Marv Wolfman: From ROBIN to NIGHTWING: Chronicling the Adventures of Dick Grayson (Mania.com)
By:JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Date: Thursday, October 19, 2006
One of the first comic book series I can remember feeling addicted to was Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans. There was just something about these characters: Wonder Girl, Starfire, Raven, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Changeling and Robin that struck a chord with me and made me need to see what happened next in each of their lives. It was the humanization of those characters, the fact that they were struggling as much as I felt I was struggling, that made me care about them all and the two men who were involved in creating their adventures. It was some of my earliest exposure to Wolfman and Perez and made me an instant fan of both men. This was the first time I can remember taking note of the people making the comic, not just the heroes who were featured.
When I first got online, I found Marv Wolfman and e-mailed him about his work. He answered and when I began writing about comic books, I often hit him up for interviews about his work and projects. Wolfman is always happy to talk to fans or the press about anything he's involved with. These past few years I've watched him work on projects in comics like The Crisis on Infinite Earths novel, the Superman Returns novelization, the Infinite Crisis and other issues here and there; and I also saw his work get recognized outside the typical realm of comics with his involvement in the award-winning comics in the classroom program from Impact! Books.
Now Wolfman is kind of coming full circle again by writing Dick Grayson's adventures again. Wolfman is taking over the Nightwing series and creating a whole new page in the history of Dick Grayson. He's looking forward to working with a more "mature" character in Nightwing and he recently spent some time telling CINESCAPE his thoughts on coming full circle with this particular hero.
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CINESCAPE: When you first got to write Dick Grayson in the New Teen Titans, how did you want your version of Dick Grayson/Robin to be different from what other people had done or how he was being portrayed in the pages of Batman and Detective Comics?
MARV WOLFMAN: My idea of the Titans from day one was that the members didn't need adult supervision. I absolutely hated characters like Mr. Jupiter who existed because the Titans supposedly needed an adult present. I was almost sociopathic about not putting them into the book. These so-called kids were 16-18 and I knew I how felt at that age. So when I used Robin, my thought from the very beginning was that he may have been trained since age nine by Batman, and my now he was completely competent on his own. Also, I wanted to do away with the childish puns and the silly Robinisms that had existed. They were great for eight-year old readers, but we weren't going there. I wanted to make him a competent older teenager on the verge of adulthood.
CINESCAPE: Did you meet with any kind of resistance, taking one of the original sidekicks and "growing" him up a bit? Was there anyone insisting that readers wouldn't accept it?
WOLFMAN: No. Once Jenette Kahn, who approved the new Titans book said "yes", we were on our own. Also, within six months the Titans book was DC's best selling book so George and I were pretty much allowed to do whatever we felt right. I think Jenette understood that we were going to make the book sharper than it was before, and I think my coming from Marvel let everyone know we were going to write up instead of down, that we were going to infuse the Marvel approach to characterization and action into this title. Also, the people at DC really liked the more adult approach I had done with Dracula and I think they were hoping for some of that to cross over into my DC work.
CINESCAPE: Does it kind of feel like you're coming full circle getting to work on Dick Grayson's monthly adventures again in the pages of his solo series, Nightwing?
WOLFMAN: I'm obviously thrilled as I always wanted the book. What's nice is that now I can write it for a more adult audience than existed back when George and I created him. It allows for a completely different approach than I would have had years ago.
CINESCAPE: How is Dick Grayson different now - at this point in his career - than he was when you scripted that sixteen page intro to the New Teen Titans story in the pages of DC Comics Presents?
WOLFMAN: Back then Dick was maybe 17 years old he was struggling to assert his independence from Batman. The Titans was his method for doing so. Dick is now approximately 25. He settled his problems with Batman years ago. He's now an adult who is trying to figure his place in life - as so many 25 year olds are. He'd been trained since childhood to be a crime-fighter but he's at the age now where he realizes he also needs a real life. Trouble is, he never quite developed that part of his life.
No matter how good we are in our professions, even at that age, we all make those some mistakes in our private life. Or vice versa, depending. Very few of us have all parts of our lives worked out at that age. So Dick wants to see where he fits into the world today now that he's on his own. I think it parallels the readership today as the teenage version of the Titans paralleled the readership back then.
CINESCAPE: Where do you think Dick fits into the world today?
WOLFMAN: I don't know exactly. That is what makes this journey interesting. I want to put obstacles in front of him and see how, logically, the character reacts to them. Characters tell you when you try to have them do something they shouldn't be doing. It simply won't feel right. Dick's journey will have ups and downs and I don't know where it will wind up, not should I. Eight months ago if you asked me would I be writing Nightwing again I would have said no. None of us knows what's going to happen.
CINESCAPE: Why does Dick Grayson continue to fight crime when he possibly could have a very full and happy life outside of the spandex world? He's not the Batman who only deals with his feelings by punching the crap out of people. He is comfortable in his "civilian" skin. He could just be Dick Grayson.
