All Eyes On Dick: Jackson Lanzing And Collin Kelly On Taking Over ‘Grayson’ [Interview]
To say that Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikel Janin are a hard act to follow is putting things mildly. In a year and a half on Grayson, they took the concept of the original Robin going undercover as a super-spy and made it one of DC’s best titles, exploring strange, sinister corners of the DC Universe. When Grayson #18 hits shelves, however, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly and Roge Antonio are stepping up to the plate for the next three issues ahead of the DC Rebirth relaunch of Nightwing, and it’s their goal to take things to an even greater extreme.
To find out more, ComicsAlliance spoke to Lanzing and Kelly about what defines Dick Grayson as a character, their approach to building the biggest story that they can, and how they finally hit the book’s limit of shirtless sexiness.
ComicsAlliance: Dick Grayson has been around for a while, and he’s been through a lot, especially recently. What defines him as a character to you?
Jackson Lanzing: I think Dick Grayson has been, for a long time, up until this solo series, defined by this need to get out of Batman‘s shadow. For a long time, he was Batman’s best partner, then he became, in a lot of ways, his own man and tried to take on that new mantle. And then, after Forever Evil, he became this martyr character, right? This example to the rest of the superhero universe of what can happen to you if your identity gets revealed.
The thing I love about Grayson as a solo series — and I’ve made no bones about it, it’s my favorite book at DC and I’ve been reading it as a fan since #1 — is that it’s taken Dick and surrounded him with his own universe. It has made a comic that says Dick Grayson isn’t just the shadow of Batman, and he isn’t just a young Batman, he’s not just Optimistic Batman, he’s not all of those things that you want to put on Nightwing. He’s not just Nightwing! He is his own man, he’s Dick Grayson, and then Dick Grayson is an optimist in a universe that doesn’t always play by optimist rules, he’s a man who will constantly leap before he looks, sometimes to his own detriment but never to the detriment of others, he’s a beautiful person who doesn’t judge people on their looks or their beauty.
Dick is, in a lot of ways, the best of us, and so I think that putting him in a spy universe and saying, “Everyone here is deceitful, no one plays by your rules,” he has to survive there and protect that good person at his heart. That has been, I think, a really wonderful evolution of the character, and it’s given him a universe that is his own. Luka Netz, Elizabeth Netz, Helena Bertinelli, they’ve become Grayson characters. Doctor Daedalus has, in a lot of ways, become a Grayson villain. Tiger has been this amazing addition to Dick’s life. All of these characters are Grayson characters. He’s been able to start his own universe, his own place to call his own, in a very real way. So finally, he’s gotten out of Batman’s shadow rather than just saying “oh, I’m going to get out of Batman’s shadow.” He’s his own person. He’s a different person than that.
Collin Kelly: I think that really speaks to, personally, what we’ve really come to with Dick Grayson. He began his journey as the Boy Wonder that everyone wanted to be — who doesn’t want to be Batman’s best friend? — and it’s easy to engage with that character.
But we, as young men growing up, were able to look at him and watch not just as he grew, but as he grew into someone who was not just awesome, double air quotes, guitar solo, but someone who was legitimately a good person and a good man. Just being able to engage with him as a character who really embodies everything that you want to be, not just as a hero but as that genuine person, in a world that is filled with gray and darkness and lies and secrecy has been really fantastic. Getting this chance to dive deeper into what that really means in a way that’s just inherent to the book and fundamental to the themes of the plot has been really enlightening and engaging, and we absolutely love it.
JL: Basically, my thing on Dick Grayson is that any young optimist who can inspire, of all people, Midnighter, there’s something good with that character. He’s got a special power that has nothing to do with fighting.
CA: I like that you include the fact that he’s a beautiful man in your idea of what defines him, because I was a little worried that the next creative team would not be offering as much Shirtless Grayson as we’ve gotten used to.
CK: Chris, I have got your back. I hear you, my friend. It’s very important for everyone to have a male hero who can be a little bit of eye candy. That’s very important to have on the shelves and have comics fans engage with. Personally, I love writing Sexy Dick Grayson more than pretty much anything on this planet. I’m constantly looking for reasons for him to take his shirt off, and I get notes back like, “Uh, he would probably be wearing a shirt in this situation,” and I just shoot him the stink-eye.
JL: It’s true. My realism keeps getting in the way. But it’s actually a really interesting point, because I think as a fan of the book, you can’t ignore it. Tom and Tim went out of their way, and I would too with Mikel Janin. Like, holy cow, he draws a very beautiful Dick Grayson. But I think it’s actually a part of his character.
A lot of times, when we have characters that are gorgeous, even within their own fiction where they’re defined by their looks, it also means that they’re conceited, or it means that they look down on other people who weren’t as beautiful or whatever it is. Dick Grayson does not have that elitism. It’s just not part of his DNA. The fact that he is so fit is because he’s a gymnast, but that he’s so beautiful is just luck of the draw. He’s not going to sit there and judge you, ever. I think that relationship between his looks and his behavior is a really cool aspect of his character.
