Interview: James Tynion IV Spoils the Return of Stephanie Brown

Steph

Stephanie Brown has become nothing less than the poster girl for fan devotion over the past two years, since the end of her ongoing series and her disappearance at the start of the New 52. Announced at New York Comic Con just last week, the bat-girl once known as the Spoiler finally returns to the DC Universe with the Batman: Eternal weekly series in the Spring, and in the hands of Bat-family scribe James Tynion IV. James took some time out in the wake of this huge announcement to talk a bit about the series generally, but to also get to the root of what it’s like to bring back comics’ most requested heroine.

1381407633Matt Santori-Griffith: James, it’s been a huge pleasure to watch your rise through the trenches at DC Comics, and now we’re seeing you launch a brand new Batman title in the Spring. What can you tell us about the process of developing Batman: Eternal and how the work you’ve done to date has led you intellectually to that project?

James Tynion IV: Honestly, this is the kind of story I’ve always wanted to tell. I love big stories with huge casts that play out on an epic scale. Stories like that give you room to spend quiet moments in the corners with the supporting cast, and do the kind of world-building that’s difficult to fit into a monthly comic book series.

It’s the reason I’ve always loved working on the back-ups to Scott’s huge stories in Batman. It gave us an opportunity to change the focus to something smaller or stranger, taking us away from the main action and focusing on the characters that really give Gotham its flavor. Over in Talon, I’ve had tremendous fun adding new buildings to the Gotham skyline, trying to build a historical tapestry of the Court of Owls’ influence in the city. It’s that kind of world-building that drew me instantly to a project like this.

The idea was that we could take the time to build up the cast of the GCPD, and the Gotham Gazette, Blackgate Penitentiary, and Arkham Asylum… all serving the larger plot, but all working to create a Gotham City that feels vibrant and alive on the page. The first document I worked on for the project was a twenty page bible describing the gangs and the cops, and all the little pieces of the city we’d be able to draw into this story. That’s the kind of work a huge story like this requires, and it’s some of my favorite work to do.

The other side of all of that was to take the challenge of the New 52 to heart. We’re not trying to re-establish old status quos, we’re trying to re-forge Gotham into something new and vibrant that can really define this era of Bat-Comics, and create epic set-pieces and characters that can sprawl out across all the books in the line. A lot of that comes into the plotting, and into the kinds of characters we’re going to be re-introducing for the first time in the New 52. We’re trying to set the stage for years of Bat-comics to come, and it’ll be clear how much we’re shaking things up by the end of the first issue.

Spoiler_0001MSG: Of course, you now have the honor (responsibility) of re-introducing one of DC’s most beloved benched characters, Stephanie Brown, to the New 52 fold with Batman: Eternal. First off, what has your background been with the character and how did you come about pitching her return?

JT: Growing up, my favorite DC title was Chuck Dixon’s Robin, in which Stephanie obviously had a huge supporting role that ran for years. I grew up with Stephanie Brown, and have always loved the outsider perspective she was able to bring to the Bat-Family. The thing that always made her special is that she felt like one of us, a real living, breathing person, who was going to push through and make her own mark on the world regardless of who was standing in her way.

When we made the decision that Batman: Eternal was the place for us to bring her back in a huge way, everyone on the team was excited for the opportunity. Not only because Steph has such a great, vocal fanbase that would be happy to see one of their favorite characters back in action, but because we would have the chance to introduce her to a whole new generation of readers. For older readers, Steph was always a part of the tapestry… But this story will give us the chance to reintroduce her from the ground up, and make a whole new group of readers understand why folks were asking for her to come back for the last few years.

MSG: Stephanie is, of course, just one of many young women in the extended Batman family, joining Harper Row, Barbara Gordon, Carrie Kelley, Duela Dent, Bette Kane, and Helena Wayne in the pages of the current titles. What distinguishes her for you from the others, from a character standpoint, that makes her a strong addition?

JT: This is something that’s tough to answer, because we’ll be forging her identity in the New 52 directly out of the plot of this series. And we’ve got a good long while before we can really start talking about that. I can say that we’ve been very conscious about making sure the New 52 Stephanie Brown stands completely on her own without doubling down on the other vibrant female voices in Gotham City, many of whom will have key roles in the Eternal story themselves, not to mention the other female characters we’ll be introducing/reintroducing to the Bat-Mythos over the course of the story.

Robin-Vol.-2-58-1998MSG: What do you think her most significant moments are in Stephanie’s history, and how do those influence your upcoming take on the character?

JT: I vividly remember the storyline in which Steph had a kid she had to put up for adoption. It was such a real-world, human story in the midst of all the huge stakes of the superhero world. I think all of Steph’s best stories need to come from that profoundly human level, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. Expressing problems that an average teenage girl might have to deal with in the modern world through a lens of superheroics. Small scale drama writ huge with tremendous stakes. Once again, it’s hard to get into specifics this far in advance, but we’ve all spent time discussing the core of the character, and how to access that core in these comics in a vibrant and unexpected way.

MSG: As you know, Stephanie Brown has a very vocal and impassioned following among readers, and like all fans of certain characters, there are expectations about what will change and what won’t in a hero’s return. How do you navigate that expectation, if you consider it at all, from a creative standpoint?

JT: Obviously, we want people who love the character to continue loving the character, but the most important thing is to make everybody reading this story — regardless of whether they’ve heard of Stephanie Brown or not — get to know her, and find themselves invested in her story. Everything we’re doing is to serve the greater tapestry we’re trying to build here, and Steph is going to have a key role in that tapestry. I’m sure some people will find ways to complain about it. I was a big message board junkie in my fan days, so I know how it goes… but our primary focus is to tell one of the best stories you’ve ever read about Gotham City and all the people within. I really, truly feel we have a story like that on our hands. As long as we stay true to that, I think people will really enjoy what they’re reading.

