Batman’s Black Ops Team: James Tynion IV On The Cast Of Rebirth’s ‘Detective Comics’ [Interview]
With Detective Comics #934, James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Adriano Lucas and Marilyn Patrizio ushered the Batman Family into DC's brand-new Rebirth era --- but it's not exactly a version of the Batman Family that we've ever seen before. Instead, with a new villain in town targeting Batman's sidekicks, partners, and associates, the Dark Knight put together a new team led by Batwoman to train them to survive a conflict that has already left Azrael critically injured.
But with a new team that includes classic sidekicks, new versions of old favorites, and at least one supervillain, it raises the question of just how these characters were put together. So with the second issue of his new run just over the horizon, ComicsAlliance spoke to Tynion about his choices for the new roster, his goal of redefining the relationship between Batman and Batwoman, and who his all-time favorite character is.
ComicsAlliance: When you were sitting down to put together the cast for Detective Comics, there are a few that seem pretty obvious. Spoiler and Red Robin are carrying over from Batman & Robin Eternal, and Batwoman makes a lot of sense as the leader of the team, but were there any other considerations?
James Tynion IV: One of the big conversations in the office was making sure that everyone knows what book in the Batman line to go to for certain characters. You go to Nightwing for Nightwing, you go to Batgirl and Batgirl and the Birds of Prey for those characters. We didn't want all of the characters to bleed into the other books, so we wanted the cast of characters for this book to stand alone and really be able to do something different than the other books.
A version of a Batman team book could easily be just all the Robins on a team at the same time, and that would be a really fun book. But at the same time, that book would be secondary to what was happening in each of their core titles. You have Red Hood in his own book, Nightwing in his own book, Damian's in a couple --- they're all doing their own thing. So we wanted this book to be the spot for all of these characters.
The main character that I pushed for right from the start was Tim Drake, because we needed a touch of the legacy. You need a Robin on a team like this. But it was really the decision to put Batwoman front and center that coalesced the book. I've loved this character since she was introduced, but her role in terms of the Bat family has never been defined. She's interacted with the Bat family in passing here and there over the last few years, but what her relationship is, and what the proper balance between her and Batman is, wasn't defined. It's been established in little blips here and there that she's Batman's cousin, but that story has never been told. It's just sprinkled in as extra flavor in a couple of moments in the past.
I wanted to do a big story about the relationship between Batman and Batwoman, because their relationship is very different from the relationships she has with the younger Bat-crowd. Those people look up to him in a different way. Batwoman was inspired by Batman, but she has her own story and she's doing this for her own reasons. That was the shape of the conversation when we got started.
CA: Where did Clayface come into the picture? That was the one that I think surprised most readers.
JT: [Laughs] Yeah. There were two reasons. One was a very classical reason, which is that in a team book, you want someone with a silhouette for the covers that looks drastically different from the other characters. That's a very standard reason for why he was brought in the mix. Early on, we wanted to put a character who would be surprising in there, and we talked about Man-Bat, we talked about a few different characters, but the one I really settled on was Clayface.
Clayface has phenomenal powers. He's a bulky character with Hulk-level strength who's a real bruiser in a fight, but he's also a shapeshifter, so you can do real stealth stuff with him that you don't often see with that type of character. He's perfect for the Batman black ops team that this team will have the ability to become in time.
But then, on a purely story level, there's the idea that in shaping this book, we didn't want to do the closed-off Batman. This is the Batman who wants this team to exist, he wants these characters to train, and he understands the power of training the next generation rather than pushing them away. He understands why that would be a positive thing. We've all read the story of Batman saying no a million times, so I wanted to tell the story of Batman saying yes, and the biggest part of that was bringing in a character that even the other members of the team don't think is a good idea.
Batman does have this core of optimism, he has this deep belief that when you have a really, really bad day, you go through Hell, but you can come through the other side of that and make yourself something better. That's what he did. Clayface had a really bad day, and he succumbed to an easier path of crime and leaning into the fact that he felt like a monster.
Batman believes that there's more potential there, that he can be something more. That's really where that story will go from here, because Clayface has succumbed to that easier path before and he might do so again, but for now, he wants to try, and he is going to try, and Batman believes he can do it. That's something powerful in and of itself.
CA: Did you find that any of the relationships between these characters, and their relationships with Batman, changed through the course of your work on Eternal?
JT: That's an interesting question. The only two characters in this cast that had consistent interaction back in Eternal would probably be Tim and Orphan, Cassandra Cain. Spoiler stayed in Gotham City, Batwoman wasn't really involved, and obviously Batman was dead at the time --- well, not exactly dead. We were all there.
But it was really being able to play with these characters in a way that I wasn't able to do in Eternal that was really the fun here, like finally being able to build the relationship between Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. That was such a powerful relationship in old Batman continuity, but now we get to see it re-emerge in a new way here. We'll see where Harper Row fits in that mix in the series as we go forward, even though she's stepped back from superheroics for the moment.
The two biggest relationships that I'm most excited for are the relationship between Batman and Batwoman, and between Batman and Tim Drake. That latter relationship has not been as defined in the new continuity, in the way that all of the other Robins have been defined.
Tim's my favorite character in all of comics. It means a lot to be the one who gets to really dive in and explore what that means in the past, in the present, and how that story moves forward into the future.
CA: You mentioned Orphan and the idea of redefining Tim Drake. For Cassandra Cain, I think that's an interesting approach --- she has a 17-year history in comics at this point, she had a 75-issue ongoing series, but none of that survived the New 52. Going into Rebirth, are you looking at anything to define Cassandra, do you want to change anything that fans might remember from her previous existence?
JT: The one big thing that I am happy to remove from the continuity is the moment where she learned English because she ran into a psychic on a rooftop. That, I am happy to sort of push to the wayside.
But rebuilding the character from scratch in Batman & Robin Eternal, the most important goal there was to keep intact the core essence of Cassandra Cain. Frankly, I think you wrote something on the matter before where she is in a way the inverse of Bruce. She has killed once, and it broke her in a way that she will spend her life building herself off of. The moment in the alley, in Bruce's moment, she was Joe Chill. That's always going to be what shapes her and what she's pushing back against.
But in terms of her relationships to everyone around her, that, I get to build anew, but I'm building it in echoes of the past, because those relationships are really powerful to me. It's putting her a little earlier --- she hasn't figured out everything that she had figured out in the old continuity, we've put her in an earlier stage of this journey.
And we will be doing different things as we move forward. We just told the big story of her father, but there's still a big story connected to who her mother is, and whether or not that's going to lead to the same place it did in old continuity. What is Lady Shiva up to these days? We're going to be diving into that. The second arc of the Detective run is a Spoiler story, the third is a Cassandra Cain story, so that's where we're ending the whole first year of the book. It's a big story that I'm very excited to tell.