SPOILER WARNING: Some spoilers for “Batman Beyond Universe” #1 lie ahead.
This week at DC Comics, the future is brand new.
For readers not following along with DC’s screen-ready digital first comics, the publisher just kicked off their “2.0” versions of serials in the “Beyond” universe. Established by the 1999 cartoon series “Batman Beyond,” the comics continue the future world where Terry McGinnis has taken over for Bruce Wayne as the guardian of Gotham City. Meanwhile, the original Man of Steel (though a bit more grey) struggles to find his place in a new Justice League.
While the “Batman Beyond” and “Justice League Beyond” serials have been top performers for DC’s digital-first line for a number of years now, new writers Kyle Higgins and Christos Gage (who team with artists Thony Silas and Iban Coello respectively) opted to skip ahead one year in their 2.0 narratives to offer up readers a fresh jumping on point. On the Batman side of the equation, that one year gap meant a major shift in Terry McGinnis’ crimefighting life while the Justice League is marching forward with a Superman whose powers have been going haywire.
CBR News spoke with both writers about the series, and below Higgins and Gage explain how shaking things up in their books have allowed them to take the Beyond Universe in a new direction, why bringing back old “Animated Series” villains is something they’ll do radically but sparingly and how writing for the digital first format has upped their cliffhanger chops to an insane degree.
CBR News: Gentlemen, I assume knowing you guys that you were watching “Batman: The Animated Series” as it was originally on and probably followed right through to “Batman Beyond” for at least part of its broadcast run. What’s your memory of watching the show, and how do your early impressions on the animated series influence what you want to do in these books?
Kyle Higgins: In 1999 when “Batman Beyond” came out, I had been watching all the DC animated stuff before it –Â “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Superman: The Animated Series” and then that fourth season of Batman which had the updated animation style. So I was hooked immediately by the cold open of the “Beyond” pilot where we saw an old Bruce Wayne in his ’40s or ’50s on his final mission out as Batman. His heart gives out, and he hangs up the suit to say “Never again.” We transition from that to 15 years later and see Bruce even older with the cane, and all the relationships and dynamics that I had been a fan of in “The Animated Series” had changed and were different.
At that time, I think the original Batman series was still on the air, so it was a cool back and forth because of all these mysteries that were raised by “Batman Beyond” being around: what happened to the former Robin? What happened to Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon and the Joker? That’s what really kept me hooked even as I fell in love with Terry McGinnis as this kid who is learning to become Batman and screwing up along the way as he’s constantly in the shadow of old man Wayne. It’s a lot of the same reasons I like Nightwing as much as I do. It was like Nightwing in a “Blade Runner” world.
So when it came time for me to take over the book, the first thing I wanted to bring to it was the feeling that I had — that sense of intrigue I got from watching the pilot. That’s where my one-year advancement of time came from as well as the big change in the status quo from the end of Chapter 1.
Christos Gage: I actually wasn’t watching it at the time. That was around the time I was getting married and had a lot going on, so this has been a lot like my exposure to “Buffy” where I’d never seen any episodes of “Buffy” or “Angel” before I got the job writing “Angel & Faith.” I just ended up watching it all in rapid succession — 12 years of TV! And now I’m doing the same thing with “Batman Beyond” through “Justice League” which maintains the continuity of the whole world. And that stuff is just awesome.
But my first exposure to “Batman Beyond” was actually in the comics. I became aware of what it was all about with the first Adam Beechen miniseries, which I really enjoyed. I think it’s a really cool universe on its own. It’s a unique potential future, and now with the New 52, it’s great because there are elements that are a part of this which are no longer part of the current DC Universe like Superman and Lois Lane being married — not that that still couldn’t happen. But it’s kind of its own thing, which I find a lot of fun.
One of the features of the “Beyond” comic stories over the past few years has been the idea that we’re not just seeing a follow up to the animated episodes, but ideas and characters from the regular DCU comics have wormed their way in as well. How much have you guys been playing with those elements or the expectation of what “really happened” in the past as you’ve written your stories?
Higgins: I definitely have. I think Chris probably deals with that more often because your cast is so big.
Gage: Yeah, that’s probably true. What I’ve tried to go by with Alex, our editor, is that you don’t just want to bring in a character for the hell of it. Everyone is always asking, “What happened to so-and-so in the future?” and you don’t want to say, “Here’s Ra’s Al Ghul, and he’s exactly the way he used to be.” You want to put some “Beyond” spin on whatever you use and ask, “If I’m going to bring a character back, why am I doing this? What new approach can we take while staying true to who the characters were?” That’s been my idea. And I haven’t done it yet because we have a pretty big cast, and I wanted to establish that first. But by the end of the story arc we’re telling — within the next couple of chapters –Â we’ll see the return of a classic villain from “Superman: The Animated Series” as well as a new character with a name that fans will remember.
