Grant Morrison‘s celebrated stint writing DC Comics‘ icon Batman came to a close last month with “Batman Incorporated” #13, illustrated by Chris Burnham. The issue not only wrapped that series, but capped storylines that dated back to 2006’s “Batman” #655 — the first part of the “Batman & Son” story arc, and the issue which kicked off Morrison’s run with the character.
There’s still a little bit of “Batman Incorporated” left to go, though, with the 48-page one-shot “Batman Incorporated Special” out this week. The issue features short stories starring many of the international heroes who comprised Batman Incorporated, including Batman Japan, Knight, Man-of-Bats, Red Raven, El Gaucho, Dark Ranger and the original Caped Crusader himself.
Among the issue’s contributors are Burnham, who illustrated much of “Batman Incorporated” — including the highly publicized death of Damian Wayne, the most recent Robin and Batman’s son — along with “Glory” writer Joe Keatinge, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio, recent “Batman: The Dark Knight” artist Ethan Van Sciver and more.
CBR News talked with both Burnham and Keatinge about their contributions to the special, and the legacy of “Batman Incorporated.”
CBR News: Chris, you’ve been a big part of “Batman, Incorporated” since almost the very start, and in this week’s Batman, Incorporated Special” you’re writing and drawing an eight-page story. What can you tell us about it? I know it picks up on some of the Batman Japan stuff you worked on previously.
Chris Burnham: It’s Batman Japan and Canary, and they’re out on another “adventure date.” He calls her up and asks if she’s free for an adventure. They’re still in the early days of dating. He’s pretty formal about it.
Jiro owns a manga shop, and the kids at the store find a human hand in a vending machine. Batman Japan and Canary go to crack the case, and there’s some gadgets, and there’s some cool fighting, and some gross-out gags, and some stupid jokes, and one of the best kicks I’ve ever drawn. A really well-drawn kick to the face. [Laughs] That to me is the highlight of the story.
You’ve obviously illustrated much of the series, and wrote issue #7, but this is the first time you’re doing both for a story in the “Batman Inc.” world. How was that experience?
Burnham: It’s awesome. It’s cool to stretch those muscles at the same time. When you’re writing and drawing, it’s easier to pull off things that are kind of impossible to describe without drawing it yourself. There are a couple moments of weird storytelling tricks that are really only possible for either a writer/artist to do, or someone that’s working in a real loose, Marvel-style. There’s a little moment that’s almost kind of Howard Chaykin-y, “American Flagg”-ish.
“Batman, Incorporated” was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed DC books of the past few years, not to mention the mainstream publicity it — and you — got for the death of Damian Wayne story earlier this year. How meaningful has this experience been for you and your career?
Burnham It’s been crazy. Completely unexpected. It just completely fell in my lap. I got an email from Joe Casey one day asking if I wanted to finish off Grant’s Black Glove/Doctor Hurt storyline. “Yes, I would.” Completely out of the blue.
When I was like three pages in to that story in “Batman and Robin” #16, I got the best email I’ve ever gotten, changed my life — from Grant Morrison. “Hey, you did a great job on this story” — I was only three pages in — “You want to come back for ‘Batman, Incorporated’ in the spring?” My career was handed to me, and it was mine to lose, and I luckily haven’t screwed up yet. [Laughs]
Seems like a daunting prospect, following guys like Frank Quitely and Frazer Irving — was that intimidating, having to rise up to that standard?
Burnham: Oh, yeah. Completely nerve-racking. But they were always very supportive and really nice about it, so most of the stress I put on myself. After all the dynamite talent Grant’s worked with over the years, and all the awesome art that Batman has had over 75 years or whatever, it’s pretty daunting to be presented with, “Alright, pal, now it’s your job.” It’s hard.
Now that “Batman, Inc” has officially wound down and the last bit is out this week, are there any particular parts of the story that stands out as a highlight for you? Or is it the overall experience that you think you’ll look back on?
Burnham: I’m not sure if I have enough perspective on it yet. In each issue, there’s a couple pages where I’m like, “Yeah, I fucking nailed that one.” [Laughs] There’s not too many things that make me want to claw my eyes out. For the most part, I like a lot of it.
I think the “Leviathan Strikes” one-shot is maybe the best comic I ever did. I think that comic is awesome. The [original volume] issue #7 with the Indian reservation, I think that comic really works. The fight between Damian and the Heritic, I really think that one turned out pretty well.
