or talk to fans about before we finish up?
Seeley: I mean, we knew it would be controversial and that people would pay attention, but I think we've both been amazed by the amount of positive excitement for it. And just the fandom associated with Dick Grayson, I think, is pretty wonderful.
Tom and I both are fans of the character, so we're not going to purposely destroy anything, or try to change it for our own selves. We're just trying to tell great stories with Dick Grayson, and we're very happy to do so.
King: Dick Grayson turns 75 next year, and we want to raise him to a level where he's at the level of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. He deserves that. At times in his history, he's been more popular than Batman. And he deserves to be up on that pedestal.
So that's our goal. He's an A-plus superhero, and we want to treat him that way. I have a little kid, and he's got stickers on his wall — he's got Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I want Dick Grayson up there with them.