A Nightwing Before Christmas: an interview with Sam Humphries

For the past year and a half, Tim Seeley has done Nightwing proud.  While his run on the character is coming to an end in December’s Nightwing #34, he’s leaving the character in the capable hands of Sam Humphries.  Fresh off a great run on Green Lanterns (which, funny enough, Seeley is now writing), Humphries took the time to talk with Batman News about all things Nightwing.  Which legendary artists is Humphries excited to work with?  What exactly is Dick Grayson doing when we first see him?  Who is the sensational new character that will surely take the world by storm?  Read on to find out, and enjoy some of Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo’s preview pages while you’re at it.

Jay Yaws: First question I wanted to ask, and this is a pretty big one I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to know the answer to: what can you tell us about Guppy?

Sam Humphries: [laughs] Here’s what I can tell you about Guppy: he is going to be the character breakout of the last two weeks of 2017 and the entirety of 2018.

JY: It is not too late to have the sensational character find of 2017. [laughs]

SH: [laughs] Exactly.  His debut is December 20th.  You can have it in your stocking on December 25th.  It’s gonna be a Guppy Christmas for everyone.

JY: “A Guppy Christmas”… that is what I’m gonna call this interview, by the way, is “A Guppy Christmas for Everyone.” [laughs]

SH: [laughs] Either that, or “A Nightwing Before Christmas.”  That’s what we’re calling a signing I’m doing–

JY: Ohh, that’s a good one.

SH: At Collector’s Paradise in Pasadena.  That’s a plug.

JY: There ya go.

SH: Guppy is… Guppy is a new supporting character for the book.  As you may have seen some of the art that has been posted, Guppy is a humanoid shark.

JY: Mmhmm.

SH: He… you know, when I took over Nightwing, I wanted to do characters and stories that could only happen in Blüdhaven.  I want to add to that canon.  I don’t want to do stories or characters that could have come from Metropolis or could’ve grown up in Coast City or, you know, anything like that.  So, Guppy has a history.  Believe it or not, Guppy is a legacy character.  As you know, in DC, we’re all about legacy characters.  He has a connection, not only to Blüdhaven and Blüdhaven’s criminal history, but he has a connection to the very first time that Dick Grayson came to Blüdhaven, back when he was Robin.

JY: Huh.  That’s interesting.  I’m kind of curious– not kind of, definitely curious to see where that legacy ties in, so–

SH: You’re gonna see in issue 37.  That’s when we flash back and we see Robin’s first visit to Blüdhaven with Batman, Dick’s first encounter with the Judge, and it’s all drawn by Klaus Janson.  Living legend Klaus Janson.

JY: Oh wow.

SH: Yeah.

JY: That’s excellent.  So Bernard on for 35 and 36, and then Klaus Janson for kind of a “one-and-done”?

SH: Yeah, we have two swing artists.  We have Klaus Janson on issue 37, doing a little old Batman and Robin story in there, and then in issue 39 we have another living legend, DC royalty Phil Jimenez doing an issue.

JY: Oh wow.  I think I saw a solicit of that the other day, yeah.

SH: Exactly.  Fresh in the new solicits.  He… this issue takes place… this is “Dick Grayson: College Student” at Hudson University back in Blüdhaven.  It details his second encounter with the Judge.

JY: So you said about Guppy that he was a character that could only happen in Blüdhaven.  I’ve seen you say some similar things about the Judge, that he’s a character that could only come from Blüdhaven.

SH: Mmhmm.

JY: Obviously you want to keep things under wraps, but is there anything else you can tell us about him?  I know he’s a brand new character.

SH: Exactly.  He’s a brand new character who has… Dick has faced twice before, and we’ll see those encounters in issues 37 and 39, but the Judge is back and this really weighs heavily on Dick because this is a bad guy that Dick has faced and failed to stop two times and he’s not going to let it happen a third time.  And the Judge, like you said, he is a uniquely Blüdhaven character, he’s a Blüdhaven rogue through and through.  He’s a very mysterious character: even after facing him twice, Dick doesn’t kow a lot about the Judge or where he came from, and he’s going to have to use all of his detective skills to get to the bottom of this.  The Judge’s very rich history which is tied into… really the heart of what Blüdhaven is as a city.  And it’s going to take us to some very surprising places, some very interesting twists when we get to the Judge’s full origin in issue 39.

JY: So it’s not just kind of a tour of the history of Blüdhaven, but it’s also a detective story in and of itself?

