Spoilers ahead for this week's Robin War #1.
With the release this week of Robin War #1, the streets of Gotham have been filled with fighting Robins — some old, some new — as the police, the all-new Batman and Gotham's government officials try to fight back.
But the story's ending also dropped a major hint about he future of DC's oldest Robin, Dick Grayson, as the story's villains called him "Nightwing" — a fan-favorite moniker the character hasn't worn for a while.
Written by Tom King, who also co-writes Grayson, Robin War #1 kicks off a month-long event that continues next week in Grayson #15, then Detective Comics #47, We Are Robin #7, and Robin: Son of Batman #7. The story will also feature tie-ins in Gotham Academy #13, Red Hood/Arsenal #7 and Teen Titans #15.
Newsarama talked to King about this first chapter, what it was like to bring together all the former Robins with the We Are Robin kids, and what that "Nightwing" hint might have meant for the future of Dick Grayson.
Newsarama: Tom, readers were shown the basic bones of Robin War in solicitations. But I don't that anyone expected it to be quite this fun. Was Robin War always going to be based around these We Are Robin kids and how Gotham and the other Robins would deal with them?
Tom King: Robin War went through a lot of iterations. But the book was always going to be about what it means to be a Robin and how all the Robins interact. That had to be the central core of it, and hopefully we stuck to that.
It's supposed to be about Dick Grayson and how he inspired first the movement of just a few people and now a movement of a lot of people. And what effect it has on Dick Grayson and what effect it has on all those people. That's supposed to be the center of it.
Nrama: Let's talk about how it kind of kicks off with this incident where a young person is caught on video with a cop shooting. It feels very reflective of current events. Was that part of your thinking behind this scene, to reflect what's happening in the real world?
King: I don't think you can write comics without trying to reflect what's going on in the real world. I mean, that's kind of our job. I believe we have two jobs we have to do simultaneously: We have to reflect what's going on in the real world and we have to entertain you.
So I wouldn't say it was, like, wanting to go after that. It was more like, we can't write without doing that.
And we wanted to show that this movement, this thing, this idea that Lee Bermejo had, which was brilliant, of all these people being inspired by these Robins, is kind of a double-edged sword. It's inspiring and wonderful, but it's also a bunch of kids on the street trying to do jobs they might not be prepared for. And we wanted to examine whether that was a good thing or bad thing. Not come down on one side of the other. It stays a little bit gray.
Nrama: And yet, am I reading it right that the Court of Owls might have had a hand in that "catalyst" incident even happening?
King: That's one possible reading. You're reading the hints. Yeah, the Court of Owls' involvement is a mystery that will be resolved.
I mean, the thing about the Court of Owls that Scott Snyder did so brilliantly was to say that, who Batman is and who Robin is — they think they're sort of the masters of Gotham. But in fact, they might not know the true character of Gotham at all. It might be this Court of Owls.
And so what we have here is something big is going on in Gotham — something huge — and when that happens, the Court of Owls are probably behind it. They're probably going to benefit from it some way. It's not to say that they control everything, but they know how to manipulate things in their favor so that what happens in the end, they stay in control of Gotham and they do get what they want.
And what they want is Dick Grayson.
Nrama: Right. They want the "Gray Son," which is a direct tie-in to the Court of Owls storyline and the Nightwing piece of that. You've obviously been writing Dick Grayson for a while. I find it interesting that, in the preview for the next issue of Robin War — Grayson #15 — he's stepping up to sort of take responsibility for this movement. He didn't have anything to do with the We Are Robin kids. Why does he feel responsible for it?
King: To me, that's the central theme of the next issue, is Dick taking responsibility — not only responsibility to the Robin movement, but responsibility to the Robins that came after him: Tim, Damian and Jason.
He was first. He showed Batman that he could do this, and he became this figure of inspiration. And then people acted on that inspiration. And he's saying, wait, these people are getting in trouble because they're inspired by me. Am I responsible for that?
I think that's an important part of who Dick is. He's the kind of guy — and I think this might be almost his Shakespearean flaw — who says yes, I am responsible. Dick Grayson doesn't let it slide. He's like, what's happened here is something I have to take control of. I have to stand up. I have to be Bruce, since Bruce is off the scene. And I think that's both noble and perhaps tragic.
Nrama: It occurred to me that there's no way this story could happen if Batman was around. Was that part of the fun of doing this, and maybe even the only way it could be done?
King: Yes. I think it very naturally comes out of the story of Batman not being there. Not to say it couldn't have happened, but Batman would probably be, like, six steps ahead of that incident. So this is sort of part of what happens when — we're exploring what happens when the parent figure leaves the scene and the kids have to take over. And what that responsibility means.
The prior generation of Robins – Jason, Tim and Damian — they always had Batman as their guideline. And now they're sort of having to step up and they have to accept some of the responsibility for some of what Batman was doing. And you realize how much he was doing behind the scenes to kind of protect them and keep them safe.
Nrama: We talked a little bit about Dick's reaction to this situation. Each of these former Robins has a different reaction. Was that part of the fun of it, to contrast the way that Jason, Tim and Damian reacted? Because Damian's reaction to the kids was hilarious.
