In the past year, Damian Wayne has been through a lot – witnessing Alfred Pennyworth's death, leaving the Teen Titans, and even quitting his role as Robin.(opens in new tab)
But now in the new Robin series, written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Gleb Melnikov, Damian is ready to reclaim the Robin name as he joins the mysterious League of Lazarus tournament where he will face the likes of Nite-Wing (not Nightwing), Brutale, Lady Vic, Rapture, Tigress, Double Dare, and even new characters like Copperhead and Black Swan.
Following the prelude backup tales in Detective Comics and Batman, Robin #1 (opens in new tab) makes its grand debut on April 27
Newsarama had the chance to chat with Williamson about what fans can expect from the series. We discuss Flatline's origins both on-page and behind the scenes, the roles of fan favorites Rose Wilson and Connor Hawke, and how exactly the Bat-Family will react to Damian's disappearance.
Newsarama: Josh, to jump right in, what made you want to start your story with backups in Detective Comics and Batman before launching Robin #1?
Joshua Williamson: That was something that came from DC. We started to have talks about what were ways to bridge from what was going on in Teen Titans and in Detective Comics with Damian and what had been happening with Damian over the last couple of years. We were trying to find a way of bridging from those stories into the new Robin series.
But with the new Robin series, we really wanted to just hit the ground running with a new story and not dwell on the things that had happened in the last year. We definitely wanted to touch on it, but we didn't want to spend too much time in the first issue.
We started talking about doing a zero issue. We started going back and forth on that idea. They were planning on doing backups anyway for Batman and Detective, and somebody was like, 'What if we did this for the first month?' So, we did that. That sounded really cool to me. So, I actually wrote it as one issue, but I knew where we were breaking at that point. Like I knew where the gap was going to be between the two, but I wrote it together.
Then Gleb drew it. I'm really excited and happy about the way those back-ups played out. It also helped us to hype the series for people, who would read Batman and Detective. It allows them to get a glimpse of what the series is going to be, and I think it worked.
Nrama: In the latest Detective Comics issue, you had Connor Hawke show up. What can you tell us about his upcoming role in the book?
Williamson: Connor is going to be in the first couple of issues, sort of like in the shadows, off to the side. In the first issue, particularly, you only see him a little. In the second entry, he starts to take on a bigger role as he's presented to Damian as his biggest competition there. Then the third issue, we really start to explore him a lot.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is Connor and Damian talking for the first time and realizing how much they have in common and being able to relate to each other, bond with each other over the lives they've led and the relationships they've had with their fathers. Then they fight [laughs], but it's one of my favorite scenes we've done in the book so far.(opens in new tab)
I was really excited about bringing Connor back. It was something I've wanted to do for a while. When we started talking about Robin, we started talking about doing the idea of the League of Lazarus tournament. One of my favorite tournament stories was in Green Arrow. It was a crossover story, and Connor was the winner of that tournament. I was like, I really want to use Connor.
I went to DC and I was like, 'Nobody has seen this character in a long time. I personally love him. Can I use him?' They went for it. So, I've been really, really excited to get to write him.
At first, he was only going to be a side thing, but then as I started writing him more, he became a really important part of the series along with Damian. I think the two of them go on this journey through this tournament together. I'm really excited. I'm glad that people were happy when they saw it.
Nrama: The solicits also reveal Rose Wilson is going to appear. Why did you want Connor Hawke, Damian Wayne, and Rose all in the same book?(opens in new tab)
Williamson: On a selfish level, it's because I like them all. Like I like writing them all. That's kind of my selfish answer about that is that I like those three characters. I think them playing off of each other is really interesting. I mean, Connor is like one of the nicest people in the world, right? There's not a mean bone in that guy's body. But Ravager is definitely kind of a snarky person.
They're all children of superheroes, or in Rose's case of a super-villain. They're all these children of these other people that have had these huge statuses, and I think that's something they can all relate on. Ravager and Damian, they clash with each other and that's really fun. They're antagonistic with each other. So, it's fun to write.
Then putting them in this tournament and having it be something where - there's obviously a lot of people that are in this tournament, but they all have something they need to prove Putting them all in this basket together has just been really fun.
