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HeroesCon 2013: Batman Writers Look to the Future

by  in Comic News Comment
HeroesCon 2013: Batman Writers Look to the Future

HeroesCon 2013’s Batman panel contained creative talent from across the history of the DC Universe.

Although Sunday is traditionally a slower day for conventions, HeroesCon 2013 still brought some heat with its panels, as “Talon” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws” writer James Tynion IV, “Detective Comics” writer John Layman and “All Star Western” and “Batwing scribe Jimmy Palmiotti gathered together to discuss all things Batman — from his pre-“Flashpoint” history to things to come in the New 52.

After a brief introduction to both Batman and the panelists, the panel kicked off with the current state of Batman in the New 52 in each of the writers’ books.

“Right now, I’m working on … the backups to Scott Snyder’s ‘Batman,'” said Tynion, who described the upcoming “Zero Year” arc. “It sounds very familiar, but when sitting down and putting the story together, we wanted to give you a story that you can’t expect; something that when you’re reading it month-to-month, you’re excited. You’ll see exactly what I mean when the issue hits stands next week. The backups will be covering moments from Bruce’s training, but moments we haven’t seen before. … We’re doing some very different moments — the first one is him trying to learn how to drive a getaway car in the streets of Rio De Janeiro.”

Tynion is also the writer on “Talon,” where the appearance of Bane has shaken up the status quo. “Red Hood and the Outlaws” has a current arc that will “take us into an epic storyline with the League of Assassins.” “We’re bringing back the Brown Spider and we just introduced the new version of Cheshire. There are a few familiar faces and new ones to come.”

Layman said Snyder’s “Batman” was “the driving force” behind the Batman books, whereas “Detective Comics” is more the “Law and Order” of the Bat-books. “What I’ve got coming up is a character called The Wrath,” said Layman. “He is the anti-Batman. He’s a rich playboy industrialist, but instead of fighting crooks, he’s killing cops. It’s fun to play with a dark reflection of Batman and then have them face each other. In the back-ups, I introduced Man-Bat in the #19 issue and we’ll be doing Man-Bat with Andy Clarke.”

Palmiotti was up next with “Batwing,” outlining his pitch with Justin Gray. “Justin and I had to wrap up every storyline that was going on in the book in one issue (#19),” he said. “David was a great character, so we didn’t want to kill him off, but I could see where the character was frustrated. … We introduced Luke Fox, who is Lucius’ son. The fun of the character as Luke Fox is that Batman and Bruce Wayne know who Luke Fox is, but Lucius has no idea that his son is Batwing.” According to Palmiotti, the core of the book as a new series had to do with looking at why “Batwing” was the least selling of the Batman books. “We thought with Luke Fox, it puts [“Batwing”] right in the middle [of the Batman universe],” said Palmiotti. “The fun of the character is that he’s getting his dad’s designs and modifying it a bit to make it better.” Batman will train Batwing in issues #22-#25. “We’re having a lot of fun with the book and it ties in with everything these guys were doing.”

As for Palmiotti’s “All Star Western,” Booster Gold will dump Jonah Hex in the middle of modern-day Gotham. “There’s some fun stuff with Jonah and Arkham, and for a couple of issues, we have Jonah dealing with Batman, dealing with Batwing and that it’s not okay to shoot people in the face if they’re robbing a bank,” said Palmiotti. “It’s kind of fun, the idea for that series — we’re taking Jonah’s point of view of our modern-day society. He finds Arkham’s great-grandson in Arkham Asylum. … ‘Batman’ and ‘Batwing’ tie into that. The great thing of writing these Batman books is we can get together and do crazy things.”

The writer also said that if any reader didn’t like “Batwing,” you can find him and he’ll give you the money back for the issue. “I’m confident. We want to make you guys happy,” said Palmiotti.

The death of Damian Wayne was next on the docket and how its affected the Dark Knight and his associates — starting with Red Hood.