SH: Exactly, yeah.  I mean, there’s definitely some history of Blüdhaven in there.  I love expanding on the canon of the DC Universe like I did in Green Lanterns when we explored the first seven Green Lanterns, but really this is a story that takes place in current DCU continuity and it’s about our current beloved Dick Grayson.  Nightwing, doing what he does best.  He’s a superhero,a crime fighter, and a detective, and he’s going to have to pull on all three roles to try and stop the Judge.

JY: Sure, and speaking of Green Lanterns, that’s one thing I wanted to ask about and tie in there.

SH: Yeah.

JY: Your Green Lanterns run–

SH: Let’s segue right into it.  You’re welcome for that transition. [laughs]

JY: [laughs] A-plus transition there.  So, that series was kind of a buddy cop book, obviously, between Jessica and Baz.  Are you going to look into a lot of similar scenes on Nightwing with his supporting cast?  Tim had the Run-Offs and Shawn and even Damian popping in from time to time.  What are you going to do with the supporting friends, heroes, whomever in Nightwing going forward?

SH: Well, you know, if you ask somebody about Nightwing as a character, maybe one of the top things they would say is “everyone loves Nightwing.”  I mean, he’s a popular guy, right?

JY: Oh yeah.

SH: Of course we’re gonna have stories that either hinge on his personal relationships with others or what he’s going through, how he deals with situations where he has to depend upon his relationships with others.  So, right away, in the first issue we catch glimpses of Batman– I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.  He’s a real up and coming character.

JY: I have.  He seems to have a bright future if the cards are played right.

SH: Exactly.  Well, you guys have been doing a really good job supporting him as a bright new character, so I think he’s really going to peak next year.

JY: Yeah.  This is the year of the Guppy; 2018 is the year of Batman.

SH: Exact– [laughs] He’s going to have to beat Guppy, but it’s going to be tough for him.  We have bits of Alfred in there, we have Blüdhaven’s supporting cast, we have Detective Svoboda, we have Mayor Madrigal, and we have some new supporting cast members like the Guppy, who we talked about.  We have a character called Baby Ruthless–

JY: Baby Ruthless.  I love that.

SH: Like the candy bar, but vicious. [laughs]

JY: [laughs]

SH: And she is another character who belongs to Blüdhaven, her entire character… she could not come from anywhere else.  And then we have the Judge, a bad guy but, you know… I love writing bad guys because they’re the main characters of their own stories.

JY: Right.

SH: And being able to write him and scenes with him… he has scenes where it’s just him and other supporting cast members and that’s been a lot of the fun of writing this book.  Oh, I keep forgetting to mention: Blüdhaven is… there’s so much crime and criminality and we’ve created a new… I guess you’d call them a crime, a crime syndicate in Blüdhaven called “the League of Limousine Assassins,” and you’ll get to meet them right off in the first issue of the run.

JY: The League of Limousine Assassins?

SH: That’s right.  You know Blüdhaven, it’s like a Vegas or a Macau, right?  There’s limousines all over the place, so it’s just another aspect of Blüdhaven life for the criminals to take over.


JY: Yeah, that was one of the things I really… I talked to Tim and Marcus To about this time last year when he came back to Blüdhaven.  They equated to kind of Atlantic City.  You know, it’s on the coast, there’s a lot of ocean front there, but it’s also kind of glitzy and maybe just a little bit dirty.  Which Marcus and then Javier Fernandez and Minkyu Jung and other artists have kind of explored and looked at different parts of the city.  Like the wharves, the docks, and now Desmond’s casino.  What parts of Blüdhaven do you feel that Bernard Chang is really good at bringing out in his artwork?

SH: Boy, Bernard has done some incredible designs for locations and points of view in Blüdhaven, but he’s also just made the city really come alive on these pages.  He and I keep talking about Blüdhaven as a “neon canyon,” the idea that the casinos and the hotels have taken over Blüdhaven to such a degree that sometimes you can’t even see the sky.  You’re surrounded on all sides by sheer walls of lights and LCD screens.  It’s like your constantly going through a neon canyon.

JY: I like that.

SH: Yeah, and Bernard really hit on the idea of Nightwing as Macau, which, if you’re not familiar with it, just has some incredible architecture that is on a form of steroids known as “money.”  They have so much liquid capital to invest and build in Macau.  These buildings are incredible shapes and designs, and Bernard has designed the Blüdhaven harbor, which is the heart of the casinos and the Casino District.