Nrama: Damian Wayne has been wanting to separate himself from the Bat mantle. With the book being called Robin, is he still trying to step away from the Bat-Family?
Williamson: He's back in a spot where he's like 'This is mine. So, I'm taking it back. I'm going use it as a tool because it has weight and value.'
Like he sees the name of Robin as a weapon that carries weight to it in the world.
So, he's going to use it, and then that's sort of where his take is on it. But then what it means to be Robin will definitely come up, and his interpretation of it. The fact that yes, he gave it back or it was taken away and all the stuff that happened with it, that stuff will come up in the book.(opens in new tab)
Nrama: You are introducing a new character into the DC mythos - Flatline. What went into creating them? Why are they a perfect fit for Robin?
Williamson: Flatline was created with me thinking about different characters I wanted to go up against Damian and looking at Damian's history. One of the people was Death Man. I always thought Lord Death Man was an interesting character. He was in Batman Inc., and he's been in other stuff too, but I liked the Batman Inc. version the most.
And I started looking at some of the stuff and being like, 'You know what, he should have a sidekick.' So, Flatline was originally just created to become a sidekick and she was going to be something to the side. She wasn't going to be as much of a major part of it. There were parts of it that I liked writing with her when we were developing.
When Gleb became the artist on the book, I just sent him this list of fighters, like known DC fighters. Then a list of people we wanted to create and have fun with. He did this design of her, and the moment I saw the design, she took shape. Like I could immediately hear her voice. I could see what that character was.
That's where her name Flatline came from because he did this design that was like a flat line on her chest, like her logo. He did this on his own. That was not her name. The logo came first. Then I was like, 'Her name is Flatline.' Everything came together with her.
She's this person that's not afraid of death. And because of Damian's history with death, only as somebody who for a while, didn't understand that he couldn't take it, also the time that he's been resurrected. I think her being this person - she says it in the first issue, Damian has learned from so many of the greatest fighters of the DCU and he was raised by Batman, who the myth of Batman is he always wins. Right?
And Flatline approaches things like, 'You have to lose sometimes.' She's learned from the losers. Part of her power is that she can learn from other people's deaths. How she gets trained is when people die, she's able to absorb what happened and make it not happen to her. She has this relationship with death because of that. So, that allows her to have a different perspective on things and clash with Damian. It's just somebody else who has a different perspective on things that he can bounce off of.
That's what's fun with this stuff. Damian is a character that - I think it was Frank Miller that said this, that Batman is a character you can drop in any place and it's a vehicle for any story that you want to tell. You can put Batman in it. I think that's true with a lot of the Bat-Family. And I think you can do that with Damian too. You can throw Damian into this story, but the thing with Damian is that he works best when he has people to bounce off of and clash with.(opens in new tab)
And with all of these characters we're bringing in like – Flatline, Connor, Rose, and other characters that were bringing in, Respawn and a few others. Ra's Al Ghul is in the book and some of the Bat-Family will be in the book eventually.
It's just fun to watch him clash and bounce off of people. But at the same time, Damian doesn't want people to see it, but he's all heart. He's still a kid, he's still at times sensitive, still growing, and figuring things out. At this point, he's a teenager. He really is trying to figure stuff out. So, it's fun to see him clash with people, but then also see those relationships when he opens up and lets people see who he really is.
Nrama: Who are some characters we can expect for the Lazarus tournament?
Williamson: I think that there will be some surprises over time. I don't want to get too much into spoilers, but there might be people early on that people may think are missing that will show up as it goes. I think that will kind of surprise people. I looked a lot at the '90s. I say I looked at, but I knew it in my head already.
Like when I started thinking about all the fighters, I just remembered all the people that were created in the '90s. Like Brutale, Lady Vic, Rapture is a newer character, but Rapture is in there, Double Dare, and just going out and grabbing all of these characters. We even brought back Nite-Wing that was created in a Nightwing book.(opens in new tab)
We just went out and grabbed stuff - like Tigress is in there. Then we created a bunch of new ones - like Copperhead is in there and there's going to be another new character. Her name is the Black Swan. She's a ballerina, but also a fighter. But there are also other big names that people will see over time in the book.
