DC unleashed one of the biggest guns in their Rebirth lineup this week with the release of Batman #1. This flagship Bat-book explores Batman settling back into his old role even as he trains his new sidekick, Duke Thomas, and contends with the arrival two new metahuman heroes, Gotham and Gotham Girl. These heroes can do things Batman can’t, but are they friends or foes to the Caped Crusader?
We recently sat down with writer Tom King and artist David Finch to discuss the new status quo of the Batman franchise and the pressures that come from relaunching one of DC’s most popular comics. The two also discussed how the events of DC Universe Rebirth #1 will impact the new series and how the Batman franchise will work together to tell a larger story in the years to come.
Warning: this interview contains spoilers for Batman #1!
IGN: It’s not every day you get to write a comic called “Batman #1.” I imagine there’s a lot of pressure on this book, especially taking over from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on the previous series. Can you guys talk about that pressure?
Tom King: How am I feeling? I really should say that I’m embracing the excitement and wonders of ti all, but honestly I’m just feeling scared and frightened and intimidated by it all. I really shouldn’t give honest answers, but that’s how I feel. Scott and Greg put together probably the greatest run together in Batman’s history. For Rebirth, the idea was that Batman isn’t broken and he doesn’t need to be reborn. We just need to come up to bat after Babe Ruth and hit the next one out of the park. That’s something tough to do, but I think we have a shot.
David Finch: Yeah, I totally agree. I don’t think I ever go into anything excited about it. When I start a job and I hear about what I’m going to do, I’m excited. Then on day 2 I’m miserable and nervous and stressed out. [laughs] And that never really stops until I move onto something else and I have that one day again where I’m excited. It’s Batman. This is the main Batman title with all the history behind it. And especially, like Tom said, we’re taking over after the greatest run I think has ever been done on the book. So it’s some pressure.
IGN: Is there added pressure because it’s a twice-monthly series and you have all that added coordination going into it?
King: Not for me. We got so far ahead in the scripts that it’s not crazy, schedule-wise, in terms of doing a monthly book. It just means I’m writing two monthly books, but they’re both called “Batman” and they’re both drawn by one of the greatest artists working in comics. For me, it’s just another day. But it’s also Batman.
Finch: For me, it’s a monthly book. I started early enough that I had enough time to have a month for each issue. There is a little extra pressure because I generally take a little longer than a month on each issue. As much as I say I’m monthly, I always fall behind and we have to get a fill-in issue. With this book, we don’t have that luxury. It’s more been trying to stay absolutely on point and not lose any time.
IGN: As this series begins, Bruce has only recently put the costume back on and he’s already dealing with another near-death experience in this first issue. Where would you say his head is at as he’s adjusting to being Batman again?
King: It’s a different space where he ends the book compared to where he begins in #1. That’s the whole point of #1, that he goes through some that’s going to affect him over the entire next year. I think we wanted to start this with classic, confident Batman. This is Gordon on the roof and Alfred in the cave. This is a guy who knows his mission and knows it well. He’s not mourning anyone. He’s not looking at his parents, he’s saying “I have all the tools I need to accomplish this mission.” That’s where he is on page 1. And then by the end, he’s had an experience that almost challenges that directly. And that’s going to affect him going forward.
IGN: In the Rebirth issue you introduced Duke as Batman’s new sidekick, but Bruce noted that he wants Duke to play a very different role from the various past Robins. Can you elaborate on that and why you see Duke being different from someone like Dick or Tim?
King: It’s really two different questions – how is Duke going to develop in this book, and how is Duke different? I’ll answer the first one first. The plan with Duke all along was to give him the same path that Tim got. I love Tim; I grew up with him as Robin. I always liked that he had a year in the cave before he went out next to Batman. It justified his involvement that he had this year of training before he was ready to go out at Batman’s side. In the beginning of our book, Duke is in the cave. He’s not fighting side-by-side as a sort of partner or sidekick.
As for who Duke is as a character, I got to write him extensively in Robin War to the point where I love him as a character. He knows who he is, unlike the other Robins who either approached this as “I want to be Batman or I want to be his sidekick.” He doesn’t have any of that. He doesn’t need Batman. He sees this Robin entity as part of who he is and part of his evolution. I think that’s what makes him different from all the other Robins – his lack of dependency and his independence.
IGN: We’re also seeing Batman and Batwoman train another team of younger heroes over in Detective Comics. Are we going to see any direct ties between this book and that one?
