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Posted 20/05/2004
Source ThePulse

BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
There's a new Robin in town and, although this one may be a wonder, she's no boy! The Dark Knight Detective is taking on Spoiler as a pupil after Tim Drake gives up being Robin. Spoiler's dreamt of being the Batman's partner, but is the reality going to be all she's expected? Writer Bill Willingham's very tight-lipped about what this summer holds for the new Robin, but we did get a few details to whet appetites.

THE PULSE: A lot of people were surprised to see your name attached to Robin.
BILL WILLINGHAM: You needn’t be so polite. I think the term you were looking for is: a lot of people were horrified to see my name attached to Robin. A quick stroll through various message boards – particularly the DC message boards – shortly after the news came out that I’d be taking over the series, yielded some interesting opinions, most of which were along the lines of: A) The current series sucks and so there better be big changes coming;
B) The new writer better not change anything.

THE PULSE: Do you read a lot of message boards? I know some pros who won't look at any ....
WILLINGHAM: Not often, and much less as time goes by. I found out with my first experience with message boards that they can be a great waste of time. Plus, most of them are run as cesspools, where reasonable voices are overwhelmed by those who take advantage of anonymity to post any sort of bile. Still, from time to time I check a few of them to see what’s being said about the books I write, but even that has scant utilitarian value. Most message boards seem to be dominated by a very few people endlessly messaging each other. I certainly don’t believe any writer should let message board reaction, pro or con, influence any aspect of his work.

THE PULSE: What interested you about working on the Teen Wonder?
WILLINGHAM: He’s a comic book icon, the archetype of the teenage sidekick. I don’t think that iconic status will change, now that ‘he’ is becoming ‘she.’ Also the book presented a big challenge, as it isn’t really the type of book I could imagine myself writing, prior to being invited to do it.

[Image: 126rb3.jpg]THE PULSE: What were the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of this run?
WILLINGHAM: To explore the nature of the superhero business through the eyes of someone still in the process of learning that business.

THE PULSE: You've said before Robin was lacking some serious rogues. How are you hoping to change that with your run?
WILLINGHAM: By adding to Robin’s rogues gallery.

THE PULSE: [laughs] OK, so who are some of the rogues you're adding to Robin's gallery?
WILLINGHAM: Let’s let the readers discover them as they’re introduced.

THE PULSE: Fair enough. In general when considering new rogues, what elements/characteristics did you think needed to be present?
WILLINGHAM: Pretty standard stuff. All characters, good, bad or otherwise, need to make sense in their own contexts. Their motivations need to be believable, and a bit more complex than just “I’m the bad guy.” In the Batman corner of the DC Universe a degree of freakishness seems to also be required.

THE PULSE: What challenges do you face working on this all ages comic as opposed to the mature readers Vertigo series Fables?
WILLINGHAM: I don’t consider it particularly challenging to conform a story to an all-ages readership, rather than a mature readership. Don’t get me wrong. Any writing is chock full of challenges – just not so much in that area. The rules of good storytelling remain the same, no matter the readership at which any given story is aimed. With the Robin series it’s mostly just a matter of cutting back on Alfred’s wild sex scenes, before I hand any given script in; Changing “scumbag” to “dirtbag;” and scaling back the scenes involving Robin’s secret program to hunt down potential evil-doers and slits their throats, before they can grow up to become super villains.

THE PULSE: Sounds simple enough. Who are some of your writing influences for Robin?
WILLINGHAM: Each of the writers who’ve come before me, on the Robin series, has influenced what I am doing with the book – contrary to one of the more popular internet rumors, that I never read a single issue of Robin, before taking over. I read as many issues of the series as I could find – which were most of them – before starting my work on the series. Michael Wright, the series editor, helped a great deal in that respect, by sending dozens of the previous issues my way. However, I didn’t allow any previous writer’s take on the character to automatically trump my plans. As with most new writers on any given series, I considered everything, kept what I thought I could use, ignored what I couldn’t use, and made up the rest – with lots of helpful advice and unreasonable demands from the legion of Bat Editors, of course. When I leave the series, I expect the next writer to do much the same.

