By Shawn Perry
Recently the second installment of Hisonni Johnson ambitious Grayson: Earth One series hit the web and reintroduced viewers to a world where the Bat-Family was never assembled featuring punk rock star version of Dick Grayson with a habit of drinking, smoking and playing the hero while still in black eyeliner after the show.
The series is directed by Johnson and fittingly stars Olympian and Hall of Fame gymnast Stephen McCain as a twenty-something Dick Grayson who never met Batman and, as Johnson explains in our interview, having never become the dynamic duo caused a ripple effect with far-reaching effects that he is exploring in upcoming episodes. The second installment focuses on the plight of a troubled teenaged Jason Todd who earned a dangerous reputation the night he successfully stole the wheels off the Batmobile and that leads him down a dark path. The series has also included appearances by Barbara Gordon, Helena Bertinelli and Carrie Kelly all of whom are equally affected by Batman's decision to never take a partner.
Johnson is a very intelligent and well-spoken individual with an engrossing and unabashed passion for storytelling. Personally, I love the germ of his idea to disassemble the Bat-Family in a new world and believe that this contemporary reimagining is at the core of what the future holds for the superhero genre. Johnson was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss how this project came together and give us some hints on what we can expect in the future.
Shawn Perry: Thanks for agreeing to talk with Bleeding Cool, Hisonni.
HJ: This is so cool! I have wanted to have something on Bleeding Cool for a long time so I am incredibly ready to do this!
SP: So how did Grayson Earth One begin?
HJ: It began after I finished a web series…I used to make web series solely for the purpose to prove that I could make television shows. Then I realized that the landscape had changed and that content creators and performers were being judged by online engagement metrics…how many Youtube subscribers they have, facebook likes, twitter followers…and I know so many talented people that kind of inspire me to make projects like our star Stephen [McCain] an Olympic Gymnast that reminds me a lot of the character of Dick Grayson. One of the main reasons I chose the Earth One theme was to free the project from expectations so that we could tell a story in which nobody has any idea how things are going to unfold.
HJ: Batman and Robin have such a storied history going back all the way to the Golden Ages. There is a lot of stigma that comes with being a former child superhero that I wanted to get a clean slate on for the purposes of this story. Once I realized that I wanted a clean slate but I still wanted to do something with this character I had to find a place in his timeline to make a change and there was no better place, character-wise, than when he was taken in by Batman after his parents were murdered by Tony Zucco. Everything else in the timeline was perfectly in sync then Batman decided to mind his own business that night and you set off a whirlwind of events where Dick jumps from foster home to foster home and falls in with a group of gypsy kids that raise themselves.
That's just one side of the story because then you have to think about Dick's impact on Bruce and what becomes of him having never had any influence from the person who is probably the brightest spot in his life who infuses in him a sense of responsibility to something other than the city. I think it just makes for an amazing character study of the both of them and then trying to put this broken mirror back together. For me it feels a little more real to disassemble these characters, I mean, we all know what we love about these characters but as an avid comic book reader I don't feel I have ever had to earn Bruce and Dick as superheroes they just always had those characteristics so I wanted to strip these characters down amidst negative influences and see if they can still become the heroes we know and love.
SP: So basically it's Nightwing: Disassembled.
HJ: Exactly. Sorry for the long-winded answer.
SP: That was actually a very interesting answer, Hisonni. So what can you tell us about the future of this series?
HJ: The timeline is kind of cool – in this world Bruce Wayne has gotten to age sixty without Dick Grayson being around. The rest of the Bat-Family is still around, thankfully, but he never adopted any kids because he never took that chance on Dick. He never learned what it can mean to be close to someone like that so there is a critical part of Bruce Wayne's character missing. He has essentially gone through the Dark Knight Returns by the start of this story and is probably at the very beginnings of an environment that is changing technologically and heading towards the world of Batman Beyond. Bruce is not as rich as he used to be and part of his company has been acquired by Derek Powers. We are going to explore what has become of Bruce as well as where Dick has been and how he has come to be in future episodes. We are also going to continue to explore Jason Todd and see if he will still become the Red Hood as well as Carrie Kelly and what could make her want to become empowered physically growing up in one of the most dangerous cities in America. We are moving in a direction where we have an old man who desperately needs to trust someone and desperately needs to move on with his life and find a replacement.
SP: Interesting, so what do you think about Dan Didio's recent comment about stories trumping continuity that have lead some to believe that DC Comics may be using the success of Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart's recent take on Batgirl as a launching board to reimagine some of their other characters?
HJ: Well it's like this…as a content creator I am much like a professional athlete. By the time I am done making stuff I have left it all out on the floor. I have nothing else to give, I save all my criticism and all my decision-making and all of my 'what I would do if it were me' for my projects and because I do them with no money they are unrelenting. The positive part of that is when I go see a movie it can be a terrible movie and I can still have a good time because I have nothing to give you know what I mean? That crosses to other mediums as well like web series, television shows and comic books. As an avid comic book reader my top stack contains everything from The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Earth One, The Killing Joke and some New 52 stuff so I don't think I constrain myself to any sort of continuity even in what I ingest in terms of entertainment. I get something from all of it.
SP: I get you — I guess what I am asking is do you like the notion that comics, specifically superhero comics, are heading to a place where they are going to regularly be clearing the board, so to speak, to make room for new takes on classic characters where you explore them from new angles … I mean, the Dick Grayson we know would never smoke a cigarette after disarming a criminal and almost shoot him at a rock concert like he does in your project but maybe some people can relate to that more?
HJ: I like it and don't like it at the same time. I get attached to the work of certain writers like Kyle Higgins and Frank Millar so when changes come I have the same knee-jerk reaction as everyone else but then the artist in me kicks in and I am so open to different stories and arcs they all kind of enrich me so I have to say I lean way more towards I like it then I dislike it. But I don't know everything I just want to enjoy media — I remember what I like and immediately forget about what I don't which just leaves me with nothing to criticize so what's left is all positive, it's all productive and it all helps me progress.
HJ: Currently I am working on a series called Olympia. All of the characters are related to Greek Gods but don't know it and their powers are just starting to develop. It is kind of like Smallville meets The O.C. and the response has been extremely positive so far. I also have a Green Lantern series coming out and we just released the trailer. I try to run my Youtube Channel [P3Series] the way I would if it were a real television network and I am trying to have as much programming as possible. I plan on doing a Kickstarter in about a month or so after we release a trailer for upcoming episodes of Grayson in which you get to see all of the characters in costume. You get to see them all as they are in the show now and then you get to see them transform and hopefully the fans support us enough to keep these shows going at least a little bit longer.
SP: What's the endgame for you, Hisonni?
HJ: I want to keep telling stories. The system can be tough and I have seen a lot of talented people give up before we get see all the amazing work they're capable of… I have been close to giving up myself… so I think it's very important for me to try to work my way up to television and make a lot of money and then create my own stuff ala Tyler Perry with content that is accessible to everyone not just a particular demographic.
For the full interview check out the video below.
Shawn Perry is a media enthusiast and artist striving to be here now. He is from East Hartford, Connecticut and you can tweet him @thesperry or email him your thoughts at Shawn.Perry88@gmail.com.