As the Joker’s Daughter returns to the DCU in this week’s Nightwing #57, the enigmatic character is being co-written by DC newcomer Zack Kaplan as “a little Jack Nicholson, a little Heath Ledger," but (surprisingly) ultimately sane.
Kaplan is writing scripts based on a plot by Scott Lobdell (upon the departure of former scripter Fabian Nicieza). And he’s inheriting the title in the midst of an identity crisis for Dick Grayson, who was shot in the head a few months ago and has lost most of he memories. Since the shooting, the character has been calling himself “Ric,” has rejected his former life as Nightwing (even though Bat-friends told him all about it), and is trying to establish a new life in Bludhaven.
But in January’s Nightwing #56, the call to heroism was just too great for him to resist. After a group of vigilantes filled the void left by the departure of Nightwing, they found themselves in trouble while fighting Scarecrow - but Ric Grayson just naturally came to their rescue, instinctively knowing how they could win the battle.
With this week’s Nightwing #57 and next month’s #58, Ric and his fellow gang of Nightwings will have to deal with the Joker’s Daughter, who Kaplan says will have her own ideas about vigilantism.
Kaplan, who’s just co-writing these two issues for DC before Dan Jurgens takes over Nightwing in April, is making his debut with DC after the success of his ongoing series Eclipse and Port of Earth at Image. Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about his approach on Nightwing and the appearance of Duela Dent.
Newsarama: Zack, let’s talk about the character you’re writing for your DC debut. What’s your history with Nightwing were you a fan? And what did you think of the opportunity to write such an unusual story with the character?
Zack Kaplan: I’ve always been familiar with Nightwing, but only when I began to truly research him and understand how complex of a character he is did I gain such an appreciation for him.
I think he’s quite an enigma, a guy who’s never found his home, a man who always falls in love only to meet misfortune, a hero who’s constantly subject to the attempted control of others. And despite all of this conflict and tragedy and falling, the damn guy remains optimistic and altruistic. That’s quite a character.
So I was thrilled to get a chance to voice him.
And while I am joining the story at quite a unique place, I decided it was a fascinating opportunity, to capture Dick underneath Ric and see that fight between these two desires: to be normal and avoid the pain and conflict versus the magnetic engine to help others in need.
Nrama: Let’s talk about that “magnetic engine.” With the turn of events in Nightwing last issue, it looks like Ric just can’t resist helping people in trouble. Is that the idea/theme behind this story arc, to explore who this character is at his core, even when so much of him is stripped away?
Kaplan: I think it’s a mistake to assume so much of him is gone. For me, the Nightwing we all know and love is still under there, waiting to come back. That was the interesting aspect to me as a writer coming on board into this story already in progress.
Dick Grayson was shot in the head, and he’s coped with this traumatic tragedy by changing to Ric and leaving behind that other life. But I don’t think we ever change who we truly are. I think there are some things in us that never change.
So for me, Ric is on a journey to rediscover his true identity. As a storyteller, it was exciting to write that slow-burn return, put some of the pieces back in place.
And while it may be excruciating for fans desperate to get back the black and blue crusader they know and love, Ric is finding his way back.
In this arc, Ric, Dick or whatever name he goes by, is discovering that he is still a superhero. He is still Nightwing at heart.
Nrama: The end of last issue established that he’s joining this group that is working together to pick up the Nightwing legacy. Now that he’s joining a “team,” so to speak, what will the dynamic be like for Ric and the other Nightwings? And what’s interesting for you as a writer to explore this group?
Kaplan: There are a couple interesting dynamics that are pretty cool. This new Nightwings group has decided to suit up out of a sense of responsibility to the people of Bludhaven. Ric begins this story struggling to embrace this type of responsibility. So that’s interesting to see Ric have something to learn from this new group.
In turn, they have a lot to learn from him, and yet, the secret identities, the mystery that he is the original Nightwing, it lends itself to a lot of fun dramatic irony.
There’s a lot of opportunity to use these characters on his journey back to his roots, since, well, they’re pretending to be him.
Nrama: One of the upcoming covers makes it look like “Ric” isn’t going to get a costume for this story. Is that true? Anything you can share about him not getting back in costume?
Kaplan: Hey, I can’t wait to see him back in the black and blue, if that’s the natural progression for the character! I think we’re all excited to see what happens.
Nrama: You’re using the Joker’s Daughter for the next two issues, a character who’s had different roles in the DCU over the years. How would you describe her as you’re writing her?
Kaplan: I loved getting into the Joker’s Daughter’s head. I took a little Jack Nicholson, a little Heath Ledger, but ultimately I started with a sane character. After all, the scariest villains are the ones who make sense. That was the most important.
She’s a girl with a past shrouded in mystery, but she’s been chewed up and spit out by life. She’s been homeless on the street, she’s found comfort there, and she’s got a bone to pick with anyone who would look down and ignore those who are suffering.
So while she may seem crazy, if you pay close attention, she’s going to make a lot of sense. She’s credibly authentic and scary as hell.
Nrama: How connected is she to the Joker?
Kaplan: That remains a mystery.
Nrama: How does she get on the radar of Nightwing … er, rather, the Nightwings? What’s the nature of their conflict?
Kaplan: Bludhaven is undergoing a major transformation now, gentrifying with new businesses and growing into a much larger city. It’s created a lot of growing pains, crime, poverty and homelessness. And the Joker’s Daughter, well, she has come to save the day.
After all, Bludhaven could use a few more heroes. I’m not sure that the Nightwings and the Joker’s Daughter are going to agree about the best way to help people in need, but I’m sure they’ll work it out in the end, right?
Nrama: Oh, sure they will. Solicitations indicate there’s a theme of identity behind this story. How is the story of the Joker’s Daughter thematically linked to Nightwing’s own identity crisis?
Kaplan: It’s beautifully linked. I had such an eureka moment when I saw it. The Joker’s Daughter, despite her crazy, violent methods and insane disposition, is actually trying to help people. You might even say she feels a sense of responsibility to society’s suffering freaks and rejects.
Ric doesn’t know how to process his amnesia and his past, so he’s just trying to live his normal life, but he’s ignoring his love for helping people and his responsibility to be a hero to the people of Bludhaven.
So, in the end, Ric and Duela sit down, have a beer, inspire each other to be better people and live happily every after. Right?
Nrama: I’m thinking not. Since some readers might feel like you kind of came out of nowhere to script this title, where else can readers find your work?
Kaplan: I write Eclipse and Port of Earth, two ongoing sci-fi series from Image Comics/Top Cow, and I wrote The Lost City Explorers from Aftershock Comics. Eclipse comes back in March for a fourth and final arc, and Port of Earth continues in April. All are available in comic shops and online outlets. I’m on social media at @zackkaps or website zackkaps.com.
Nrama: Anything else you want to add?
Kaplan: I just want to say how excited I am to be joining the DC family and having my first title be one as amazing as Nightwing. Scott, Travis and Tamra assembled a real cool and beautiful book, and Katie Kubert and the entire editorial team were as supportive and brilliant as can be. So I’m just thrilled.