THE PULSE: How are those influences different than what inspires your work on Fables?
WILLINGHAM: On Fables I am the final authority on what does and doesn’t get used. I draw from the source material I like and craft the stories I want to tell. On Fables there’s no editorial board telling me I have to work these big cross-company events into this given issue – and so forth. In Fables every writer of the past tales, with whom I collaborate, are all long dead and so can hardly get a word in edgewise during our plotting sessions.

THE PULSE: Why do you think it was in character for Tim Drake to give up being Robin?
WILLINGHAM: He always said he would some day – although one expects the plans of children to change often and adamantly. As far as the specific reason Tim quits -
[spoiler]it came down to the fact that his dad was against it, and when all is said and done, a boy has to do what his dad thinks is best. Tim’s known all along that keeping his duel life secret from his parents was wrong. On some level at least, I suspect he was actually relieved to have his secret come out.[/spoiler]

THE PULSE: Some people have responded positively to the announcement, given the type of man Tim has shown himself to be. Since details of this story became known, what kind of feedback have you received about the decision from fans and peers?
WILLINGHAM: True, there has been some positive responses, but in the entirely unscientific method of browsing the internet, most of the reaction seems to have been one variation or another of, “How dare I?," and "just who the hell do I think I am?” One of the more entertaining anonymous posters has deduced that I obviously think I am God. That’s not true, by the way. It’s been years since I even applied for the job. Others are calling openly for Chuck Dixon to return and wrestle the series away from me. This is fine. My one real worry, when taking over Robin, is that no one would care. I can deal with fear and loathing, and even get a kick out of it, because it takes a lot of reader involvement to work up a good rage. But yawns scare me.

THE PULSE: When you started your run on Robin were plans already in place for the teen wonder to give up the costumed life?
WILLINGHAM: No comment.

THE PULSE: You hinted in another PULSE interview that Spoiler's future was already kind of planned out before you took over.
WILLINGHAM: Yes, the future of Spoiler was one of the pre-ordained events, before I was brought on board.

THE PULSE: How much of it was set in stone and how much of it did you have the chance to alter?
WILLINGHAM: No specific comments, until after it plays out. But Spoiler’s future was one of the things locked in before I came onto the series. I got to add one important development to the planned events, but I can’t reveal what that is yet. Let’s talk about this again, a few months down the road.

THE PULSE: Ok. What do you think sets Spoiler apart from the typical teen hero? She doesn't seem to fit the mold of most of the Teen Titans or Legion ... yet.
WILLINGHAM: She needs to learn the job. One thing I didn’t like about the previous takes on Robin was that Tim came into the job already prepared for it, and as many critics have now pointed out to me, ad nauseum, Tim no longer needs Batman’s training and instruction. This made little sense to me. Robin should always, at its core, be the superhero in training. If he’s ready to be out on his own, what is he still doing in the Robin suit? So Spoiler needs to learn how to be Robin, and that is what I find compelling about this story.

THE PULSE: Why do you think Spoiler's colorful background and past mistakes could help her become a better hero?
WILLINGHAM: Everyone has past mistakes, current mistakes and future mistakes. No one ever gets to the point where they don’t make them – or if they do, why bother telling their stories? Perfect people are dull, boring, tedious and did I say dull?

THE PULSE: I think once or twice. What do you view as Steph's greatest strengths so far?
WILLINGHAM: She wants the job. She wants it like a drowning man wants air. She isn’t planning on just dabbling in the superhero trade, until something better comes along. Damion Scott has perfectly captured her enthusiasm in her first appearance as Robin.

THE PULSE: What areas does she still need improvement in?
WILLINGHAM: All of them. Isn’t that fun?

THE PULSE: Sounds more dangerous than fun. In fact, due to her inexperience and other problems, a lot of people find it tough to believe the Batman would even let Stephanie take on the role of Robin after Tim leaves.
WILLINGHAM: A lot of people should read the story, when it comes out.