WOLFMAN: Dick not only saw his parents die, but he was raised by Batman with a strict code of ethics. Whereas Batman festered with his anger, Dick did not. But Dick saw how someone like Batman was able to help him and many others. Since he fought alongside Batman, he saw how much good he could do, and therefore he has the need to continue to do it. But unlike Batman it doesn't come from some long ago need for revenge, it comes from a true desire to make a difference. Therefore Nightwing has a positive attitude rather than a negative one. But it has had impact on his persona life, and now that he's in his mid-twenties, his early decisions are demanding some new thinking.
CINESCAPE: Have you been keeping up on his current state of mind? Have you followed this new series and what's happened to him in the Infinite Crisis, Identity Crisis and other events raging through the DCU?
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WOLFMAN: I didn't follow the Nightwing comic, except for the past half dozen issues before I took over. I did follow him through Infinite Crisis. By the way, I didn't follow it not from disinterest, but from my policy of not reading anything I create once I leave the project.
CINESCAPE: Why do you have that policy? It seems, if you love the characters, strange to do something like that ....
WOLFMAN: Several reasons: 1: I have characters speech patterns firmly in my head, especially with characters I create. Therefore it is impossible for anyone else to understand exactly how I would write a line for a character. They can mimic one part of my style, but not everything that I feel make up a character, no more than I can fully understand another writer's mindset. They may also like one part of my approach but not another, so they would avoid doing something I think underscores how a character reacts to events. What that means is no matter how good or bad a job they do - as far as I'm concerned the characters would sound wrong. So when one of the writers - as they always do - ask me what I think of their handling of the characters, all I can say is it's wrong, even if the job itself is really good.
2: I never ask the people who wrote the book previous to me what I should do with a title when I take it over. My feeling is I have to make the book my own, to do what most interests me, or the job will just be professional rather than inspired. And I've certainly done more than enough of those. This is, by the way, why I always encourage writers go completely go off in their own directions rather than follow what I did or even care what I think. I would rather see a completely new take on my characters (like the Titans cartoon show) that means something to the writer than to see them try to Xerox my writing style and miss it. They need to do exactly what I did; make the title theirs. For example, since I had to read the Titans recently to write a few issues, I saw Geoff Johns used the spirit of what George and I did but went off on his own as far as speech patterns and storylines go. It's not the Titans I wrote, but he did his own thing, which is why it's been a top selling book again.
3: Connected to that, most of the writers who followed me on Titans or whatever have asked me what I thought of their work. Since many of them are friends I don't want to say "Well, you got Starfire's speech pattern wrong," or something like that. As I didn't check with either Bob Haney or Bob Rozakis on the way I wrote characters they brought into Titans, I don't want any writer to feel they have to "live up to" the stuff I had done. I am aware that good and bad my 16-year run on Titans or on other books is a benchmark of some kind, but no writer who follows me should have to worry about what I think. They need to do their own stuff. So I'd rather just not read the book so they could do what they should be doing in the first place; write a great comic that means something to them.
CINESCAPE: Speaking of meaning something to you ... how were you approached to work on this series? I know both characters are near and dear to you. But it seems like you went for a while without doing much in mainstream comic books, but now you're back with Nightwing and Raven's limited series.
WOLFMAN: I never intended not to do mainstream work in comics. But what happened was Dan Didio and I were speaking, and I told him how much I still loved the character. I'd gotten back into him because of the Titans issues Geoff Johns asked me to co-write with him. I had so much fun I realized I was not remotely "done" with the character. I said if the series was ever open again to let me know. Thankfully, Dan did. Then he assigned me to work with editor Peter Tomasi who has been nothing short of really good to work with.
CINESCAPE: Is it tough for you to have this progression with Nightwing or do you still think of him as he was when you last scripted his regular adventures with the Teen Titans? Has he changed for you or do you still see him as he was when you were in control of his destiny?
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WOLFMAN: No, it wasn't difficult. Before Geoff's Titans book was announced, I had actually made a proposal for a Titans related book about three of the Titans (Cyborg, Raven & Starfire) now all in their mid-'20s, trying to decide what to do now that they had grown up. Because none of them "had" to work; they all had money through the Titans and Dick did certainly through the Wayne foundation, I thought they wouldn't have had to interface with lots of real people, which meant they didn't have to learn a lot of the ordinary social skills one gets as you start in the job market.
They also tended to hang around their long-term "teenage" friends, which can keep you from really growing up. Because I didn't realize that new Titans book was in the works, my proposal was rejected. But when Dan mentioned Nightwing, I realized Dick was an even better choice to do that with. Dick had even left the Titans which meant to me that he was trying to find his place in the world.
