Dick Grayson’s Post-College Homecoming: Tim Seeley Talks ‘Nightwing’ [Interview]
Dick Grayson has had a pretty interesting couple of years. He had his identity exposed, he faked his death, he went undercover as an international super-spy in an organization dedicated to finding out other heroes' secret identities and weaknesses, and he even taught a few classes in gymnastics. But for Batman's first partner, that's the superheroic equivalent of going off to college.
Now, he's donning the mask once again and returning to his former codename, and with Nightwing: Rebirth on shelves this week, with art by Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn, ComicsAlliance spoke to writer Tim Seeley about the challenge of moving Dick back into his familiar identity, the metaphor behind his return to Gotham City, and just why it is that the first arc of the new series is called "Better Than Batman."
ComicsAlliance: In Grayson, you did a lot to explore and define who Dick Grayson is when he's not with the Batman Family. What was the challenge for you of putting him back in that role, in a position that's more familiar to the readers, but maybe not for you as a writer?
Tim Seeley: That was definitely the biggest challenge, putting the character back in the box after working so hard to take him out of it. But I think the point of Grayson was that it's Dick Grayson sort of symbolically going off to college, or getting his education in the real world, or even sort like a gap year. He went and did this thing to find out who he was outside of the normal life he had made for himself, and now he's coming back. In my mind, when you first come back after you've done this thing away from home, you need to relate to your family members when you've changed. You're no longer a kid. How does that change the relationships you've had with these people? It led to the question, then, what's Dick's next step? He's got the people in his life back around him, so where does he go from here?
The idea that I came up with --- with our great editors, Dave Welgosz, Rebecca Taylor, and Mark Doyle --- was that now, he's in a position to seek out other people to learn from in a different way than he's learned from Batman.
CA: I like the metaphor of Dick going off to college, even though his "college" was being an international super-spy.
TS: Yeah, and there are those old Robin comics where Dick actually did go off to college. But in superhero comics, everything is just a little more extreme. It's just a little bigger, a little more colorful. So it totally made sense that that would be Dick's version of college, and that his version of a dorm room would be living at a secret spy headquarters with a bunch of crazy girls dressed as skeleton warriors chasing him around school. All that made sense to me. That was that part of his education, and now he's moving to a new phase.
CA: I think what completes it for me is that when he comes back to Gotham --- when he "moves back in with his dad" --- he has what's essentially that first post-college job that he hates. For him, it's working for the Parliament of Owls, but he's still got that "no, man, the system's not gonna change me" attitude.
TS: [Laughs] Right, and all of his bosses are sort of middle management. I think the thing that a lot of millennials are facing is that when you come home, you don't get that dream job. You're faced with reality. The economy has changed, and you feel like the Baby Boomers have screwed you over. There was plenty of stuff to extrapolate into a superhero comic where a guy runs around the world punching dudes dressed as owls.
CA: Was it difficult for you to figure out what role Dick was going to play in terms of that age range? With the restructuring of the DC Universe, we've seen Damian as a kid, Tim Drake as a teen --- and Jason Todd as the very surly late teen, I guess. Barbara Gordon has a long relationship with Dick, and we've seen her in that early-20s, post-college age range, so did it make sense for you to pin Nightwing to that, too?
TS: Yeah. The identity of Nightwing has always been a sort of young-adult approach to superheroing. It's a little bit of DC's Spider-Man plus Daredevil, but it's really its own thing because of the legacy aspect of the DC Universe. Having Dick be the young adult, the one with the education that he's now sort of figuring out what to do with, made total sense, and it wasn't something I've seen very specifically done in a Nightwing story before, or a Dick Grayson story before. I was delighted that there's so much stuff to do with that, and adding this mentor character as his first non-parental figure who wants to challenge his view of the world made sense, too.
CA: And that's Raptor, who I believe is the inspiration for the story title "Better Than Batman."
TS: Or is he? [Laughs] Or is that about Dick Grayson? It's up to the reader to decide by the end of the arc!
CA: I have to say, that's a bold choice of title for your first arc.
