REFLECTIONS: Talking "Robin" (and Batgirl) with Adam Beechen

Sun, November 5th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

Reflections, Volume 3 Number 5

"I absolutely sympathize with fans of her character."

It was my very first encounter with hate mail while working for Wizard.

One would think it would be because of a factual error, or I had somehow pissed off a creator because of the light I put him or her in for a story, but no. It was because of a (seemingly) harmless feature story for the Web site called "10 Reasons Why 'Robin' Rocks."

Adam Beechen at Comic-Con International in 2004.
Now I loved Adam Beechen's first few issues on "Robin," which began with the first One-Year-Later issue. So did most everyone at Wizard. So the article seemed like a natural way to celebrate a series that was excelling after so many years of being dead in the water.

But several fans felt differently.

You see, Beechen's first arc on "Robin" culminated with Cassandra Cain turning away from being Batgirl and going pretty cuckoo and evil. This angered many longtime fans of the character, who decided to take it out on me for daring to write that the character shift was "surprising yet inevitable, and excellently handled."

The story was torn apart on several levels, and two readers even offered to talk to me in person about how wrong I was at Wizard World Chicago (they never showed). I was astonished, but I could understand their hostility toward the character shift.

But if I thought I was a target, I couldn't even imagine how "Robin" writer Adam Beechen felt about the fan's boos mixed with the critical cheers for his run on the book. I couldn't, that is, until I sat down with him and asked him.

Story continues below

Robert Taylor: How's life, Adam?

Adam Beechen: Life is good. Busy, but good.

RT: How are you adjusting to life as a popular comic writer/comic writer running from a witch hunt?

AB: [laughs] I have no idea about the extent of either being popular or being chased by villagers with pitchforks. I have tried to avoid much of the press around either of the books I write. It was explained to me early on that I should read neither the good reviews or the bad reviews because I may wind up believing them and letting criticism or praise affect the work. I'm just trying to write the best books I can every month. I'm trying not to think too much about the people who might be throwing stones. I'm sorry that they are throwing stones.

RT: We'll get to the throwing stones and burning effigies in a few minutes….

AB: Batgirl fans burned an effigy of me outside of DC Comics?

RT: I was wondering what that was…

Let's talk "Robin." How did you get the gig in the first place?

AB: I got the gig because I was writing "Justice League Unlimited." Eddie (Berganza), the editor overseeing the Johnny DC titles at the time, seemed to be happy with the work I was doing on "JLU," and was trying to find a suitable venue to bring me into the mainstream DC Universe. With One-Year-Later approaching, he asked if I had any specific take on any number of books.

We talked about the possibilities for an "Aquaman" series, I pitched him a "Metal Men" idea and he ended up recommending me to Dan DiDio for the "Robin" gig.

Dan didn't know much about me, but agreed to let me provisionally try out on "Robin" for an issue or two, and from there take it as it goes. That was five or six months before One-Year-Later.

DC told me where they pictured Tim at the start of what would be my run as writer and told me about the first story arc they had in mind, where Cassandra was turning away from the side of law and justice. They left it to me, with input from Eddie, to plot it out from there.

Eddie was only on the book very briefly; Peter Tomasi came on board with the second issue. Originally the artist was going to be Karl Kerschl, he did the first issue, but then he moved on and Freddie Williams II came onboard. The team wasn't even solidified until the second issue of the run, so things were up in the air at first.

RT: Are you a big fan of DC Books in general and are you very familiar with the Batman continuity?

AB: I am. Yeah. I have been a comic reader for 30 years, and above that I'm a big fan of superhero comics.

RT: But then what drew you to the character of Robin?

AB: I guess it's more a matter of "what draws me" because I was given the assignment instead of campaigning for it.

RT: Writers tend to hate the characters once they start writing the book, so I figured you would hate him by now. [laughs]

AB: [laughs] What drew me to the character of Robin was the whole notion of what it means to be a sidekick. What it's like to be in someone else's shadow for all of your professional existence while still maintaining your own identity? Who is Robin when he is not with Batman? What are people's perceptions of Robin when Batman is not around? What is it like, on top of that, being a teenager who has all the responsibilities of being a teenager and must fight crime on top of that?

Obviously this is not a realistic book, but I'm approaching it as if it were. How can you still be a kid and still do the kinds of things that Tim Drake, as Robin, sees and feels.

RT: Did you have any say over Tim getting adopted?

AB: That was already in the works before I came aboard.

RT: You actually wrote Bruce Wayne smiling and happy in a recent issue, which is probably the first time in, oh, let's say a billion issues where he seemed happy. How do you approach Robin and the other supporting characters in your own way while still trying to adhere to continuity?

AB: There are certain things in continuity that I will stick to. I think a large part of the book should be not just the relationship between Robin and Batman, but the relationship between Tim and Bruce. Where the father-son relationship starts and finishes and where the senior partner-junior partner relationship begins is very interesting to me.

