[SPOILERS FOR WE ARE ROBIN #3]
In We Are Robin #3, readers discovered the identity of "The Nest," a mystery character who's been orchestrating the Robin movement in Gotham City. By communicating both digitally and while wearing disguises, the mystery character has been recruiting the Robin kids himself and guiding them during missions.
So who's the mystery manipulator? As issue #3 revealed, it's none other than Alfred Pennyworth. And location of his "Nest" is, of course, the Batcave.
Written by Lee Bermejo with art by Jorge Corona, We Are Robin has introduced a new concept into Gotham City — a group of teen heroes motivated to fight crime after the assumed death of Batman. And although they thought they were working in conjunction with the new Batman, they've just gotten a rude awakening when a mech-wearing Jim Gordon denied knowing of their organization. And when issue #3 concluded, it looked like the Robin gang also just lost of one of its members, his life taken in an explosion.
Now that We Are Robin is a few issues into its story — and Alfred's secret is revealed — Newsarama talked to Lee Bermejo to find out more about the revelation, the death of a teen character in issue #3, and what's coming up in the title.
Newsarama: Lee, now that we know who's behind the We Are Robin group — the person in "The Nest" — why was this a mystery for a few issues? Why not say right up from that this group was connected to Alfred Pennyworth?
Lee Bermejo: The idea, in the first story arc, is to structure it in such a way that it kind of feels like you're a person joining the group too. So you know, the first issue focuses pretty much on just Duke, and his interaction with the group really starts with the second issue. And then the third issue, it escalates again, and you get to see that there are a lot of these kids out there.
So in the same way, these kids don't know who's pulling the strings.
And it also needs to be said that Alfred isn't in charge of the movement. And this, I think, has been talked about in the book. He's selecting people, I think, that he feels show promise and can be developed into good little soldiers.
And that's what I was trying to get across in the first three issues — just the sense of, OK, so he's involved with these kids, but they think it's Batman.
That was also a good way to get to know these characters and how they react to certain events.
Nrama: Having a couple teenaged daughters myself, this book feels really representative of the social media culture — the texting, the Snapchats — that is such an important part of how this next generation lives. And although we're getting to know the kids a little bit at a time – and I'm sure we'll get to know them more in coming issues — that sense of Robin being a digital "movement" feels very representative of today's culture.
Bermejo: Yeah, it's part of what I'm trying to do. It's a bit more of a slow burn in terms of getting to know the different members of the team. The next issue focuses on Riko, and you get to know her a lot better. There's quite a bit of the social media aspect as well.
I think it's something, especially dealing with teenagers, you can't really deny that's the fact that that's become the way to communicate. So it would make sense that they would be using things like Periscope and Twitter and other messaging media to keep in touch.
It's also fun to play around with that stuff because it gives you the opportunity to tell a story in newer ways.
Nrama: So this focus on Riko — is that something we'll see for some of the other characters? And can you tell us anything about Riko?
Bermejo: We're going to get a lot of information in the next issue. Certainly, by issue #6, you're going to get to know these other characters a lot better. You're going to learn where they're coming from, and you'll learn a lot more about their home lives.
The book is also starting to expand. It's not just the Duke Thomas show. He most certainly is an important part of the tapestry. But there are other characters as well.
And yes, over the course of the next few issues, you're going to learn about these characters. You'll learn about Andre a lot. And there are even surprises in store, based on the fact that you don't know a lot about them yet.
I think the temptation, when you do team books, is to overload people with information about them, and it passes for characterization, as opposed to kind of letting people learn about the characters through story. And that's what I'm hoping to accomplish here. As the story I'm telling moves forward, it gives me opportunities that really do reveal little bits and pieces about these kids' lives.
And getting to your question about Riko specifically, she has made mention of her imaginary friend, and in the next issue, we get to figure out who that is. And we get to see her home life. And I'm hoping people will be into it.
It's being drawn by James Harvey, and the artwork is spectacular. It's really cool. I hesitate to even call it a fill-in issue, because it's just such a unique look into Riko. And it pushes the story forward as well.
Nrama: Let's talk about what just happened in issue #3 — a little spoiler alert here. It looks like Troy met a tragic end. We get that feeling not only because of the explosion, but also from Alfred. Was that to show that this is not just fun and games, and maybe the kids need to realize that too?
Bermejo: Yeah, there need to be stakes. That's been done subtly in other ways in the book. I'm a stickler on showing damage. If kids get hit in the head — I think if any character gets hit in the head, you should see the damage that causes. I think it's important in general to not have violent actions in comics not be without the consequences that come with that action.
So I really want to show that doing this vigilante thing has consequences. And sometimes the price to be paid is pretty high.
The fact that a character can die also emphasizes, hopefully, that anything can happen in this story. Even though we're just starting to get to know these characters, at the same time, if you look at it from Duke's perspective, you know, he didn't really know who this guy Troy was. He still essentially lost someone very quickly.
So that was important to me, story wise, was to let people know, these kids are playing for keeps.
Nrama: We talked briefly about Alfred, but are we going to learn more about his motivations, and his thoughts behind pulling these kids into this kind of life?
Bermejo: Yeah, most definitely. And I think it's important to say — without really giving anything away — that this moment in time, for Alfred, is also important. It's a different moment in his life, for various reasons.
You know, he lost a hand.
And maybe, possibly, there could be some post-traumatic stress, or there could be some things going on with him that could play a part.
That's stuff we'll be addressing as well, as the book moves forward.
Nrama: OK, you talked about how issue #4 is focusing on Riko, with guest artist James Harvey. What can you tell us about the next few issues? I assume we'll learn more about this villain and the "king" behind it all?
Bermejo: Yeah, you're going to find out who this shadowy bad guy is, who's pulling some of these strings behind the scenes.
And you know, I hesitate to say too much about what's coming up, because the way I'm revealing information in this book is purposeful.
But let me put it this way: When there isn't a Batman who wants to deal with these Robins, might there be somebody else who can step in and make a proposition to some of these kids? Also, remember that not all of them are on the straight and narrow. They're trying to do the right thing, but they're at that age where they can be swayed in different ways.
Nrama: Not very good at making choices at that age.
Bermejo: Yeah. I mean, how many people at 16 years old know exactly what they want to do when they're adults? And how quickly do things change? At that age, it's easy to get caught up in big ideals, but the reality of things, reality setting in, can sometimes change those ideals very quickly. I think the same can be said about their relationship with all the adults in this title.
Nrama: OK, but when you say someone else might step in, what I'm hearing is that someone familiar from Gotham City might be associated with these kids? Might a character we know in Gotham step in and make a proposition?
Bermejo: Possibly, possibly. You might have seen him or her before.
Nrama: Scott Snyder has mentioned his enthusiasm for the story in this book, so I assume you're making sure this lines up with what he and others are doing in the Batman universe — as evidenced by the recent appearance of Jim Gordon as Batman?
Bermejo: Yeah, yeah. Most definitely. This book, in design, is a response to this world — the world that the Batman books are dealing with right now.
You really can't do a book about the concept of Robin without addressing what's going on with Batman. And Alfred is a huge part of that mythology.
And historically — and I've been saying this kind of from the beginning of this project — Alfred is the biggest enabler in comics, as far as characters go. Historically, he's somebody who supported this — I mean, with his reservations, and not without having problems with certain things Bruce has done and the various Robins that have come before. But I don't think it can be denied that he has his own thoughts on the usefulness of these symbols as a means to help people.
And he's a caretaker, by nature. How can that be used in a broader sense? Can he be a caretaker for a whole city? We'll see.