THE PULSE: I'm sensing a pattern. Some think this might be one of those imaginary stories.
WILLINGHAM: Nope – except that all of these stories are imaginary – these being works of fiction and all. But no, this is definitely part of the so-called reality of our fictional DC Universe.

THE PULSE: Is this story really happening and, if so, why would the grim Batman let the not-as-skilled teen take on the mantle of Robin?
WILLINGHAM: Alfred gets to ask that very question of Batman, so I won’t step on his scene by answering it here.

THE PULSE: How tough was it for you to get to know Stephanie Brown and get into the Spoiler mindset?
WILLINGHAM: As tough as it is to get into any fictional character’s mindset. Teenage girls who fight crime on the sly don’t think like middle aged men whose crime-fighting days are long past – at least I hope they don’t. Then again, how many of us have actually put on gaudy clothes to go out and battle super criminals; or fought against sword-wielding barbarians in some forgotten kingdom; or hung out with talking animals? Writing in the various fantasy-adventure genres is all about getting into the mindset of fictional characters who bare very little resemblance to you. It’s not easy, but it beats shoveling dirt for a living.

THE PULSE: What is Spoiler's mindset? Does she really take all this seriously or just have the wrong idea about what it means to be a true hero?
WILLINGHAM: How does one answer this question? In truth, anyone who puts on a costume to use ropes and sticks to fight gunmen has the wrong idea about what it means to be a true hero. Within the admittedly bizarre fictional conceits of a superhero universe, one presumes she better be taking this seriously. She’s the devoted one. She’s already convinced this is a job that needs doing. Tim is the one struggling with the level of his commitments to the cause.

THE PULSE: How intense is the training Batman has planned for Steph?
WILLINGHAM: There’s a fun scene coming up that shows just a bit of the answer to this question. Let’s wait for it.

THE PULSE: How will Steph react to constantly being compared to Tim, Dick, or, even, Cassandra?
WILLINGHAM: Funny you should ask. Once again I’m going to dodge giving you a candid answer.

THE PULSE: You're getting good at dodging. You've worked with a lot of female characters and showed things from each's point of view before. How does Steph relate in comparison to some of your other leading ladies?
WILLINGHAM: My template for writing female characters is simple: Design each as an individual character. None of my characters could (or should) be able to serve as a role model for whatever group they might be perceived as belonging to. In fact none of them should ever be perceived as representing any given gender, group or lifestyle, or I’ve failed miserably.

THE PULSE: Many are wondering if Spoiler will also appear in Teen Titans, taking over Tim's spot there. Will she? And, if not, are the Teen Titans stories taking place at a different point in time to current Robin continuity?
WILLINGHAM: You’ll have to ask the Teen Titans people about that. I don’t talk to them – quite purposely – because I can’t write the Robin books with Teen Titan continuity in mind. As I was instructed by the DC Batgang, while considering whether or not to take on the book, I have to conform Robin to what is happening in the other official Bat-titles, but I can ignore anything outside of that – which includes the Titans book. This creates some frustrations, because Geoff Johns is a terrific writer and I would love to pass the time talking shop with him – simply as a fan of his work. But that would inevitably lead to temptations to try to work Titans continuity into the already continuity-burdened Robin book; or worse – trying to force my Robin continuity on Geoff. And so I don’t pick up the phone to him. Too bad, huh? The nice part about this though is that the Titans book comes as a surprise to me each month, and I am able to continue to enjoy it as a reader. Robin stealing a Batmobile was a hoot. I wish I’d thought of it.

THE PULSE: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Let's talk about the other female Robin. How does Steph compare to Carrie from Dark Knight Returns?
WILLINGHAM: Well, since the Dark Knight takes place some unspecified number of years in the future, Carrie would still be an infant now, or not yet be born, so I would imagine Steph could easily take her in a fight.

THE PULSE: [laughs] How does it feel to be working with Gotham veteran Damion Scott?
WILLINGHAM: I’ve always liked his work, but I was truly blown away by his first issue of Robin – particularly his take on Alfred. If DC ever offered me an ongoing Alfred series, I’d take it in a heartbeat, provided that Damion drew it.