As far as Bruce goes, I've been really happy with as much leeway as I've been given so I can explore the more human side of Bruce Wayne. But I'm trying to play up the separation between the man in the mask and the man out of the mask, because I feel that's the way Bruce remains sane - relatively sane. I think he wants to present himself as a father figure and a friend to Tim when not in the mask and as a mentor when he is. We've done a lot in the book of showing flashbacks of Tim and Bruce training and I think that it's important to show the kind of relationship they had, and have.

RT: Plus, Bruce listens to rock and roll, which is so damn cool.

AB: [laughs] We had a lot of fun with that. I definitely wanted to make Tim a classic punk fan and, based on the age of Bruce Wayne, he would have been interested in music around that time, and he would have been aware of who The Clash was. We've got Tim listening to The Jam in a later issue.

RT: Okay, so let's start talking about Cassandra.

AB: Cassandra who?

RT: I personally love the way it was handled. I'm not sure it was the right direction for the character overall, but I loved the way you handled it given the circumstances. So, do you know what's behind this thinking and direction from DC?

AB: You know, I never got into it with them as to the reasoning behind why they wanted to make this change. I wasn't privy to those conversations. I guess, probably, as a new writer coming to a book, I didn't want to rock the boat or ask a lot of questions. I just dove in and did it.

They didn't present me with a rationale as to why Cassandra was going to change, or a motivating factor. That was left for me to come up with and them to approve. And we did that. But as far as to why the editors and writers and whoever else made the decision decided that was a good direction, I honestly couldn't answer.

RT: Did you like the character?

AB: She's a great character. Her central struggle to rise above what she was raised to become is terrifically compelling stuff. I went through and picked up a number of months' worth of issues prior to One-Year-Later. So I was around for the last major storyarc, and I got the trades of the first few storyarcs, all of which were excellent.

Ours was not an easy story to write because it was a radical shift in a major character who had struggled for so long for her entire existence to overcome the way she was brought up. But I have friends who have worked hard to triumph over bad decisions or bad circumstances and have done really well for a time, only to fall back. It's a sad thing to watch happen, really painful, but it happens, so it seemed plausible to me in Cassandra's case.

RT: Are you satisfied with the way it was handled?

AB: I wish I could have taken more time with it, and explored more about why she changed and more about the information that shook her life up. My inclination is to spread that information and build the story gradually. Initially the arc was going to be six issues, but the arc was compressed to four issues, so some of the information was compressed as a matter of necessity. Maybe too much.

If I could do it over again, I would get into it a little more so that, while it wouldn't make fans of Batgirl happy, it would get in there and explain what happened a little bit better.

But it's a fine line, because the name on the masthead is Robin, not The Blockbustin' Batgirl, and you've got to keep Tim front-and-center in everything that goes on - particularly when you're coming off something like OYL. So, how much time do you devote to Robin and how much to Batgirl in the course of this shortened, yet important arc? It was a question I really wrestled with.

RT: Did you expect the reaction to be so immediate and vehement?

AB: Absolutely. Every character is someone's favorite, and comic fans are nothing if not passionate and I have the utmost respect for that. I really do. It's hard to see a change that big and that fundamental in a character people love so much.

I absolutely sympathize with fans of her character.

RT: Is Cassandra coming back for more arcs later in the book, or is she just heading over to "Teen Titans East?"

AB: My plan is that she is still part of Robin's life. She is on his mind and may be influencing events going on around him. I would love to think that her story is not yet complete in the book.

RT: Let's change pace a bit and talk about the action sequences, because as much as some fans may have hated what happened to Cassandra, they are eating up the original cool action candy in the book.

AB: The action sequences just come out of where the characters are and where the story takes us. If it makes sense that Robin has to break into a police station to get information, then I sit down and think about what it would entail and how Robin would approach it.

The first person narration coming out of Tim's head puts the reader as much in Tim's shoes as they can be and I think that grounds much of the action. You hopefully understand why he is making those decisions.

I'm having tons of fun with the action, and Freddy's drawing those sequences beautifully. Wait'll you see Robin fight his way out of a parked car around issue #161. I'm not kidding.

RT: Why bring Captain Boomerang into the book?

AB: It seemed natural that their paths were going to cross, and I wanted the first crack at it. They're forever linked through their fathers, and it makes sense that they would interact and I wanted to play that emotional moment.

RT: What else is coming up?

AB: I cannot wait to see Frazer Irving's art on his arc. He's coming onboard for two issues. Freddie has been cranking out issues in three weeks and it gives him an opportunity for him to get ahead.

We've got Tim's greatest challenge yet coming up: a first date.

After that, it's Robin trying to figure out who's supplying a Gotham street gang with drugs that turn them into metahumans. And then, Tim and Bruce's first Father's Day together.

RT: Tell us more about Freddie Williams.

AB: Freddie finished up the "Mister Miracle" miniseries and did tremendous work. Because I was a big fan of that, I was maybe a little more familiar with him than most people were, and I was excited to have him come on board. I had never met him or spoken with him, and as soon as I learned he was on the book I immediately asked my editors to get us in touch via email. We communicated via email and phone. The Joker's appearance in the Boomerang two-parter was because Freddie wanted to draw The Joker. He's been nothing but great to work with.

