This week marks the arrival of the first collection featuring last year’s massively successful renovation of the Batman family line. And it’s no accident that the change began with one of DC Comics’ oldest and most dear characters, Dick Grayson. Celebrating his 75th Anniversary this year, Grayson has moved from Robin to Nightwing to Batman, and now is the DCU’s premier super-spy in his own title, co-written by Tim Seeley and ex-CIA agent Tom King. Both writers sat down with us to chat about Dick Grayson’s character overall, and this first Grayson volume comprising issues #1-4, Grayson: Futures End #1, and a story from Secret Origins #8.
Matt Santori: I think a good way to start is to ask both of you how and when you first encountered Dick Grayson personally and what are his totem representations for you?
Tim Seeley: Ha. Mine is totally stupid, but I like to tell the story.
When I was a kid, my mom got me the Mego Spider-Mobile for Christmas. For some reason, it came packed with the Green Goblin and Dick Grayson, not Spider-Man at all. So, I had to make up my own adventures of why Robin would be driving the Spider-Mobile. In my head, I think he’s still that character with the flesh-colored legs driving around in the Spider-Mobile. [laughs]
MSG: Ah! So, you’ve come full circle with Dick as an Agent of Spyral! I get it!
Tom King: I feel like Dick Grayson is just one of those archetypes you’re born knowing, like he’s built into your brain as language. Batman has a Robin and that Robin is named Dick Grayson.
I remember the first time I encountered him in comics was the Batman: Lonely Place of Dying trade paperback, which introduced Tim Drake. I just remember that scene where Tim is begging Dick to become Robin again to help Batman. And here I was thinking, “Wow. This is a character who used to be Robin and then he became this? And now he’s like a big brother and has a different role?” That was such a mind-blowing experience for me as a child, to see all this 50 years of history and he has to use all that to talk to Batman in his time of need.
MSG: That’s a really interesting background for someone taking Dick Grayson to yet another new and different place. Why were you interested in moving him into the realm of spycraft?
TS: DC came to Tom and I and said that they had this scenario to do something different with Dick Grayson in a spy genre sort of thing. I think Tom and I both said, “Oh man, I don’t think that’s going to work.” But then on my own, I started thinking about it more and it started to make sense. And in talking to Tom, he had come to the same conclusion. It’s a really interesting place to put a guy who, by his very nature, is subject to change and also really good at keeping himself grounded. Dick is a character who has made it his mission in life to catch people when they fall. It was a surprisingly easy transition from there.
TK: I think that first experience with Grayson that I had — his ability to change and evolve — played right into him becoming an agent of Spyral, because Dick Grayson is THE character in comics that can evolve. It’s why so many people relate to him, because you’re not the same person you were 10, 15, 20 years ago.
But you don’t just lose who you were. It’s not like you never were that person. It still pulls at you. The fact that he used to be Robin. The fact that he used to be Nightwing. He’s still Dick Grayson. And he naturally fit into this role.
And what Tim pointed out that I think is brilliant is that spies are performers. And Dick Grayson is one of the greatest performers in the DC Universe.
MSG: So, we’ve seen in this first volume that Dick is beginning to develop this partnership with Helena Bertinelli. Can you talk about how these two play off each other for you and why she was important to bring into the book?
TS: Helena represents a dedication to a cause, almost to a blinding degree. It’s what Batman has always had in respect to the man who killed his parents, to the point that everyone else takes the place of Joe Chill. Helena has that too. When she comes up against someone like Dick who has moved on from revenge and over to just being there to help, they inherently understand each other, but there’s always conflict in the way they do things.
She’s also the opposite of Dick. Where he’s very flirty and unreserved, on the surface she’s very cold and businesslike. It gave us so much to work with in revealing their personalities by contrasting them.
TK: And Helena, who obviously derives from the Wayne family in this Crisis sort of way, has always represented this dark reflection of Batman. She went through what Batman did and had the same obsessions, but learned different lessons. Having someone like that in the series. and someone who has sexual tension with Dick Grayson, is really interesting.
