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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Now that DC has published the two Red Robin volumes largely scripted by Fabian Nicieza, The Hit List and Seven Days of Death, I thought it would be interesting to review comments he made when he took over that series from Christopher Yost.

Nicieza had written Tim Drake’s transition from Robin to Red Robin in the issues of Robin collected in Search for a Hero. I felt that volume suffered from being forced to squeeze into the schedule dictated by Grant Morrison’s “Batman RIP” storyline. In interviews Nicieza clearly liked the Tim Drake character; in the magazines, he didn’t have enough pages to demonstrate that.

Taking over Red Robin in 2010 gave Nicieza a second chance with Tim Drake, this time with no end in sight. At that time, he told Newsarama:
He is “the smart one” of the Bat-family, the thinker and planner. I mean, of course Bruce Wayne/Batman is what he is, and Tim isn’t quite there yet, but Tim at 17 has a more developed intellect than Bruce at 17 did. That’s not to say Dick Grayson or Barbara Gordon are dumb, of course they’re not, but Tim’s level of thinking is a bit... thicker... than theirs. For me, Dick is about superior reflexive thinking, Barbara about superior operational thinking and Tim is about superior comprehensive, or all-encompassing, thinking.
What I love about Tim is that he shares some of the strongest traits of various Bat-family members. The intellect and detective skills of Bruce, the ability to lead others and be a friend to others like Dick has and even the ability to make cold, harsh decisions like Jason does.
Those qualities are certainly on display in Nicieza’s Red Robin stories as Tim maneuvers and manipulates, planning ways to take down villains and threats proactively. That created the storytelling challenge of a first-person narrator who’s been planning several steps ahead of the action being shown—but of course can’t spoil the story for us readers.

Within the DC Universe, Tim got the cyberspace beat. Several of Nicieza’s stories involve an evil digital network called the Ünternet, with his old rival Anarky as a touchy ally in that virtual world. Another couple of issues bring on the Mad Men, electronically fueled tricksters who challenge Tim’s logical thinking.

At the end of that interview, Nicieza threw out some teaser questions that referred to a plot thread that Yost had left hanging for him:
“Who[m] has Ra’s al Ghul ordered to take away Tim’s v-card – and will she succeed?”
“And if she doesn’t succeed, who else is on that ever-growing line looking to draw that card?”
As calculated, that talk of sex caught fans’ attention. But Nicieza soon stated: “I only drew the V-card gag answer as a direct result of a thread running that day on the Robin DC Boards. . . . I hadn’t even THOUGHT of [it] much until that thread.”

As Nicieza noted, over the years DC’s storytellers established several young women as romantic interests, and thus potential first sexual partners, for Tim Drake. Nicieza spun out some of those threads. He created a notable cliffhanger with Ra’s al Ghul’s half-sister trying to get pregnant by Tim whether he wants to or not, only to show him saved by another possible partner.

But contrary to some readings of those issues I’ve seen, Nicieza wasn’t trying to turn Tim into a suave playboy. He recently told Comic Book Resources:
Any relationship with a woman is one where Tim is never fully in control. Maybe that’s one reason he doesn’t have any successful ones under his belt—then again, how many 17-year-olds do? I like how Tim is so competent in so many other aspects of his life, but he is still an awkward doof when it comes to dealing with girls.
Tim’s anxious face when he sees what al Ghul is up to fits into the line of anxious faces he’s made when he thought Lady Shiva might sexually initiate him (first Robin miniseries, #4); when his first girlfriend, Ariana, suggested sex (Robin, #40); when he had to face Stephanie Brown’s pregnancy (Robin, #58); and even when Rose Wilson of the Titans made a play for him (Teen Titans: All Around the World). This DC Universe ends with Tim still awkward, still a virgin, and unattached. Nicieza really does know the character’s history.

Back in 2010, Nicieza was looking ahead to another Red Robin storyline based in Tim’s past:
Nrama: It seems Tim would have quite the reaction to Digger Harkness being brought back from the dead but not his own father [since Harkness, better known as Captain Boomerang, killed his father in Identity Crisis]...

Nicieza: …we will certainly touch on Digger’s return very early in my run—with a face to face meeting that will brew and percolate into a larger storyline down the road.
However, that larger storyline never came to pass. DC’s management chose to revamp its entire line for a simpler “New 52” continuity, in which Tim Drake has a new Red Robin costume and a new mission of forming the new Teen Titans. And there was a strict timetable for launching that.

Nicieza therefore had to wrap up his storylines very quickly. He squeezed a visit to Hong Kong and a big fight with a new young villain into a single page in order to leave the series’ final issue for the face-off with Captain Boomerang. What Nicieza planned as “a larger storyline” depended on Tim’s careful, extended planning—indeed, such planning is crucial to the story’s theme.

Logically, the result is an appropriate culmination for this Tim Drake’s character development from 1989 to 2011. Unfortunately, because the action had to be compressed into a single issue, it didn’t pack the emotional punch that Nicieza had no doubt initially hoped for. In addition, the last issues of Red Robin and nearly every other DC series were swamped by fan interest in what the publisher planned next. This saga ended not with a bang but with an “eep.”

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