TS: That is totally a Geoff Johns idea, too! [Laughs] A lot of times, when you're working on this stuff, you're in it and you're figuring stuff out, and as part of the development of the Rebirth books, we would give our outlines to Geoff for him to say, "This works, this is what I think is best for the character." I handed my stuff to him, and he read it, and he said, "Yeah, that's called 'Better than Batman.'" Okay!
That's another case of DC picking out the best parts of a story and coming up with something I didn't have. It was Dan DiDio coming up with the "You don't know Dick" tagline for Grayson. It's another one of those things, like, "Man, I wish I would've thought of that! Thank you!"
CA: And here I thought it was you being on the phone with Tom King going, "Oh, you're writing Batman? Well I'm writing 'Better than Batman'."
TS: You know us too well. As soon as I was doing the Rebirth announcement at WonderCon, that's exactly what I told him. You have an understanding of our relationship.
CA: There were a lot of specifics to what you did on Grayson that I think resonated with readers. There was the big high-concept stuff --- the guy with the guns for eyes, for instance --- and there was the relationship with Midnighter, there was Matron and the girls from St. Hadrian's. Are any of those elements going to carry over to Nightwing, or is it just going to be a clean break with a new direction, new supporting cast, and new location?
TS: It's a little bit of both. The weird high concept stuff will stick around, because that's the way I like my superhero comics to be. A lot of the things that we learn about Dick via those former supporting cast members will remain, and they definitely don't disappear. A lot of those characters appear in the first few issues, and I think those relationships are important. They define a new era for Dick Grayson.
But yeah, this is a different thing. It's a Nightwing story, and it's a superhero story first and foremost. The espionage angle comes second. He's not hiding from the people he's most associated with to keep them safe anymore, none of that is part of the story, so I think it has to be a different dynamic. It has to have a different supporting cast. But what Grayson taught me was that a lot of things that work about Dick Grayson maybe weren't there implicitly before. He works really well as a globetrotting secret spy-type chracter. He works really well with Batman-like characters who force him to deal with a different aspect of their character. All of that stuff, I'm going to keep. And the crazy villains, and the weird, colorful stuff that I usually add to comics, and that Tom and I had so much fun with, will definitely be a part of the comic.
CA: That leads me to what I think is probably the most important question. Dick's costume. You've got him back in the traditional black-and-blue suit. That's a one-piece suit, Tim. That makes it hard for him to take his shirt off.
TS: [Laughs] You'd be surprised.
I wanted to underplay --- not completely --- the sexiness and the cheekiness that we added to Grayson. It's slightly less there in Nightwing, partially because it didn't feel like it was part of the kind of genre that we were doing there. By doing an espionage story, by doing a riff on the James Bond tropes, by subverting that, you were doing something original. Here, because that's not as much a part of these kind of superhero stories, it's less.
I mean, there's some abs on display, and we'll definitely make sure that Dick is charming, and there's plenty of moments for people to fall in love with him, but there's slightly less of a winking exploitative edge to Nightwing than there was to Grayson.
CA: So what can we expect from Dick's journey with the Parliament of Owls? Not to spoil anything, but in the Rebirth special, you sort of take Lincoln March off the table for a while.
TS: Yeah. We felt like that was so much of a Bruce Wayne character, and we wanted to set Dick up with a specifically Dick Grayson character, whose relationship would be based on something they could share. As you go on through the story, I think you'll see that the symbolic removal of Lincoln March from the chessboard makes a lot of sense.
Dick Grayson doesn't have enough memorable villains that are very personally about him. There are a lot of times where the characters are derivative of someone else, usually Batman. Our big goal here was to make a character that was first and foremost a Dick Grayson character. But we also added some cool stuff --- one thing we find out about Raptor is that he's like the Batman of the '60s and '70s, where he has a ton of different outfits. He has a snow outfit, an underwater outfit. I wanted to do a Rainbow Raptor, where you'd see him in his pink outfit, his green outfit, his yellow outfit. He's got a lot of interesting aspects to him that people will not be expecting.
CA: I think the time is definitely right for an "I must, Nightwing! I must wear a different color owl costume every night!" cover.
TS: For sure! [Laughs] I did send that cover to the artist, saying, "Just so you know, this is something I think we should do."
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