Internal conflict, based on real world concerns and emotions, is the kind of material I love to write. So no, I didn't have any trouble writing this older Dick Grayson. I had been building up to it in my mind anyway. And obviously, no, I don't see him the same as I did when he was 18 and in the Titans. I'm not the same as when I wrote that book, so why should the character remain the same.
Also, I wrote that Dick Grayson when that sort of teen angst appealed to me more. Now I'm writing a more mature character.
CINESCAPE: What do you think about what's happened recently in the pages of Nightwing with Jason Todd?
WOLFMAN: Never much liked Jason Todd ever since he was introduced, so it wasn't my cup of tea. I also have a very different view of Nightwing. But I don't know the reasons for that storyline and approach, and as I haven't spoken to either the editor or writer, I really don't know what their marching orders were. So without knowing that I don't know how successful everyone was in following them.
CINESCAPE: You said you have a "very different view" of Nightwing, what is that view?
WOLFMAN: This is in context so the answer needs to be so, too. My view of Nightwing, or rather Dick Grayson is that he's a very capable person, caring, smart but not overly so, but has the ability to see through puzzles. Unfortunately, he can't see through the puzzles of his own life, as few of us can. He's trying to figure things out assuming life always have answers, which of course it doesn't. But I see him as very, very competent, just not always self-aware. And he is perhaps a bit too critical of himself.
CINESCAPE: What do you think of the DCU starting things One Year Later and will your stories be filling in the gap or picking up from where things were left off? IF you're filling in gaps, was this of your own creation or did Editorial give you some ideas of what they wanted to see happen in these pages?
WOLFMAN: As I had proposed starting the entire DCU over at the end of MY Crisis run back in the '80s, I like the idea of the OYL concept. I pretty sure the issues I'm working on are after the year. After the I.C. didn't ALL DC books begin one year later? And isn't 52 telling the stories that happened in the interim?
CINESCAPE: Supposedly, but the DC December solicits teased, "Raptor has been murdered, but Nightwing has been buried in his grave. Is this the Infinite Crisis claiming one of its lost victims, or can Dick Grayson find his way to freedom?" so that made me think that you might be filling in a few blanks from that "lost" year with this story. Or am I reading too much into those solicits?
WOLFMAN: The Crisis story line where Dick was supposed to have died will obviously have impact on him emotionally. You can't know you were supposed to die without being affected. I'm not filling in the lost year, but taking an event and giving it the weight it would have in real life if somehow, magically, you managed to avoid dying. It would change you. At least it would make you think. As Dick is already going through emotional changes, trying to figure out what he's going to do now, what happened in Infinite Crisis has to affect him as well. We are all the sums of our lives, and this event has to have impact on him or it becomes meaningless.
CINESCAPE: So how do you cope with knowing you were supposed to die? I mean, he's led the life of a hero - sure he made some mistakes; but he's helped a whole lot of people. When he's looking back and considering why he's still here, what do you think he's thinking about the most?
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WOLFMAN: I don't think anybody knows how to cope with the knowledge that you were supposed to die. Especially in something as big as the Infinite Crisis. But for that reason Dick knows something went wrong - or in his case right as he lived - yet he keeps hearing these voices saying he was supposed to die. And it's coming at a time when his relationships have fallen apart, which demands some sort of introspection. As for what he's thinking, if he knew what was wrong he'd be able to fix everything. But he doesn't. There's a nagging feeling behind his thoughts that something needs to be changed but he doesn't know what it is. Hence his search.
CINESCAPE: Do you have anything in your life that helps you relate to how he might be feeling? Have you ever "cheated death"?
WOLFMAN: I don't even cheat on my taxes. No. But based on articles I've read for years, I can certainly imagine how a near-death experience would change you.
CINESCAPE: Our friends from the I.R.S. will be happy to read that! So what's coming up in Nightwing? Are you going to be doing some shorter stories or long arcs? What's your pacing like? What role does editorial have?
WOLFMAN: I am trying to work out Dick's life with Peter Tomasi, my editor, and we're still in the early stages. Please remember I was originally hired only to do a four-issue arc, so I did a story that would fit in well, move Dick forward as a character, but not have the kind of big sweeping ideas I'd do as a regular writer. By issue three I knew I'd be on it for awhile, so I was able to start planting ideas and trying to make it more of my own.
I am coming up with all new villains for awhile as I think Nightwing shouldn't be fighting either Titans or Batman foes. I have to work out with the editor where we're going on his personal life, and the one thing I can say if I don't want to give him a regular girl-friend right away. I think he's found it too easy because as the star of a book writers are always going to have girls fall for him. I think some girls he may like may not be interested in him that way. Also, when you have a character get into relationships, I think you start writing more toward that whereas I want to center on evolving his character more. Emotionally for him I also think he may not really want to have another relationship right away, not having proposed to Barbara Gordon and have it go the way it did.
