Detective Comics writer on that big Robin twist
Warning: This post contains spoilers about the most recent issue of Detective Comics.
DC’s recent soft relaunch, Rebirth, brought many key characters back into the light of optimism and heroism after the dark grittiness of the New 52 — resulting in many books that have been absolute delights. One particular high point? James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows’ Detective Comics, which did something unprecedented: It took a selection of Batman’s costumed allies and turned them into a superhero team of their own. In the first arc, this team — consisting of Batman, Batwoman, Tim Drake as Robin, Batgirl, Spoiler, and a reformed Clayface — faced off against the Colony, a militarized drone force led by Batwoman’s father, Jacob Kane. Their conflict leads to a climactic showdown in this week’s Detective Comics #940, and unfortunately, it appears to result in Tim Drake’s death.
Except… Tim Drake isn’t actually dead, and not just in the way that comic book superheroes are never dead. Though his friends and family believe him slain, Tim was simply taken “off-stage” and imprisoned by a mysterious being who may or may not have anything to do with Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan (strongly implied to be manipulating the DC universe from behind the scenes in the DC: Rebirth one-shot). EW talked to Tynion about the genesis of the twist and the future of Detective Comics.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does it feel to have set up all these dominoes and now knocked them down?
James TYNION IV: It feels pretty great, honestly. When we got started here, what we really wanted to do with this book was do something that hadn’t been tried before, which was create a Batman team book in a way that I don’t think anyone’s attempted at DC in the past, especially in the pages of Batman or Detective Comics. The biggest thing was making sure that we had a cast of characters that was perfectly tailored to the book, but then on top of that, make sure the reader knew that these stories were really going to matter, not just for the Bat-family but in terms of the larger DCU. When we started talking about where we were going to leave off at the end of this first story, [DC Comics chief creative officer] Geoff Johns brought me in to discuss some of the bigger-picture ideas and what he was looking to start planting in this book. It was like, Okay, this is the chance to do something really special and unique that could become a surprise success out of the whole relaunch. I’m thrilled I was able to be a part of this, and I’m thrilled people seem to be enjoying it.
How does it feel to have taken Tim Drake out of the picture for now?
Tim Drake is my favorite character in comics. This is the character that I grew up with. He was really my entry point to the Batman books in the late ‘90s/early 2000s when I started reading comic books when I was in middle school and high school. He, as a character, means a tremendous lot to me, and especially his view on the rest of the Bat-family. He is a brighter character who has a bit more of a utopian vision of being what a member of the Bat family can actually be. So as soon as we talked about doing a group, before I knew any of the bigger plans, I knew that Tim Drake was crucial to make this book work. To really bring together a Bat-family team, you needed the utopian vision, the positive side, someone who is fighting this war because it is the right thing to do and the best way to shape people’s lives. In the story we’re seeing lots of different paths to that. We introduced the Colony concept, which is basically someone taking the concept of Batman and weaponizing it into a huge military force, but you see at the ends that what happens is a deterioration of ethics: Being willing to let some people die to let others live, making the kind of decisions that an aspirational superhero would never make. It’s the corrupted version of a Batman team. For someone who can actually see the path to the best version of that team, Tim was always that person. It was important that Tim builds the Belfry, the new Bat-base in the middle of Gotham City, and that he be the heart of the book, especially when the team is being defined between Batman and Batwoman’s differing ideologies. Then the conversation turned to: Okay, we are going to need to take Tim off the table.
In terms of the larger Rebirth story, this is the beginning of Tim Drake’s story. This is the first step toward really big, really cool stuff I am really excited for everyone to see. But in terms of this book, it was like, now that I know that, at least to the rest of his teammates and family, this is the death of Tim Drake, how do we make that matter? How do we make his death show the potential of all these characters? Potential is an important word there because we’ve had the running thread of what he’s going to do with his life, whether he’s going to stay being a superhero or whether there are other ways to save the world? Because no matter what, he’s going to save the world, and Tim approaches everything from an intellectual standpoint. He’s a young guy, he has more to learn, there might be other ways. He’s not locked into it. The loss of that potential is going to hit Batman and that team very hard, because what Tim thought it could be, is what everyone’s going to be shooting for. But we’re going to see that without Tim in the heart of the machine, things are going to start wavering.