I’m not going to say we’re making the book about it, because we’re not. We have pretty big fish to fry in our issues.
CK: We have a lot of important things to service.
JL: It actually really prevented us from putting him in as many sexy or shirtless situations as possible, because he’s in some very real existential danger, but I will say that we had a conversation a couple nights ago where Colin mentioned that he had written a few pages from an upcoming issue, and he was like, “I think he might be too sexy. I think we’ve finally hit the too sexy part of our book.”
And I was glad we finally hit that, because up until now, we were trying to figure out how to keep that as much of a part of our book as we can, while still grappling with the fact that the book’s going to get really serious, and the stakes are going to get higher in our issues, just by nature of where the plot’s going.
CA: It is one of those things that I think is a nice visual contrast to define him. You see Batman, and he’s got a cowl, and he’s always hiding himself behind his cape or in the shadows, and even as Robin and Nightwing, Dick just has the domino mask. Now, as Grayson, “Here’s my face. Here is my beautiful, beautiful face, occasionally obscured by spirals.”
JL: It’s true! It references Dick Grayson’s openness to people, as opposed to Bruce’s closed-off nature.
CK: That also really speaks to the emotional state that we’re finding him in, in #18, 19 and 20. He has this beautiful face and he’s not afraid to show it, but for the past entire run of this series, he’s been hiding this face behind the Hypnos. He’s not a man who needs you to see his face, but he is a man who feels incredibly dishonest when he has to hide who he is. That puts a toll on wanting to express himself authentically, and the fundamental nature of being a super-spy is something that our issues are diving into incredibly hard.
JL: For #18-20, the thing that we’re focusing on doing is taking the incredible plot, story and momentum that Tom and Tim have worked so hard to establish and build into such a great book, and we’re hoping to take that and push it forward, take some of the shadows away, and show you the light behind it. There are wheels within wheels, we’re looking to start lensing out so you can see how these wheels fit inside each other.
We’re at the point in the book where every spy organization is active to some degree in Grayson’s universe, and we want to step back and show how they’re active and, at the end of the day, it’s not about all of them. It’s about Dick Grayson and his understanding of himself.
A big theme in the book, since the first issue, has been people asking Dick Grayson who he is, or telling Dick Grayson who he is. We’re very interested in getting to a point where Dick Grayson can say who he is, and show who he is, and decide who he is, after his experiences over the past 20 issues. We’re really looking to try to use this time to accelerate and try to deliver some definitive answers, not just about the plot, but about the themes. We don’t just want you to understand the ins and outs of Otto Netz’s crazy Spyral plan, we want you to understand the ins and outs of Dick Grayson’s internal struggle. That’s where our heads are at.
CA: In terms of Dick’s relationship with Spyral, we’ve seen that go from Dick being there as an undercover agent for Batman, to being adrift after Batman’s apparent death, having this uneasy alliance, and now this open warfare between Spyral and Dick and Tyger. How do you go even bigger than that?
JL: Tom and Tim did a little work for us there at the issue of #16, even before we were on it when they set things up for what was to come, when Helena goes to the shadow spies. You have this laundry list of violent super-spy characters, Frankenstein included. There’s a lot of them, and they’re going to mobilize against Dick Grayson, and they’re losing that fight, but they’re still fighting. Agent 8 is still out there, Luka Netz is still out there, there are still a ton of players on the board that are all eyes on Dick. They’re heading for Dick Grayson with knives.
Getting to our first issue, #18, how do we balance that? Our first issue has, I don’t think I’m exaggerating, 17 speaking parts, and they’re all characters that you’ve met before. All of them are fighting.
CK: It’s a wall-to-wall fight scene.
JL: We’re not starting the book over, we’re not taking an issue to introduce “our themes,” we’re taking what Tom and Tim have been building to. They put the pedal to a hundred miles an hour and we’re in the passenger seat, and they have to lean out the window to shoot at the guys chasing us — this is a really weird metaphor, but they’re out the window so we have to take over.
CK: They might’ve said, “Hey guys, why don’t you slow down the car while we find a way to pull off,” and instead we’re saying, “Or, we could go hit that ramp.” It’s been awesome, ratcheting up the stakes, making things more dangerous.
And a big part of that is revealing people’s true motivations. You understand the fact that everything you know, everything that you think people are into and what they’re after, is all just a front. It’s been a shell game for the past 17 issues. Then, in #19 and #20, you start to get new answers, and when the answers start to drop, the stakes are only going to get higher. It’s an amazing thrill ride.
JL: And I think the idea is that rather than blowing up in #20, getting our big fight scene in our third issue and pushing all the characters against each other then, we’re hoping to have this big moment in #18, and then let the book get more intimate in #19 and #20. We get a lot of the big punching out of the way. We’re really looking forward to people getting to see that big, climactic moment, but then we’re also very eager to explore those next moments, those things that come after. There are deeper character revelations and reconciliations.
CK: The emotional stakes, not just the narrative stakes.