Sep 17, 2021 • 13M

Newsletter #20: Second Life

Where I talk Bat-family and adaptations of creations both old and new

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[Apologies in advance for the audio quality during the first thirty seconds!]

Hey guys, it’s Scott.

I'm finally feeling better. Our family is better. Thank you guys so much for the well wishes, We all hugely appreciate them. Man, that cold really laid us low. I have to say, it's been quite a long time since I've been sick, given how hunkered down we've been. Yeah, it was not pleasant.

Anyway, a couple quick things. I wanted to mention that next week, Wednesday, is our second class. For anyone who isn't a paid subscriber, I'm running this class, Comic Writing 101, and this week coming up is voice—that's our big subject. So, it's about finding your voice, it's about what voice is, it's about finding that perfect marriage between form and content and a real synergy of expression in your work. And we're going to look at some great examples from classics like Dark Knight Returns to newer books like Monstress, and a whole bunch of other things, too.

So, it's one of my favorite classes. I hope you'll sign up, and if you sign up, all of our other classes are available to you in our archive, both video and audio, it's only seven bucks per monthly class. So it's about two hours live from my local comic store, Fourth World Comics (go follow them, they’re amazing), a family-run shop. For years, I've been going to them, since before I broke into comics. And yeah, please sign up, and I hope to see you in class!

Secondly, we announced our Blacktop Bill Special coming in December for Nocterra, the Image series from me and Tony Daniel. It's a special issue drawn by the legend Denys Cowan, colored by Chris Sotomayor. I think it's going to be Kent Williams on inks too. So, it’s an incredible team and it's going to tell the secret origin of our big bad guy, Blacktop Bill, who's one of the breakout stars of the series. So, I’m really thrilled about it. It's definitely one of the darkest things I've written in a long time, which is always fun. So, that's in December.

Nocterra: Blacktop Bill Special Cover B by Denys Cowan & Chris Sotomayor

And yeah, that's kind of all the self promotion I have. The thing I thought maybe I'd talk about a little bit today is creating IP or creating characters and the life that they can sometimes take on, both under your guidance and outside of it. It's been a really interesting couple of weeks in that regard for me. A couple of the creations from my time at DC have found new life in other mediums. So, for example, The Court of Owls is going to play a big part in the new video game Gotham Knights, and a couple years ago DC was kind enough to fly me out to LA to meet with WB Games Montréal. They were working on the game and they showed me early gameplay and discussed the story tree.

A familiar face in the trailer for the upcoming Gotham Knights game

And for anyone that doesn't know, video game storytelling is really different in its construction and architecture than in comics or screenplay or televisual writing. It's really interesting because it's very experiential. They want you to create a story that will allow players to explore certain spaces in a game. So, there's kind of choose-your-own-adventure feel to it. But it has to have a really strong core narrative that also propels you to want to continue the main story as much as you want to go off on these little tributaries and peripheral side missions and stuff. So, they were great about inviting me out and I loved what they had planned. The Court looks amazing, and it was huge fun.

The Court in Gotham Season 3
Batman and Talon brawl in Batman and Son

So, on the one hand, you have things like that, where the Court of Owls has had this whole second and third life already in Gotham the TV show and in this animated flick that DC did, Batman and Son. And then other characters that I had a lot of high hopes for, like Harper Row aka Bluebird, I just wasn’t able to get through the way that I wanted. And now, she's kind of starting to pick up again in other series as well, which I'm really excited about. But it's interesting, because that time period that we were working on her, we created another character too who's now really picking up steam in a bunch of different places, Duke Thomas.

So, I wanted to talk for a minute about examples of how things can go with a character or a villain or a team or a creation that you and your co-creators come up with and how it can take on a whole life outside of your plans. So, Duke we came up with all the way back in like 2011/2012 as a character to sort of be part of this whole population of young heroes that we were trying to create in Gotham at that time to fill the vacuum that had been created when Damien died. So, Grant Morrison's plans had always been to kill Damian. It was in their initial pitch that we had all read for Batman and Robin to take him off the table for a pretty extended period of time, at least. I mean, there weren’t plans necessarily to bring him back.

And so, there was this sort of open field for a while where I was just getting used to being on Batman, so I didn't see myself as the head of Gotham or anything like that. But my goal was to try and create some young new characters that wouldn’t be Robins, because we felt we'd retire that mantle for a while, but would be other exciting heroes that would try things differently in Gotham. So, Harper Row, Bluebird, was created to sort of be somebody who had to do with power structures in Gotham. And her whole thing about understanding the power grid, and the failing infrastructure of Gotham, and being someone who really was kind of on her own, was all about really street-level heroism in Gotham and understanding what it's like from the opposite end of the spectrum of Bruce Wayne.

And at the same time, we were thinking of a character that would start to protect Gotham by day, that would be someone who would have to look out for new threats, young threats growing in the daytime. And that was sort of where we started thinking about Duke. And I had this idea, and not to get too in the weed, but I had this idea that we create this kind of whole flock of new birds instead of Robins. So we had Bluebird and we had all these names, and you can see hints of them in some of the other stories I did, like Canary and other things like that. In some of the Batman stories we did, you see some of these bird names floating around.

