Building a Better ‘Haven: An Interview with Nightwing’s Tim Seeley and Marcus To

What’s old is new again as Nightwing returns to his old stomping grounds.  After calling the city home for close to a decade, Dick bade farewell to Blüdhaven during the events of Infinite Crisis, after it was leveled by the supervillain Chemo.  Since then, Nightwing has made his home in various cities, including Gotham City, New York City, and Chicago.  Regardless, the ‘Haven was seen as his city, and part of what made Dick his own man.

Now, Tim Seeley is bringing Blüdhaven back, giving Nightwing a base of operations and place to hang his hat mask once more.  Joined by artist Marcus To, the duo were gracious enough to answer some questions about the return of Blüdhaven, Dick’s growth as a character, and their collaborative process.

Batman-News: A little preface: when I was actually getting into comics about twenty years ago, my two main pulls were Chuck Dixon’s Robin and Nightwing, so needless to say it’s really exciting to see Dick go back to Blüdhaven.  So when was that decision made to have him go back?

Tim Seeley: So when we first had the meetings for Rebirth, you know, one of the things that we had said we should do eventually, kind of in the spirit of Rebirth, was bring back Blüdhaven.  But Geoff [Johns] kind of suggested that it would be something that we do in the future and not necessarily do right off the bat.  So he wanted it to be something that came naturally from the progression of the story, so I kind of slotted it after doing the mentor story so I could kind of focus on Dick as a character, his relationship with the Bat-family first and then sort of reestablish his relationship to Blüdhaven.  And then that was something I worked on with Rebecca Taylor and Dave Wielgosz and Mark Doyle about sort of what would our version of Blüdhaven be, and then we brought Marcus in and said “this is what we want it to feel like, this is what we want to do with it” and he was the guy that figured out the really hard stuff, like what the downtown looked like and the boardwalk and all of the billboards for the various casinos and stuff in town.  And then we had [Chris] Sotomayor go in there and I kind of provided this very Eighties, Miami color theme he used to make it look as different as possible from the original Blüdhaven, and so Chris added that and I think we came up with something pretty neat.

BN: Yeah, absolutely.  And Marcus, did you take any cues from the old Blüdhaven design?  Because it’s typically a port town, did you add any of that in when you designed the city?

Marcus To: Well, I actually took a lot of notes from what Tim was suggesting to do, because I really loved the idea of either an Atlantic City or an old Miami kind of style.  You know, watching Miami Vice or that kind of thing, it’s kind of a neat idea because, I mean, I like the idea of having Nightwing in a position where he’s not super super comfortable with, which having basically lights shining everywhere as opposed to Gotham or what Blüdhaven used to be.  But I think with the port town mentality, we still have a lot of those nitty-gritty areas that we’re using in the story, close to the docks and stuff like that where Nightwing can play which probably has a lot more of the old Bludhaven look in it.

BN: Now is this going to be a permanent excursion in the city, or is he going to pop back and forth between Gotham?  Is there a timeline for this?

TS: My take on it was when we originally talked about what we would do with Nightwing was that if there was one thing that we should have learned from Grayson that wasn’t sort of there in Nightwing stories before was that it worked really well for him to do some globetrotting, espionage-tinged stories and that we shouldn’t get rid of that in this new run of Nightwing because it was such a powerful lesson.  So my pitch on this series originally was, you know, let’s give him a place that he calls home base and let’s have it not be Gotham, but let’s keep it flexible so we can send him around the world when he needs to, ’cause he works so well that way.  It also let’s us open up, you know, for stories that don’t necessarily take place in other Gotham character books.  So if Dick is the guy that doesn’t just deal with organized crime in a city and doesn’t just deal with the sort of “freak of the week” mental patient, if he’s the guy that has all of these possibilities then we get so much more story out of him.

BN: Right, so you’re kind of taking the globetrotting aspect of Grayson, which I’d say really paid off with all the critical and fan support it got.  Is there anything from Grayson itself that wasn’t used in your run that you’re going to tweak a little to bring on Dick’s new globetrotting adventures?