Like you, I think of Tim Drake as the iconic Robin. What do you think makes Tim special even in that long lineage of Robins?
It was two things. Back when Dick Grayson was Robin, it was a completely different era. Once the comics started having a little more character depth and a more contemporary storytelling sense, Dick Grayson had already graduated. He was Robin on the Teen Titans, but then he became Nightwing and all of that. In terms of the Robin at Batman’s side as a positive counter to Batman’s darkness, Tim has always been the best embodiment of that, especially because of how he became Robin. He was the one who figured out Bruce Wayne was Batman, and then tried to convince Bruce Wayne that he needed a Robin. He was originally trying to convince Dick Grayson to put on the costume again. This was all after Jason Todd died. But all of that proved that no, this is the kid who should do it. This young genius teenager understands the importance of Batman and Robin, and that Batman needs family, Batman needs connections, Batman needs the counter. And then on top of that, he’s a fun, light-hearted, deep character who’s good with computers. He’s a good reader stand-in. All those things kind of put him together to be the apex Robin in my view. And then the bo staff is just cool.
How would you describe the situation Tim Drake’s in? It’s ingenious, because he’s effectively dead in the universe of the book, but we know he’s out there and coming back, which circumvents the typical anticlimactic superhero death-and-resurrection cycle.
The best way to describe it is having my cake and eating it too. We didn’t want to do the standard fake-out, okay the character’s dead and then three issues later reveal he’s alive. We wanted to show people right away that this isn’t something we did to shock readers, this is all part of a story. We wanted to make it clear that everything that’s happening with Tim is because we think he’s one of the most important characters in the DC Universe, not an expendable character that we’re going to toss on the fire to make all the characters cry. Now, at the same time, we get to use him to make all the characters cry.
The second arc of Detective Comics is going to deal with all of this. It’s called “The Victim Syndicate,” and it puts Batman and the team up against a group of villains who were all injured or mutated in the crossfire between Batman and his villains. So these are characters who were innocent people living ordinary lives, and their lives were destroyed in Batman’s costumed fights with his greatest villains. We’re going to see that they mirror some of Batman’s villains, and I’m excited for everyone to meet these characters. It’s a perfect moment to discuss the actual impact of Batman’s fight both on innocent people and members of the team. A lot of them have been victims themselves, like Spoiler, whose father was a supervillain and who entered this whole life just to try to stop him. She’s going to be one of the figures struggling with what is it we do, and is it worth it? It’s the exact question Tim was asking at the end of this arc: What is the best way to move forward, to save lives? Now these people come forward and say: Batman, just by fighting you are hurting people. There is a cost to the fight itself, which is something I’m really interested in. All of this happening right after Tim’s “death” is going to open a lot of interesting doors for the rest of the cast, particularly Clayface, since he’s someone who has hurt people in the past. We’ll be digging more into why exactly Batman trusts him to be on the team now. It opens up a lot of emotional doors, but does it in a way that shows Tim is still ingrained in this book. Like, permanently ingrained. The dream of what Tim saw this group could be is going to be a driving force in this title for a long time. And then as we see little glimpses as to what he’s up to, building up towards the bigger stories I can’t talk about, you’ll see how everything weaves together. One of the coolest things about Rebirth is that we’re able to tell these big, classic superhero stories in each of our titles, but it’s all part of a larger tapestry, and as people see that tapestry coming into view, it’s going to be really spectacular.
One of the things that’s interesting about Tim being the one taken off the board is that he’s such a bright character. From what we’ve seen of Rebirth so far, it looks like it might be a referendum on dark, post-Watchmen superhero stories vs. a more optimistic ideal, of which Tim is kind of an avatar.
All I’d say is what Mr. Oz says to Tim Drake when Tim is pulled into the side world. All I can really do is point to the text at this point, and then say: This is all a bigger story. The fact that it is Tim, and Tim is central to all of this, that is relevant and important. You’ll be slowly discovering why over the next few months or years.
Tim’s a character who I feel like in the New 52 got brought over to the Titans side of the universe, and was sort of taken away from Gotham. Being able to root him as a crucial Gotham figure before sending him off into maybe the biggest story Tim has ever been a part of in DC comics history, that’s something that is important to me and makes me happy that we were able to do.