5326779616_3018766ae6MSG: Not to make Batman: Eternal all about Stephanie Brown, what can you tell me about your take on Gotham City (without spoiling too much too early) that you will be taking in the opening arc?

JT: Gotham City is probably the most fascinating fictional city that has ever existed, and in a story like this, you can bet that the city itself will be one of the most central characters. We’re going to drag the city kicking and screaming through tumultuous change, that will affect all of the characters, major and minor, villain and hero, tremendously. How you ask? That’s definitely top secret for the time being, but we’re already deep in the thick of scripting, building up a huge story for all of you Gothamites out there.

We have stories that will take your favorite Bat-Family members all around the world. We have stories that will uncover deep dark mysteries about the bedrock of the city. We’ll be bringing back huge villains that we haven’t seen yet in the New 52, and show every reader why the rogues gallery of Gotham City is the most terrifying rogues gallery in comics. There’s so much I can’t even hint about yet. The hardest thing about waiting for April is going to be moving further and further into this story while readers are still months away from digging in. It’s going to be a very exciting ride.

MSG: Is there a pacing difference in your writing going from monthly comics to a weekly format?

JT: Honestly, right now it’s mostly in the pacing, how long we’re going to be able to draw these stories out for, and how many subplots we’re able to explore month-to-month. I’m sure as the heavy production picks up before the launch of the series, I’m going to see a much more tangible difference. But for now, on an individual level, I’m still laying out stories like I would otherwise. It’s more that I’m setting pieces up for my fellow writers on the book to play out. We’re approaching this very much like a television series. Each of us have oversight over a few key subplots, but we’re all writing different pieces of the puzzle, and each of us are sitting down and writing complete scripts month in and month out. So at the end of every month we have four new scripts to go through and tweak and smooth out the edges, so we end up with a great singular piece of fiction. It’s been working incredibly so far.

bgMSG: Any special teases or other shout-outs to share with the Comicosity audience?

JT: Mostly I just want to shout out to the other incredible writers and artists we have on this series. John Layman, Tim Seeley, and Ray Fawkes are bringing their absolute A-game here, and I couldn’t be happier to be working by their side. At our first real summit about the series, where we laid the first third of the year out in detail, I was amazed at how quickly and effortlessly we got on the same page. We all have our own distinct writerly voices, but we have a common goal in this story that we’re pushing towards together. We just mesh together really really well.

And Scott Snyder is proving to be a great godfather to this project, helping us develop a dynamic new status quo in Gotham City that he’ll be diving right into out of the end of his epic “Zero Year” storyline.  A lot of amazing artists will be working on the book we can’t announce yet, but launching us off will be the amazing Jason Fabok, who I’m thrilled to be working with again after our Batman Annual last year. I love his take on Batman and Gotham City, and I think he’s going to bring this story to life in a really incredible way.

Look for the first issue of the weekly Batman: Eternal series to hit comic shops in April, but in the meantime, James Tynion IV is the monthly scribe for other DC Comics titles, including Red Hood and the Outlaws, Talon, and the back-up stories in Batman.

 

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  • penguintruth

    Who are these passionate Stephanie Brown fans? She was hardly even a character and even then not a very good one.

    • Sardorim

      There are plenty of them. There are more requests for the return of Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain than Wally West and Donna Troy by far. So their fanbase is there, not to mention that many Tim fans like those two, or at least one of those, characters quite a bit as well.

      Besides, the return of Stephanie and Tim finally getting more Bat Family exposure means that he may start showing Pre-52 traits that fans liked a great deal about him.

      • penguintruth

        See, Cassandra Cain is a compelling character with a rich backstory and an interesting personality. Stephanie Brown is just Betty from Archie Comics with a costume.

        • Alex Snow

          Then you must have not read her Spoiler and Robin days, especially her earlier ones. We’re talking about someone who started out as somewhat inept and was told over and over by various characters to stop trying to be a hero, that she wasn’t good enough, etc. We’re also talking about someone who was brutally tortured when a mistake she didn’t realize she was making blew up in her face about as badly as possible, but STILL didn’t quit. Through all this, rather than getting all dark and gloomy, she developed a style of self-deprecating humor that endeared her to her fans. She also recognized her own ineptitude and genuinely worked hard at improving her skills. Eventually her improvements were noticed by people like Tim and Barbara, and even (eventually) Bruce.

          Her sense of humor and stubborn refusal to quit fighting for what she believes in despite having absolutely every reason to is I think why most people love her so much. Just read her soliloquy early in her Batgirl book as she’s beating the stuffing out of Scarecrow, it explains it very well there.

        • TheFork

          Have you read her run as Batgirl? Obviously not…

    • Zechs

      Seriously trolling the CBR forums isn’t enough? Wow. Your antics remind me of a man I once knew as newton. No relation?

      • Matt SantoriGriffith

        Let’s keep it friendly, peeps. It’s our policy to delete comments if they cross over to personally offensive. Thanks!

      • penguintruth

        It’s sad that simply a disagreeing opinion is considered “trolling” these days.

        Stephanie is just Tim Drake’s tumor. She doesn’t add anything to the mythos and doesn’t have a compelling story or personality. She’s the poor girlfriend of Robin that Batman took pity on for a while.

    • Scott Gregson

      I’m one of these passionate Steph fans, and I know plenty more. Personally, I think Tim Drake is “hardly even a character and even then not a very good one”.

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