Though he deals with the mysterious figures known as the Court of Owls monthly in his "Talon" series, Tynion's story for "Batman And Robin #23.2: The Court of Owls" with artist Jeremy Haun looks to take the heroics out of the equation for a scarier take the villainous Gotham power brokers. Meanwhile, Tynion's ongoing story about a fall for grace coming to Jason Todd in "Red Hood & The Outlaws" has given birth to "Batman And Robin #23.3: Ra's Al Ghul And The League of Assassins" with artist Jorge Lucas. There, the history of the immortal Batman villain's men-at-arms will get some significant twists one month before Red Hood seemingly becomes their leader in issue #24 of his own team book.
CBR News spoke with Tynion about both stories and both series as Villains Month's September debut looms. Below, the writer describes why the League of Assassins was a piece of mythology ready to be rebuilt in the New 52, how characters like Bronze Tiger and Cheshire add to the overall tapestry, exactly what the classic New Titans characters mean to "Red Hood" and why the Court of Owls was built for a horror treatment.
CBR News: James, you've been playing with the members of the League of Assassins for a bit in your "Red Hood" run, and now you're blowing them out into their own Villains Month one-shot. It feels like this is the piece of the DC Universe you're getting to define most in the New 52. What was the attraction to that group of characters?
James Tynion IV: It was a piece that was originally suggested to me – that maybe there was something to the idea of reintroducing the League of Assassins in a cool new way. What I wanted to do was bring in some familiar faces and also create new characters so I could really build out this piece of mythology that I've always been fascinated with. Especially after the Nolan movies – even though they're the "League of Shadows" there – these kinds of super assassins and the world they operate in has always been one of my favorite pieces of comics. Looking what's already been on the page, there haven't been a lot of stories about how the League operates because they've always been secondary to Ra's Al Ghul's stories.
So I wanted to go at this and introduce the characters in a way that would draw something out in Jason but also show a new corner of who they are and why they operate like they do. I wanted to show that there's an assassin they'd send after a highly technological superhero. There's an assassin they'd send after John Constantine if he ever crossed them. I wanted them to have a wide reach and a scale to them that they often don't have since they've often been faceless ninjas in the background who stand behind Ra's or Talia. That's really where this all came from: the desire to do world building, establish new elements and use the New 52 to build something new that could last in continuity.
That all led to the creation of the assassin city whose name is Arabic for "Snake's Nest" as this real central location. It's the secret city they've been operating in for hundreds and hundreds of years. That was the seed that led to this story. I wanted to tie this great piece of the DC cosmos to what's been a part of "Red Hood" from the very beginning. One of the first issues of the series had Talia taking Jason to the All-Caste, so I wanted to find that connection between the League of Assassins and the All-Caste. That's at the heart of what will be explored in the next few issues.
With the Villans Month one-shot, you're focusing more on the past and on Ra's Al Ghul specifically. Does that function as the origin story for this version of the League?
100%. This is very much about the history and the legacy of Ra's Al Ghul specifically and why he created the League of Assassins. I wanted to show moments that we haven't seen over and over without overriding any of the classic Denny O'Neil stories. There will be little nods to that stuff in there, but I didn't want to do his origin because his origin is just incredible in the original "Birth of The Demon" story.
So this comes out of a desire to show the reach and the power of Ra's Al Ghul through the history of the DCU. You'll see his hand in key a few key historical moments and how those moments affect the present day. But this is also very much a story that stands alone for anyone who isn't reading "Red Hood" right now.
There are some pieces that will flow out of the one-shot and into "Red Hood" as it appears from October's solicitations Jason will soon be taking a leadership role in the League. I get this sense this comes with the help of the Bronze Tiger, a character that's appeared in the book in flashback as Ben – a mercenary buddy of Jason Todd. What was your goal in tying the past of those two characters?
I wanted to really build up Bronze Tiger as though from scratch. Some of the elements of his history are still in place, but with the New 52, we're always encouraged to tell these stories in a big, bombastic way for the first time. That's what I wanted to do with this character who I've loved for many, many years. In the stories that most people are familiar with him, he's already had a change of heart. This is after the Denny O'Neil years where realizes that he was doing the wrong thing for all that time and then joins the Suicide Squad as a means of redemption. He was seeking redemption there and wanted to be a good guy, but when you meet him in our book, he'll still think he's doing the right thing in this lifestyle. Jason is looking for some kind of purpose in his life, and Ben has all the answers. He's a very calming, soothing presence, and he's been left in charge of things with the League at the moment because he's the most level-headed of all these very dangerous, mostly insane killers. He's the guy who can bring everyone together.
That's they dynamic I wanted to play with the two of them: Ben as a mentor figure for Jason. Even if they come at this from very, very different angles. Ben cares a lot about Jason, and back when Jason was working with him, he cared about Ben as well.
The other thing people have been talking about is that traditionally Bronze Tiger wore a very realistic mask, but with Brett Booth's redesign, he seems much more a super powered villain. Is that another big change you wanted to bring to the New 52 version?