In my backstory, I have a story and identity for each of those casinos, particularly the Lighthouse Casino which sits on the former spot of the Blüdhaven lighthouse for Blüdhaven Harbor.  But then also something that Bernard and I talked a lot about is there’s a lot of money in Blüdhaven, but any city in the world where there’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of inequality.  So there’s the bright, glitzy, high-roller side of Blüdhaven, and there’s old Blüdhaven.  There’s not a lot of steel and glass in that part of Blüdhaven, it’s more bricks and iron, and that’s where you have the old crumbling churches and St. Jude’s Monastery which we go to in issue 36.  And the wharves and the alleyways and that kind of stuff.

So we really explored both sides of Blüdhaven, and boy, Bernard really just makes every scene look incredible.  He just turned in these pages the other day: Blüdhaven’s Tiki District, which is going to blow everybody away.

JY: Tiki District.  I can imagine it, but I almost don’t want to–

SH: [laughs]

JY: I just kind of want to see it for myself.

SH: See it unfold.

JY: Yeah, definitely.

SH: Exactly.  It’s a district of tiki bars in Blüdhaven.

JY: Wow.  So, you mentioned old Blüdhaven versus new.  Are you going to go into a little bit of social aspects, like class wars?  The lower class versus the upper class, kind of as an undercurrent to the superheroics going on on the surface?

SH: Yeah, definitely.  I mean, this is a superhero story.  It’s about Dick, it’s about crimefighting, and being a superhero and a detective.  But, you know, you really can’t have many stories in America that don’t touch upon wealth inequality in some way.  So that’s not something that you’re going to see in a strong, explicit way in the book, but it kind of haunts Blüdhaven like a ghost, if you know what I mean.

JY: Yeah, it’s just there, kind of giving its own character and personality without actually being right up front, but kind of an undercurrent, I think I said before.  Just always there, even if it’s not referenced directly.

SH: Exactly.  Undercurrent is a good one, since Blüdhaven is a harbor town.

JY: Yeah, I like to tie in all the conversation and the things that we say and all the segues–

SH: You’re doing great.  They symbolism and the themes and everything, you should just write the script I’m looking at right now.  You’re just going to take over from here.

JY: [laughs] I mean, I wouldn’t say no, but I’m sure you’re doing ok.

SH: [laughs]

JY: I’m sure you’re doing a bang-up job yourself. [laughs]  So, more broad and generally speaking with Nightwing, are there any… I mean obviously there are the big ones, like New Teen Titans and Chuck Dixon’s run on Nightwing and everything.  Is there anything you think readers– even if it’s not necessary to read, do you think readers should read to familiarize themselves with the take you’re giving Dick Grayson?

SH: You know, it’s interesting, because issue 35, the first issue of my run, is a fantastic jumping-on point.  If you’re a new reader, you’re going to be able to pick it up and understand the book right off the bat.  If you’re a continuing reader, you’re going to flow right into it from Tim’s run.  If you’re a lapsed reader, you’re going to be able to pick it up and see all you’ve loved and missed about Nightwing.  But there are a couple of stories… I’ve been reading a lot of Dick Grayson stories and a lot of Nightwing stories, like you’ve mentioned.

But there’s sort of two things that really made an impression on me.  One was the single-issue story “Who Is Donna Troy?” by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, which is from their New Teen Titans run.  I mean the whole run is fantastic, but “Who Is Donna Troy?” really stuck out for me and it’s a heavy influence both for me and for Phil Jimenez for the story we’re doing in issue 39.

And then, for the story for issue I’m doing with Klaus in 37, I actually went back and re-read a lot of the Golden Age Batman and Robin stories and really, really enjoyed them.  I got to read them with new eyes and enjoy them in a way that I hadn’t, particularly the stories that Dick Sprang drew.  I just think he’s a fantastic artist, and there’s just a fantastic atmosphere in the Golden Age stories.  You get the implausibility of this guy and this kid running around in these costumes, but you also feel the foreboding atmosphere of the alleyways and the gangsters that they force, and sort of these dark missions and trials that they undergo.  And that vibe really influenced myself and Klaus on issue 37.  So if anybody is looking for any insight or maybe a little preview of “Nightwing The Untouchable,” those two are good places to start.

JY: Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of older Golden Age Batman stories.

SH: Really?

JY: Yeah, coming out in the Golden Age collection that came out last year, reading a couple of those.  I mean, they’re so crazy while still being grounded, and it’s a crazy balance because they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to tell these stories but it still somehow worked and everything.  So those are great fun to go read as a 21st Century reader, with things published in the Thirties and Forties.

SH: Yeah.

