As the recent “Batman” #700 proved, DC Comics’ Dark Knight can cross a lot of boundaries -Â the very least of which are space and time. Yet for all the various futures, pasts and alternate takes the publisher has unleashed for the character, perhaps the most endearing for modern readers comes from the world of animation in the form of “Batman Beyond.”
A spiritual successor to Warner Bros. Animation’s “Batman: The Animated Series,” the 1999 – 2001 cartoon and its follow up “Return of the Joker” movie made the twisted streets of Gotham into a cyberpunk playground as an elderly Bruce Wayne trained teenager Terry McGinnis to be the Batman of the future. Next week, DC brings that property back to life for a longer stretch than has been seen in years with a six-issue “Batman Beyond” miniseries by writer Adam Beechen and artist Ryan Benjamin.
An animation vet himself, Beechen is no stranger to Batman’s world, and so this week, CBR’s ongoing THE BAT SIGNAL centers on the man who’s penned two animated versions of the Dark Knight and a number of comics connected to his world. Below, Beechen describes the ins and outs of writing Batman across media and how he’s bringing his own voice (and a few reimagined villains) to his first ever Batman solo comic project.
CBR News: Adam, it’s pretty fitting that you’ve been tapped to pick up the reigns of “Batman Beyond” since you came to comics by way of animation, and your first gig with Batman was writing an episode of Warner Bros. “The Batman” series. How’d you roll your interest in the Dark Knight into that gig?
Adam Beechen: I worked on “Teen Titans,” and the story editor on “The Batman” was the story editor on “Teen Titans.” He knew what I could do and knew I was a comic book nut, so he brought me in as a freelancer on that show. It was a story they had already planned to do, so they already had the premise pretty much laid out and wanted to know if I could write the outline and the script for it. And I pretty much jumped at the chance to write anything Batman.
Having written Batman in a few different media and circumstances, do you feel like there’s one Batman voice that’s carried throughout the work that you’ve done on TV or in comics?
No, because with the cartoons it’s a little different. If you’re freelancing, you’re working off of someone else’s vision of the show, so your job as a freelancer is to match their tone and their style, and I was trying to write the Batman, in that case, that had already been established for that particular show. I didn’t bring a whole lot to it in terms of my vision, because that wasn’t what I was there for. So I wasn’t able to write “my own” Batman, if you will, until I was working on the “Robin” comic book.
I’s just an example of how pervasive the character and his supporting cast is that you can write plenty of Batman appearances without ever writing a “Batman comic book.”
Correct. I wrote a Batman story that was purely my own in “Legends of the Dark Knight” in which Batman wasn’t even the central character, and that was a lot of fun. That focused on how other people see Batman in Gotham. And in “Robin,” he was a necessary character because of his relationship with Tim Drake, so there are a lot of different ways and approaches and angles to look at Batman, and it was kind of fun to look at the character through some different angles than I had seen traditionally explored for him.
In a way, that’s the whole launching point for the “Batman Beyond” premise. I think I’ve heard the producers of that show speak on how they needed to set this future world up because they couldn’t imagine doing another Batman series after so many years of “TAS.” In a way, when you come in to write the character in this book, you’re getting to continue some of the work you’d done in past comics.
Yeah. I mean, Bruce Wayne in “Batman Beyond” is pretty different from the Bruce Wayne I got to write in “Robin,” but I think there’s a pretty natural way to extrapolate the Bruce I wrote to the Bruce in “Batman Beyond.” You can see how that character would get there and how he’d become this reclusive, cranky, anti-social yet still driven man. You can see how he has this heartbreak in his life that could bring him to this point. So there are definite ties to the future Bruce Wayne in the character that’s being written now. I think it’s a very logical way to take the character. Though, if you’re talking about a way to take the “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” character to “Batman Beyond,” it’s a little bit tougher because “The Brave & The Bold’s” tone is so different. It’s so Silver Age-y and light and fun and goofy. But that’s absolutely appropriate too if you’re telling stories in that style.
Speaking of which, you’ve written a few episodes of “The Brave & The Bold,” including the “Super-Batman of Planet X” episode which was in its way inspired by the fact that Grant Morrison had re-popularized that Zur-En-Arrh stuff in his own Batman run. In that way, it feels like there are connections between the comics and the cartoons still, even if they’re not as direct.
Yeah. That particular “Brave & The Bold” episode was based on a comic that was done in the ’50s, and I think we were referring more to that than what Grant was doing, which was a lot of fun. But you still are able to nod in the animated series -Â even though it’s something as light and goofy as “Brave & The Bold” -Â to something in the comics without it dominating what the story’s all about. That way, fans of the comic book can take something with a little wink and go, “Wasn’t that cool?” because it sort of acknowledged what was happening in the actual comics without being about what was happening in the actual comics.
I know that for now you’ve been having fun keeping the two-word title of the “Batman Beyond” arc secret, but the hook of the story in general is someone tracking down Bruce’s old villains, and that’s an area that the original producers never got too into outside “Return of the Joker” and the odd Mr. Freeze appearance. Was part of your starting block the idea that using those villains was something that wouldn’t have happened in the original run that you had a chance to play with?
