For “Batman Beyond,” the future is now.
Greenlit by DC Comics after the last spinoff mini inspired by the futuristic animated series starring young Dark Knight proved a sales hit, the latest comic book adventure of Terry McGinnis landed in stores this week, as well as online in DC’s digital comics store. The latest day-and-date run from a major publisher, the ongoing monthly “Batman Beyond” reunited the miniseries team of writer Adam Beechen and art team of Ryan Benjamin and John Stanisci with Dustin Nguyen on covers. Once again, the comic drew in influences both from the TV series and the modern DC Universe. Although unlike the “Hush Beyond” arc that hit last year, the ongoing series is tapping into the animated show’s cast in some surprising ways.
In the latest installment of our ongoing interview series THE BAT SIGNAL, CBR News spoke to Beechen about how the response to the last series led him to approach the ongoing, what audience he hopes to hit with an immediate digital release, how the supporting cast of “Batman Beyond” will play an integral role moving forward and which members of the futuristic Justice League once featured in the TV show will find new roles in this animated/comics hybrid month after month.
CBR News: Adam, the last time we spoke you had just learned that “Batman Beyond” would extend to an ongoing thanks to the sales on the miniseries. Now, as the ongoing is debuting, DC has sprung the news of a simultaneous digital release. Is the support for this franchise from the publisher a kind of constant surprise for the creative team?
Adam Beechen: You know, I didn’t know about the digital thing until I woke up [Wednesday] morning and got a note from our editor saying he had surprising and good news. [Laughs] So I’m as surprised and delighted by it as anyone else. If it helps get the book out to a wider audience, I’m all for it. To be one of the books at the forefront of the day-and-date digital release strategy is quite an honor. I’m elated that DC has faith in the book and a lot of faith in us to put it together. We’ll do our best not to let anybody down.
One of the reasons cited for the day-and-date move was the fact that “Batman Beyond” was a popular show with a wide audience, so the comic might attract some people not hitting the comic shop every Wednesday. As you’re writing the stories, is that something you keep in mind?
Yes. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re one of the rare books that draws an audience from multiple sources. That’s a big responsibility. We’ve got to try and keep comic book readers happy. We’ve got to try and keep people who maybe only saw the animated series happy. We’d love to keep both happy. It’s a fine line we walk between how much we draw exclusively from the series, how much we connect with the DC Universe and how much we cross over between the two.
Before we get into the specifics of the story, I wanted to ask about the structure of the book. You’ve mentioned the format for the ongoing series will include some three-issue arcs. In a way, that feels very much like the three-act structure of an animated show (which you’ve got experience writing). At the same time, there must be a bit more in terms of characters and dialogue you can fit into the panels of a comic page than TV run times allow for. How do you play those off each other?
Your point about three-act structure is really well taken. We do look at our three issues as having a distinct beginning, middle and end, but each of those individual issues also has to have a progression in and of themselves of beginning, middle and end. So it’s like putting the three-act structure within the three-act structure. You’re always conscious of where you want the larger story to end up, but at the same time you’ve got to structure and pace the issues in a way that will give the reader a sense of progression of story. Every event on the page has to further that story, and you want to leave them with a sense at the end of the first two issues that there’s every possible reason to come back for the finale. It is a bit of a structural juggling act, but hopefully it adds layers of complexity and interest to the story as you go along.
Let’s talk about the Justice League appearance. The first miniseries played more towards the printed version of the DCU with the mystery of Hush as the concept. Was your first impulse for the ongoing to turn that back towards the cartoon and see what you could use from there?
A little bit. We wanted to touch on more of the world of the animated series as we went into the ongoing because we hadn’t had the chance to do that too much in the mini. We were trying to reach the comic book audience. Now we want to really pull in the people who loved the animated series, and the Justice League episodes of the show are some of its best and provoked a lot of the strongest reaction. The characters are very cool, and we don’t know a whole lot about them. This is a chance to broaden the scope of what “Batman Beyond” is all about and show how the other heroes of this world relate to Batman. There’s a lot of potential with these characters, and we wanted to introduce them early on in the game so that we can go back to them and make it that Batman and the Justice League cross paths every once in a while.
Warhawk played a big role in the action of #1, and we’ve gotten a taste of the other Justice Leaguers. Were there any specific characters there that you felt worked well with Terry in the cartoon that you’ll gravitate to later on?
