06 March 2011

A Month of Robin-Related Interviews

The past fortnight brought four notable web articles featuring scripters’ comments on past and present Robins. These being publicity interviews, all the writers are enthusiastic about us buying the next product, but amidst the marketing they make some interesting points. In particular, all talk about how mainstream superhero comics are a collaborative creation stretching back decades, so they have to work with other people’s ideas, sometimes on the fly.

Newarama had an essay examining the enduring appeal of Tim Drake. The article jumps straight from the company’s somewhat desperate introduction of the character in 1989-1991 to Tim’s dark period, starting with Identity Crisis and War Games in 2004.

But weren’t the intervening years part of building the character’s lasting appeal? There are no quotes, furthermore, from Chuck Dixon, the writer who scripted the Robin miniseries of the early 1990s and the first hundred issues of the comic book that followed—perhaps because he’s not working for DC Comics today.

DC’s own blog put the spotlight on Tim’s relationship with his successor as Robin, Damian, following their resentful team-up in Teen Titans. Scripter J. T. Krul spells it out:

Red Robin wants to show that he can treat Robin just like any other member of the team - bringing the tactical leadership and detachment that Batman seems to master so easily. But more importantly, or rather more personally, Tim wants to show (and perhaps even convince himself) that he doesn’t feel threatened by Damian - that he doesn’t fear being replaced in the eyes of the titans. As for Robin, he wants Tim to see that he can do just as good of a job as he ever did - that he can be a team player when needed. In other words, he wants to show his big brother that he’s no child.

On the surface, both Tim and Damian are seeking to convey the same notion - that they don’t care what the other one thinks about them - When the opposite is actually closer to the truth.

Ah, sibling rivalry.
That dynamic informs the page from Teen Titans, #92, shown with the essay. note how Krul and artist Georges Jeanty make the bottom panels into mirror images, visually conveying that these Robins are more alike than they’d care to admit. Krul’s essay seems unusual in spelling out his character motivations, but it comes at the end of a story arc, and thus isn’t giving any part of that story away, just reinforcing what’s already on paper. Did Krul or the company feel that we fans needed some extra explanation? Or do they hope that understanding the two characters in this way will make us more interested in following their relationship over the next few years?

Comic Book Resources ran a publicity interview with Judd Winick in advance of his issues of Batman and Robin, which bring Jason Todd back after his odd appearance in Grant Morrison’s issues of the same magazine. And by “odd appearance,” I mean that he literally appeared odd.

The first Jason Todd had red hair, which he eventually dyed black to please Bruce Wayne and DC’s licensees. The second Jason Todd had black hair, even when he was living rough on the street, walking the world half-dead, and living undercover. On coming back to Gotham, he also had a streak of white to symbolize his trauma.

Yet Morrison presented the character a redhead once again, talking about dyeing his hair—yet there was still that streak of white. Jason’s his new Red Hood costume was based on the original Red Hood in Detective, #168; I think that when even the Joker has abandoned a costume as too flamboyant, it’s time to move on. Normally I enjoy Morrison’s continuity syncretism, but I hope Winick can fix those details.

Since this interview comes at the start of a story arc, however, Winick says very little about future developments. He does, however, state:
Jason is a bad guy. I do Jason as a villain—a villain with very, very close ties to the home set which makes him way more difficult, and also heartbreaking.
I think of Jason as a troubled antagonist, rather than a villain, but of course in the superhero genre the people whom heroes fight must be either villains or very special guest stars.

In the Teen Titans page noted above, Damian uses the word “motif,” which I can’t imagine any ten-year-old doing. Winick echoes that point, saying:
Damian is not like any 10-year-old kid who ever lived! Damian is very much like a little adult, and I think Grant set the tone; it’s just a matter of following in Grant’s footsteps. He really has a terrific voice.
Finally, Comic Book Resources had a publicity interview with Art Baltazar and Franco about their assignment writing a Young Justice comic book alongside the Cartoon Network series. That series has an overarching narrative about the team’s dynamics, membership, and leadership, and the individual teens’ development. The comic book stories have to fit into that same narrative without giving too much away; it’s the tail, not the dog. Baltazar explains:
The first issue we have kind of takes place between scenes of the episodes on TV. Our comic almost fills in the blanks of what you don’t see on the show. . . . We’re writing really closely to the episodes, and we’re anxious, too, because when we write an issue, we'll know it fits between episode four and five or whatever.
Franco and Baltazar run ideas for using versions of other DC characters past the TV producers, and get approval, guidance, or veto based on plans for the cartoon.
I really like the Super Friends villains—you know, the Legion of Doom. So, so far we’ve been throwing Solomon Grundy and Bizarro at them for every issue. And they know that by the time it’s time for us to write the next issue, and they go, “Who do you want for villains?” we’ll go, “Solomon Grundy and Bizarro.” And they're like, “It’s the same thing we told you last time.”
So it doesn’t sound like we’ll see Bizarro soon in the Young Justice comic. (I suspect the explanation may lie in the series’ exploration of Superboy as a clone, and the current similarity between Bizarro and Match.) And I imagine Baltazar and Franco’s assignment will become even tougher when DC rolls out Young Justice on Ice! in arenas everywhere.

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