While his secret origin isn’t quite as shrouded as Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, James Tynion IV’s road to co-writing back-up features for DC Comics’ bestselling “Batman” is not something you’d find in a textbook. In fact, he was studying from textbooks under Prof. Scott Snyder just a few years ago.
Tynion and his teacher became fast friends, and when the time came for Snyder to enlist the services of a co-writer for the “Night of Owls” back-up features in “Batman,” he turned to his prized pupil.
CBR News connected with the newcomer and learned the secret origin of James Tynion IV, who is also set to co-write the first “Batman” Annual #1 in more than 50 years, what deeply-buried Gotham City secrets he and Snyder plan to unearth in the months ahead and the importance of the Pennyworths to the Wayne family.
CBR News: Have you always been a fan of comics, specifically Batman?
James Tynion IV: I have been a fan of comics for my entire life. I grew up on the “Batman,” “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” animated series, and would pick up random issues of different series whenever I could get my dad to take me to the comic shop. I remember I somehow got my hands on a large chunk of the original “Age of Apocalypse” event and I would read and re-read it obsessively. Those kinds of alternate reality stories were definitely my entry point into mainstream comics, and they stayed my favorite stories for ages.
Ever since I’ve had a car, I’ve picked my comics up weekly, and since I discovered Image, Vertigo, Wildstorm and the like, I’ve been reading every type of comic I can get my hands on.
My all-time favorite writers are probably Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis. But I love the new guard of writers who have popped up in the last few years like Jason Aaron, Jeff Lemire, Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, Nick Spencer, Josh Fialkov, Kieron Gillen, of course Scott Snyder and many others. I think we’re entering a whole new era of comics, and I couldn’t be more excited to be taking a part in it.
I read that you worked for Vertigo Comics at one point. What did you do there?
I was an intern for Vertigo about a year and a half ago, working mostly under the amazing “Fables” editor, Shelly Bond. It’s actually incredible, looking back now, because I still remember handing in and running around all the paperwork and artwork I’m now seeing from the creator-side. I’m just relieved that this time around I don’t have to spend entire days at the copy machine. [Laughs] I really did have an incredible time working in the DC offices and getting the chance to see the work of some of the best artists and writers in the industry coming in day-in and day-out helped push me to re-work my own habits to match a more professional schedule.
You were a student of Scott Snyder’s at Sarah Lawrence. How did your relationship develop beyond teacher-student to where he asked you to co-write the “Batman” co-features with you?
Well, about four years ago, when I studied under Scott, he had just released a short story in a literary superhero anthology called “Who Can Save Us Now?” which was what had drawn me to the class in the first place. During the first weeks of the class, we started talking about how he had been approached by Marvel and DC to write for them, and he told me about the rough concept that he would eventually work into “American Vampire.” We bonded pretty quickly and I started lending him some of my favorite comics, and he started lending me his. By the time the class ended, we were talking a few nights a week, and I was helping him brainstorm for an incredible young adult novel concept that never made it to the page.
The conversations never stopped, and now we’ve become really good friends. We would have long 3 AM conversations about the nature of Batman and what makes a great Batman story. I would also send him my ideas and scripts for different indie comic pitches I threw together and he would critique them and help me walk through transforming them into better stories. It helps that we have very similar sensibilities as writers, and I trust his instinct for story above pretty much anyone else. Being friends with Scott has been the greatest writing master class that I ever could have hoped for.
When the possibility of back-ups began to pop up at the end of last year, Scott asked me if I’d be open to writing them with him. After he spent a half-hour reassuring me that it wasn’t a joke, I said, “Yes,” and that very night we started talking about all the different ways we could approach the back-ups to make them the best they could possibly be.
In the co-features, you and Scott are digging pretty deep into Gotham’s past. What can you share with us about the story?
We’re excited about the opportunity to play in an era of Wayne Manor that has remained virtually untouched during the storied history of Batman. The back-up, “The Fall of the House of Wayne,” is set around 33 years ago, in Bruce’s infancy. We were looking to explore the Waynes when they were roughly the age of Batman himself, and we felt that the best window into that era would be Jarvis Pennyworth. The core concept of the three-part story is the question: “What does Jarvis know about the Wayne Family that Alfred doesn’t?” And the answer draws the Court of Owls into the young lives of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
The art is by Rafael Albuquerque, and the art that’s coming in is gorgeous. I think fans are going to be thrilled by a book that looks this good with the incredible Greg Capullo in the front and Rafael in the back. I’m already getting impatient to get the chance to share this with the comic reading public. But it’s coming up quick.