But at the same time, one of the things is that the League of Lazarus was very specific on who they invited and why. You have to get a marker to go, so I didn't want to go get every single person. There were certain characters that I was like, I don't know if they would actually enter this at this point in their lives because it's mostly villains that are going and then Damian. [laughs]
So, there were certain characters I was like, 'I don't feel like someone like Bronze Tiger would go,' but then I'm like, 'I'll find reasons for why someone like Bronze Tiger isn't there, even though he's one of the best fighters.'
But again, there are some characters, without giving too much of the spoilers, that will show up in the book that I think will surprise people that we don't automatically show right out the gate.
Nrama: The first Bat member I think of when I think of great fighters is Cassandra Cain. Are we going to see her? Any other Bat-Family members you can tease who we can expect to show up?
Williamson: They are all in the first issue with cameos. Then gradually, not to get too much into the spoilers, part of the thing is that Damian is missing. Like he's taken off, and Bruce isn't just going to let that fly. He's going to try to find him.
So, everyone in the Bat-Family is trying to look for Damian and they're looking for clues. Oracle is out there trying to pick up any traces, but he's a ghost. He's done the thing he's trained to do and he's disappeared. But that doesn't mean that they're not going to keep trying to find him, and we're going to show the search as well as what happens eventually when they do find him.(opens in new tab)
Nrama: What can you tease about the mysterious League of Lazarus?
Williamson: There's definitely a deep mystery with them. In the backups, we already established that they were part of the League of Assassins, League of Shadows - that Ra's used to control. In the series at one point, Ra's will go deeper into explaining what they are and how he sees them as a mistake. Like it was something that he always intended to keep buried.
Now that they're back it's a bigger problem down the line. It's more than just a tournament. They're not just there to have a fun tournament for no reason. There are reasons why they're doing what they're doing. And people like Ra's don't want that out. He wishes they were still buried. You can tell with Talia she was like, "I want nothing to do with them."
But Damian is like, "I have to find out what they really are," and hopefully he'll find out. He'll find that it has connections to stuff in his family that goes back really far - that there was a reason that Ra's and Talia did not want him to know about it.
Nrama: Speaking of the League of Lazarus, with a name like that, can we expect to see the Lazarus pit?
Williamson: I mean - you know. [laughs]
I'm playing with all the toys, I guess. I took a little piece of the Batman lore and a little piece of the DC section pulling over here to play with. So yeah, a lot of that stuff will be in this book.
Nrama: We get a tease of Damian's relationship with his mother in the back-ups. Are we going to see more mom/son moments?
Williamson: The first arc is going to really focus on the League of Lazarus. Damian trying to find his place, him investigating this case, but also trying to grow a little bit as a character and deal with some of the stuff that he's gone through. Some of the trauma he's going through, but also just growing up.
Like, he's 14 in the book. I just think a lot about what I was at as a 14-year-old and what this kid is going through. Like yeah, he's this master assassin, but he's still a kid and he still needs his parents. He's still able to do what he does and he has these people he surrounds himself with over time, but the story with Talia will get picked up again later.
Talia is going to be in a few books this year. But with Damian and her relationship, it'll be something that comes up more at the end of this year, after we get past the first arc - him looking at these relationships and trying to choose sides. Damian comes with an interesting solution to the whole choosing sides thing during the tournament that he approaches his parents about later on this year.
Nrama: What about Ra's Al Ghul? What role is grampa going to play in the series?(opens in new tab)
Williamson: I don't want to give it away. I think it'll be really surprising to people. Ra's Al Ghul has gotten his ass handed to him these last couple of years. Between the Outsiders, even the stuff I did in Batman/Superman, and everything that's been going on with Leviathan. It's like his empire was completely taken down.
What does that mean for him as this person who really believes that they want to save the world and keeps getting stopped from saving the world? What does it mean for him? Then what does it mean when he interacts with Damian, and maybe having a different point of view on some things that he's done in the past?
But yeah, I don't want to give it away. The art for that issue is really cool. I was looking at it this morning, the Ra's Al Ghul issue. I think it will be surprising the direction we take Ra's Al Ghul in, but I love it. The scenes with him and Damian have been really fun to write.
Keep up with everything coming for the Bat-family with our listing of all the new Batman comic book releases (opens in new tab) planned for 2021 and beyond.