We here at Black Nerd Problems had a chance to sit down with Benjamin Percy about Nightwing and technology in preparation for the release of Nightwing #45, available now.
***Minor Spoilers for Nightwing #45***
On Nightwing and The Bleeding Edge Storyline
When I tell Ben that I was excited to see him take over Nightwing after his Green Arrow run, he thanks me and tells me how excited he is to get to play with the Batfamily. It’s a big sandbox and there’s a lot of fun to be had. I proceed to ask about why he selected VR as one of the technologies that has gone awry in his story and he quickly corrected me. “It’s not just not VR. It’s Alexa… always listening. And [The Phantasm] is Alexa with a PS4 or VR delivered to every citizen.” His focus with The Bleeding Edge is on the fear of cybercrime. He explains about the Dark Web and how his novel, The Dark Net, drew the attention of his current editor who asked him to inject adrenaline into that premise within the superhero world. He describes all the ways the anxiety of technology has defined us: how we are struck momentarily with fear whenever a phone glitches, whenever our computers make a screeching sound, whenever we trust our data to a third party.
“Every swipe, every click, every tap on the keyboard is being fed into some algorithm.”
He comments if this is what he as a 39-year-old is thinking about, what effects this digital revolution is going to have on the next generation who grew up hand-in-hand with communications. He pivots his talk from to tech to Nightwing with a simple, haunting phrase.
“There is no greater weapon than vulnerable data.”
When he talks about Nightwing, Ben calls him a treasure trove of vulnerable data: a character that has been on so many teams, who has led so many teams, who has all sorts of trust and exists at the center of the DCU. The Bleeding Edge explores what happens when a character at the epicenter is breached/biohacked and the earthshaking repercussions it has for Nightwing and the people he surrounds himself with.
ME: What's up, buddy?
SON: At the end of the issue…did that robot spider just…crawl into Nightwing's belly button?
ME: Yes it did, Son. Yes. It. Did. pic.twitter.com/mHZ05kLoh8
— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy) May 8, 2018
We find ourselves drifting back to technological topics, and I reference one of the panels in Nightwing #45 drawing a connection between digital gentrification and how it reminded me of the two ex-Googlers wanting to automize the bodega and their attempt to remove the human element (which goes against Nightwing’s very people-centric attitude). I ask him how he thinks technology has changed our ability to empathize. He takes a moment before replying that it makes us feel more connected and that we know have so much information available, so much that it becomes derisive.
“It’s a constant distraction. It’s like a second cerebellum. Our fingers always reaching for a pocket… a phantom buzz… like malware. Another form of viral infection.
He paints a familiar picture of discussions boards where everyone is always arguing with everyone else, and how there always seems to be outrage and hate. He asks me “would you say the same thing to someone over a tweet as you would to your face? I’m guessing the answer is no.” This anonymity factors into general technological anxiety.
Of course, Ben Percy is very familiar with crafting omnipresent antagonists and we find ourselves talking about WYRM. He talks about only giving glimpses of the character in Nightwing #44 within street lights and cell phone notifications, and how in Nightwing #45 we see the digital ghost fully manifest at the end. He explains how the WYRM we see is truly an avatar of the Dark Web. It is only one facet to the larger network of villainy that goes hand-in-hand with Mirage Industries, the fictional company invading Blüdhaven. He refers to them as an even more sinister version of Jeff Bezos or Zuckerburg, pirating all the information with malice.
We hover around this idea about what companies could do with their information and I ask about Barbara Gordon, whose image was used in an exceedingly sinister catfishing attempting against Nightwing in #45. Ben couldn’t give too much away, but let us with this gem:
“Barbara is central to the series and story, but more importantly Barbara IS Oracle, the technological goddess. There is no better ally to have against WYRM.”
It’s certainly an exciting prospect for any Batfam fan.
On the Future
As the interview comes to a close, I ask Ben about what the future holds. In a perfect bookend, he circles back to Green Arrow.
“Like what I did with Green Arrow and the Ninth Circle, WYRM is going to be the throughline of my Nightwing run.”
“But we’ll take vacations here and there.”
WYRM is going to be a persistent threat through Ben’s run, but tells me that it’s not going to be the sole focus. He wants to have fun in the sandbox while he’s there. In the relatively near future he has a two-issue Grant Morrison tribute planned, focusing on a motorcycle race that he describes as a cross between Mad Max and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I tell him that I can’t wait to see what the future holds. He tells me that he can’t wait for me to read it. I think back to Ben’s intentions with the story.
“I want to take a knife to the nerve of the moment.”
I can very confidently say that he is succeeding.
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