“I’m not sure if you asked him about Damian Wayne that he would be able to properly recollect who it is,” said Tynion. “They were obviously very similar. They were the troubled Robins. They went out there and solve their own problems. Jason saw a lot of himself in Damian, so he’ll be impacted by his past once certain things wrap up. That’s where he’s at.”

Layman’s most recent issue used Harper Row, and says that “Batman sees someone young with aspects of Damian in her and she obviously wants to be a superhero and you see Batman working with some of his Damian stuff with Harper Row.” The writer referred to Damian’s death as having a “ripple effect” across the Batman books.

The Q&A session started quickly, with someone asking about whether he was supposed to take Damian’s death seriously.

“I don’t know, it’s a comic book,” said Layman, to laughs. “I think the answer there is he’s dead until he’s not dead.”

Palmiotti fielded a question about events and excitement and expectation for the New 52, relating a story that Dan DiDio said that every month should be WTF month. “We are told by our editors to mix it up and make it crazy, and then they’ll tell us what to do and what not to do,” he said.

Self-described as “not the biggest continuity guy,” Layman said that he was “sort of reinventing the character” of Man-Bat, but it was nice not to be burdened by “30 years of baggage.” “I’m thrilled it’s the New 52 and I don’t have to read [a bunch of back issues] to write a good story and you don’t have to read a bunch of back issues to read a good story.”

Tynion said making characters new and exciting, while still staying true to their core is a “really powerful feeling.”

A fan asked about whether readers might see some old familiar faces in the “Zero Year” flashbacks, Tynion was somewhat coy. “These are just shorts, because Scott and Greg keep going big and going crazy, so we’re keeping it mostly featured on new figures we introduce from the past,” said Tynion. “You may see some familiar faces. We’re talking about it.” In “Red Hood,” Tynion said he didn’t have any current plans to add a fourth member to the cast, and that it’s focused on the dynamic and friendships between the three main characters.

The inevitable question of continuity came up — especially as relates to the various Robins, something Tynion decided to field.

“As a fan as well as a writer, leaving ambiguity in there is a helpful thing,” said Tynion. “If we went back and [created a rigid timeline] … it would close off everything. Keep your own continuity and have it make sense in your own head. That’s what I do as a reader. If your version of the Dick Grayson origin is ‘Dark Victory,’ keep it in your head as that’s the origin.”

“I think there’s some kind of suspension of disbelief,” said Layman. “Batman can’t be everywhere at once, and continuity’s like that.”

A question came up about how the Christopher Nolan films has affected the characters in the comic.

“We hear the music whenever we’re writing,” said Palmiotti, to laughs.

“WIth Bane, my roommates kept picking up my scripts and reading them in the Bane voice,” said Tynion. “WIth my version of the character, I wanted to bring in the more militaristic aspects of the movie version, but keep it true to the original version.”

With a quick question about Man-Bat, Layman likened Man-Bat to the Hulk and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. “He’s got these savage instincts,” said Layman. “When they’re bad, it feels good and they start going down this dark path, and that makes for good drama. That being said, I’m building up to this Man-Bat thing and it’s going to be awesome. I think it’s issue #26 — but I can’t tell you.”

Palmiotti revealed bringing Booster Gold into “All Star Western” actually came from Dan DiDio. “We just started laughing,” Palmiotti recalled of his reaction to the idea. “Dan’s suggestion was also to bring Jonah into Gotham. He’s the biggest Jonah fan I know. When he gets his chance to put in his two cents, we let him. … There was a Jonah Hex series in the future that was silly way back when and I said I’d rather write him now. Jonah’s seeing people on cellphones, thinking girls who aren’t wearing much are all hookers. The great thing is — the thing that people don’t know about Dan — I don’t know someone who has a bigger comic collection than Dan DiDio. We all have long boxes, but with Dan, you can actually make a hallway and furniture out of it. He’s been really good for us — at a time when Jonah wasn’t selling much, he’s always come up with an idea to get us just a little bit more. We even deal with that with ‘All Star Western’ now.”