I guess the stuff I like the most is the stuff I feel like I did the most on, that Grant gave me the most rope to hang myself with. I don’t know if I think it’s better, but I have more of an emotional attachment to it. A lot of the fighting stuff he kinds of leaves up to me, and the weird, stupid Easter eggs in the background, reference I’ll make. That’s the stuff I really like, because that is mostly from my head, and not really executing Grant’s vision as much as enhancing it, putting my own stamp on it.
I’m not sure how much you can say at this point, but you can talk at all about what you’re working on next?
Burnham: It sucks, because I can’t really talk about it too much. There’s definitely something big and exciting that we’re just starting work on, but it’s not something I can really talk about it. This Batman Japan thing comes out in a week, I think I only finished work on it a week and a half ago. This shit was down to the wire. I don’t have anything at all, I don’t have a cover, I don’t have character sketches for the next big thing I’m doing.
I’m going to be doing a bunch of covers for DC, and covers for random Image books, and some pin-ups, and whatnot. I’m kind of taking a month or two to do some weird little projects to cleanse the old palate, and then I guess probably in October or November really dive into the next big thing, and hopefully we’ll get that out in the spring of next year. We want to get a big lead time on it. We’ll come out regularly, but I’ll be able to take a month-and-a-half to draw each issue.
Can you give an indication if it’ll be work-for-hire or in the creator-owned realm?
Burnham: I don’t know if I can give an indication. [Laughs] I’m going to hope to either straddle both worlds, or bounce back and forth between the worlds, but I probably shouldn’t say which I’m doing first.
Joe, what can you share about your Knight story in the “Batman, Incorporated Special,” and why you wanted to write that character?
Joe Keatinge: It’s specifically about Beryl, who was until recently the Squire to Knight. Spoilers for “Batman, Incorporated” months ago — Cyril was killed in action.
This is Beryl’s story: “Where do you go from there?” She was, in a way, Cyril’s rock. All she’s known this entire time of being a superhero was this relationship with Cyril. She’s the one who brought him up when he hit rock bottom, when he just became Knight — she was always the stronger one of the group. Cyril was like a brother figure to her, and there definitely is a familial connection. So what happens when that goes away? I think calling her a sidekick undervalues what her is contribution to the whole Knight and Squire thing. They were a team.
Simultaneously, Batman, Incorporated gets disbanded. A lot of what the story focuses on is, who is Beryl without the Knight and Squire relationship, and without Batman, Incorporated? What will she want, and where does she want to go from there? It’s figuring out what her purpose is next.
As for why I went with her, she’s a character I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve really liked her since her appearances in “JLA Classified.” I was always really into her as a character, but Mike Marts and Darren Shan, our editors on this, came to me with the idea of doing a Beryl story, and I immediately was like, “Yeah, that would be an absolutely great fit.” I really do like working with characters where they’re taken out of their comfort zone, and everything they’ve known is gone. It’s an unconscious theme through all of my stuff, but it certainly seems to be there.
That sounds like a lot to cover in a short story.
Keatinge: I wanted to see how much I could condense in there. It’s a seven-page story, and every page of that story is a single day. It’s the week after Cyril dies. What happens next? We cover a lot of ground. Things have turned out pretty great, in no small part due to Emanuel Simeoni‘s art.
As a fan of both Grant Morrison and his time on Batman, what was it like getting to be part of the “Batman, Incorporated” world? Was that a big part of what drew you to the project?
Keatinge: That was absolutely a massive part of it. Originally when it was first brought up to me, I was like, “Oh man, this is going to be cool, I’m going to write a Knight story.” But as it was coming along, and as I was reading “Batman, Incorporated” it really hit me that this was a small part of this larger tapestry that Morrison’s been weaving with his collaborators since 2006. To be part of that was overwhelming once it really hit.
And I don’t think it really, really hit until I just got my comps of the issue, and seeing all the stories in there, and there’s a text piece that ends it by Grant, and there’s a little overview of his whole run. To be able to contribute anything to that run is massively overwhelming. I was just listening to the Fatman on Batman interview that he did with Kevin Smith where he’s talking about what went into his run, and him taking every version of Batman — to be able to be any kind of tiny part of that is just massive to me.
Morrison as a writer is a massive influence on my comics for sure, since “Flex Mentallo,” and especially “Doom Patrol.” “Invisibles” — “New X-Men” was a really big one. So obviously Batman follows suit in all of that. I’m eternally grateful to Marts and Shan for bringing me on board, just so I could be part of this thing — basically one of the janitors to clean up the music festival after it’s done. [Laughs] To be that is pretty cool.
The “Batman Incorporated Special” goes on sale Wednesday, August 28. Check out a preview of the issue below.