Batman and Robin and Howard Creator Details Damian Wayne’s Teen Adventures

For decades, Batman has been a pop culture icon, spanning a variety of mediums. Along the way, he has taken on many tones and genres, whether it’s the campy Adam West television series and Joel Schmucker movies, to the horrific Batman Who Laughs, to the noir takes seen in many of The World’s Greatest Detective’s comics. Throughout the DC Universe, Batman has found many allies and adopted numerous Robins. While many members of the Bat-Family are not related by blood, Damian Wayne is an exception as he’s Bruce Wayne’s son.

Damian Wayne’s character is just as varied as his father’s and has starred in comics, animated shows, and more. Damian recently showed his funnier side in the hit webcomic Batman: Wayne Family Adventures and next up is starring in the middle-grade book Batman and Robin and Howard, created by Jeffrey Brown. Following Damian’s adventures in his new school alongside his rival Howard, Batman and Robin and Howard continues Brown’s tradition of taking popular characters and reworking their stories for a younger audience. In honor of the book’s Nov. 11 release, Brown sat with CBR for an exclusive interview.

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CBR: What’s it feel like to be welcomed into the world of DC? What was that feeling like when you finally could do Batman and Robin and in this case Howard?

Jeffrey Brown: What I love about Batman is there are so many different versions. There’s the super dark serious Batman, or I watch Teen Titans Go! with my kids, and you have this goofy Batman who doesn’t actually talk, so having that opportunity to go and be free to have my own take on him was exciting. This is a character who I’ve enjoyed in all these different forms, and getting to add another story to that mythology was exciting.

batman and robin and howard

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Focusing a little bit on Robin, aside from the familial relationship between Damian and Batman, why did you want to tell this specific Robin story because we’ve had so many different Robins over the years?

That’s one of the things that was kind of surprising to me because I think I was never as into Robin as Batman. Robin is always the sidekick. They’re some versions of Robin I enjoyed more than others, but then thinking about a middle-grade book and finding a way to intersect your typical middle-grade teenage life with a superhero story, and Robin is this perfect vehicle for that because he’s at that age and you can put them in school and have him deal with normal middle school stuff, but then he also has this the weight of being a superhero with him.

Speaking about the middle school setting, I would love to know how this setting gave Batman, as well as Robin, a new conflict for them to overcome.

I knew that I wanted to have the story grounded more in reality. The interesting [question] about superheroes is: how would having actual superheroes affect people who aren’t superheroes in the real world? So you have a kid, like Howard, who isn’t a superhero, and he’s just at a school, and then he doesn’t know that his friend Damian is actually this superhero, Robin. You have this grounded in reality, and then you take Batman and say, “What would happen if Batman actually had to investigate a middle school?” He would have to maybe do it a little differently. Robin wouldn’t want his dad hanging around him at school. That’d be kind of embarrassing, and it was taking that idea of being a teenager and being embarrassed by your parents, and even if your dad’s Batman, you don’t want him around you at school.

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One thing I really enjoyed in this book, as well as your past work, is being able to explore these unconventional family relationships with characters that usually don’t get to explore that relationship too often. What about exploring Batman and Robin’s familial relationship was the most fascinating for you?

A lot of Batman stories focus on this idea of being abandoned or losing your parents. I liked the idea of exploring Batman, in a way, is a really active parent, but then also he’s not maybe paying attention to where Damian’s at. He’s not so aware of how Damian is actually feeling, so it’s a way of getting at a very real… Something I felt when I was in middle school. I felt like my parents didn’t understand. It’s like The Fresh Prince lyrics. I think that idea of showing Robin and exploring that side of things and seeing how it would affect someone in real life.

Even though it’s very limited, we get a small glimpse into Damian’s relationship with his mom or lack thereof. What about that dynamic, even though limited, did you want to touch on in this book?

I’m not a child of divorce, but I have friends and know people who have dealt with that, so I kind of wanted to touch on it, but I didn’t feel like I had enough space in the book to do a deep dive. I kept it focused on Damian and Bruce, but it’s like you’re only seeing one side of the story. I wanted to hint at that. Maybe there’s another story there to be told. With a short book, I wanted to address it, even if I couldn’t fully go into it as much as I might like.

batman and robin and howard panel

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Another character we get in the Bat-Family is Alfred. I would love to know what makes Alfred such an important character to you and such an important character in this book?

Alfred is a friendly grandfather type. One of the things you might see sometimes, there’s a Batman story where Alfred is hardcore. He’s punching and kicking. Sometimes he’s very stiff and formal. I had this idea that how Alfred is to Bruce Wayne might be different than how he is to Damian. With Damian, Alfred is this friendly grandfather type. He’s like a friend to Damian, and he’s still the parental figure when Batman is not around, but he’s trying to help Robin grow in a different way.

