James Tynion IV loves Tim Drake. That love for the hero has jumped off every page of the two-year Detective Comics run that the writer is wrapping up this week, finally returning the character to a prominence he hasn’t had in years.
For a long while, Tim Drake was sort of a stepchild Robin. After DC Comics’ New 52 reboot in 2011, he was still the third teenager to become Batman’s junior partner, but the new continuity awkwardly shoehorned him into Bat-history. Eclipsed in prominence by Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, he wasn’t prominently featured in a Bat-book and mostly appeared in a middling Teen Titans title.
Relaunched with legacy numbering as part of DC’s 2016 Rebirth initiative, Detective Comics quickly became the secret gem of the Batman line. It essentially revived the old 1970s Batman Family concept—itself revisited in the early ‘00s as a Gotham Knights title—with a group of crimefighters being trained by Batman and Batwoman. Detective stood apart from other Bat-titles because it focused on team dynamics, offering up compelling glimpses of how Batman tried to connect emotionally with other characters.
Detective Comics’ soap-opera style melodrama was predicated on giving development arcs to each cast member, which Tynion excelled at. Stephanie Brown/Spoiler wanted to be alongside her boyfriend Tim Drake/Red Robin, and became a bitter antagonist to Batman when fate separated them. Trained as an assassin, Cassandra Cain was looking to use her lethal skills to help others. One-time Clayface also sought redemption and a cure for the powers that were eroding his sanity. As for Tim Drake, Tynion’s tenure on Detective was very much about bringing him back into the fold of Gotham City’s protectors.
The writer gave him a powerful meta-arc that showed how reluctant and obsessive the hyper-competent hero could be. It started by making Tim the chief architect of a fancy new base of operations, even while he wasn’t sure that he’d be still in Gotham.
When the Bat-squad faced off against Colonel Jacob Kane’s Colony army, Tim was a crucial factor in their battles. His perceptiveness, technological wizardry, and strategic acumen were always what separated him from the other people who called themselves Robin.
In fact, it looked like he paid the ultimate sacrifice at one point.
But that seeming death merely led Tim to meet his own future self, who did the one thing that Tim said he’d never do: become Batman and use lethal violence in morally questionable ways. When Adult Tim came to the present to enact a terrible plan to forestall his dystopian timeline, he came into conflict with everyone on the team.
Other storylines—along with new team members—came and went as the series went on, but even when he was absent, Tim was the heart of this series. This week’s Detective Comics #981 is Tynion’s last issue and it features an emotional goodbye to Tim and all of the Bat-squad.
I spoke with Tynion last week on the phone to talk about his upcoming work on the relaunching Justice League titles and asked him to highlight one favorite takeaway from working on Detective Comics. Surprisingly, Tynion’s favorite moment from his Detective Comics tenure has nothing to do with the hero called Red Robin.
Your time as writer on Detective Comics wraps up with issue #981. What’s been your favorite thing you’ve done there?
James Tynion IV: That’s a really interesting and hard question. The biggest thing was the the fun of being able to say that “Oh my god, I get these characters and I get to tell stories that speak right to the heart of them.” That’s what I tried to do over and over. I tried to tell a core, iconic Cassandra Cain story. An Azrael story. A Batwoman story. And obviously Tim Drake, my favorite character in all of DC Comics.
I really enjoyed how you wove an understanding of older iterations of these characters into a forward-looking take, despite various continuity changes. Azrael had a totally different origin story than in the 1990s but you made his personality feel the same. And you even put him in the AzBats suit!
Tynion IV: I enjoyed the challenge of trying to make all that work. I would say the thing I’m proudest of, though, would be the character I thought of as comic relief of the series, in the beginning. The one who I wasn’t expecting to connect with on the level I did, and that’s Clayface. Honestly, the work I did with Clayface—you know, I love creating touchstone stories and using the ones I grew up reading to build something new.
With Clayface, I kind of took the whole mythology of Clayface and all of his contradictory origins, and I feel like I kind of tapped into the heart of the character in a way that I hope the character is inevitably portrayed in the future. Clayface is a character I want to write again, just because I loved writing him so much. The only trouble is I killed him. But… when has that stopped somebody in a superhero comic?
Tynion’s arc on Detective Comics feels like the best kind of closure a creative tenure can have: all the characters feel like they’ve grown, and have an expanded sense of possibilities they can explore as well. Detective Comics #981 is out this week.