It’s funny because Kyle’s “Batman Beyond” story was structured where the opening chapters make you do a double take and go, “Whoa! What’s going on here?” So I decided to not be repetitive and take an approach where we start out a year later, but the Justice League is in the same general place they were when we last saw them. But by the end of my first arc, hopefully we’ll have that double take reaction.
Higgins: And to the idea of bringing old characters back in a “Beyond” way, I totally agree. Finding a new spin is important. And at the same time, it’s a real fine line we find ourselves walking much like the animated series did. They were very hesitant to bring a lot of characters back because then the story will only be existing on a kind of nostalgia factor. They really pushed themselves to develop for Terry a rogue’s gallery. Obviously, there’s a heavy Spider-Man influence on all the rogues, but they’re not just a bunch of former Bruce Wayne villains. That way, when we do bring a character from the past back, it’s that much more impactful because it’s not something that happens all the time.
Let’s talk about where the characters are when you pick up. This is the world from “Beyond” that readers know, but it’s a little different for each side. Terry is now enrolled in college and has a new roommate and some other personal complications. The Justice League is dealing with Superman feeling his age a little bit through some changes to his powers. What did you want to do in your serials to open these characters up to readers who may not have been following the series before now?
Higgins: The first thing I pitched was the twist at the end of issue #1. That was the big thing for me, and it came out of the idea of “How far can we push changing the status quo?” The stuff with college has the potential to be really interesting as well and drive things in a new direction. I was actually having a conversation with Alex yesterday about how hard it is to find the room to do stuff with the college because of the nature of the book. It’s structured in these ten-page chapters, and we really need some action in each of those, which makes developing subplots trickier.
Gage: For me, I just wanted to make sure that potential new readers got exposed to who everyone was and what’s going on right away. I know the idea of Superman’s powers going out of control is not anything new in comics. We’ve seen that before, but A) it’s not the whole of this story arc and B) as you pointed out, it’s got a bit of a different context for someone who’s getting older. Even Superman doesn’t know what it means for a Kryptonian to get older. He has a decision to make, which is how he’s going to continue on given this situation, and it gave me an opportunity to harken back to when he and Lois were married and they first found out she had this condition that led to her death.
Higgins: So it’s a comedy issue is what you’re saying.
Gage: It is. It’s a laugh a minute! [Laughter] Actually, there is some comedy in it because what ends up happening too along the line is that Superman has been widowed for some time now. In his new civilian identity, he’s a firefighter, and a lady coworker who’s a little younger than him asks him out. Then he’s got to go to the other members of the Justice League and say, “What does somebody do on a date nowadays?” And they all have some different ideas on what that is. I thought it’d be a fun way to give everyone a moment of “This is who this character is” through their idea of what a good date would be. I’ve said this before, but my favorite version is the Wizard Shazam’s because the way Captain Marvel works now is that he’s pretty much time sharing a body with all the members of the Marvel Family. So when Superman goes to talk to Captain Marvel, the Wizard Shazam is in control, and he gets the response of “Dating is a barbaric practice. How big is this woman’s dowry? How many cattle will you get if you marry her?” Superman is supposed to be the out of touch guy, but the Wizard Shazam is 1,000 years old!
Let’s talk about Kyle’s big twist — the positioning of Nightwing in the mentor/command role for Terry. As we’ve seen in the early “Justice League Beyond” chapters, Bruce Wayne has not gone anywhere, so this turn of events is something that will be shared between the two strips. Kyle, tell me about why this new dynamic worked for you and how it ended up impacting all things Beyond.
Higgins: For me, it was a couple of things. First as a fan, a lot of the qualities I like in Terry McGinnis are the same qualities Dick Grayson has. There’s a dynamic there that’s different than the dynamic between Bruce and Terry. While Bruce has always been able to give crimefighting advice, Dick is able to give the working-with-Bruce advice. And he has some empathy for the things Terry has gone through which led to his falling out with Bruce. That’s something we won’t be revealing right away, but we’ll build up to it as the story progresses. I think it’s a different status quo in that Dick respects Terry a little more than Bruce does. That’s not to say that Bruce doesn’t respect Terry, but when you put his feet to the fire, Bruce tends to take over. He has trust issues, and he’s very much an alpha personality. That’s where a lot of the conflict came from between Bruce and Terry. But Dick is someone who’s a lot more open to teamwork. He’s a lot more open to relationships, and even in his hardened, cynical old age, he’s still not nearly as cynical as Bruce. There’s a dynamic we play up there in this first arc, and we’ll see it in the second arc as well.
