Newsletter #36: Reflections on a Dark Knight
A fond look back on Batman as brother James Tynion IV's run comes to a close
Hey guys, it's Scott.
It's Tuesday, November 16. So, big week over here, we've got Clear #2 out today from Francis Manapul and me with Deron Bennett doing letters. This book is the one that's kind of the most about this moment, the most raw and urgent of all the ones we're doing it Best Jackett. So, I really hope you'll pick it up. Francis is doing next level work. Again, it's free if you have Prime. If you don't, you can get a comiXology Unlimited subscription and have access to all the books we're doing for the price of one comic a month plus thousands of other comics available from their back lists and archives. Also, this Wednesday, tomorrow night, we're doing a huge class for Comic Writing 101. If you're not signed up, I really hope you'll you'll give it a shot. Chip Zdarsky, my good friend and one of the absolute best writers working in the industry today is coming on to discuss building character arcs. So, we're going to keep the discussion really focused. He gave us some great materials to look at. They're posted now in the newsletter for paid subscribers:
We’re looking at Daredevil #12 & 13 and Afterlift, the book he did for comiXology Originals. So, those are already uploaded and available to you. I'm also giving you a special one-off issue of Wytches, The Bad Egg, to discuss character arcs. So, we're going to look at short stories, we're gonna look at long stories, we're going to talk about building arcs over series and over single narratives. We're really excited about it. He and I spent a bunch of time yesterday on the phone going over what we're going to do, and he's just a fantastic partner in this. And if you're not subscribed to his Substack, go subscribe to his Substack, because he's hilarious and insightful and a great soul. So, gonna be a great class! Sign up, and I hope you'll take a look.
Any questions you have for Chip or for me about character arcs, anything, put them in the comments of this newsletter here and we'll try to get to them. And again, I hope you'll sign up. It's only seven bucks a class, and all the classes that we've already done are available to you if you sign up now. They're on video, they're on audio, we're going to compile them into text as well in a few months. So, you get a lot for the seven bucks a month. And I'm going to start doing all kinds of extra content over there once things lighten up in the spring. So, get in now!
For this week, I've been thinking a ton about Batman (not that I don't all the time). The truth is, I have Batman stories that pop into my head. Every month, I'll have some random idea still smash through the window like the bat of some Dark Knight story.
And there's always a temptation to go back and do it, but I've really, really hung up that cowl for a while, at least. And with James Tynion IV, who's my little brother, ending his run today with my other great friend Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey, who's also a friend and colored our whole first arc of Nocterra—it got me thinking a lot about what it means to be in that company of other people that have finished a lengthy run on a character as beloved as Batman. It's a special kind of thrill and it's a special kind of terror when you wind up on a character like Batman or Spider-Man or Superman—someone who means so much to so many millions of people out there, and sort of helms a whole franchise of material. I told you this before, but it was Grant Morrison's advice that really started letting me own that book when I was on it and letting me really get comfortable with it when they told me you need to create a birth and a death for your version of the character. And the truth is, once I had that, it gave me a different appreciation for stories of the past as well. And it stayed with me now watching other people take the mantle of Batman after me.
And the thing I wanted to talk about was just sort of how great it is to see people do versions of the character that are different than yours. I think there's a misconception that if somebody does something that you wouldn't do with Batman, or any big superhero that you've worked on for a long time, that you have a repulsion to that or that you'll be upset about that or that you'd be angry by that or that somehow you would not like that run, but the opposite is really the truth. For example, my favorite run is probably Grant Morrison's run. So many huge ideas. So many daring decisions—Batman floating through time and affecting DC history, Bruce taken off the table, Dick Grayson finally assuming the mantle, and bringing in Damian. Just idea after idea. But there are also things about that run that I can't wrap my head around when it comes to my version of Batman. For example, Damian. Damian was a really big problem for me writing when I was on Batman. Luckily, they told me DC didn't want me using Damian at all because they wanted to do a Batman and Robin book that Pete Tomasi eventually helmed and they also wanted Damian reserved for Grant’s stuff. And they wanted Batman to be really singularly focused on Bruce.