Well, I shouldn’t speak for the creators of the animated series, but my guess is that, just as they had reimagined Batman, they were anxious to reimagine what a Batman rogues gallery might be, and they were trying not to separate “Batman Beyond” from the legacy of the comic book but enhance it. That’s why The Jokerz were such a brilliant reinterpretation of what the Joker was all about. And they were able to make the occasional nod to history by bringing back characters like Mr. Freeze.
One of the mandates of this miniseries that Ryan and I are doing was to tie the future, Terry McGinnis version of the character a little bit tighter to the present day continuity of the Batman comics – not in such a way that it’s definitively the future of that character, but in a way that at some later date can allow someone to decide “‘Batman Beyond’ was canon or was not canon.” We’re not definitively saying that in this miniseries, but I think that this ties Terry and Terry’s future a little bit tighter to what Batman’s all about than the animated series did. It just gives DC that option down the road if they want to, so consequently we’re seeing more Batman villains from the comic book history show up in this miniseries than before. We’re also seeing members of Terry Mcinnis’ rogues gallery show up as before. And we’re having old villains from Batman’s past reimagined in whole new ways in the same way that the Jokerz were a reimagining of the Joker.
Were there any specific villains that you thought, “This is a villain I think will definitely survive over the years to make it to the future”?
Of the old villains, it seemed to me that the ones that would be most likely to survive would be the ones that were the least bloodthirsty -Â which isn’t to say the bloodthirsty ones wouldn’t survive, but I think the ones who would be most likely to make it through were the ones that weren’t really all about murder and killing and maiming – the darker ones. So that brings into play characters like Signalman. [Laughs] Some of the goofier ones like that.
Also: there’s one very prominent member of Batman’s rogues gallery that never received any treatment in “Batman Beyond” at all as far as I’m aware, and it seemed like a ripe occasion to reimagine that character for this particular future, and that’s something we’ve had a lot of fun doing.
I hate to be a spoiler sport, but since the solicitations have hit, can I assume it’s Catwoman we’re talking about?
Yes. That’s who I was speaking of. You saw through my clever, clever double talk. I hate solicitations! [Laughter]
Well, there’s still a lot of mystery around this new version, and to me the real dynamic from the original Catwoman was that sexual tension/forbidden romance aspect to her relationship with Bruce. Do you want to shoot for a similar tension for Terry?
What’s pretty funny about that, I think, is that in the book, Terry is very, very aware of that history. So he’s pretty psyched that now he’s got a Catwoman to play with. Whether or not the new Catwoman feels the same way, has the same agenda or knows the same history is a different matter. And that’s part of the fun of the early issues of the miniseries. Let’s just say that Terry’s aware of all the things you’re aware of and is wondering a lot of the same things. “Will this by my Catwoman?” It’s like a tradition that’s been passed down to him, but maybe not everybody’s as into the tradition as he is.
Recently, Grant floated a different possible “Batman Beyond” future in “Batman” #700 with Damian Wayne playing Bruce’s role. Obviously, you won’t be playing that angle, but is there an urge to work in some current story points into the future of this new series be it Jason Todd acting as the Red Hood or any other element of modern continuity?
A little bit. Some of the stuff stays pretty fluid, and you know what elements are open to change more so than others. As far as the basics of “Batman Beyond” the series, we know that Bruce was at one point retired, reclusive and mad at the world, and we know that Terry McGinnis found him and took on the role. We know that those rules apply, but that doesn’t preclude the idea that at some point there was a change in that dynamic. We don’t know how long Terry was Batman and how long Bruce was shepherding him. We know that, within that timeframe, we can mix up things as we want knowing that there is a status quo. Whether or not we do that, I don’t want to get into, but there are fluid elements even to the “Batman Beyond” mythology. What we do inside that is the fun of the story.
I’m sure that your art team will be tweaking those expectations on their end as well.
Ryan Benjamin and David Baron! I saw issue #2 in black and white with the letters just yesterday, and it’s gorgeous stuff -Â just pure Ryan. If you liked Ryan’s stuff before, you’re going to love this, especially with the Batman characters. I’m seeing a little bit of old school Walt Simonson in him, and being a big old school Walt Simonson fan, it’s a real treat.
People are hoping for more seasons of “The Brave & The Bold,” but at this point, do you know if there’s more Batman animation work or comics work in your future, or is “Batman Beyond” the big focus for now?
All my Batman energy is in “Batman Beyond” right now. I’m still working in animation, still doing stuff that is action adventure-y, but I don’t have any stuff going right now with that. If “Brave & The Bold” comes back, I’d love to work on it, but that depends on who’s story editing it. I’ve had a great time writing for that show and would love to continue. It’s a great way to write Batman in a way that most writers don’t get a chance to do anymore or haven’t been in 40 years.
“Batman Beyond” #1 is in stores on June 30 from DC Comics.