Back To Bludhaven: Tim Seeley And Marcus To On Returning Dick Grayson To His Hometown In ‘Nightwing’ #10
Between having his secret identity revealed, becoming a world-traveling super-spy, getting his secret identity back, and then spending some time partnering up with a villain who claimed to be better than Batman, Dick Grayson has has a busy couple of years. Now it's finally time for him to find some comfort and head back to familiar territory --- namely Blüdhaven, the city across the river from Gotham that was his home in the '90s.
But in Tim Seeley and Marcus To's Nightwing #10, Dick's being introduced to a whole new 'Haven. To find out more, ComicsAlliance spoke to them about why they wanted to get him back to his classic stomping grounds, what it was like to rebuild Blüdhaven from the ground up, and the shocking return of Orca the Whale Woman. Yes, really.
ComicsAlliance: What is appealing to you about the idea of setting a story in a fictional city? What do you get out of that?
Tim Seeley: I think there's a sort of leftover '80s mistrust of cities, you know? Cities are where you need to send Sylvester Stallone's Cobra, where Frank Miller's Batman has to fight against corruption, because cities are the worst places in America. Especially after this election, we see this split between rural and urban people, and part of me was like, "We have to tell a story about what a city really is." A city's just people. It's a place where people live, and where they live closely together, and where a bunch of different cultures converge.
Being able to take a fictional city and start basically from the ground up with the only caveat being, "This needs to be a place where Dick Grayson would want to protect, and that is also different from Gotham City," the appeal was very much about being able to do, I hope, a better service to American cities.
CA: Is there anything you can do with Blüdhaven that you couldn't do with, say, Jersey City, or another real-life city?
TS: The thing that we get to play with in Blüdhaven is that we get to determine why the city is the way it is. In real life, obviously, that's more complex. Trying to tell a story about Baltimore in The Wire, where you're dealing with very complex issues, that's a little more than we can handle in a superhero story.
The best part about Blüdhaven is that we get to say these sort of things and hopefully make it feel real, but we don't have to live with the actual reality of what comes with all of the politics and bureaucracy, and the actual people who live there. Here, we're making a metaphor for a certain kind of town and a certain kind of life, and we can have some crazy fun with it, too. If we decide that the origin of Blüdhaven is that it was founded by Swedish Viking berserker pirates, we can do that. That's something we can play into with our story.
Marcus To: You know, there are Canadian cities that are basically that.
TS: That's true!
CA: The Blüdhaven that we're seeing now is a different sort of city from the one we had back in the '90s, when Nightwing was first set there. How did you go about designing the city to get that across visually?
MT: Tim's a really awesome captain of this ship, because a lot of the notes came from what was coming out of his brain. It's been really awesome, because I knew that we wanted to do something different with Blüdhaven. Having the look that we went with, which was sort like Atlantic City or something heavily tourist-based, but also a port town, makes a lot of sense.
I love the idea that it's different from Gotham City. I think it really pushes for something a lot different from what's expected out of Nightwing. I think his costume against a background of a city full of lights makes for a more interesting challenge, and he's more of a showman himself.
CA: How in-depth did you go? Did you go all the way down to cartography and street maps? Because as someone who grew up in the era of Secret Files books, there's nothing I love more than a map of a comic book city showing up.
MT: [Laughs] No, I didn't. It's interesting, because if you don't live in a city like that, it can feel like you're just making stuff up. When you look at the design of a city and you think of how things are made, there are so many different areas that are different from itself. I live in Toronto, and if you live in different areas, everything's so completely different.
I feel like Blüdhaven would be one of those places, where there are pockets like the entertainment district, the docks, the harbor. I think the fun of creating Blüdhaven out of nothing is that we can create those pockets whenever we'd like to. It gives Nightwing a different challenge every time.
TS: And the goal, ultimately, is that someday they'll do another Secret Files, and then some poor bastard will have to make a map based on all the stuff we came up with.
When I sent Marcus the description of what I wanted the city to be, I knew that I wanted various kinds of neighborhoods --- a tourist area that was a boardwalk, an illegal street market called the Meadowvale Mall, and a demolished former industrial place called the Tail's End. All of these things that I knew I wanted for story reasons, and then I gave them to Marcus and he figured out how to visualize it and make it tie into the themes and ideas of our story. Someday, somebody will build a map out of it, and it'll be in the DC Roleplaying Game rulebook.
