As the series by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino has built the shadowy war between original vampire Andrew Bennett and his former lover/newly crowned vamp queen Mary, the bloody path cut by Mary’s undead army has pointed towards the Dark Knight’s home turf. Starting in this week’s issue, Andrew’s ragtag team of vampire hunters will grow by leaps and bounds as new secrets and new battles are revealed in “I, Vampire’s” pages, and since Batman plays a critical role in the proceedings, there’s no better way to celebrate it than by shining the spotlight of CBR’s THE BAT SIGNAL on the book. That’s right, it’s a double dose of Batman coverage this week!
Below, Fialkov explains how bringing Batman into his book changes the series forever including new details on how the Dark Knight will be tested by an army of bloodsuckers, the ways in which Andrew Bennett will face his own inhumanity in the war to come and how the entire affair opens up the book to even more DCU action, starting with the Justice League Dark.
CBR News: Joshua, Batman showing up in “I, Vampire” is very much in the vein of an old school kind of DCU crossover. And though you’ve done a lot of work for different publishers, we haven’t seen you do as many “Now I’m going to write in the marquee names” kind of stories like that. Did that kind of story hold a lot of draw for you? Is there a part of you that just loooooooooves some Batman?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I do love Batman! I think as a character, he is the model. When you go back and look at all the Golden Age stuff and how that stuff grew into the Silver Age on through to the Modern Age, Batman is actually the role model. Batman is where Spider-Man comes from and where the Marvel Age of Comics finds its origins. And that’s because he’s the first character where the flawed man inside the costume is the reason the costume exists. It’s internalized. Even the other darker characters from that era — I’m a huge Golden Age Sandman fan, but Wesley Dodds is just fighting crime because he’s bored! [Laughs] His entire motivation for becoming a hero in those old comics is, “Well, I’m a rich person. And I have this cool gun. I should probably go fight crime!” Meanwhile, Batman has a core motivation that’s really powerful and effective. It helps from a writing standpoint and from a character standpoint to know where he’s going to end. Every decision he makes comes back to “I stood by and watched my parents die, and I couldn’t do anything about it.” Everything stems from that, and it creates a character who’s recognizable and understandable in a really simple, iconic way that I don’t think a lot of other characters have — including Superman.
Superman is an alien who loves truth, justice and the American way. That is such an abstract concept to the average person. But “I lost someone I love, and I feel responsible for it?” That’s something that anybody can pick up and understand. And that’s the stuff as a writer if you look at my creator-owned work like “Echoes” or “Tumor,” that’s all at the heart of what I do. I write about people who have made mistakes trying desperately to make up for them. I don’t know what that says about me personally. [Laughter] Maybe I’m wrong when I assume that everybody feels that way, but I think everyone can relate to that. There are things we’ve all done in the past where we’re not evil or malicious, but there are moments in our lives where we’ve missed the opportunity to do something special, meaningful or important. We all relate to that idea, and that’s what makes a great character.
That’s why Batman, above all else, has always been a successful character. No matter what you do to him — Adam West included — he still works and still stands up. I love writing him a lot from that standpoint. And hey, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. Show me a kid from the ’80s and ’90s who doesn’t think Batman is awesome! It doesn’t exist. And that continued through to now. [Scott] Snyder is killing it on that book. Grant [Morrison] has done a great job. Everyone brings their best to writing Batman, and it’s a big challenge.
And as dark as some of my stuff has been, I love superheroes. I have an entire bookshelf filled with nothing but DC Archives, Showcase Presents and Marvel Essentials. Those comics — the Silver Age and Golden Age stuff — reverberate with me in a way that few other things do. It’s the same way I feel about Kurt Vonnegut books.
The last time we discussed “I, Vampire,” you spoke about building the whole concept of the book issue-by-issue and letting the world build itself up. Last month, we saw the DCU start to encroach in on the vampire war with the appearance of Constantine. How does that kind of collision get bigger when it’s Batman that you’re bringing in to the series? It seems like it’s hard to write a story with that character where he doesn’t automatically become the most important thing in the book.
