When I asked Kyle Higgins which of his issues he’d like to discuss, he instantly said “the last issue of Nightwing.” To which I, like an asshole, responded “you mean, your last issue of Nightwing?” It’s been an incredibly personal journey for Higgins, with its fair share of trails and tribulations, and his final issue effectively reflects on the entirety of his run. Patrick sat down with Kyle and went through the issue page by page, so get your copy handy and join us on the Commentary Track.
Retcon Punch: Let’s talk about the last issue! First of all, I love Russell Dautherman’s art in this thing. It’s warmer — the whole thing feels more naked to me.
Kyle Higgins: Yeah, it’s a more stripped down story. It’s a structure I haven’t done before — an intercutting structure. I had the idea pretty early on when I was writing the final issue to do flashbacks to all the villains that he’s fought.
RP: Let’s start with the cover then, you’ve got ’em all in there.
KH: Yeah, honestly, I didn’t even have the whole story yet, I just knew that I wanted to get a pin-up shot of all the characters that I created in my run. Y’know, some were better than others, obviously, like anything.
RP: Well sure, but it’s a pretty impressive roster of characters you developed. Not that you invented the Joker…
KH: [indicating a character on the right side of the cover] I don’t know who this guy is…
RP: Just a dude? Nightwing probably fought a dude at some point.
KH: [laughs] It’s Ghost Walker, I think. And there’s Tony Zucco. Yeah, I don’t know who that is. Originally, the villain of these last two issues was going to be Spinebender. I didn’t really have the story, I just knew I liked the idea of him morphing into all the villains that Dick had fought. So the script for issue 28 was originally him morphing into the Joker, he morphed into Prankster, he morphed into the Talon…maybe Saiko as well. So, I wrote it and it was about to be drawn, but then I realized that it would be way more powerful if I showed those villains as part of Dick telling the story of getting over the loss of his parents. Then I basically used that as the cautionary tale that he’s telling to Jen. Then it’s also a commentary on my run and all of the stuff that each arc was really about. I didn’t want to double-down on showing the villains in 28, only to show them again in flashbacks in 29. So I pulled out all the villains that Spinebender was morphing into, and that’s why he does the Deathstroke morph, the Superman morph, the Batman morph. Y’know, I still wanted him to morph into people, but I saved these specific characters for my flashbacks in 29.
RP: Before we get the context of Dick consoling Jen, he’s already telling the story. He’s already getting into it.
KH: Yeah, I was very specific in the structure of this, down to the caption boxes. Typically, if a character is narrating, their caption boxes use quotation marks around all the text, meaning those are words that are being spoken to someone off-panel. But in this, I wanted the first half of the story to seem like you were reading his internal monologue, and then flip it at the end. The narration has actually been him speaking to the little girl on the roof this whole time.
RP: One of the things that I found particularly effective is that even this personal story — this reflection — is Dick trying to help someone with the story.
KH: That’s what his character is all about to me. The final line of this issue is really everything I have to say about the character and what I think makes him so great.
RP: He catches people when they fall.
KH: Yup. He grew up in a circus; he catches people when they fall. That’s what he’s all about. There’s a moment in Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing run that always stood out to me. It’s as Tad is on his way to becoming a vigilante. Before he went on that path, there’s a tag where Dick Grayson is walking down the street of a shitty party of Blüdhaven, and this homeless guy is asking for change. Dick stops and he goes “Change isn’t gonna help, is it?” Then he gives the guy a hundred dollars and encourages him to get himself a room, get himself cleaned up. Y’know, “come back tomorrow and we’ll see about hooking you up with a job at Wayne Enterprises.” He’s focused on the individual, focused on the person. I feel like a lot of superheroes — especially Batman — are focused on the idea of people. But Dick Grayson is that guy that, if you got mugged, he’d save you and then buy you a beer.
RP: That’s cool and insightful and I love that about the character. It seems like there’s a lot of fundamentally Dick things in this issue. Lots of call-outs to his acrobatic way of moving. Like this splash page of just Dick flying through the air.
