To say that Jean-Paul Valley’s life has been turned upside over the past year is putting it mildly, as anyone who’s been reading DETECTIVE COMICS knows. A newly minted member of Batman’s team, Azrael has found himself questioning his beliefs, and then questioning them again, even as he’s forged a particularly close friendship with Luke Fox. This week’s DETECTIVE COMICS #962 finds him confronting the powerful sentient program known as Ascalon in a battle that will change things for the one-time member of the Order of St. Dumas for good.
To find out what this means for Azrael going forward, along with what’s in store for the rest of the Detective Comics team, we spoke with writer James Tynion IV about what comes after this week’s pivotal new issue, including the emergence of Anarky and of course, the long-awaited return of Tim Drake.
Was it always the plan to bring in Azrael and the Order of St. Dumas when you started on Detective Comics?
Absolutely. When we first went in and started talking about stories, we laid out our first four story arcs. In the first arc, the Colony was the villain. In the second, it was the Victim Syndicate. Then we introduced the League of Shadows and finally we got to the Order of St. Dumas. I knew I wanted to do something different with St. Dumas. I wanted to come at it from a new angle. It turns out, that was the path that led to the creation of Ascalon.
You have all these human Azraels who have rebelled against the Order, so there was the idea that eventually they’d get rid of the humans and put their system into a robot body and let that go out and do their work for them. That was one of the original ideas in the series. I have to say, getting to tell a big Azrael story is really an exciting thing that I get to do.
So with Ascalon out there, what does that mean for Jean-Paul Valley? He’s sort of split between the Bat-family and the Order. What sort of struggle that does that create in him?
It’s getting back to one of the core pieces of Jean-Paul Valley as a character. There are these forces in him that he can’t fully overcome or control, and there was always this tug-of-war between the influence of Batman and the influence of St. Dumas. That tug-of-war was part of the definition of the character, and the version of Azrael that we’ve been seeing in Detective Comics over the past year has been a more even keeled, almost monk-like Azrael. He’s reached an inner peace that he’s never had before, and this is the story that’s working to rip that away from him and introduce the struggle in a new and dangerous way.
The Detective Comics Bat-team team has changed somewhat since the start of Rebirth. Jean-Paul’s new and so is Batwing. Do you think it’s going to keep its current composition for a while, or can we expect more changes ahead?
There are always going to be characters who come in and out—that was part of the idea from the beginning. But when a character leaves the team, we stay with the character. Their story is still a part of the story of Detective Comics. For instance, we have the two-part Spoiler arc that brings Anarky into her story. She’s on a sort of parallel path to the team’s. As the team defines itself and finds meaning, Steph is out there looking for meaning, and Anarky’s going to try to provide her with a new way to look at the fight and be a hero. This is the classic Anarky, Lonnie Machin, and we’re going to get back to the dangerous overreach as a core piece of who he is.
Part of what I’ve been building in the books is that we’ve seen the rise of Ulysses Armstrong, who is a classic ’90s Tim Drake villain, and we’ve seen Anarky who has also gone up against Tim. They’re both foils for him in these different worlds where you have the Bat-family in the center and the military industrial complex represented through Colony. Now you’re going to see this radical, revolutionary front with Anarky. They’re each trying to save the world in different ways, and we’re building towards a thing that’s going to pit them all against each other. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
It also sounds like Tim is at the heart of all of this, even though he’s been missing for a while. We know he’s coming back in a storyline called “A Lonely Place of Living.” Can we expect it to tie in with “A Lonely Place of Dying”?
We named it “A Lonely Place of Living” because “A Lonely Place of Dying” is the story that defined who Tim Drake is, and this is definitely a direct sequel to that in terms of definition. We want the core pieces of Tim Drake, that have always been the core pieces of Tim Drake, to be asserted as those core pieces.
The heart of that original story, which is so fascinating to me, is the fact that Tim didn’t go in there wanting to become Robin. He was trying to convince Dick Grayson to put the suit back on. But then he couldn’t not put the costume on. When he knows how to solve a problem and nobody else will solve it, he puts himself in those shoes and he solves it himself. We’re going to see how powerful a thing that is and how dangerous it is. How all that interplays with Mr. Oz and the person that he’s been secretly locked up with the whole time is going to lead to an incredible story that’s going to set the stage for the next major Detective Comics arc.
In addition to writing Detective Comics, you were very much involved with the two Dark Nights prequels, DARK DAYS: THE FORGE and DARK DAYS: THE CASTING. Will Detective intersect with Dark Nights, or will they remain pretty much separate?
They all exist in the same world and kind of play off of each other, but with Detective Comics in particular there’s a story I’m setting out to tell that builds off of all of these previous storylines. There will be winks, nudges and nods, though. There’s a good beat in one of the Metal issues, with some of the members of the Detective team. But I’m allowing myself to play in different fields with these books rather than connecting them all together.
You’re also writing a Dark Matter comic…
Yes, IMMORTAL MEN with Jim Lee. You know, that little known artist.
That’s such a cool sounding book! What are the challenges involved with writing immortal characters? For most heroes, death is a motivating factor.
It’s all about the big picture. How will their actions in the moment reverberate through the centuries? Their actions might not look like heroic actions to the public heroes of the day because they’re playing a much longer game. They aren’t trying to save the day. They’re trying to save humanity in the long run. It’s very exciting. I could not be more excited about that story coming together.