CA: Listen, if you think I'm not obsessed with that DCU RPG Gotham City Sourcebook...
TS: You and me both, man. I played the Marvel roleplaying game, but I bought the DC one just so I could use the Gotham map. I'm with you.
CA: Obviously, Nightwing has a long history with Blüdhaven as a setting, but was there ever a moment where you thought about creating a different setting?
TS: When I first met with Geoff Johns and Mark Doyle to talk about what it would be, we distilled it down into, "These are the things about Nightwing." That's what Rebirth was supposed to entail: These are the things that worked the best, so how do we grab those things that we know and put them back into it in a new way? I think third on the list was Blüdhaven.
It was always going to be Blüdhaven, and it always had to be, I think, some variation on what that city was about. I was definitely not interested in doing, "It's like Gotham, but worse!" I had no interest in an idea like that, but we knew it had to have certain elements that would feel like that. And there was no time when it was going to be something new, because we knew it would feel like we were knocking it off anyway. So why not lean into it?
CA: Did you go back and look at how Blüdhaven was structured in the older stories?
TS: Oh yeah, I went back and read all of Chuck Dixon's stuff, and there was a lot I liked about the way he thought about Blüdhaven and the way Dick interacted with it, so I owe him a lot on that.
But there was also stuff I didn't like. I was never into the idea that any city could be defined by corruption. I mean, I live in Chicago, and I know what people think of Chicago, but I know what it's like to live here. I felt like I had to have a reason for people to live in that city, but we rarely found that out in the old run. Why did people live there? It sucked! It's full of crime, it's always dirty, it's always gross. Everything about it is worse than Gotham, and Gotham is the place that gets blown up by the Joker every month. There had to be this sort of character and texture to it that made it a place people would rather live than the suburbs.
CA: Moving past the city itself, we're introduced in #10 to some new characters, like Defacer. What can we look forward to in terms of other characters showing up?
TS: The main bad guy that we're dealing with in this arc is brand new, and Defacer's brand new, but we're doing our versions of other characters who existed in the old run, who haven't appeared very often or didn't get a lot of time. We wanted to add some local color to those people, so we had Marcus redesign guys like Stallion, Mouse, Thrilldevil, and later, Orca, and ---
CA: I'm sorry, did you just say Orca? Are we going to see Orca, the whale woman, coming back?
TS: Yeah, of course. We're in a whaling town, and we have a villain who's a whale. It's too perfect not to do something with it. But yeah, there's all these Bat-characters, and to me, there's no bad characters, there are just characters who haven't had their chance to shine. So why not grab these people and give them a new context? For a character like Stallion, you may think he's goofy, but there's a lot we can say about that guy.
CA: Now I have to ask about the challenge of redesigning Orca the Whale Woman.
MT: It was a challenge. I don't know if we're allowed to say this, but Jim Lee stepped in, too.
TS: Yeah, Jim Lee did his take on Orca the Whale Woman. That happened.
MT: It ended up happening, which was surprising to say the least, but like anything, it's challenging in the sense of, "Where do we want to go with this?" Do we want to go more humorous with it, do we want to go a little more realistic, if it's possible?
There was a little bit of back and forth trying to get the tone of where we want this character to be, because she is pretty comical, right? How do you make her seem relative to what we're trying to do? I think it worked really well. I'm pretty proud of what we did, but we'll wait and see what the fans think. [Laughs]
TS: I think we have some advantages, in that people might remember characters like Stallion and Thrilldevil and Mouse and Goober and Orca, I don't think there's a passionate defense against changing them up. If there is, I'm sorry to the few people who were like, "Thrilldevil must remain pure!" but I think we treated them with respect. I think we just shook the dust off after 20 years and gave them a new reason to be in Dick's life, instead of just trying to kill him all the time.
CA: This can just be a yes or no, but whenever I think of Nightwing in Blüdhaven, the characters that I go to are Blockbuster and Torque, the guy who had his head on backwards.
TS: Yeah, and usually people say Nite-Wing, right? That's usually the other one people remember.
CA: Right. So can we look forward to one or all of those characters coming back?
TS: [Laughs] Not in this arc, but yeah. Yeah.
MT: I hope I get to draw 'em.
TS: You're going to have to redesign Nite-Wing's jersey!
MT: I'll work on it.