KH: Yeah, that page is all about Dick breaking free: from Robin, from Bruce. “Finding the right you” is the line on the page. Russell, in the art, added all these building below shattering, so it’s like his world is falling apart, but he’s soaring above it all. That’s the transformation of Nightwing, in my mind.
RP: Russell seems like such a great fit. Since the first year, there hasn’t been a very long time with any single artist.
RP: What’s that symptomatic of?
KH: It’s symptomatic of a couple things. Eddy Barrow is amazing, and I love Eddy to death. Eddy fell behind, and we needed some fill-ins, and then Eddy came back and we needed more fill-ins. Ultimately, we had to course-correct, schedule-wise, and then Brett Booth came on. But then Brett only did three issues. He was supposed to be on for a lot more, but they needed him for a Justice League story. Then Will Conrad come on. So, yeah, it’s been kinda been a revolving door. Everyone I worked with is great, and they all bring something different to the table with Nightwing.
I will say — and I hate to be biased with any of my artists, but — Trevor McCarthy and Russell Dauterman are my favorites. As far as the version of Nightwing that I was writing, and how it’s different from the rest of the Batman books, those two guys really nailed the acrobatics and really fluid, dynamic style that takes advantage of who he is and what makes him different. That said, Eddy Barrows did some of the most amazing pages I’ve ever seen. And Brett’s energy is incredible, just through the roof. Brett woke the book back up. When we moved to Chicago, the book got fun when Brett was drawing it. That informed how I was writing it — I was able to sit back and have more fun as a writer. The book got quippier, the book got lighter.
RP: Yeah, and it needed it that coming out of Death of the Family.
KH: Yes! Death of the Family was a huge huge huge weight on the book. It’s a great story, but, y’know, we’re tearing down the circus, we’re murdering all these people, and the right after that, what happens? Damian’s dead: we have to deal with that. It’s like “guys, we need a breather here.”
RP: Later in the issue, you call that out.
KH: Yeah, I know the part you’re talking about.
RP: You explicitly say “For every Court of Owls, for every Amusement Mile, there’s a morning like this.” And the book feels great during Court of Owls — that’s a good time for the series, but it doesn’t give you a chance to do something quiet like this.
KH: Yeah, good luck finding your identity during a crossover. I’m proud of the stories we did in the crossovers. The Court of Owls issues and the Death of the Family issues are some of my favorite in the series, and Scott [Snyder] gave me total freedom to do what I wanted to with them. It’s my voice in those issues, but it is a weight, you know? So I do look at this issue as a calling card and a good-bye to the character, but it’s a love letter as well. It’s what I wanted to say about him and what I always tried to say about him. Maybe I wasn’t always able to…
RP: Well, it’s a subtle thing you’re trying to express.
KH: Can we talk about my favorite page? This page that shows the “what could have been.”
The idea for this came from the final issue of Brian Miller’s final issue of Batgirl, where he’s just going through the stories he had wanted to do with Steph going forward. It’s that coupled with couple with one of my favorite TV finale episodes — Scrubs. It’s not technically the finale because they were renewed for another season, but…
RP: The Book of Love sequence?
KH: The sequence where JD sees what is life could be projected in front of him. And we all just tear up watching it.
KH: I had always had this vision in my head of what Dick Grayson would be like as a Talon. Like, if he’d actually been recruited by the Court of Owls. I did have a story that I wanted to do at some point where William Cobb came to Chicago and started a Court of Owls-type organization built around Nightwing. So I always had this visual in my head of Dick Grayson in the Talon suit. That page is just built around the image of Dick in the Talon suit. And Russell knocked it out of the park.
RP: Oh, he kills it. It’s also got echos of the Nightwing insignia on his chest.
KH: I was just talking to Russell about this yesterday. He was like “you sent all that reference!” But I had just thought of that in concept. Actually making it work and making it look awesome is a whole other task. And this looks awesome.
RP: It even plays off the red of the blood pouring out of the Owl’s mouth.
KH: Russell’s got a great sense of design and great style to all of his work.
RP: And what about the next page, with all this amusement mile stuff? If the previous page is the promise of what could have been, what are we looking at here?