CINESCAPE: Speaking of Barbara Gordon, will she be making an appearance in these pages? I'd love to see her and Dick really go head-to-head and maybe get back together again ....
WOLFMAN: No decision has been made about that as yet.
CINESCAPE: When you're creating new villains for Nightwing, what type of characteristics are you looking to include? What do you think exemplifies the perfect antagonist for this hero?
WOLFMAN: If I knew what made the perfect villain for Nightwing I'd create it immediately. I think I try to find characters who challenge his thinking process or turn his view of what things are up side down. He is positive that Raptor, our first villain, is a murderer, but then learns he's wrong and there's something more to the character. Later he gets involved with the villain's family. I like to take his assumptions and turn them on their head.
CINESCAPE: You're working with some big names on these issues: Dan Jurgans, Norm Rapmund and an artist that's sure to be a fan pleaser. How does it feel to have those artists illustrating your words?
WOLFMAN: I've always worked with some great artists. Gene Colan, Ross Andru, John Buscema, George Perez, Gil Kane, Curt Swan, etc. Etc.
CINESCAPE: Oh, I know, but we're talking Nightwing now - one of my most favorite characters of all time [grins] ...
WOLFMAN: I love working with artists and certainly loved working with Dan on my first issues. I'm anxious to get started working with the new artist. I like intelligent artists who not only want to be part of the process but who, when they get a script, have no problem pointing out if there's a mistake but may also suggest alternatives. Dan's done that and the new artist, who I would love to tell CINESCAPE readers about, but have been told by DC to wait for their official announcement, has told me he likes to get involved as well, so I'm looking forward to it. I think when the creative team works together you get a better book, and I've done enough in the past that I don't have an ego that says my way or the highway.
CINESCAPE: You've been known to really involve your artists in your stories. After working with some of these creators are you seeing your relationship grow like what happened with George Perez are do you view the comics scene as different now with everyone having a specific role and no intermixing of those?
WOLFMAN: I don't know. Dan and I knew our run would be only four issues, and I was writing full scripts, so Dan's involvement came after the fact. Had we done more I'm sure the relationship would have evolved. As I mentioned, the new artist has already said he wants us to work together on the book, so I'm thinking that's good. George and I talk about the fact that we'd both sublimate our own egos for the sake of the book because that has to come first. If the book was good we'd get the reflected glory. So I don't think that's changed today.
CINESCAPE: How is working in the comic industry now different from when you first entered the game?
WOLFMAN: We get royalties. We can sometimes own our own work. That's the business changes which becomes an umbrella over everything else.
Creatively, we're aiming for an older audience which means we can add more layers of subtlety to the stories. The readership today is over 20 which allows for some real writing and character development. Since certain comics are obviously aimed for older readers we can actually write for them and try to do stories that are more than fight scenes. I always had problems writing fight scene stories anyway; big battles tend to get repetitive. That's why George and I did as many pure character driven stories as we did, and that's why I tended to play more toward mood and character in Tomb of Dracula rather than just issue after issue of violence.
In terms of style, I now write without a lot of the melodramatic fish-in-your-face dialogue and captions I used to do. My dialogue is more naturalistic today and I can pace a story very differently than I used to. I can take my time peeling away the story instead of rushing through it.
CINESCAPE: What are some of the biggest things influencing you now?
WOLFMAN: Everything influences me, from news reports to books to movies, TV and more. In comics I've been very much impressed by Brian Bendis' Daredevil and Brian Woods' indie comics.
CINESCAPE: So what comics are you reading now?
WOLFMAN: The above, most of the DC comics since I'm working in that universe again, and the only things I'm reading at Marvel are Daredevil, Civil Wars - trying to figure out how they'll eventually retcon it - and Runaways. Beyond that, I'll ask the guys I trust at the local comic shops here in LA (either Golden Apple or Earth-2) what is really good and give them a try.
CINESCAPE: You mentioned your Raven miniseries, what is that story about?
WOLFMAN: Something is infecting the students at Rachel Roth's school, forcing them to experience a series of extremely painful emotions. Raven fears it's her own powers which cannot be contained by her new, young body. Also, she has had precognitive dreams which indicate a student is going to be murdered on the campus in five days. She has to figure out who the victim will be and who the killer is before then.
CINESCAPE: You seem to always keep busy, just what other projects - in or out of comics - are you working on at this point in time?
WOLFMAN: I'm writing the Teen Titans "Judas Contract" direct-to-DVD movie. I'm doing a Raven mini-series and a few other projects I can't mention now, both for here in the US and for overseas.
You can learn more about Marv Wolfman and keep track of all his thoughts on his projects by checking out his official website here: http://www.marvwolfman.com
Jennifer M. Contino is a lifelong comic book fan. The pre-Crisis version of Donna Troy is her favorite comic book character of all time. You can see and read more of her work every day at THE PULSE.