26 April 2009

Chuck Dixon on Robin—and Spider-Man

From Joshua Lapin-Bertone's Batman Examiner, here's an interview with Chuck Dixon, the comics writer most closely associated with the character of Robin--at least in his modern forms. Dixon scripted the first Robin miniseries in 1991, the first hundred issues of the Robin magazine starting in 1993, and most issues of the Nightwing magazine starting in 1996.

As part of the Batman writing team, Dixon wrote other magazines as well and contributed to a number of landmark crossover events under editor Denny O'Neil. He also co-scripted the fine Robin: Year One miniseries with Scott Beatty. Dixon was excellent at keeping storylines strung out issue to issue--though, looking back, the drama wasn't always worth the suspense.

I've rearranged Lapin-Bertone's questions to make Dixon's comments more chronological.

Tim [Drake] was unique among the other Bat-characters in that he wasn't a total orphan at the time. Was there ever any pressure to kill off Jack Drake [Tim's father]?

All the time! I kept Jack alive for years past the point my editors wanted him dead. Their reasoning was always that Tim having a parent with all the limitations of that provided too many complications to Robin’s story. They saw that as a negative. I saw it as a positive.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I used the first fifty issues of The Amazing Spider-Man as a dramatic template for Robin. Those stories got much of their suspense from the dangers Peter Parker faced if his identity were revealed.

For Tim Drake, the stakes were even higher. The reveal of his identity would have affected his family and also unraveled the secrets of the entire Bat organization. You don’t throw away solid gold like that.
And indeed, in a letter column early in the magazine's run, the editors acknowledged that they'd originally planned to kill off Tim's father, but kept finding it more interesting to keep around.
Any stories that you weren't able to tell (Batman, Nightwing, Birds [of Prey] or Robin) that you can reveal? Any stories that originally had a different ending but it went in another direction?
Nothing I can think of right now except that my plans leading to Robin 100 and beyond were pretty cool and I regret not being able to do that story. My plan was to have Tim quit as Robin and become the new Blue Beetle under Ted Kord’s [i.e., the old Blue Beetle's] guidance. Batman would pick Steph to take on Robin’s role. Tim would then be featured in a six-issue mini as Blue Beetle until events in the Batbooks would bring him back to the fold.

The idea coming out of this would be a BB ongoing in which Ted gets the idea to create what amounts to a Blue Beetle franchise. He creates what amounts to Blue Beetle Inc and has a representative in every DCU city. I was shot down on this one over and over. As soon as I left the title they did a kind of pale version of the story I had been proposing for more than a year.
Dixon might be referring to Robin, #101, which featured Stephanie Brown as Robin, but no Blue Beetle. That was an alternate universe, part of a crossover from Peter David's wackier Young Justice series. Years later, Bill Willingham proposed making Stephanie into Robin for real, since the editors had decided to kill her off anyway.

Which brings me to 2008, when DC rehired Dixon to write Robin, with part of his mandate to bring Stephanie back from the dead. Those issues are now collected in Robin: Violent Tendencies.

But then Dixon and the company had a sudden and dramatic parting of the ways. DC found a new writer for the magazine, even reworked some cover art to reflect the new stories. The company dove into the "Batman RIP" and "Battle for the Cowl" storylines being played out in comic shops now.
Had you stayed on the title, what were your plans for the book?

Well, I written about eight more scripts. There was a storyline with Steph’s dad and the return of some Robin villains in a new way and the introduction of several new bad guys. Much of this is hazy in my mind already. Lots of changes were made as I was writing and the direction of the book was being altered even as I was in the middle of a story arc.
I've seen a lot of speculation, even from former comics editor Valerie D'Orazio, that Dixon became upset because of DC's plans for Tim Drake--i.e., that the honchos were insisting the character go in a direction Dixon didn't like. Those theories never convinced me. Furthermore, in this interview Dixon doesn't speak of quitting in protest; he says that he was "let go."

Dixon strikes me as a superhero-book veteran, well aware he was hired to enhance a large corporation's intellectual property. All of his own comments about the break indicated that he was getting sick of working with a particular executive who made what he considered late, wishy-washy, and poorly communicated decisions. In most jobs, the biggest pain isn't the work but the people you work with.

As I noted above, Dixon had worked on many crossovers for DC; had he been brought into discussions on these latest, he could surely have contributed rather than writing eight scripts that turned out to be unusable.
In the final issue of Robin, Tim finally confronted the Obeah Man, killer of his mother [back in 1990]. I understand you had your own take on the story during your first run on the title but never got to tell it. What was it and why?

I never intended to have a story in which Tim resolved the Obeah Man story. I felt that would be the end of Tim’s story. Apparently, I was right.
The Robin magazine is in abeyance, and we last saw Tim Drake with a batarang impaled in his chest. But I suspect his story will continue.

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