KH: Kinda goes back to what we were just talking about. It’s the stories I wanted to tell but wasn’t necessarily able to. The lines say “You worry you have done enough with your life, that your parents wouldn’t be proud of you. You swear you’re going to do better. Going to be better. You’re going to build a legacy. But sometimes you don’t get the chance, sometimes you do let people down.” And to me, the Amusement Mile storyline was the first story I was going to do that was building Dick Grayson to be a part of Gotham, really build him up. But it just wasn’t meant to be — the Death of the Family story was something that we needed to work with and tie into. It made sense for the Joker to go after Amusement Mile because of his connection through A Killing Joke. It’s one of those things: you wanna do something great, but you don’t always get the chance to.
RP: Well, it’s one of those things where the publicity says that “this will have consequences throughout the universe” and it never occurs to readers that those consequences might be consequences you don’t like. But in terms of your legacy on Nightwing, you don’t feel like you’ve let anyone down, do you?
KH: I don’t really think about that. I don’t ask myself that question, because that’s a good way to drive yourself crazy.
RP: For what it’s worth, I would have said that you haven’t.
KH: I appreciate that. Every writer is critical of their own work, especially when you pull in stories that could have been. More often than thinking about what I did for Nightwing, or what Nightwing did for the fans, I think about what Nightwing did for me. Dick Grayson made me a better writer. Whether I love all of the stories or not, he’s put me on the path to become the writer that I am and the writer that I eventually will be. I look at my time on Nightwing and I’m super proud of it. I got to have a relationship with my favorite character in a way that very few people ever get to have. And I’m better for it. He’s caught me when I have fallen.
RP: That’s the cutest thing anyone has ever said in one of these commentaries. Let’s talk about that fight, huh? It’s kinda stripped down — there’s nothing super-bombastic in the issue, it’s just Nightwing and Zsasz fighting in an apartment.
KH: Yeah, and it’s not about the fight. We had to use Zsasz because Zsasz was in Forever Evil. So, okay, how do you make Zsasz work? I don’t really care about Zsasz. I care about wrapping up my run and I care about the emotional connection between Dick Grayson and this little girl. Through that lens, I built out this Zsasz story in issues 28 and 29. I say that because the fight with Zsasz isn’t the focus of the issue. I didn’t want to do something crazy: y’ know, “the city in chaos” or “the city is going to blow up.” That would undercut the point of the story.
RP: Better to keep it a smaller life-and-death situation.
RP: Plus, Forever Evil is already out there, so we already have that “city in peril” plotline.
KH: That’s true.
RP: It’s just cool that even the moments that have to be action packed (because it’s a comic book), can be quieter. Dauterman also has a view of these panels from an overhead perspective.
KH: The bird’s eye view.
KH: That last one, I did. I asked that we be above, looking down. Like a pull-out shot. When I’m wrapping a scene, I like to pull out wide, just because it gives a feeling of closure to the scene, like you’re leaving it. Then it’s a nice transition when you turn the page to the next scene.
RP: You were talking about some other possible stories that it’s frustrating you didn’t get to. You tease a little something between Sonia and Dick in their text exchange.
KH: It’s a relationship that I find interesting. I was reluctant to explore it initially when we brought her in on issue 10. I didn’t want to do any sort of romantic connection. I mean, they kissed once in issue 15, but I always found it really weird that this is the daughter of the dude that killed his parents. It’s a really complicated relationship. A psychologist would have a lot of fun with that. Sure, it creates good drama, but you walk a tightrope with it.
RP: Any final thoughts on the issue?
KH: Just that this is my favorite issue on the series. But, I know it wouldn’t have worked has I not written all the issues before it. So it’s kind of a Catch-22. It’s my favorite, but it relies on all of my previous issues.
RP: It’s a retrospective.
KH: And for a final issue, that’s not a bad thing. My job was not to tee up the next incarnation of Dick Grayson.
RP: Which is actually awesome, right? You’re not saddled with that additional responsibility — you just get to say goodbye.
KH: Well we had to sort of tee up getting Zsasz to Gotham for Forever Evil, but nobody cares about how that happens.
RP: Nope! Thanks for talking about this issue with me Kyle!
KH: My pleasure!