TS: Umm, not really.  I mean, I think all the stuff… you know, Grayson was so very specific because it was, like, it was a different theme.  It’s about a guy, away from home, trying to adapt to a new situation in which things are not as black and white as they used to be, and he doesn’t have his family there, so it’s a very different theme of a book.  That means most of the stuff that we made up for Grayson doesn’t fit in Nightwing, which is a very different story.  Nightwing‘s about a guy coming home, and trying to find his place in the world after he’s had this sort of educational experience in the wider world.  So, umm, you know, none of the… I wish some of that stuff I could bring in, but I’ll just have to save it for something else, because I think Nightwing is so specific to this kind of story, and we made up a bunch of new stuff that we get to use to tell good Nightwing stories on the same theme that we, you know, engineered for it.

BN: But it still does feel like a logical progression.  With Grayson, he was… obviously he had to be on his own, covert and undercover, but took lessons from there.  And that was what the first Raptor arc, “Better Than Batman,” was about, him getting his feet wet a little bit back in actual superheroics and figuring himself out, so it does feel like a logical progression that now he’s learned some life lessons, he’s come home, realizes he doesn’t quite fit anymore and then tries to go off and be his own man.  So I definitely see the train of thought there and the reasoning as to where it’s going with these stories.

TS: Thank you, yeah.  For sure.  I hope that’s what people get out of it ’cause that was the intent and I think, you know, DC was really cool about letting me sort of say “let’s not ignore this stuff, let’s not reboot, let’s learn lessons and try to make this the best Nightwing series we can possibly make it.”

BN: Right, and let the characters grow, too.

TS: Yeah, for sure.

BN: So I mentioned Raptor.  I really feel like… you’ve said some things before about wanting to give Dick a good supporting cast and a rogues gallery and I definitely feel like Raptor was well received and was a really compelling character, and kind of became synonymous with Nightwing as a good antagonist going forward.  Are there any plans to bring in other characters from the past, or even introduce some new characters that you can talk about, of course, in the near future?

TS: Yeah, I mean, that was sort of the goal of the series in general, but each arc is going to take a different approach to bringing in new villains and sort of a new supporting cast.  So the arc I’m doing with Marcus right now is us saying, ok, here’s what really worked about Chuck’s Blüdhaven stuff and what we liked, and how can we use it in 2016 versus 1996 and let Marcus have a spin on redesigning some of those people, but also sort of recognizing that his Blüdhaven run didn’t contain any sort of… it didn’t contain a very Dick-specific archvillain, right?  I mean, Blockbuster was a character that existed before and we wanted to make a character very specific to Dick’s situation as he moves to Blüdhaven, so we’ve got an all new bad guy that we’re kind of trying to do something in the mold of Raptor, you know.  Taking something about Nightwing and reflecting it against him and getting a villain that’s sort of more personal and more challenging to him.

BN: Yeah, absolutely.  And Marcus, to kind of go in the vein of getting on this book after Javier Fernández had a good run on the first arc, how were you approached and how did you get on board with Nightwing?

MT: Well I’ve been, uh, petitioning for a job on Nightwing for, I don’t know, like, ten years now? [laughs]

BN: [laughs]

TS: [laughs]

MT: But, umm… no, ever since my run on Red Robin, and I love the Bat-office even though there’s been a lot of changes since that run, you know when I did Batwing for a while and Huntress as well, so I just like to make my road through the Bat-family really, heh.  But, uh, Rebecca Taylor and I have been friends for a long time and we worked on Hacktivist over at BOOM! for a while, and we she got hired at DC, we kept in contact and we discussed possibilities and when this popped up, following… and since it’s been double-shipping, they knew that they needed a few artists on board, so they gave me a call and I was excited to jump on board and be part of the team.

BN: Yeah, no doubt.  So as far as your own designs, I’ve seen some of the work and it’s real nice.  It’s very very different, but it has its own voice and I really like what you’ve done with some of the design for Blüdhaven.  Obviously I haven’t seen much yet, but also with Dick’s design, it’s really good figure work.  I personally feel like Dick’s old blue costume, the one that this is kind of an update of, is one of the best costumes in comics history.  Was it intimidating, kind of, coming into that, or did it just fit right?

