12 December 2010

Our Little Boy Has Grown Up

Fabian Nicieza, the current scripter of Red Robin, has a very perceptive understanding of that magazine’s hero, Tim Drake, and the entire Robin mythos. And by “very perceptive” I mean “we agree on a lot of things.”

Nicieza just did an interview with Newsarama to promote the magazine’s issue #18. Along with the usual praise for collaborators and hints at exciting things to come, he reminded readers of how this comic book differs from the Robin series of 1991-2009:

The Red Robin book is no longer about the training of a young hero, like the original Robin series was. It’s about the decisions and actions that an established young hero takes in learning how to best wield the power and intelligence he has.
In sum, Tim has gone through the same passage that Dick Grayson did in the mid-1980s, establishing a new, non-sidekick identity. But he’s doing it in a solo book, not as part of the Titans.

Two of the traits that set Tim apart from Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne for most of Robin‘s run were:
  • He wasn’t an orphan: his father was still alive, and he also had to keep secrets from a housekeeper and a stepmom. (Long-time writer Chuck Dixon talked about that storytelling choice back here.)
  • Tim kept insisting he would be Robin for only a while, and not fight crime in a mask and cape his whole life. He never really talked about any other career, though, and as time went on (and the character maintained its economic value) I found those statements less and less convincing.
Nicieza speaks explicitly about the change in his hero’s outlook:
Tim’s motivation, in my mind, changed a little after his father died [in Identity Crisis]. Whereas he originally became Robin to help Bruce Wayne become a better Batman, his father’s death has spurred him to embrace his costumed identity as his life’s mission and become a better Red Robin so that no one ever endures what he did.

For better or worse, Tim Drake is a crimefighter 24/7 now and we’ll explore when it’s for the better and when it’s for the worse as an ongoing aspect of his series. I’ve read some interesting comments on some message boards by a few people claiming that with Bruce’s return, there is “no purpose to the Red Robin” book, which I found almost sad in how little an understanding they had of the character they were reading every month.

Tim Drake carried 183 issues of his own series as Robin and the entire maturation process for him has been to show the purpose he has on his own, without the need for Batman as the reason to do what he does.

He is unique in his approach to his mission, just like Dick Grayson is and now Stephanie Brown.

I think the stage we’re at now with Tim is almost equivalent to watching your kid go from High School to living away at college. There is an independence, a process of learning responsibility, making choices on your own, making mistakes, etc. . . .

I don’t necessarily think it’s a new role, just an extension of the role he’d been playing, the difference being, now that he can do this as his “full time job” without the worries of school (or truthfully, worrying over his father and that family dynamic), he will be quite the little Machiavellian master chessman.
Nicieza is also usually frank about the technical aspects of superhero-comics storytelling. Here are his comments on building up Tim Drake’s “rogues gallery”—the recurring villains whose comebacks have some deeper meaning than “Oh, I guess she wasn’t dead after all” because their symbolic meanings complement the hero’s.
I broke down all of Tim’s attributes as a character, his personality traits, archetypes, etc. then I created a list of potential opposites of those trains, or similarities to hone the roster of antagonists for Tim. For example, Tim is all about rational thought and reason, so a great opposite to that would be a group of chaos-mongers like the madmen would make great foils for him (and they do in Issue #21!).
Nicieza also alludes to “a larger storyline between #22-25,” showing how far ahead he’s working. Contrast that with his last-minute, seat-of-the-pants assignment to finish the Robin magazine, and he’s clearly in a better position to tell well-thought-out stories about Tim Drake.


collectededitions said...

I have also at times struggled to see the "point" of the Red Robin book among the other Bat-titles and DC offerings, but I am a big fan of Tim Drake as Robin, and Nicieza's comments make me heartened, at least, that he seems to understand the character and take him seriously.

There's an extent to which I think having four ex-Robins traveling the DC Universe seems a little silly, but I do appreciate that DC recognizes Tim Drake's worth as a character even if he's not Robin -- possibly they ought have excised him from the Bat-family entirely and made him a new version of another legacy hero -- but, Nicieza's comments certainly make me willing to try out the next couple trades in the series.

J. L. Bell said...

Having worked in publishing (but not comics publishing), I think the only “point” necessary for a magazine to continue to appear is that enough people are buying it to make it profitable. DC realized (correctly) that its Tim Drake character had a big following, so it wanted him to continue to headline a magazine.

The storytelling “point” is secondary, though understanding and communicating it certainly helps sustain stories and sales. Often that’s the first thing that assigned writers have to come up with. Judd Winick talked about that process in his introduction to his first Outsiders collection: finding a reason to justify Dick and Roy working together (as DC must have mandated) and what would set their team off from others besides language and sex.

As I wrote in my review of Red Robin: The Grail and Collision, what appeared to be the point of the Red Robin magazine—Tim investigates the disappearance of Bruce Wayne when no one else would—fell by the wayside after a few issues. Then it turned into what Nicieza talked about in this interview: Tim Drake outsmarting everyone, including readers. Both Yost and Nicieza also seem to be making Tim a friendly link between the bat-family and other heroes, which the Batman cowl seems to interfere with.