King: Oh yeah. James Tynion is writing that book, and we’re really close friends. All of the Bat-books will tie together. We’re basically like the Marvel Bullpen back in the day. Tim Seeley, my old partner, is on Nightwing. James is doing Detective Comics and Scott is over on All-Star Batman. We’re trying to tell one larger story. We want this to be a tight, universal continuity. Not intimidating continuity. Not anything you can’t understand, but something where when something happens in one book it affects the others. That there are real consequences and stakes from the dangers these characters encounter. As much as imaginary stories get to do.
IGN: I’m sure there’s not a lot you can say about this right now, but one of the twists coming into Rebirth is the reveal that there are apparently three Jokers. Is that something you’re hoping to explore during the course of your run?
King: [laughs] Are you kidding? I can’t say anything about that. Have you seen Geoff Johns? The dude works out, man. He’d kick my ass.
IGN: I do want to talk about another villain. My favorite part of the rebirth issue was the new spin you put on Calendar Man. Is that sort of the approach we can expect when it comes to Batman’s traditional villains?
King: Throughout the next year you’re going to see each of the villains sort of redefined and modernized and made scarier. We’re not really updating their origins or doing anything stupid like that, but we’re saying that what made them scary in the 1940’s and ’50s doesn’t necessarily make them scary today. That core that those creators developed still haunts us, and I think we’re just trying to drill back into that. Calendar Man seems silly, like a guy who’s obsessed with calendars. But there’s nothing scarier than a calendar in your life. A calendar is a track of your life moving forward. Your life either ends eventually or goes on forever. Either way, it’s frightening. So we’re doing that concept with a lot of big characters. You’ll see a lot of that play out in Batman and also in All-Star Batman.
IGN: From reading Flash Rebirth we know that Bruce and Barry Allen are teaming up to investigate this mystery behind Doctor Manhattan. Is that something you want to explore in this series, whether that involves furthering the story or just exploring the dynamic between Bruce and Barry?
King: That background mystery behind what those pages meant and what’s happening in Rebirth is almost like the backbone of the DCU. We’re going to be coming off of that as we move forward. So some of that stuff will be appearing. It’s a slow story build. We wanted that story to mean something, and the scope of it is amazing. We want to build to it slowly so that when we finally get to the climax it feels like a real relief. But that stuff is in the background of every story in the DCU.
IGN: This first issue introduced Gotham and Gotham Girl, and it seems like their goal is to replace Batman as the city’s favorite hero. Can you guys talk about creating these characters and designing these characters and what they bring to the table in this first storyline?
King: The basic idea, and you see this play out in the first issue, is that the threats that play out in Metropolis are impossible for Batman. Whether you have an asteroid hitting or a super-robot or a plane crashing – things Superman deals with on a daily basis. Batman is only a man. How does he fight those? And in the first issue you see fight it and come to the conclusion that, “I can fight this. I can win, but I’m going to die. Someone will replace me, Dick Grayson will replace me, and he’ll die, too.” And at the same time, two new heroes arrive who have those powers. He decides that might be a good thing for him. Maybe Gotham needs better heroes than he is. His goal has never been to fight criminals. That’s never been part of it. His goal is to defeat criminals by any means possible. So how Batman uses them as a tool and whether that tool is effective is the story going forward.
Finch: For me, from a design perspective, I didn’t want to intellectualize it at all. I read what Tom had in the script and it just seemed obvious to me. Sometimes it’s really difficult to design characters, and sometimes I find the characters are already really fleshed out in the writing. So i don;t really know what I was thinking. They popped into my head pretty easily.
King: I love the “G” you did. That’s going to be classic.
Finch: It’s that Gothic “G.”
King: Gothic for Gotham. It’s cool.
IGN: And in a broader sense, David, you’ve had a lot of experience with Batman over the years. Other than the new costume, is there anything different about your art style or your storytelling approach that you’re taking with this book?
Finch: I always try and do better than I did before. And sometimes that means I just waste time overthinking. I don’t know if it makes anything better. Really, what I think makes the biggest difference in my art is the story that I get. The stuff that Tom is doing is, I think, the best story that I’ve ever gotten to draw. I think he’s a genius. I’m so pumped about it, and I think that keeps me at the table excited. And I really hope that shows through in the art. There’s a lot of work that went into it, and I hope it makes the project come alive. I hope that people like it.
King: And just to toot Dave’s horn, everyone expects him to draw the best Batman ever. That’s what he does and what he’s done. But what’s really impressed me is these incredible backgrounds he’s putting in. He’s the best background artist in comics. And the way Jordie Bellaire is coloring it, it’s redefining the way Gotham looks. It’s like nothing else. It’s a Gotham I think people will be coming back to for years. I think it’s amazing. New and different. I love it.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.