MT: I mean, every character, whenever you jump on a book, even though, you know, I know these characters very well… I mean, the best part of jumping on a project is to find that voice and mix it with the story we’re telling.  So not everything, not every approach will be the same, but I’m still figuring out how I want to draw Dick here on this issue, and it has been a challenge to a certain degree, but some of the best costumes are the most simple ones.  When things are just right, you know, you just go with it.  So, it’s been great working on this, and drawing Dick in his new costume which, like you said, is an updated one of the old blue and black one.  And I think Javier has done an amazing job kind of merging it with the old one, but making it new and fresh.

BN: Right, agreed.  And Tim himself, you’re an artist.  Is it easier to work with a writer who also has that visual experience?  Does it make the breakdowns and the flow work better?

MT: Well, I think it’s been really good, because I feel like, when I read his scripts, I feel like I understand everything he wants.  With a lot of comic book writers, there’s this… it’s a different way each time, you know?  Each person that comes in.  And like I said again, it always takes a couple issues to really understand what everyone wants, because it’s about the end product.  We want to make the book the best as it can, but I think it was an easy fit going off of Tim’s scripts because, like I said, his beats are clean, he understands how to switch scenes, and the motion.  I never feel like I have to read it and be like “oh man, how am I going to do that?”

TS: [laughs] We also deal with the fact that, like, a lot of times if I have time, if there’s a new character I try to give at least sort of a rough sketch of what I want, and then let the artist do their thing.  But it’s so much easier for me to just do a sketch of it than to describe it.  And in this arc, I didn’t have time.  We were moving so fast, and so I had… I gave in all my trust to Marcus to do this, and it worked out good, but there were moments there I’m sure he’d just feel me tensing up and sweating over an email, you know.  ‘Cause that part is difficult for me, to let go of visual stuff.  But in this case, and it’s been that way with Javi too, you know, even if I do do a little design or something and send it over, I want them to do their take on what I described, even if it’s a drawing.

MT: But I’ll say this: direction is better than not knowing what you want, and then wanting to change it afterward.  So I’ve no problems with direction at all, I like it because it helps get the visuals and everything working the best, because in the end of the day, it will serve no one any good to have miscommunications.  I think it’s the best for the project to go smoothly that everyone’s on board and on the same train.  So it works really well and Tim puts in a good amount of reference  so it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from, so it’s been great.

BN: Right, because you’re both telling the same story, just with two mediums and that has to come together.  So that’s always good that there’s a nice teamwork aspect there. 

So a lot of fans like the interactions with Tiger and Helena and even Deathstroke, characters that are rooted in Dick’s past.  Can we expect to see anyone, especially Helena, I know a lot of fans want to see her back in the mix.  Will we see them in the future?

TS: Well, I’m always looking for places to do that.  It’s tough to establish something new and also go back to things that people love.  Yeah, I mean, we’ve got plans out for 48 issues, because I’ve gotta write 24 issues a year for two years so I [laughs].

MT: I don’t know how you’re doing it [laughs[.

TS: But uh, so, yeah, I think it’s… I think we’re gonna pull that stuff off.  I think we’re gonna get everyone in there.  You know, definitely there’s some stuff coming up, big stuff, that those characters will need to interact, so we’ll cover a lot of ground there.  In the meantime, definitely for this arc, it’s a focus on showing some new stuff and putting Dick in a new situation, and sort of revamping some old stuff.

BN: Making him his own man again.

TS: Yeah.  Exactly.

BN: Alright, well, thanks very much Tim and Marcus, on behalf of Batman News and our team there and the whole community.  Thanks very much for taking the time to answer some questions, and I’m definitely looking forward to what you have in stuff for us in Nightwing in the coming months and even years.

TS: Thank you.

The “Blüdhaven” arc begins in Nightwing #10, available December 7. In the meantime, here’s the sneak preview as well as some upcoming covers.