Batman's been showing a broader spectrum of emotions lately, with more trust and genuine attempts at connection coming from Bruce Wayne than there has been in decades. But grief never strays too far from the Dark Knight's side. Batman writer Tom King told us how the superhero is going to handle Gotham City's latest devastating losses and when DC Rebirth's Watchmen mystery will start coming into play (hint: It's sooner than you think). Last week at New York Comic-Con, I had a chance to sit down with the creative team of DC's main Batman title. In the conversation that followed, writer Tom King and penciller David Finch discussed their opening storyline, the surprising reappearances of goofy Silver Age Bat-villains and the intrigue around a certain iconic bloodstained happy-face pin.
The first arc of your run on Batman is over and Gotham the hero has met his fate. Did you ever waver from that character ultimately self-destructing?
Tom King: No, poor Gotham was born to die. That was the whole idea behind the first arc — to have this background character, this Gotham Girl character, and the audience would think they're watching a Gotham story but they're really watching hers. And so we sort of did this twist on it where you're like, "Oh, here's another boring, generic white guy superhero..." and it's actually about his sister, and how she reacts to it.
And it seems like that trauma is going to be the throughline for the rest of the stuff you're seeding?
King: Yeah, that's the big motivation that drives the whole first trilogy — I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide and I Am Bane — is Batman saw a bit of hope in these superheroes. It starts in Batman #1 when he thinks he's going to die. There's a question for him and, in Gotham Girl, he sees an answer. Hope is crushed when Gotham dies. The only little part of that that's left is Gotham Girl and he sort of has to save her and he becomes obsessed with saving her. The only way to save her is to get Psycho-Pirate, who's under the control of Bane. That sort of dictates the whole arc.
David, we've seen a little bit of what Mikel Janin is doing for the upcoming arc featuring Bane. Are you itching to draw Bane at this point? He seems like a character that speaks to your artistic proclivities.
David Finch: Oh yeah, that's — if I had to say — if I had the choice to do absolutely whatever I wanted? This is what I would be doing. You know? Bane is... I think probably my favourite villain right now. I'm really having a great time with it.
Tom, I laughed out loud when you used Captain Stingaree. Captain Stingaree?!
King: Right?! Kite Man? Hell yeah?
About a month ago I asked readers, "What's your favourite line so far of 2016 in comics?" And there were at least four or five, "Kite Man, hell yeah..."
I know you're a big, old-time continuity fan, but I want to know what the steps are for repurposing these older, usually sillier characters. What makes you revisit those guys? And why?
King: I'm a huge Batman fan and I think all these characters... there's so much inside them and that's what's great about Batman. At first, his villains seem silly. And then you scratch that away and then they seem insane. And then you scratch that away and then they seem sad. And there's a fourth scratch and then they seem scary.
And Captain Stingaree is a great example of that. How silly is a guy who dresses up like a pirate? But then you're like... "Oh, but he's dressing up as a pirate because he thinks his twin brothers are Batman? And he's so delusional, he's going to kill his twin brothers because they're Batman? And the pirate part?" That's crazy. And then it's like... "And he's going to put a sword through his brother because he's convinced his brother is Batman? Well, that's scary." And all his villains have it.
David, is there an old school Batman villain you're itching to draw?
Finch: Doctor Phosphorous? Uhh...
Maybe Dr Tzin-Tzin? That guy with eyes on each of his fingers?
Finch: Uh, there's Zsasz. I love Zsasz.
King: You drawing Zsasz. Would anyone put more lines on Zsasz then you?
Finch: The problem is when I start rendering, it's like soup. But I love him. So... [I want to draw] Two-Face. And Scarecrow. I've done a lot of Scarecrow in the past. I've always really liked him a lot. [Also] Penguin. You know, pretty much every Batman villain... they're all individuals for me, really. And they're all so over the top. And crazy. You know, Joker... I think every artist is going to say Joker. I can't help it. Joker.
King: You want to do your Joker.
Finch: Yeah, one of these days. It will be fun.
So, the main Bat-books are happening on separate tracks now. Are you going to write Bruce's reaction to Tim's apparent death? How will that fit within the mechanisms you've already built for the first three arcs?
King: I don't want to write an issue where Bruce stares at a wall and gets sad. For two reasons: 1) I don't think I'd write it well. And 2) Pete Tomasi already wrote that issue in Batman & Robin. The silent issue, which is amazing. And I can't write better than that. So if people want to read that, go read Pete Tomasi's stuff. But that psychological pressure of someone else dying... my whole arc, the next five years are going to be about his mortality. And the idea that [there] was... another one of him that was so close to him, dying. You'll see David and I bring the whole Bat Family back together with all the sons, basically. So it's Duke, Dick, Jason and Damien...and there's an empty chair there, right? And you feel the weight of that empty chair. Dave drew the crap out of the scene and that heaviness is going to play a role.
When can we expect to see that?
King: So... the next one's Suicide and then the I Am Bane arc which will be "Batman vs Bane: Greatest Battle in the History of Gotham".
Are the Rebirth mystery and the Watchmen stuff going to play in these stories at all?
King: It starts in Batman #9 [coming out next week]. It will hit there. This is a new continuity, so a lot of stuff is happening in Batman that affects the spine of the universe. It's been going on, you just haven't noticed it. For example, they just announced Suicide Squad vs the JLA — that's coming out of the Amanda Waller stuff that we did in Batman.
It's a long-term plan, so that spins out of the I Am Suicide arc. And then in Batman #9, you'll see the first hints of how the Watchmen storyline will play throughout the Batman universe.