After breaking into the comics scene in a huge way by co-penning back-up stories with Scott Snyder in Batman, James Tynion IV now followed up his ongoing series Talon with yet another Bat-family title: Red Hood and the Outlaws. James was kind enough to speak with us about his passion for the characters Jason Todd, Roy Harper and Koriand’r, and what we can expect from the title come April with his first issue, #19.
Matt Santori: Congratulations on the new series, James, and on your continued success on Batman and Talon! Can you talk a little bit about how your role as writer for Red Hood and the Outlaws came about, and why writing this title was something you were interested in pursuing?
James Tynion IV: Thank you so much! I had been pitching a few other things to the higher ups at DC, and one of the pitches seemed to catch the eye of the editorial team on RHATO just as Scott Lobdell decided to leave the book. So they approached me to pitch and I was thrilled to have the opportunity. I love the young heroes of the DC Universe even more than the big icons, and I have since I was a kid. The Robins in particular have always fascinated me, which led to the backup story in Batman #0 that centered on Dick, Jason, Tim, and Barbara. I’ve wanted to tackle these characters for years, and I am beyond excited to have the chance to really put a mark on three of my all-time favorites in Jason, Kori and Roy.
MSG: Jason Todd is clearly one of the break-out characters of the New 52, transforming from an angry, somewhat sociopathic anti-hero to a character of no small heroism and nobility, despite his flaws. What do you think is at the core of Jason’s desire to be a hero, so to speak?
JT: Jason Todd has been through a lot more than any of his fellow Robins, and to say he has a chip on his shoulder is a massive understatement. He’s been through a traumatic childhood, a tumultuous partnership with Batman that ultimately killed him, a resurrection he’s never quite understood… When he first came back to Gotham City, he was freaking angry. The Joker was still alive, and his entire moral code was flipped on his head. He’s not quite that reactionary anymore, which I think is part of why Batman has started to let him back into the Bat-Family. He still has a deep rage in his heart, but the question of killing is weighing more and more heavily on him as time goes by.
I think part of what makes him so interesting is he’s on a redemptive path, but it’s a bumpy one. He’s constantly re-evaluating his moral code and his past, because more than anything, he wants to be the good guy. It’s what he’s always wanted. Even when he first came back to Gotham in the Red Hood for the first time, guns-a-blazing, he was doing it because he thought it was the more effective way to be a hero. I think that’s changing in him, and the recent events of Death of the Family are going to have him questioning his past and his motives like we’ve never seen before. I am very interested in exploring Jason’s journey towards redemption, and we’ve got huge plans to that end.
MSG: Koriand’r, the princess once known as Starfire, has been one of the most controversial figures of the New 52. How role do you see Kori’s past trauma playing in her ongoing adventures with the team, and what is your take on her place as sole female on the team?
JT: Kori has been a lifelong favorite of mine, going back to the Wolfman/Perez comics, her role in Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans, and the space odyssey storyline in the weekly 52 series… She is this brilliantly fiery character, who feels passion unlike any human, and that can be wielded to either extreme. She is incredibly loving, kind, and loyal to her closest friends and allies, but if you cross her, her rage burns red hot and ferocious. She is extraordinarily powerful, and skilled with those extraordinary powers.
She could be fighting side-by-side with the Justice League in terms of her sheer power, but she’s built a relationship with these two strange, somewhat broken young men. She relates to them, because they’ve all been through such horribly traumatic things in their lives. They all have trust issues. They all have deep internal scars… But together, they’ve been able to weather through that and keep fighting. Kori is both the powerhouse and the moral center of the team, more emotionally grounded than Roy and Jason, but not without some secrets and doubts of her own, which we’ll be exploring in the months to come.
MSG: Roy Harper has quite the checkered past as a hero, at times succumbing to his own vices and at others modeling great leadership in the hero community. Where do you feel Roy is in his current journey as a hero?
JT: I see Roy as the heart of the Outlaws, and he’s the one most invested in the team sticking together, because he’s not sure what would happen to him if they didn’t. There’s some desperation in his sense of humor, he’s constantly seeking the approval and the friendship of the people in his life. He tries a little too hard to be the lovable one, because deep down, I don’t think that Roy thinks that he deserves to be loved. He knows how badly he screwed up his relationship with Green Arrow, and how low his life got before he ended up on the rooftop with Killer Croc, ready to end his life rather than own up to his own faults.