JY: Are there any characters that you maybe want to introduce that maybe haven’t come up before?  Because I am bound and determined for somebody to eventually bring back Tad Ryerstad, the N-I-T-E Nite-Wing from Dixon’s run, almost as a joke but I’m actually kind of serious about it. [laughs]

SH: [laughs] So you’re not asking who’s on my list, you’re asking about who’s on your list, really.

JY: That was… that was an example.  But if Tad is on your list, I won’t complain.

SH: I will… I will say that’s a very intriguing pick.  I’ve not thought about that.  I do have a list of characters I want to bring in on the run, most of which I’ve gotta keep close to my chest.

JY: Sure, sure.

SH: You know, I do… Dick Grayson has an uncle, George Grayson, and there’s a story I want to tell about him that I’m really excited about.

JY: Alright, that’s always good to hear that the writers are excited to write about who they’re writing about.

SH: [laughs]

JY: Obviously you can’t spoil the end of Tim’s run and where it’s going, but can you say where we find Dick Grayson coming into your run?  You said it’s a good jumping-off point–

SH: Jumping-on point.  Jumping-on point.

JY: Sorry, jumping-on point.  I’ll edit that when I transcribe.

SH: Whew.  You’re giving me a heart attack over here.  [laughs]

JY: Sorry sorry.  A good jumping-on point.  I did not mean anything by that, and you shouldn’t read… anyway, it will be a good jumping-on point.  So what can you tell us about where Dick’s going to be when you take over the character?

SH: Oh boy.  That’s a great question.  Like you said, I don’t want to spoil anything about Tim’s run, which by the way is fantastic.  This last arc is awesome, and Tim’s run as a whole is one of the best runs anyone’s done on the character, right?  I keep calling it a “hang it in the rafters run,” and I truly do mean that.

JY: Yeah.

SH: So I don’t want to say where… how Tim is gonna wrap his run up, but I guess I’ll say that when we see Nightwing at the beginning of my run, he is crashing through the roof of a limousine going top speed down Blüdhaven Boulevard.

JY: Ha.  I think I saw something that Tom King tweeted a couple of months ago about if you ever have writer’s block, just write “…and then somebody fell through the roof” and then you have a story from there.

SH: [laughs]

JY: It’s good to know your story’s starting there.

SH: I think Tom’s cribbing from Godard, who said “if a screenplay ever gets boring, just have a woman enter the room with a gun in her hand.”

JY: Yeah, it was definitely something like that.  I think it was a Godard quote.  But still, that’s a great way to start an issue if I’ve ever heard one.

SH: You’ve gotta kick it off with a bang, you know?

JY: Exactly.  And coming through the roof of a limousine is a pretty big bang there.

SH: Yeah, screw that limo.  That limo’s f—ed.

JY: [laughs] Yeah, exactly.  You tweeted the other about how Dick is going to be an entrepreneur, a small business owner.  Anything you can tell us about that?

SH: Uhh, I’m gonna let that be a surprise for the first issue.  I will say that we were kicking around some ideas and it was something that editor Chris Conroy came up with, and he was like “you don’t have to do that one” and immediately I said “no, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”  And I think when people see it, they’re going to laugh but they’re also going to love it because it’s a perfect thing for Dick to do.  It’s just a perfect thing for him and a great… you know, there are great stories that come out of these competing impulses.  “I need to be a superhero, but I also need to do my job,” you know.  And that’s the angle we get from Dick’s new business.

JY: Sure.  Alright Sam, what would you say is the main theme of your at least intial arc on Nightwing?

SH: Boy, the main theme?  You know, it’s something I would hesitate to say out loud because I prefer the themes to play out on the page.  Maybe this is something we could talk about after the first story arc is done?  But this is called “Nightwing the Untouchable” for a lot of reasons, and to consider and… maybe readers who are intrigued, consider ahead of time while being untouchable as a superhero may be a good thing, being untouchable as a human being could maybe cut the other way too.

JY: Yeah, definitely.  Alright, well, thanks very much for talking with us Sam.

SH: Dude, thank you for doing this.  I really appreciate it.

JY: Oh, absolutely.  Good talk here.  I enjoyed it.  Looking forward the jumping-on point–

SH: Exactly. [laughs]

JY: And I’m glad we made it through the entire interview without me asking who Dick’s best love interest is.  So uhh, alright.

SH: [laughs] Thank you for sparing me.  Thank you.  I appreciate that.

Sam Humphries and Bernard Chang arrive in Blüdhaven in Nightwing #35, due in comic shops and other retailers on December 20.