I love that you are exploring the Pennyworth clan’s history! What makes Alfred who, in title is simply Bruce Wayne’s butler, such an integral part of the Batman mythos? And what can you share about his father, Jarvis Pennyworth?
The Pennyworths are integral to the fabric of Batman and the Wayne Family. In a way, servants tend to be quiet observers, but in the same way that Alfred was extraordinarily close to Bruce and eventually became a surrogate father to him, we’ll see that Jarvis had the same interventionist instincts as a caretaker to the Waynes. There’s a concept at the heart of the story that there’s nothing more dangerous than a Wayne looking to change Gotham City. Alfred has definitely felt the brunt of that danger, but we’ll learn that Jarvis ran into the same kind of intense danger. Certain things are simply inevitable when you’re caring for the Waynes.
Also, Alfred had more of a rebel streak than his father. He was less eager to dive into the family business, but the two men are remarkably similar. The Pennyworths are good men, and it’s been great to add something to their legacy. Alfred is an incredible character, and I’ve started to care deeply for Jarvis as well. I’d love to write further stories with both of them. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Alfred’s early days in Wayne Manor, hasn’t it?
Are there any other classic Bat-family lines explored in the co-features? I, for one, would love to learn more about the Gordon line.
I would love to get my hands on James Gordon, Jr. and help establish him in the New 52 status quo. Scott introduced a phenomenal character last year, and I’m waiting for him to make his next big appearance. There aren’t any plans for that in the backups, though, at least for the moment.
We’re starting to plot out where the backups might go next, but the key thing will always be to add a dimension to what Scott is doing in the feature. We want to expand the story, either by plot, by theme or by character. We want the back-up stories to really act as a complimentary piece to the main story issue-by-issue.
Another project you have forthcoming from DC Comics is “Batman Annual” #1. What can you tell us about the oversized issue and specifically, what can we expect from your take on Mister Freeze – because on Twitter you teased he was to be portrayed as a “Japanese ice cream mascot.”
[Laughs] I think Scott also said something about him getting a sex-change, so you can’t always trust rascally writers with Twitter accounts. We’re keeping Freeze close to his iconic interpretation, but there are definitely going to be a few surprises for Freeze fans. We wanted to expand on the character and tie him in deeper with other major figures in the Bat-corner of the DCU. The story picks up after the events of “Night of the Owls” with Mr. Freeze pushed to the brink after his involvement in that story. Reading it will help add depth to the whole owly affair, but it’s definitely a story that stands on its own legs. We wanted it to work as an introduction to the character and his story first and foremost.
We’re really excited for people to see what we have up our sleeves. And the art from Jason Fabok looks freaking great. I think it’s going to be a great story and Scott and I have been poring over it for weeks. I mean, hell, this is the first time there’s been a “Batman Annual” in quite some time. It was important to everyone that it be a story worthy of that title.
Do you have any other comic book projects lined up at DC, Vertigo or any other publisher?
Nothing I can really talk about just yet. There are a handful of ideas that I’ve been refining and re-working in my spare time for years, and the second I get the chance, I definitely want to bring them into to the world. Comics have been my life for as long as I can remember, and I’m going to be working my ass off these next few months and years to ensure that I can stick in this business as long as possible.
Beyond writing comics, you have another major project in the works, right?
For the most part I’m working on the comics, just working my ass off trying to make sure everything is as good as I can possibly make it. Butt I’m also spending my time on a web-series I co-wrote with my good friend Doug McGinness. The series is called “Shadow Free” and is set in the underground, magical, self-help community of New York City.
We wanted to take different schools of thought on self-betterment and explore them in a universe where magic exists and people know about it, but aren’t sure how it works. And so we have Shadow Free, a small, unlicensed office that operates in the dead of night in New York City.
They offer you the chance to become your ideal self, by creating a magic double shaped by your fears and desires. The only catch is that you have to let your double kill you for the process to work. So the question at the heart of the series is: “What would you give up in order to become your ideal self?”
The first five episodes will run about 25 minutes long, and we’ll be releasing them over the course of March. Folks can check out the trailer for the series on our website , http://www.shadowfreeseries.com and join the Shadow Free community on Facebook.
“Batman” #8, which features the first back-up co-written by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, is scheduled for April 18. “Batman” Annual #1, co-written by Tynion and Snyder, is scheduled for May 30.
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