THE PULSE: How many parts is the first arc featuring Stephanie as Robin the Girl Wonder?
WILLINGHAM: No comment.

THE PULSE: Which villains show up in Steph's inaugural outings as Robin?
WILLINGHAM: A new gang of thugs for hire, and she may or may not have a run-in with the new villain Scarab.

THE PULSE: What inspired your creation of Scarab?
WILLINGHAM: A desire to create a villain whose basic methodology is sound. In real life most criminals tend to be stupid thugs, who’re able to get away with as much as they do because most law enforcement officers aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the pack either. Since this book posits smart heroes, we need smart villains to provide them a reasonable and interesting challenge.

THE PULSE: How did you want Scarab to be different from the typical Gotham thug?
WILLINGHAM: Is there a typical Gotham thug?

[Image: 126rb5.jpg]THE PULSE: Well, you always seem to see a gang of crooks with every rogue ... so there has to be some kind of typical "thug."
WILLINGHAM: Scarab isn’t insane, which seems to be one of the common characteristics of many Gotham bad guys. One of the ideas I’m playing with, and already introduced, is the notion that Gotham is a magnet for the world’s criminal lunatics. No, I don’t claim it’s an original idea. Other Bat-writers have played with the idea. But it’s one of the concepts I find most intriguing and worthy of further exploration. Like Rick’s Café American, everyone comes to Gotham.

THE PULSE: How does Tim react to the news that Steph is taking over?
WILLINGHAM: You’ll have to wait and see. I think it’s a good scene and I don’t want to spoil it (if you’ll forgive the pun).

THE PULSE: Confusedhakes head: How does the rest of the Batman Family feel?
WILLINGHAM: You mean, when they gather together at the end of each case for the group hug? Sweaty? Warm? Snuggly? Seriously, you’ll have to wait and see.

THE PULSE: How open will May's issue be to readers who have no clue who Spoiler is and just a passing knowledge of Tim Drake?
WILLINGHAM: Fully open? At DC we have the policy that anyone who wants to buy an issue of Robin can. As usual, one should be able to pick up most of the story in its own context, but knowing something about their past adventures would be helpful.

THE PULSE: What other Batman related projects are you working on?
WILLINGHAM: The big Bat Books crossover is just over the horizon and I’m working on those books now. During the three months of this event, I’ll be writing the Batman book as well as the Robin issues.

THE PULSE: How did you come up the idea for Batman: War Games or was that something someone else came up with and said, "Hey Bill, want to write this?"
WILLINGHAM: I didn’t come up with it. The entire Bat crew of writers and editors were put in a room for three days and fed good orange juice and bad doughnuts, until we came up with something, which we did. I contributed many ideas to the event, but not more than every other person there and not necessarily the best ones. For better or worse, this is the result of true collaboration.

THE PULSE: There have been a lot of Batman crossovers before ... how is War Games going to be different?
WILLINGHAM: Different things happen, than in other crossovers. Different characters appear than in other crossovers. But seriously, folks, this is my first of these things as a participant, so I can’t speak about past events from an insider’s perspective. This crossover is designed to make some permanent changes in the Batman books – as much as anything is permanent in a funnybook universe – and to more firmly cement some of the guiding principals of the Batman mythos. I don’t want to speak in specifics, because that’s what we want readers to come and discover for themselves.
I used to read Robin regularly, and with the news of this new chick stepping into the mantle, I decided to give it another go. And I have to admit, I love it. But anyone who knows me or who's read a few of my posts knows I love to see the wheel reinvented and this was a welcome change. Tim's mindset at being Robin is totally different than that of Stephanie, and to witness the transition of of someone going from wannabe to Wonder is a beautiful thing.

Not only are readers asked to question Batman's reasons for taking Tim's girlfriend in as the new Robin, but they also have to question whether or not she's up to the task. Since I've heard the news I've tried to get my hands on every appeance of this new Robin, from her own issues, to her guest appearance in Batgirl, to her cameo in Teen Titans. While I know there are plenty of people out there who hate the idea, I still love it and can't wait for more.