King: Yeah. This is one of the most fun comics I've written, besides some of the, like, straight spy stuff in Grayson. I mean, there's just a ton of fun dialogue.
These characters, this family, they all have such distinct personalities, they all have such cool interactions with each other. And it's so easy to write, because they've been so well defined by the creators that came before me. It's a joy to write.
When I wrote, I think I had Damian call him the Red Hoodie Man. I laughed so hard. I literally laughed at my own writing, which is a kind of eerie thing to do, but it was so fun. I emailed my wife and she had no idea what I was talking about.
But yeah, their interaction is the fun core of this book.
Grayson #15 comes out next week, and that features the differences in their personalities. It's almost a follow-up to Grayson #12, if anyone read that. It's about each of those personalities and how they interact with each other. And it really defines these four Robin figures in the family. And I love that stuff. It's my favorite thing to write.
Nrama: You got to write the moment when Damian meets the robot Batman. Jim Gordon says, "I'm Batman." And then there's this pause. And Damian says, you've got to be kidding me. [Laughs.]
King: [Laughs.] I fought so hard for him to say, "You've got to be," you know, exclamation point, number symbol — to put a swear word in there "kidding me." But we couldn't do that.
Yes, I mean, this issue, like… the thing I love most about this issue — well, there are several things I love, but among the things I like the best is that there were just some fun one-liners in there. It was fun to put these characters into situations where they could say some great lines.
Nrama: Jim Gordon shows up in this issue, but he also plays a role going forward. We've already had it spoiled that some of these Robins are going to end up in jail. So this war isn't just a war between Robins. It's a war between the city government and Court of Owls and the police — all against the Robins. Is that right?
King: Yeah, but you're going to see that the actual Robin War is… I mean, this isn't an easy war. This isn't Russia against the United States. This is something where people flip sides and you're not sure who's against who. And the next issue, they could be against someone else.
So we start initially with it being the cops against the Robins. And then it expands from there. That puts pressure on different people. I mean, it's like any modern war – you see this in the fight against Syria. Now Turkey and Russian are fighting. Wars aren't as simple as, like, one side against the other side. And so we put some of that into this comic.
Nrama: Let's talk about the Court of Owls. That storyline happened before you were involved in the Bat-books. You weren't involved back then at all?
King: I was not.
Nrama: Yeah, so you're getting to work with these villains for the first time. Who do you see the Court of Owls being?
King: To me, they're the old order. They're the people who used to control everything. They're the secret societies, the old rich people who sort of said, OK, this is our land, this is not yours.
They're the exact opposite of the We Are Robins.
They're everything democracy is against. They're the oligarchy. And their power comes from that, and it's always come from that. It's the same power that all of us face in our lives when we realize that, like, it's easier to get into Harvard if six of your uncles and five of your grandparents went there. It's that power structure that still exists in all societies. That's what they represent, this idea that, like, long ago, a certain amount of families decided they would run the world, and they're not letting other people do it. And especially people who look different from them or act different from them.
And the We Are Robins represent — and Batman to some extent — an element of chaos. I mean, they didn't plan for it. These are people who like to plan for absolutely everything. That's where the conflict arises.
Nrama: We've had a little bit revealed about what the Court of Owls' ultimate goal is, to bring back Nightwing (and I'm sure readers noticed them calling him Nightwing). What can you tell us about the Court of Owls' role in this story?
King: I mean, they're on every cover, so I don't think it's spoiling to say their role is crucial.
By the end of this series, the role of the Court of Owls in the DC Universe will expand.
You're going to see how dangerous this group is.
Nrama: Wow. OK, so next week is chapter two of Robin War. You talked a little about the theme of Grayson #15, but can you tell us anything about what we'll see next in the story?
King: Yeah, I can tell you about that one because I wrote it! And I just got it in the mail, and God, it's beautiful. Mikel really kills it in this issue, helped by Jeromy Cox on colors. This may be Mikel's best art, and he's done amazing art so far.
This is the issue where I started with a 16-panel page, and then I gave him a splash so he could take it easy for a second. And then I asked him to draw as many Robins as possible, and he drew, like, 72 Robins. So Mikel may want to kill me, but it's a beautiful issue.
And that issue is about… now that Grayson knows about the Robins and knows they're in trouble, Dick tries to train them. The whole issue is about Dick and other Robins taking these untrained Robins to something I call Robin School, which is just the most fun concept ever. And I think I want to go — like the Harry Potter for Robins. But of course this takes place in alleyways and sewers because it's Gotham.
And it's about Dick trying to teach Robins what to do.
Nrama: You gave us a tease about the Court of Owls. To finish up, is there anything you can tell us about this "Nightwing" stuff?
King: I didn't drop that Nightwing word lightly. Tim [Seeley] and I, who's my brother, are DC's Grayson writers. We know that character. And we know how much Nightwing means to that character.
And that's one of the reasons I'm writing Robin War. We're bringing that concept back, and what it means to Dick Grayson.
As we go forward, what happens with that mask and that name is going to play a huge role in Grayson going forward.