DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee looked right at home sitting at a table signing copies of the recently released “Batman Noir: Hush” — a black-and-white edition of the best-selling Dark Knight tale illustrated by Lee and written by Jeph Loeb. Despite spending his days mostly on the more business and editorial side of things lately, Lee’s at-heart creator mentality always shines through at events like Batman Day, the worldwide celebration of one of the world’s most popular heroes.
During this year’s celebration, Lee spent his Saturday afternoon at the Barnes & Noble at The Grove in Los Angeles, participating in a fun one-on-one panel with DC All Access host Jason Inman. As an audience watched and listened, Lee revealed the secrets of his custom-made Adam West-era Batman costume, before signing copies of comics and trades for fans.
Wearing a Batman T-Shirt and partaking in a special Batman Day snack provided by gourmet cupcake bakery Sprinkles, Lee spoke with CBR News about the Caped Crusader celebration, the release of the long awaited “Batman: Europa,” a return to “Al=Star Batman and robin,” and the monumental decision to credit Bill Finger for his contributions in the creation of the Dark Knight.
CBR News: There was some huge, huge Batman news recently about the decision to include Bill Finger’s involvement with the creation of Batman. How did this decision finally come about?
Jim Lee: There’s some behind-the-scenes kind of maneuvering that I can’t really talk about, but I can say that it’s something that was overdue. We’ve always acknowledged his contributions to the Batman mythology. Getting it down on paper and getting it in the credit and taking care of the estate and everything — that in itself is a separate, more complicated thing, but it’s been in the works for a long time. We’re just happy that it came about. He’s getting the credit he deserves, and I think this is a huge win for Batman and a huge win for the fans and creators. We’re really excited for the decision that was made.
The first Batman Day arrived last year as a celebration of the Dark Knight’s 75th Anniversary. Why bring it back this year?
Because it was so successful and so massive. I think people want to celebrate Batman every single day, and now we give them the ability to focus and save their energy and deliver it all at once with other people in a controlled environment that’s safe and healthy.
[Laughs] We have a lot of great things that we gave to retailers — free comics, temporary tattoos, posters, masks, there’s a huge sale on Batman-related merchandise — so here’s your opportunity to get together with all the people that are Batman fans and celebrate arguably the greatest superhero in the world. I think it’s just good to have something that acknowledges your passion and love for something. It’s great that it’s also international.
Is this almost like picking Batman’s “birthday?” The day we’ll celebrate yearly?
It’s not necessarily his birthday, because we changed the date from last year. Eventually, we’d like to settle on one day, I think. But it really is about the opportunity to give people a day to let their Batman Flag fly.
Batman is a character you are most definitely familiar with — you’ve worked on him quite a bit, and you’ve also got more stuff coming up with the release of “Batman: Europa,” which has been in the works for some time.
Yeah, I turned in some pages yesterday. It’s over 10 years in the making, some would say. It’s a great story that Brian Azzarello worked on with Matteo Casali. It was something that came out of the yearlong stay I had in Italy years ago. I just wanted to work with European creators and focus on a story where we took Batman out of Gotham City, put him in some real-world cities and run him through cities you might not necessarily have seen him in before — a kind of international espionage story focusing on Batman and Joker and some new characters. It’s a real interesting story, and it really showcases a different aesthetic that you might necessarily have been, if you’re an American fan, exposed to. A lot European comics are painted and just have a different sense of pacing. You’ll see all of that come together in this project. It’s not just Batman in Europe, but different in the tonality and the approach to storytelling itself.
We’ve seen you draw the Joker in different ways, from his appearance in “Hush” versus “All-Star Batman and Robin.” How are you approaching him in this story?
It’s more of a throwback to the early version of the Joker — really long chin, really long nose, more of a skeletal physique. Right now, the way I draw Joker is dialed back a lot. [The story] is laid out by Giuseppe Camuncoli, and I wanted to stay true to the spirit of what was created rather than update it. It’s classic Batman, not “New 52” Batman, and it’s just a kickass story featuring Batman and Joker and a fantastic, international backdrop.
In still more Batman news, D”ark Knight III” is also coming out this year. This was a surprise to a lot of people that this is happening. There’s excitement, but also trepidation, because “Dark Knight Strikes Again” wasn’t as well-received as “Dark Knight Returns.”
I’ll tell you that I like “Strikes Again.” It was different in approach and aesthetic from “Dark Knight Returns.” What’s interesting about “DKIII: Master Race” is that it takes those two chapters that might feel a little incongruous, and pulls them together. It really takes that first act and second act, and weaves the two together to thematically bring the entire saga to a really great close.
It’s a story about Carrie and Batman, but also picks up on Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter and all the Kandorians and what happened to Ray Palmer. In “Strikes Again,” [Frank Miller] really expanded the world, and [“DKIII”] takes that and brings it back, and brings some nice closure to things that were brought up in the very first volume.
With this new Frank Miller “DKIII” story and you getting back to “Europa,” what about the conclusion to “All Star Batman & Robin?”
What’s great is that Frank is super excited to be working in comics again. This is not going to be his last project for DC. I would love to get back on [“All Star Batman & Robin”] and close it out. He’s got a great ending to the story and a really cool final scene that was described to me that is just classic.
You know, when I worked on “All Star Batman & Robin,” I was just coming off of maybe four or five years of just working on Batman, and I just kind of hit a wall with it. But now that I’ve taken a break from it — and certainly while working on “Batman: Europa” — it’ll be kind of cool to jump back on and finish out. At the end of the day, you really want a nice trade and collection edition that tells the whole story, and I would love to finish that. That’ll be fantastic.