But I remember talking to Grant and joking with them and saying “I'm really sorry. Damien is one of those few characters that, at this point in my life, I can't write really well,” I love him, and I love reading him written by other people, but because my son was eight or nine at that time, it was so difficult for me to imagine having a Robin, who was my own son next to me, getting punched in the face by grown men and shot at, no matter what his background was, no matter what his training was. And just as a parent, it was impossible for me to dive into and to inhabit that Bruce. At the same time, again, that's my favorite run. So, I love reading it. I just couldn't do it myself. And then over time I think I came to a different relationship with Damian and I loved writing him the few times I got a chance. But I had real difficulty at that moment in my life approaching him.
But my point is simply that Grant’s model of Batman is cerebral and expansive and all-encompassing. And mine is much personal and Batman as someone who I wanted to change from a figure of intimidation to a figure of inspiration. I wanted it to be something that was really laser-focused on one villain at a time. Each thing was an exploration of Batman's relationship to Gotham and Gotham being the stand in for my fears and anxieties about that moment, or about myself, or about the world, all of it. So, our runs are wildly different. But I love the fact that my predecessor and one of my idols did something completely different than me. And I'm proud of the fact that we found our own voice on that book.
Similarly, James’ Batman is so family focused, and that book is so much about his relationship with other Bat-characters, which was always one of James's great strengths, I think, on Batman Eternal, and Batman and Robin Eternal. And James creates a very big tent. He loves all of Gotham, he loves every corner of it. And so that run has been such a joy to read, because it's so different than mine in the way that it's so young and fresh and brings in new characters—Miracle Molly and Punchline and Ghostmaker and Clownhunter and all of it, like just one after another of these great, great new figures. But that's not my Batman. That doesn't mean that I don't agree with that. I do actually see myself inhabiting James's Batman more easily than other versions. But I am just saying that our version of Batman was focused on different things.
Then there’s Tom King's version of Batman—wildly different, and there are lots of things in that run that I felt like I couldn't wrap my head around in terms of my version of Batman. His relationship with Catwoman to me has always been something that was exciting to play with, and a temptation of normalcy in his life and of happiness and all of that. But it's never been one of the things that really drew me, not that I don't like reading about it. I love reading about it. But again, for me as a writer, that relationship has always been secondary to his relationship to Gotham, to his own heroism, to his responsibilities and legacy as a hero. I see it as something that's always kind of doomed, not because he couldn't get married and be happy, but because it would always be something that would eventually fall apart. And I tried to explore that idea a bit in Superheavy with another character who I felt like there was less baggage with based on Batman's earliest romances from continuity. But anyway, the point is, there was so much I loved about Tom's run. I thought it was so different than mine. It was so dark and introspective and it made Batman vulnerable and flawed. And for me, reading that again, there was such a sense of appreciation of someone taking this character and doing something wildly different than I would do. And just always surprising me in that regard.
So, the thing I'm trying to say is, this like this is my thesis, is that I think there's a misconception that if you work on a big character, you want other versions of the character that echo yours, when in fact, at least for me, I can say the opposite is true. The most unexciting thing to me, and the thing I want the least, is someone to come along and do the same kind of thing I did. It's the same exact thing with TV, with film, with all of it, I really am not excited to have someone come along and do a Batman TV show or movie that echoes another one, even if it was my favorite that they're echoing. I really want someone to come in and surprise me and do something that I didn't see coming and that they feel passionate about and is personal to them and that they feel is a reinvention or rethinking of the character in a way that is true to core, true to the DNA, but is theirs.
It's passing that advice that Grant gave me along to the next person, and also just living by it. I mean, it's just the truth. Like, I just don't want another Batman movie that's the same as some of my favorites of the past. I don't want another Batman cartoon that echoes The Animated Series. I want something surprising and different. And even when they're flawed like The Batman, or Batman Strikes as it was called in the comic spin-off. I love that series because it was trying so many different things. I love Brave and the Bold. When you come in and you do something that's yours, there's no greater feeling as a fan and as someone who's wrestled with the legacy of that character to see.
So, yeah, huge, huge, huge hats off and kudos to my buddy James Tynion IV, and Jorge and Tomeu, and also to Becky and Michael and Jorge, they're on the backups, which have been great, for just sticking the landing on an epic run and leaving a mark in Gotham. I'm very proud, as I said in a tweet, to be in the retirement home beside you guys and so many other great writers and artists. It's always an honor. So, yeah, Batman Forever!