Detective Comics #1000 - Art by Tony S. Daniel, Joëlle Jones & Tomeu Morey

But the idea was to create new young characters that wouldn't be Robins but would be able to be mentored by the Robins. And my real dream, not to get too What If…?/what could have been? was to create a book called Robins that would be all the former Robins, including Steph, and how they would be training this up-and-coming group, and to create a new young set of threats also—Arkham Asylum villains with superpowers and all kinds of stuff. So, the idea was to do that under the parental watch of Batman in a different way.

But as all this was building and we were trying to construct it, DC decided Damian was really too big of a character to leave off the table. And they had planned on putting him in some animated stuff, and there were also ideas about putting him in what I think was a video game or televisual stuff. And so, they brought him back, and that changed the whole landscape. That meant there was going to be a Robin, and there was going to be a Batman and Robin book. And in having a Batman and Robin book, there wouldn't be room necessarily to be creating quite as independent a young community of heroes, just because there'd be a focus again on what it meant to be Robin, especially with somebody who has such a different background than most Robins the way Damien did.

So, it became about: well, how do we take this character, like Duke, for example, who we love, who's all about doing it himself, finding a way new way of protecting Gotham that is outside of Batman's purview? And so, we were like, “well, let's keep our plan about these characters finding each other. Let's do something—We Are Robin.” And it was this idea about how Robin doesn't need Batman. Robin is youth, Robin is civic duty, Robin is heroism in a different way that doesn't depend on Batman. It doesn't need Batman's help or to be beside him, it could be something independent of him. And then we were like, let's build that up and create this whole thing, and if we tie all these characters together, maybe we even have a generational fight between Bruce and these younger characters, or maybe we don't—we have Bruce on their side against villains and however. But it was this kind of fertile, exciting moment.

We Are Robin #1 - Cover by Lee Bermejo

But because so many different things were happening at DC at once—a lot of good things, but it was volatile in 2015/2016 with a lot of changes and things they felt they needed to try, new initiatives—we couldn't really make it come together. And so, it became, for me, about really trying to find an identity for Duke with some great co-creators, people that were invested in the character like Tony Patrick, Cully Hamner and Greg, where he wouldn't get lost the way Harper had started to get lost. And again, I'm so glad to see Harper coming back in a huge way.

But for us, I had been working with Duke for a while at that point. And so, the idea was to create an identity where he would be Gotham's protector by day, and he would be sanctioned by Batman but he would do things differently. He'd see different threats and all of that. So, we thought about calling him many different things. We retired the idea of coming up with a new bird name just because it just felt like everything didn't really work. And we wanted him in yellow, something bright, for day. And then it was about “well, let's make him a beacon. Let's call him Signal.” So, we really loved it. I'm really proud of the miniseries that we did, me and Tony Patrick and Cully.

Batman and the Signal #1 - Cover B by Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire

Again, it was a strange time. There's a lot of volatility at DC, good and bad. Just a lot of creative energy all over the place. So, there wasn't the kind of room for him on the other side that I had hoped. But to see him now taking off in his own right has been thrilling, and I really hope fans will go support everything Tony and other people are doing with him. He's in both the Webtoon series, The Wayne Family Adventures as a big lead, and he's also going to be in this animated show, Batwheels, which I'm hugely excited about, where he's, again, a main character and a main focus

Batman: The Wayne Family Adventures #1 - Art by Starbite, Maria Li, Lan Ma & Jean Kim
Duke (voiced by AJ Hudson) with Batman and Batgirl/Cassandra Cain in the upcoming Batwheels

So, sometimes you do things that really take off and you have a lot of say in how that happens because you're right there as it's going on, like Batman Who Laughs, who’s now going to be part of the Fortnite story and he's all over these heavy metal things in Europe. And there are big plans for him coming, which is huge and exciting to see, and I'm involved in that stuff.

And then other times, you want something for a character—you have a dream of what Gotham could be and it kind of changes and you adapt. And the stuff that you had planned, like bringing Cass and stuff in through Batman Eternal, linking them up with Duke and Harper and these other characters, and then creating this whole community of young heroes just doesn't come together. But they find new life in really exciting ways outside of your shepherding them. So, that's kind of what's going on now.

But the other side of that is when you do creator-owned work, like I'm doing with comiXology and with Image. You have so much control over it, and it's hugely exciting to see. We just had really big movement this last couple of weeks with both the Nocterra TV development process, and also with Wytches, which is in development for television and I'm writing and Jock is doing art for it.

So, in that regard, having creator-owned work, it's just a totally different matrix. You can hang on to it if you want and be involved in every aspect of it. So, there's joy to both. There's joy to seeing things take on a life that you could never expect for them, and see people do great stories and great things with characters that you created and then couldn't have done as much with. And then there's a tremendous joy, maybe even greater, to making your own stuff outside of licensed work, and having an actual hand in how those things then take the next steps. So, both are great, but I feel very lucky for having a chance to be involved in both processes.

So, anyway, again, I hope you'll sign up for our class Wednesday. Check out this Blacktop Bill Special in December. That's going to be in Previews coming up. And yeah, let me know anything you want me to talk about, anything you want me to do differently. I really do look at the comments in these posts, and I'm on Twitter, my DMS are open if you want to reach me. I should never say that, but it's true. And we have a Discord for paid subscribers in the class where I'm pretty active as well.

So, thanks again!