After Benjamin Percy researched and wrote his cyber-crime prose novel The Dark Net, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio wanted the writer to bring his knowledge of the Dark Web to the characters of the DCU.
Percy, who's coming off an almost two-year run on Green Arrow, decided that Nightwing would be the ideal series in which to launch a story about the data warfare of the Dark Web. Although Nightwing doesn't seem like the most likely candidate for this type of high-tech story, Percy believes Dick Grayson's low-tech approach to crime-fighting and his extensive knowledge (or rather, "data") about the DCU actually make him a perfect fit for the type of story he wants to tell.
As Percy launches his new run with artist Christopher Mooneyham with this week's Nightwing #44, Newsarama talked to the writer about their run, Batgirl's role in the upcoming story, and why Percy is honoring Dick Grayson's past while challenging his future.
Newsarama: Ben, you've chosen an adversary for Nightwing that's rooted in the world of high-tech. What did you want to explore with this story, and why Nightwing?
Ben Percy: I published a book a year ago called The Dark Net. And while I was on tour, the phone rang and it was Dan DiDio on the other end of the line. And he said he had picked the book up, and he wanted me to channel all the research I had done for it and bring that into the DC Universe, and crank up the volume and sprinkle some broken glass over it and dose it up with steroids, you know. And create a worthy new villainous force that would affect the entire DCU.
So I had visited Google, spoken to people at Verizon and Apple, sat down with 'grey hat' hackers and become a casual expert on digital security.
And this interest began, and the subject began, several years ago when I read an article in Time magazine by Lev Grossman, the author of The Magicians, about Silk Road. And I knew that I had to make that the subject of my next novel.
I've always been supremely interested in stories that channel cultural anxiety - stories like Frankenstein, which is all about the industrial revolution and the fear of science and technology; stories like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is all about McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and the fear of communists living among us.
There are a lot of things we should be afraid of right now, but cyber crime chief among them.
And when I was putting together this pitch, initially there was this question of what series would be the best platform for it, for the Dark Web?
Ultimately, I advocated for Nightwing, not only because I love the character, and not only because I've always dreamed about being part of the Bat-group (my darker sensibilities seemed suited for that zip code especially), but because I thought this was an interesting foe for a character like Dick Grayson.
He's somebody who relies on his batons and his acrobatic martial arts, more or less. He's not like Batgirl or Batman, all wired up with gadgetry. He's a little more old school in the way that he fights crime.
I thought that technology, first of all it's such a challenge to make technology into something visually interesting. How do we put Dick Grayson in a scenario where he's battling against cyber-terror and put him into a situation where he has to overcome something he can't punch? That's interesting to me.
So is the fact that Dick Grayson, if you think of all of his iterations - as Robin, as somebody who wore the cowl himself as Batman, at the head of the Teen Titans, as the head of the Titans, and as a member of the Justice League, and as somebody who is both a leader and a follower and who knows everyone at the margins and at the very center of this larger web of heroes - he is a treasure chest of information, of vulnerable data.
And data is what the criminals are after right now. Information is the greatest weapon of this time.
Everyone's heard about identity theft. This is, in part, about secret identity theft.
Nrama: Wow, that's interesting to think about it that way. As I read the first issue, and you mentioned this, it seems like the type of adversary that readers would expect Batgirl to run into as opposed to Nightwing. But in upcoming issues, it looks like Batgirl and Nightwing will be teaming up against this technical threat?
Percy: Batgirl's a really important part of this storyline. And it's not just because she's so technically able, but it's also because I loved their relationship. I love the emotional rapport between the two.
Yes, I'm bringing them together in a team-up. And she'll continue to show up throughout my time writing the series, not just in a supporting role either. I want to treat their relationship with the kind of symbiotic quality that I brought to Green Arrow in his relationship with Black Canary.
I'm not saying necessarily that there will be an intense romantic relationship, although I'm not ruling that out. They need each other.
Nrama: Is this story in Bludhaven going to continue for awhile?
Percy: I'm setting the stage right now for something much bigger. The story begins in Bludhaven, but it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And though you can say that the Dark Web will be the through-line of my time on Nightwing, the same way that the Ninth Circle was sort of the through-line of my time on Green Arrow, there will be micro-narratives. There will be vacations, let's say, from the Dark Web.
I have a micro-narrative coming up that's going to directly channel a lot of Grant Morrison weirdness. It's going to be an almost direct homage to his work on Batman and Robin. So keep your eye out for Flamingo, among others.
Nrama: Another thing that is really striking about this issue is the art by Christopher Mooneyham. How would you describe his contribution to the series?
Percy: Christopher Mooneyham is brilliant. And I am in love with what he's doing on this series.
From the very beginning, we talked about the aesthetic, somewhere between a gritty cop from the '70s and Bladerunner.
He has a tight line, he has a noir-ish understanding of light and shadow, he has a painstaking attention to detail. I mean, every micro-centimeter of a panel is filled up with some delicious detail. He has classic staging. If you look at his work, it reminds me so much of Klaus Jansen and David Mazzucchelli.
When you partner that with the colors of Nick Falardi, you've got an artistic revelation.
I'm really lucky to be working with this team.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell readers?
Percy: I want to show Dick Grayson in all his iterations. There will be storylines that channel the Marv Wolfman/George Perez era of Nightwing as the head of the Teen Titans. There will be storylines that channel the Tom King/Tim Seeley era of him being Agent 37. So I have, yes, my own unique take on the series, but I also want to pay respect to the past.