Shifting gears away from the immediate family, we then have Howard, another titular character. What about his and Damian’s friendship did you want to capture the most in this book?

With Howard, I liked the idea of high school stories and high school rivals, and the original idea for the story was: if you had someone who is the all-star at the high school, and he’s the popular kid, and he’s good at sports, and he gets good grades, and then you have another kid who comes in and is the same thing but better, how would that make them feel? So that was the kernel that I started with. I liked the idea of Howard struggling.

Deep down inside, he’s a nice guy. He wants to be open to Damian, but then Damian’s kind of getting on his nerves, and that push and pull that you get sometimes when you’re young and not knowing how to accept that sometimes there’s someone who’s better than you at somethings. I think in the end, Damian and Howard realize that they complement each other more than they need to have any kind of adversarial relationship

What about Damian makes him such a good hero for the target audience of this book?

I always tried to go back and dig into my own feelings from the past, so with both Damian and Howard, I tried to dredge up feelings I had at different times in middle school, in high school, where someone else won the prize of the art contest or something and kind of dealing with those feelings and frustrations.

At the same time, you’re dealing with these frustrations at school, with the kids that have whatever is going on at home and how those things affect each other and overlap and how you might want to compensate for feeling inadequate at home — like when your dad’s Batman. How are you ever gonna live up to that? So you try to overcompensate at school, but then that ends up not being satisfying because then you’re coming off as this jerk who is the egotistical kid. I think those are all very real feelings, so even though you might not have superpowers, and you might not be trained by a superhero, I think kids can relate to that sense of wanting to be the best and learning to accept the times when you’re not perfect.

This is such a fun book. What was your favorite thing to bring to life?

I had a lot of fun with the Batman segments, showing Batman being vulnerable in a different way and having a lot of fun just making him kind of a little goofy, the way that Robin might see him was probably the most fun part was just getting to like come up with this version of Batman that’s just fun.

batman and robin and howard

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Shifting gears a bit what was perhaps the most challenging thing about bringing this story to life?

I don’t know what was most challenging. It’s hard to say because it ended up just being a lot of fun. I feel like I learned a lot in the book. I think balancing out all the characters in such a short book. This could easily be a whole 10 issue comic book series, and you can get a lot more into things. I guess the challenge was making everything concise enough and figuring out how I can get Damian and Robin’s relationship to go from point A to B to C in the space that I had.

Prior to this, you’ve also adapted Star Wars characters in a similar way. Between those and this, what’s it like to take these popular franchises and adapt them into this younger, middle-grade way that is not connected to the main canon?

When I talk to kids or when I’m teaching comics, I actually say writing fanfiction is a great way to hone your skills because you don’t have to do the hard work of creating the whole history of the characters and do all the world-building. You can just take what’s there and make your own stories out of it. I really enjoy being able to have the freedom where I don’t need to stick within a certain set of guidelines. I can use the worlds that have been built already and find the best way to make an interesting, fun story.

If you could return to this world of DC for another book, is there a character you would like to give this similar treatment?

I was never a huge Superman fan. I liked the Christopher Reeve movies growing up and there have been different Superman comics over the years that I like more than others, but in general, I always liked Batman a lot. Superman is kind of like “Yeah,” but in working on this book, I started to think, “What would be fun to do with Superman? What could I do to make him a character that would be more interesting to me as a writer?” He’s maybe one, but there’s a lot. There’s a ton of characters that I would love to do. I feel like I could do more with Batman too.

Are there any members of the Bat-Family you’d like to bring into this new family you’ve established in this separate, fun world?

I mean Batgirl, and there’s a little bit of Commissioner Gordon, so I could expand things that way.

batman and robin and howard

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Looking at our new dynamic duo with Damian and Howard, are there any villains you would like to see them take, even if Batman may not approve?

I’m of two minds. One is I think kids actually have a lot of ability to have positive effects on the world more than maybe adults give them credit for — which I think happens a little bit in this book. Batman doesn’t think Robin’s up to the task, so there’s that. But I also think it might be interesting to see… so Robin is this younger superhero, yet you don’t see a lot of young supervillains. It might be fun to see what an actual middle school supervillain would look like.

While this is a middle-grade book, I would love to know what makes this book not just a good read for a younger reader, but also for parents who may be reading along with their kids or may pick up their child’s book.

When I write, I try to never write down to kids. I think if anything, I’ll write what I think is funniest, then let my editors hold me back if they think this might be too complicated for the age that the book. I just tried to write to amuse myself as much as anything.

What do you hope readers take away from Batman and Robin and Howard?

I think the main thing that I want readers to take away would be the idea that it’s okay if you’re not the best and you’re not perfect, and you don’t have to have such high expectations of yourself as long as you’re trying to be your best. That’s the important thing.

Wrapping this up, in three words, how would you describe Batman and Robin and Howard?

Goofy, teenage fun.

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