I think of the members of the Justice League as we see them in this storyline, the one that’s most interesting to me — and they’re all interesting — but the one that’s most interesting to me is Aquagirl. The episodes hinted so strongly in the past that there’s a real connection between Terry and Aquagirl, and that’s a lot of fun to play with. Of all the people on the Justice League, she’s probably the one he relates to the best, the one who understands him the best and the one he has the most natural connection to. So while the Justice League and Batman may come into contact with one another, Aquagirl is the one who bridges that gap.
You’re also using a lot of the show’s supporting cast, from Dana to Terry’s mom and brother, and you’re changing things up with them in certain ways. Matt is graduating from elementary school, which allows you to incrementally move the world forward. What’s the big plan for Terry’s personal life? Do you want to shake things up, or is that just a solid base to build adventure stories off of?
I think it’s probably more the latter than the former, although there’s a lot of room to play with the supporting characters in the cast. We’ve got a lot of plans for [Terry’s friend and confidant] Max coming up. We’ve got a lot coming up with Dana that’s really important. And just as we’ve found out stuff about them that will be really exciting in the long term, we’re finding stuff out with Mary and Matt that can be just as rewarding. We want to make sure they have roles to play that further Terry’s personal story.
Let’s talk about the broader plans for the series, then. The miniseries ended with some conclusive resolution to the Hush issue, but we also had Dick Grayson walking away without responding to Bruce’s call. We’ve got Catwoman on the scene, now. Are those elements you’ll be returning to in terms of a longer ongoing story?
Most definitely. Dick is now firmly entrenched in the world of our series, and we don’t intend to let him go or have him disappear for as long as he had in the past. He’s very important to the story we’re going to tell moving forward. Catwoman we think is a nice addition to Batman’s rogues gallery, as it were, and the dynamic that she has with Terry is nice and different than the relationships he has to his other enemies. She’s more of a “frienemy,” I guess, and there’s a lot to play with there. We’ve got a lot of other characters to get back to first, but that’s not to say Catwoman won’t be showing up again. She just might not have the major focus that she had in the miniseries for a while in the ongoing yet.
We know that next up for the book is Terry in direct conflict with the Justice League, but what we don’t know for sure is the real mindset and goals of our new Matter Master villain. How will he develop over the rest of this arc?
Well, I think the confusion we see in that character after he crashes in the mall is a big part of that story. This was not what he was expecting. The powers I don’t think are what he was expecting. You’re looking at a guy who started out with a very simple mission, and now so many things have converged against him that he’s got to think on the fly, and it may not necessarily be what he’s best at. When a character gets the kind of power that Carson Jatts gets all of the sudden, he doesn’t really know how to best use it, and a lot of things go wrong — very wrong. We’re going to explore the consequences of that in the remainder of this arc. They may not be what Jatts is expecting or what he wants, but by the same token, they may not be what Batman and the Justice League want, either. This is a lot of really deadly power out in the world right now, and when it’s not used properly a lot of bad things can happen.
Another thing that stood about the end of the miniseries, which brings up questions for the ongoing, was the kind of off-hand comment Terry makes about Superman when talking to Bruce Wayne. Is that a hint that we may be seeing some other families from the DCU or folks who wear an S-Shield in this series’ future?
Absolutely. We have some plans for that — not specifically Superman, necessarily, but we’re going to see Terry in a lot of different environments, and we’re going to see him interacting with characters that are going to be familiar for longtime readers of the DCU. Iconic characters. And, of course, we’re going to see him interacting with characters as we go along from the established animated series. But we definitely want to tie into the established DCU, and we’ve got a pretty fun story on that front coming soon.
Something that stood out about Catwoman from the last arc was the fact that Ryan was able to design a new look for a character from the past of DC. Are you coming in to some of these updated icons with ideas for costume concepts, or do you just let him run wild with it?
I didn’t with Catwoman, and I was really happy with what he came up with. It was a great look. But Ryan and I did a signing together in November in Las Vegas. We sat down to talk about that storyline I mentioned where Batman interacts with some of the iconic members of the DC Universe in his time period, and we talked a lot about the particulars of those characters including the costumes. While I haven’t seen anything in particular yet, if we’re on the same page, I think this will be pretty cool.
We’re really psyched at the support from DC, and we’re glad we were able to keep the whole team together with Ryan, John and David [Baron as colorist] and Dustin on covers. I think that all of us continuing to do this provides for great continuity, and hopefully we can plant some seeds for long term stories and get a chance to bring them to fruition.
“Batman Beyond” #1 is in stores now and on sale online from DC Comics.