Gage: And in “Justice League,” we do actually see that Superman is talking to Bruce Wayne via hologram. And because Superman can hear radio signals, he knows Bruce is not talking to Terry anymore. Of course, Bruce doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s very Bruce Wayne about it. So I want to acknowledge that we’re in the same world and the same things are happening, but that specific storyline will be moving forward in “Batman Beyond,” so it’s not like I’m suddenly going to go, “And then this happens” and leave Kyle to deal with the fallout. Though that would be fun in its own way. [Laughter] What you will see is this being reflected. For both Bruce and Terry, the way they’re behaving in “Justice League Beyond” will be informed by this new status quo.
Higgins: And I should mention too because you commented on Dick being the new mentor in Terry’s life, I think that’s true, but I’ve been kind of been approaching it –Â and Terry comments on this at one point –Â is that Dick is a lot more of a partner to Terry. If Bruce was the mentor, Dick is the partner. There’s a lot more back-and-forth between them. Bruce is not out of the book by any stretch of the imagination. He’ll still be around, and you’ll see how he’s taking the news that he’s been pushed out as early as Chapter 3. It’s been a lot of fun, and when we get into what happened between them, fans will respect Terry even more. And it’s not as black and white of a situation as you think either. I don’t mean to paint Bruce in a bad light there. It’s very complex.
Kyle mentioned this a moment ago, but you are both writing this for the digital format for the first time, and that creates some unique storytelling challenges all its own. What’s it like to be coping with this new format when you’re writing stories about a future, technological society?
Gage: We really have to give a lot of credit to our artists who are probably the ones who have to do much more than us on that front. They have to be conscious of the format because from a visual standpoint, they’re trying to tell the story in the most exciting way possible while also saying, “This is being read first on a screen and then is becoming part of a comic page.” So I’ll give all the credit to my artist Iban Coello for doing an amazing job with that.
As far as my take on it goes, at the end of the day I’m trying to tell the best story I can, but there is a degree where the pacing changes. I feel that it’s funny because this is a new medium, but it’s almost harkening back to the old movie serials — the kind of thing Indiana Jones was based on. I’ve tried to model my cliffhangers off that while keeping things character-focused. But really I’ve got to call out the art teams first.
Higgins: Yeah. I think it’s very poetic that the two “Beyond” books are digital first, future device comics. They’re pushing the threshold of storytelling at DC. But as far as my writing process goes, I fully agree with Chris. What Thony Silas has been doing on our side has really changed the way I thought about doing a digital story. In the past, I did a few one-shots for “Masters of the Universe,” but I was still getting the hang of things through the first chapters of “Batman Beyond.” But once I saw what Thony was able to do and how he was breaking the page up, it allowed us to have even more cliffhangers. You don’t just have a cliffhanger every ten pages. You actually have a cliffhanger every half page within the issue since it’s designed to be swipe-driven. In the traditional comic, if you’re writing it on page 2 and you want to put a reveal on page 3, you can write that in. But what happens is that the reader’s eye is going to see it before they’ve read there. So you can only have one true reveal, and that comes on an even page or a page turn. With digital, you can have one with every swipe of a finger. And as far as that translates to the print comic, my pages end up looking like a George Perez comic from 1985…
Gage: Which is AWESOME.
Higgins: [Laughs] Yeah, it is. I haven’t seen the final print version of issue #1, but I feel like it’s going to be pretty dense. When you go to print, every page of the comic is two iPad screens stacked on top of each other, and each of those has three or four panels. So in print, every page has seven or eight panels. It’s more bang for your buck.
To wrap, there have been a few cliffhangers even in the earliest chapters and some mysteries seeded as well from what’s up with Ghoul to what’s up with Superman’s powers. What are the moments coming up that you’re most looking forward to building to in the weekly digital format?
Gage: I’m excited for what may have come out in our solicits: the Phantom Zone showing up. That’s an aspect of the Superman universe I’ve always wanted to explore, and I’m really excited for people to react to the big cliffhanger we hit at the very end of the first arc. But in the meantime, we’re going to have some fun seeing Superman get down and…well, not dirty. Superman doesn’t get dirty. But things are going to get real when his powers go out of whack, and he finds himself more vulnerable than people are used to.
Higgins: I’m excited for the end of Chris’ arc too because I forgot what it was. [Laughs] I kept hearing you talk about it in interviews, and then I finally IMed Alex and said, “What happens at the end?” and when he told me I knew the end of the first “Justice League Beyond” arc was going to leave some jaws on the floor.
For me, the big moment has already happened at the end of the first chapter, but going forward, the reveal of our new villain and how his story plays out in the book is huge. The dynamic between Terry, Bruce and Dick is something I’m excited to play with, and ultimately –Â this is way down the line of course –Â when we get into what happened in the past, there is some stuff that were the first things I pitched. Part of me thought, “There’s no way in a million years DC will let me do this,” but then they approved it the same day.
“Batman Beyond Universe” #1 is on sale in print today from DC Comics. New chapters of the digital stories appear on the DC Comics App