At the start of my run, he’s at an all-time high. He believes he’s stronger than ever, working side by side with Jason and Kori. He believes wholeheartedly that they saved his life, and has trouble seeing that he could have done it without them. Roy’s insecurities are something we’ll definitely be exploring in my run, particularly in how heavily he leans on Jason and Kori to prop him up. It’s all still part of the explosive fallout from the end of his tenure as Green Arrow’s partner several years ago, which we’ll start to explore in May’s Annual. Roy doesn’t know his own inner strength just yet, but we’re going to take him on a journey where he’s going to have to learn it.
MSG: Red Hood and the Outlaws really reflects a sense of friendship among characters that we haven’t quite seen since the days of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans. What is it that draws these three very disparate characters into this type of relationship?
JT: I think the core of why these three Outlaws came together is their common history. They’ve all been through horrific, traumatic experiences that shook them to their core. Other people don’t understand what they’ve been through. They don’t understand the pain, and the desire to move past it, and the different ways people try to move beyond their pasts. But with Roy’s addiction, Kori’s enslavement, Jason’s death and resurrection, they’re all bonded by these dark moments and the mutual desire to move on. Together, they aren’t defined by their tragedies. They can have fun, and they do. They genuinely enjoy fighting by each other’s side and leaning on each other. In many ways, they’ve come to rely on it. They’re stronger together than they are apart. The friendship between these three different young heroes is right at the center of the book, and the first major storyline.
MSG: With the Death of the Family crossover, the team got a chance to interact with the larger DCU and bounce off of other characters. Any plans to expand the cast of the book or introduce new supporting elements with ties to the DCU or past (maybe even a crossover with your other title Talon)?
JT: There will be new elements that tie into the larger DCU, absolutely. We’ve recently announced the New 52 debut of the classic villain Cheshire, who readers might remember as a particularly prominent figure in Roy’s life in the previous continuity. She’s one of my favorite villains out there, so it’s an absolute thrill to reintroduce and redefine her for a whole new generation of readers. We’re also bringing in Hugo Strange in a major way. That’s a bit too spoileriffic to delve into just yet, but pay close attention to those opening issues and the Annual in particular. In terms of the Bat-Family, since the last story leaned so heavily on those relationships, I wanted to make sure we brought the book back to center with an epic storyline that puts the friendship between Jason, Roy, and Kori front and center, so they’re unlikely to make an appearance for a little bit. No to new teammates for now, but yes for new and old figures to come into the series and make a major impact. For the details, you’ll just have to wait and see!
MSG: As a young writer, your success at DC Comics has been fantastic to watch! What do you feel is the key to your success in telling stories with such fine craft and finding your voice, particularly for characters with such a long history as Jason, Kori and Roy?
JT: Well, thank you so much again. I couldn’t be more honored to have the chance to play with these characters I’ve looked up to and admired for years and years. In terms of craft and finding the voice of the characters, a lot of it was reading and rereading old comics and everything in the New 52 so far, and finding what I think each of their emotional cores is… that essential piece of character that transcends every incarnation. Thankfully with these three characters, the emotional core is very close to my own, so I really feel like I know the characters and what they would and wouldn’t do in extreme situations. From there, I centered in on their personality, their little quirks and insecurities that drive them. And then I just go at it, and adjust and readjust as needed, while I throw horrific gigantic obstacles in the path of all of their hopes and dreams. I do this while cackling in lightning storms whenever possible.
MSG: Any last words or special teases you can share with the Comicosity audience about your upcoming work?
JT: I just want to reaffirm how freaking excited I am to write this series. Like I said at the top, the young heroes of the DCU are the characters I’ve always connected with the most. They’re the ones I was writing stories about in the back of my high school notebooks, much more so than Batman, Superman, or any of the major leaguers. To have the opportunity with these characters to dive in and tell a deeply emotional, and incredibly wild and fun story with real epic scope, is a literal dream come true. With Roy, Kori, and Jason, you can tell almost any time of crazy adventure story, and I want to take that to it’s full advantage.
Yes, bad things will happen to your beloved Outlaws. Very bad things, that put them in very dark places… But the core of the series is the fun and the humor and the inherent weirdness of these three odd heroes fighting side by side as friends, seeking redemption. This is a big story we’re looking to tell, and it’s going to surprise you right at the start. I can’t wait for you all to see where it goes from there.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #19, the first issue written by James Tynion IV, arrives in comic book shops on April 17, 2013.