It is really hard. But it’s funny, because the whole hook of the book is that every issue is told through a different character’s point of view. And because of that, I couldn’t use Batman’s point of view. The two issues are not told through his eyes. It’s funny to write Batman where you don’t get to hear everything he’s thinking. When you take away all that internal monologue, he’s so abstract. He’s so insular and inside himself that everything he does is almost incomprehensible to normal people.
So I look at that, and I try to find a way in the book to answer every question people have. I’ve talked to readers of the book, and they wonder, “Well, how have there been these vampires around attacking five cities, and the superheroes haven’t just swung in to stop it?” The thing is that there were five attacks, and then the vampire just disappeared. And you’re living in a world in the DCU where there is crazy, crazy stuff going on literally constantly. So yeah, a thousand people disappeared last night. How is that any different from any other day in the DCU? [Laughs] And that jump of logic is what I get to show with Batman. The idea is that a train pulls into Gotham, and there’s nobody on it. All you can see is blood swatches everywhere. For Batman to make a leap and go, “Clearly vampires have done this!” is crazy. Batman has seen everything — all the awful things that regular people can do. So in that way, he’s totally unprepared for this.
We’ve got a story where the great tactician doesn’t know what the hell he’s looking at when he catches Andrew Bennett. Batman pins him to the ground, and Andrew just turns to mist and says, “What are you doing?” I hope it gives you this moment of Batman actually being beyond his depth.
Thematically, how does this story fit into the larger city? When Mary, the Queen of Vampires, left the clue for Andrew to follow, she just drew a giant bat on the wall. That iconography of vampires and of Gotham’s hero really synch up in a way that makes me wonder why we haven’t seen a lot more Batman vampire stories (though we’ve seen some).
Look, I’m telling a gothic romance. And when you’ve got a city that is literally the gothic capital of this fictional universe, it’s a great location to play with. Gotham is a place where people disappear. Gotham is a place where the fact that there’s a group of vampires killing people and building up their army every night can essentially go unnoticed — even by Batman. Not even he can stop all the murders and deaths in his city. Not even Batman and the 20 members of his family can stop everything bad from happening in Gotham. The idea is that the city has it’s own hidden side. Combine that with vampires living this lie as bottom feeders…I mean, where is there a better place to be a bottom feeder than Gotham City? It’s all really natural. If I was going to use a proper superhero in the book rather than Constantine who’s an anti-superhero almost, Batman was the one to go to.
And you mentioned last time having discussed your ideas with “Batman” writer Scott Snyder, and this concept of Batman being out of his depth due to something hidden in Gotham seems like a thematic link between the two series. Were you looking to kind of synch them up even in terms of the ideas at play?
The reality is that it’s tough because we’re each telling our own story in different ways. But what Scott’s doing with “Batman” is, like you say, telling a story where the guy who you can never put in a corner gets put in a corner. And that’s such a compelling thing. Batman is never overwhelmed. He can handle anything that’s thrown at him, so the idea of putting him in a situation where he can’t readily win is great. We’ve established the idea that vampires can not only turn into monsters but also into mist. And Batman doesn’t kill. So how does Batman fight a vampire? You can’t handcuff them! [Laughs] That idea is so much fun to me because I’ve found a way to screw with Batman. I’ve put him in a corner, and whenever you’re trying to tell a great story, the question you ask yourself is “What’s the worst thing I can do to this character? What’s the thing he’s most unprepared for?”
There’s a great moment in issue #5 where Batman has basically figured out what’s going on, and he goes after Andrew. He shows up like “I’m Batman. I’m in charge. I’ve got it all.” And then he realizes, “I’ve got nothing compared to the power this thing has, let alone an army of these things.” But luckily, Batman is very much a team player, and if you remember, he showed up in that first issue of “Justice League Dark.” So thankfully, he can call in those guys for a crossover in issue #7 and 8.