MSG: Speaking of sexual tension, Dick Grayson has developed into this ultimate sex symbol for the DC Universe. How do you use that to your advantage as writers when working with the character?
TS: It’s just a rare thing in comics, or even action genres, for a male character to be sexy and flirty and sort of comfortable and likeable in that way. It’s such a unique characteristic of Dick Grayson that it seemed like a shame to not take advantage of it. It makes him really unique — a new take on a super-hero action book. One where his charm and the ability to be ogled were just as important as all the other aspects of the character.
TK: I think Dick Grayson’s sexiness is just something that comes with the character. You can’t write Dick Grayson not sexy. It’s like not writing Clark Kent from Kansas. It just doesn’t work for the character.
He’s confident, he knows it about himself, and he knows how to use it to his advantage. Which makes it even sexier.
MSG: You’ve also brought Midnighter into this first volume, which is an interesting play off of Dick’s sexiness as well. Why of all the characters available to you did you choose this particular one?
TS: We had a couple of good reasons when we first discussed bringing him in. First, Midnighter represented an era of super-hero comics all about the weaponization of super-powers that Warren Ellis had introduced in The Authority and Stormwatch. We liked that take on his character if we were going to do a super-hero story about spy aspects and powers arm races. It was a perfect plot line to use.
There was also that he was so much like Batman, but also being very different in his motivation and sexuality. It just gave us so much possibility for Dick Grayson to deal with a guy who reminds him of his mentor but is aggressively attracted to him.
TK: What I liked most about Midnighter is that he’s a realist. His power is literally that he knows what’s coming. He sees all the variables and knows what’s coming next, but Dick Grayson is an optimist. He’s like, “I don’t care if that’s what’s going to happen. That’s not going to happen now because I’m here to make sure it doesn’t.”
That was the dichotomy that I loved. Midnighter would say, “We are going to fail. There’s no way that we can win.” And Dick says, “There is a way. There’s my way.”
MSG: Going back to Dick’s new status quo, Spyral was established first in Grant Morrison’s run on Batman Incorporated. What defines this organization for you versus any of the other spy agencies we’ve come across in the DCU?
TS: The idea of the organization started out to keep an eye on rogue super-humans. It was developed by the United Nations, and they hired an ex-Nazi to run it. I think Spyral’s place in the good guys/bad guys analogy changes as time goes on. It’s a good analogy for intelligence agencies the world over. No offense to Tom, but the CIA is occasionally viewed as a hero and occasionally as a villain.
TK: Hey! I’m right here!
TS: It’s a perfect metaphor for the reality of intelligence gathering. At what point in the protection of your citizenry do you go power-mad or turn on your citizens? We can play with that with Spyral, and Dick is the agent in the middle of it whose intentions are good. But he needs to follow orders in order to maintain his position in this organization.
TK: Yeah, I think I put this line in the recent 8 page preview: “We expose the lies that threaten the world. We protect the secret that can save it.”
I do love the idea that DC heroes exist on secrets. It’s been part of the universe all the way back to Superman — that aspect of living a secret life. It is DC. And to have an organization that says you can’t have that secret life is in direct conflict with the heart of this universe.
MSG: One of the characters introduced here in volume 1, but coming up is going to have a much larger role in the book, is Agent 1. He’s described in the sketch in the back of the book as “The Tiger.” What can you tease about him and where he came from for the readers?
TK: His full name is The Tiger King of Kandahar. He’s a Pashtun Afghani, i.e. from the southern part of Afghanistan, where the Taliban come from. They have very extreme religious views, but are horribly tough people. They’re never defeated. I knew some in my travels. I wanted to create a character who was as tough as the spies I knew and as cool, so I created Agent 1.
And he’s number one. He’s ranked as the top spy in the DCU. And we’ll see that play out in the next few issues.
The first volume of Grayson arrives in hardcover format in comic book shops today, Wednesday, June 3, and will be available everywhere books are sold on Tuesday, June 9. Grayson #9, featuring Dick and his new partner Agent 1, will be in comic shops on June 26.