I was bummed, and amazed, to find out that he does all of his art on the computer, because I really wanted to buy some original art from him, and there is none to be had.

RT: Okay, let's talk about "JLU," something I must admit I'm not reading and only discovered you were writing in preparation for this interview!

AB: [laughs]

RT: So how long have you been writing it and what's going on there?

AB: I've been writing it since the first issue. I got the gig because I had written a story for "Teen Titans Go!" and a month or two after I had finished the script they asked me if I'd like to write the new JLU book on the monthly basis and I asked them how much they wanted for the job. I offered to pay them! (laughs)

I did the first 18 or 19 issues without a break, and outstanding writers like Paul Storrie, Mike MacAvennie and Bill Williams have filled in since then from time to time, but I'll continue to do it as long as Editor Michael Wright will let me.

It's an amazing book to write because we can do self-contained stories without having to really worry about either mainstream DCU continuity or the cartoon's continuity, and the fact that the cartoon series has ended its run has helped that immensely.

I love focusing on individual characters or personalities in a way that the series might not have had time to do.

RT: Who is your favorite character?

AB: My favorite one that I've written so far is The Creeper. Well, there have been a couple actually. I enjoyed the Blue Beetle issue, because it is so fun to write about a character who isn't as powered as the other characters around him might be.

RT: Have you felt restrained because you can't do a lot of action or violence in it?

AB: I really don't. It may just be because I'm not a grim and gritty guy. It would help if I were more so, but I like good clean superhero stories.

RT: And Sue Dibny isn't going to get raped on the moon here, right?

AB: Uh, no. We have yet to show a rape story, we are saving that for the annual. Kidding.

RT: Let's talk about your original graphic novel "Hench."

AB: It's a graphic novel that artist Manny Bello and I did for AiT/PlanetLar that came out in 2004. It's a story that approaches superheroing from a different angle: the henchman. How he gets the job, how he moves up in the ranks, how he deals with that life and the cost of it.

RT: Why is this project so special for you?

AB: It's a story I've had in mind for a really long time. The earliest comics I'd ever looked had characters fighting for the supervillains, and I always wondered what kind of person would do that. Why would you want to be the guy who gets beaten up for a supervillain?

It's a chance to explore the little guy in the superhero world and get their take on the madness around them.

RT: Why should fans be hyped up about the book?

AB: Because it looks at the superhero world in a way that most fans don't consider, and in a very real way it's the fans' perspective. As devoted readers, we all imagine ourselves in that world to begin with, and I hope that has a lot of appeal to fans.

RT: Now, generally speaking, how are you adjusting to being a comic writer since you are relatively new to the game?

AB: It's hard! I've always had respect for comic book writers, but I have a lot more now because it ain't easy, dude! As an animation writer, I'm used to thinking in visual terms, but not on a panel-by-panel basis, which is a lot of visualizing. The monthly demands of trying to come up a new story every month is great fun, but a great challenge as well. You have great help from the artists and editors, but it's still intimidating, especially if you are a longtime fan. It's still really fun, though.

RT: Who are your favorite creators right now?

AB: I like Geoff Johns. Grant Morrison. Mark Waid. Greg Rucka. Brad Meltzer, Brian Vaughan. When Wizard publishes their top 10 list, I'm right there with them. Mark Millar. Jeph Loeb. Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis - there's some great writing happening in comics right now.

RT: Ready for the lightning round?

[Hench]AB: [laughs] Is this where you turn into the guy from "Inside the Actor's Studio" and ask me what my favorite curse word is?

RT: Yes! But you don't have to give me one-word answers.

AB: Go for it.

RT: What comics can you not miss every month?

AB: "Robin" and "JLU" are absolutely brilliant! [Laughs]

RT: Has there ever been a comic that touched or changed your life?

AB: There have been runs. Grant's "Animal Man" was astonishing. In terms of influencing me creatively, the Levitz/Giffen "Legion" was very important to me, as was Miller's "Daredevil" and Moore's "Swamp Thing."

RT: And you are not a grim and gritty guy?

AB: I like reading those books, but don't think in those terms when writing. Sometimes I wish I could, a little more.

RT: What TV shows do you love?

AB: "Lost." "Sopranos." "Weeds."

RT: What was the best comic book movie ever made?

AB: My favorite is the first "Superman" movie. They got it right.

RT: What is your weirdest comic convention experience?

AB: At WonderCon earlier this year in San Francisco, it was my first chance to really meet a lot of the DC people, and I got invited out to dinner with the bunch of them, and suddenly I was in the midst of all these people who had until then only been names in a comic credits box. Christos Gage, the writer of the terrific new "Union Jack" series, was on one side of me, and J.H. Williams was on the other side of me, and we're just happily babbling away about comics, TV and movies, and if that weren't cool and surreal enough, oh, by the way, at the next table over, there's Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Judd Winick, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio. I felt like a total party-crasher and kept waiting to be discovered and tossed out.

RT: Last question: If you could be remembered for only one thing in your career, past, present or future, what would it be?

AB: Telling solid stories that people enjoyed on more than one level.

Next Sunday: Christos Gage!

 
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