As Sam Humphries takes over DC's Nightwing title in December, the focus will be on the character's emotional attachment to his work as a superhero and an emerging threat called the Judge, who reminds Dick of his past failures.
Humphries, who is working with Bernard Chang on the book, joins the title after a run on the "Rebirth" title Green Lanterns, which brought characters Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz to the forefront in the Green Lantern universe.
Now he's turning his attention to Dick Grayson, hoping to give the book more of a street-level vibe a more intimate examination of Dick's emotional experiences. And at the center of the first storyline is a new villain who's Bludhaven-specific and has what Humphries calls an "interesting powerset" that makes him unlike any DC villain before.
Newsarama talked to Humphries to find out more about his run on Nightwing as he takes over with December's issue #35, honoring the "Rebirth" run so far but adding his own spin on the character by collaborating closely with Chang.
Newsarama: Sam, were you a Nightwing fan before you got this book?
Sam Humphries: Oh, yeah! He's one of the greatest DC characters of all time, and if you're a DC Comics reader, you've read a book with Nightwing in it, because he's everywhere in the DCU and he's such a compelling character. He's a character who grew up in the DCU as a superhero - that's kind of like everybody's wish fulfillment if you're a nerd, right?
Nrama: Yeah, true. What are you hoping to highlight about Nightwing?
Humphries: That's a good question, which I'm currently answering as I write each script for the book. If I had to sum it up, I'd say Dick is a lifer, and because of that, he endures being a superhero in a different way - he absorbs the ups and downs emotionally in a different way than a Batman or a Superman or the Flash or anybody like that.
If he's not a superhero, he doesn't really have another life from the past to go back to. It's 2017. There isn't a life waiting for him in the circus. So it's the kind of thing where not only is the mission at stake, not only is defeating evil at stake, but it's also very personal for him because it's his life at stake.
Nrama: The character is currently in Bludhaven. I know you're playing with some stuff from his past in your first storyline. Does the location also play a role?
Humphries: Yeah, him being in Bludhaven was one of the things that I was very much aligned with what DC wanted out of the book right off the bat. He's a classic DCU character; he's one of the greatest superheroes of all time. And part of that is having your own city to call home.
Certainly Gotham is a home for him, but Bludhaven is a city he can own and make his own.
So we're continuing the tradition of developing Bludhaven as a location, getting very specific about what makes Bludhaven cool or dangerous, and you see some of that right off the bat in the first issue.
Nrama: You're introducing a new villain in this issue while also exploring Nightwing's past. Can you talk about the threat in your first arc?
Humphries: The big bad guy's name is the Judge. He's a brand new character, but he's a character that Dick has faced twice before - once as Robin and once as Dick Grayson, as a Hudson University student.
And the Judge is a character that could only come from Bludhaven. He is a true rogue of Bludhaven. He could not come from Metropolis or Gotham.
Nrama: So he's someone that Dick has faced before?
Humphries: Yeah. He's a character who's never been seen before, but Dick has faced him twice and Dick has failed to bring him in twice.
Not only does this guy have a very murderous, bloody effect on Bludhaven, but when he pops up again, it's something that hits Dick really hard.
You know, I think we all have failures in our lives. And when those failures come back, whether they pop up in some way or somebody brings them up in conversation, we get that terrible feeling deep down in our stomach all over again. That's the effect the Judge has on Nightwing.
When you're a superhero, you can't stop and work your way through the guilt or the shame - you have to barrel ahead and try to stop this guy from what he's doing.
He has a very interesting powerset, which I won't get into here - I'll let that be a surprise in the comic - but he's unlike any other villain we've seen before in the DC Universe, and he's a character that Dick takes so personally that the sparks are about to fly between the two of them.
Nrama: Are you keeping the same tone as what was established with the "Rebirth" run by Tim Seeley? Or kind of kicking off your own thing?
Humphries: I think everybody on every run has their own tone and their own take on the character. I loved Tim Seeley's take on the book and have devoured it probably two or three times from a couple different angles at this point. And he has one of the great all-time runs on the character in the history of the character.
But you know, this is a book that I want to take much more street-level, and take a more emotional approach to Dick and what he's going through.
Nrama: Will Dick be interacting with the rest of the DCU, or are you wanting to establish his life in Bludhaven a little more before crossing him into the paths of other characters?
Humphries: Well, we're in the Batman office, so there are always plans in the Batman office.
But the first arc, we want to focus on Dick - we want to focus on Nightwing and Bludhaven. We really want to bring out this new bad guy called the Judge. There's a lot going on with him.
So no major guest stars in the first arc. But down the road, it's a big universe and Nightwing's a very popular guy.
Nrama: Tell me what Bernard brings to the title.
Humphries: Bernard and I have had a blast working on this together because he has been working on Batman Beyond - a fantastic run with him and Dan Jurgens for like two and a half years. It's almost unheard of to have a run that long these days.
And he has come to Bludhaven just exploding with energy and these crazy, inventive designs. You can see it right off the bat in the first couple pages - his design for the Judge is incredible.
His design for some of the new characters we have in Bludhaven - the Guppy, King Sturgeon - these are all incredible designs.
He and I have been working hand-in-hand on this book.
I've been writing plot first, which makes it more of a collaboration between writer and artist. And we both live in Los Angeles. We're actually just a subway ride apart, so we have the ability to get together and throw ideas and brainstorm and hash out possibilities together in person, which can be a rare partnership in comics these days.
Nrama: OK, you have the ability, but have you done that? It sounds like you've gotten together like that…
Humphries: Yes, not only do we have the ability to do it, but we have actually done it. And I think the comic's all the better for it.