Yeah. When I started approaching the character, I was very much thinking about him in his classic form. But as we started talking about doing a new take, the way I ended up seeing him was that he was one of the best martial artists in the world before he could transform into a tiger creature. [Laughs] So that just gives him a lot more physical powerful with every punch. With or without the transformation, he's one of the most dangerous guys in the DCU. But this adds a little flare and some more intrigue into the process of how he became Bronze Tiger. Those are stories where some will play out in this story and some will play out further on down the line.
The other redesigned character playing a part in this story is Cheshire, who is joining the League though she hasn't been tied to the team in the past.
No, she hasn't. But when we started talking, she was one of the pieces that created this whole line of thinking. When she was on the board, the idea of bringing in a whole bunch of assassin members came out of that. She has always been an assassin, but she's never been in the League before. So in this story, we'll really test where her allegiance is. She's very much her own entity and doesn't play by other people's rules very well. She has her own morality which is pretty twisted but is consistent in her head.
And I knew we could play with her and Roy Harper and tie those characters together in the New 52 in a brash and dangerous way.
Well with that relationship, there was a lot of baggage that built up previously in the DCU, though a lot of people these days may also identify them from "Young Justice." Are you telling the beginning of that relationship here?
Yeah. It's always been a messed up relationship. The animated series always played it a bit more straightforward than it was in the comics. Cheshire is a very messed up individual, and I didn't want to tone her down. So I don't think Cheshire and Roy will be running off to have a nice, healthy relationship anytime soon. I wanted a tension there between them immediately that we are going to continue to play off. As they continue to encounter each other, it's got the potential to morph and change, but not into anything that will be good for either of them.
Overall, one question that keeps coming up to me is one of the "New Titans." Aside from Roy and Cheshire now being part of the book, you've also had elements like Roy mentioning Dick Grayson during his first meeting with Jason, and Kori confirming the same. While it's been established that the New 52 Teen Titans are the first team to carry that name, what history is there that puts together that original group of Wolfman/Perez Titans?
That's something I have answers for and that's definitely on the plate for further exploration. I know what the story is – at least in my head – of how all those characters interacted in the past. And there is in an early issue of "Red Hood" a flashback to a panel of Dick, Roy and Kori fighting side-by-side. We don't really know the context of that or what exactly happened and why. Because if the Teen Titans in the New 52 are the first iteration, why didn't these young heroes become a team? Especially if they did encounter each other in their early days.
That's something I'm very interested in exploring over the course of this series, even in the way of bringing in Dick Grayson at some point and exploring that dynamic. I think he really plays off the members of our team in interesting ways. Jason has some insecurity issues around him, though you might not put it that way. But Dick was the ideal Robin, and Jason was the Robin who died. I think Judd Winick said in an interview once that the dynamic boils down to Jason thinking that if the Joker would have killed Dick Grayson, Batman would have killed the Joker. But since Jason didn't have that same relationship with Bruce, he's somehow lesser. I don't think it's a constant worry for him, but it's in his head. And especially now that there is a history between Roy and Dick and between Kori and Dick, to see Jason hanging out with Dick's old friends when Dick showsup would make for an incredible moment. And to be honest, there is no specific issue where that is set to happen yet.
On the other side of your DC writing load, you've got a "Court of Owls" one-shot. Part of the Villains Month idea is that with "Forever Evil," the heroes have been taken off the table for a spell. And recently in your "Talon" series, the Court has receded into the background after a number of costly failures. Does this hero-less window create an opportunity for them to rebuild in this story?
Really, with both of the one-shots what I wanted to do was get to the heart of the characters. In "Court of Owls" what that meant is that I wanted to make them scary. This was probably the most horror-driven issue I've written since coming to DC. In the original Court storyline, they are this terrifying and mysterious force where the way they interact with the world is spooky. Part of "Talon" is that Calvin is familiar with how they operate. He knows exactly what their deal is. So while they terrify him in a sort of existential way, the way they move and operate through history is not as strange and scary to him. Here, I wanted to take back that real horror and mystery inherent to the characters and play with that for a whole issue.
Once again, this is a story that will take us through the history of DC – not in a massive, revelatory way where we say "Here's who created the Court of Owls." But we'll see their impact on history and some hints of what's to come further down the line from them. I wanted people to understand the ethos of the Court in a single issue, and I'm incredibly happy with how it's come out. The last page just came in from Jorge Lucas the other day, and I've been giddy about it ever since. It's really, really spooky.
And we'll see things that tie into "Talon," but this is a book for anyone who's ever seen a Court of Owls issue or a "Talon" issue and asked, "What are these guys all about?" They should pick this up.
You mention Jorge Lucas, and on "League" you're working with Jeremy Haun. Those are two slightly different styles than on your monthlies. What's the collaboration with each been like?
They've both been doing absolutely incredible art. I want to spoil the opening sequence of the Ra's issue, but I won't. It's the thing that got me excited about what this story could be and throws you back into the early Ra's history. What I can say is that it's the first encounter in recorded history that anyone's had with Ra's Al Ghul.
"The Court of Owls" one-shot arrives on September 11. "Ra's Al Ghul And The League of Assassins" follows on September 19 from DC Comics.