Layman said he felt that “Detective” was the one book where it was appropriate to have a lot of police presence. “Batman is a guy who’s doing the [police’s] job, but Batman to them brings all the crazies out of the woodwork,” he said. “What happens when cops start being killed — maybe more people come around because Batman does more good than harm.” The writer said he was trying to put a little “Gotham Central” vibe into “Detective.”

According to Layman, the next story he does will be “very Gordon-centric” and will help readers to further understand why he and Batman work well together “with occasional speed bumps.”

“It’s hard to be best friends with a guy who wears a mask,” said Palmiotti.

“The whole nature of Batman, he’s a vigilante,” said Layman. “The people he draws in to help him become vigilantes by proxy — even Alfred.”

Further describing the current sphere of Batman books as “a Batman renaissance,” Layman said he felt very lucky to be writing in the Bat-Universe, and that it’s a “great time to be a Batman fan.”

Palmiotti described an upcoming arc of Batwing that actually allows Batwing to go rescue his father after he’s been kidnapped. “Lucius looks at his son as a disappointment,” said Palmiotti. “But if he really knew that Luke was Batwing, it would be a different animal. They’re almost talking to each other at some point and Lucius has no idea it’s his own son. It’s classic comics — it’s the stuff I grew up with in Marvel Comics.” Palmiotti and Gray are writing the character as though he’s in his twenties. “The character’s a lot of fun for us because he’s not perfect. Batman is sitting there pulling him out of the fire in the first couple of issues. … All he’s getting from Luke is sarcasm. That’s his only defense. We’re trying to make it lighter and if you guys have never read a book, that you pick it up and you get it. We have to make sure every issue’s a new entry issue for a new reader.”

A question came up for Tynion about the potential of “Red Hood and the Outlaws.”

“With those three characters, you can tell any kind of story,” said Tynion. “It makes sense to do any of those stories with these three characters because they’re best friends and they can access all kinds of genres. … They’re also in such a formative state — they’re all screw-ups in a way and they’re trying to figure out what their future is, so I get to usher them a few steps down the road. When [DC] came to me and asked me about it, I definitely had a big, crazy idea. We’ll see when I get to do that specific story that I originally came in for, because the way everything got set up, they had a different launch point for me, but yes, I love these characters.”

When going through the design process for the new Batwing, Palmiotti said he pitched the suit as “What if Mac designed a Batman suit?” “When we were getting the first sketches back, they kept putting armor [on it],” he said. “I wanted it to be lean and mean. They fell in love with some neck armor, and the idea of the series was that Luke is modifying it, so it’ll eventually get to lean and mean.” The writer stated that he loved “Batman Beyond” and that a fan who made the connection between the structure of “Batwing” and “Batman Beyond” wasn’t the first to have done so.

Wrapping up, Tynion spoke briefly about the current status of Jason Todd and where he’ll be going in the series moving forward. “Right now, we’re seeing him stripped down and examining his life from a third-person perspective,” said Tynion. “That’s where we’re going, but I think Jason — the Jason of today is different than the one that initially showed up so angry that Bruce did not take down the Joker after he died. This is not the same Jason that came guns-blaring into Gotham. He’s having to make decisions about what kind of hero he wants to be, or even if he wants to be a hero. He’s driven to wear the mask, but he has to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up. He’s doing what a lot of people in their early 20s do, he’s trying to figure out where his life is going to go from here.”

The final question was for Tynion’s interpretation of Starfire in the New 52. “I definitely want to strike a balance. I want to make it true to what has been established in the New 52, but I wanted to bring out all the elements of Kory that made me fall in love with the character to begin with — her incredible passion. … I love seeing her go to the extremes and I love the character and I’m thrilled to have a chance to work with her.”

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