The other kind of general connection between Batman and Andrew is the idea of Batman as a character in the aristocracy. He’s a dark and brooding rich guy. Did you get a chance to play with that at all?
The problem — which is again a funny problem because it’s what I like about the book — is that with the point of view being locked in, we don’t get to go too deep into Batman’s life. We don’t get to see the Bruce Wayne side of him. Batman’s other life is a facade. It’s not real. And for Andrew, his honor is what drives him. The idea of his society stature and the honor of it is the hallmark of the character. So what you get to see is two guys trying to do the same thing in totally different ways. Andrew realizes that some things need to be put down. The vampires are wild dogs, and they need to be put down. It’s the right thing to do for him. Meanwhile, Batman just doesn’t kill. That’s a drive for him that keeps the two of them connected.
Catching up on Andrew’s world as he steps into Gotham, we just recently saw him kill this more tortured vampire. The standout there was the idea where Andrew has control of his vampire powers and thinks that others can control them too. He learned the hard way that wasn’t so, and then learned that this guy is the father of Tig, a young lady who just joined the slaying band. How do all those threads start to snowball coming up in the series?
What I wanted to show in that issue and what I think worked about it is the idea that power corrupts. So as Andrew comes up against Mary, who’s become the scion of the vampires, he has to get stronger and become more savage. He has to essentially become more powerful. What you’ll see when the Justice League Dark shows up is that magic gets involved, and he’s put in a position where he’s given considerably more power to fight the battle he has to fight. And at the end of the day, Andrew has an animal inside. He has that same monster that Tig’s dad had. It becomes a question of “At what point does power overwhelm the good man inside?” That’s sort of the thesis statement of the second half of the first year on the book.
And to bring it back to Batman, that’s really the idea he struggles with too. You’ve seen it explored with “Identity Crisis” and the Brother Eye stuff — this idea that when Batman is so powerful by nature of the web he’s woven around himself, he becomes too powerful. Again, a lot of what I’m doing in “I, Vampire” I think is birthed from the brilliance that is Batman as a character. It’s funny to realize how much we owe to Bob Kane and company for having created him. He redefines the dark places a hero can go. Most of the Golden Age stuff is really light, but from the moment they say that Bruce’s parents were killed, all the darkness is in there with Batman.
So the series as a whole has been building towards this confrontation between Andrew and Mary, but I highly doubt that they’re going to meet up in Gotham and then everything will be settled. What can you say about the turn that comes with issues #5 and 6 that propels the book into that next phase?
Once Batman knows that there’s a vampire army and that army is planning to destroy the world, then everyone else knows. Batman is the point of demarcation for superheroes knowing about the war, and that really defines the two sides in the conflict. For me, the Justice League are going to be there in the book and trying to keep a lid on the whole thing, but really, this is a global pandemic. There are vampires everywhere. There are thousands and thousands of vampires. And at the end of the day, all those vampires are connected to Andrew. A good amount of them are his kin. They’re all his children or grandchildren in some way. So having Batman know that this guy is the taproot of vampirism on earth-Â and through that we’ll get to see the origins of vampirism on earth and why Andrew is good and all that stuff — essentially brings the battle between Andrew and Mary to a head. That’s what Batman does: he cuts to the quick and gets things moving.
So this is the beginning of a transformation for the book. I look at all ongoing series as having a challenge. The problem can be that you get locked into a formula for what you’re doing. I want the formula here to be constantly changing. By the end of issue #6, the book is a totally different book. By the end of issue #8, the book is a totally different book. And for me, the difference between writing this and Superman, Batman, Green Arrow or any of the other established characters is that I can do whatever I want. Not all the characters in this book make it through, and those that do make it suffer greatly for it.
“I, Vampire” #5 is in comic shops this week from DC Comics.