While the current arc on DC Comics signature “Batman & Robin” series currently carries the ominous title “Batman And Robin Must Die!” the Dark Knight is in better shape than ever as he barrels down on a November-relaunch that will see the entire Bat-line reinvigorated with new talent, new titles and new Batmen.
But before the next phase of caped crusadering hits Gotham City, CBR’s ongoing discussion of the entire world of Wayne – THE BAT SIGNAL – swings back into the spotlight with a special two-part discussion with the mind behind the biggest moves in Batman’s world: Grant Morrison. From his initial “Batman & Son” story that introduced the world to 11-year-old assassin turned dynamic Robin Damian Wayne through the twisty turns of the psychological sci-fi mystery of “Batman R.I.P.” and from the #1 smash hit “Batman & Robin” to the current time-travel epic “The Return of Bruce Wayne” (whose penultimate fifth issue is in stores today), Morrison’s work has redefined the Dark Knight for a new era, and he’s not done yet.
In part one of our discussion, the Scottish scribe looks back at the biggest hits and darkest mysteries of his first phase of the current “Batman” time period, including the roots of “R.I.P.” and its inspiration for the current “Batman & Robin” arc’s focus on the Joker, the ongoing question of who or what exactly is uber-villain Doctor Hurt and how a multitude of influences and iconic images have helped shaped the mythic story of “Return of Bruce Wayne” as it heads towards its conclusion and collides with the modern day world of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne.
CBR News: Grant, throughout your “Batman” run, one thing that has gained a lot of attention is its unpredictable nature thanks to the fact that the story seems to be constantly growing and changing as you write it. I understand that all the way back to the beginning, the “Batman of Zur-En-Arrh” conceit originated as part of your “All Star Superman” pitch. How did that particular idea start to grow into what became “R.I.P.” and how has that growth affected your view of Batman?
Grant Morrison: I guess it came basically from me doing my research and reading a bunch of old Batman comics I’d ignored over the years, like the ’50s stuff and the sci-fi stuff. That one in particular -Â I’m just a sucker for different versions of costumes and different colored costumes. I just get a kick out of that. So when I saw this Batman that was red and purple and yellow, it just seemed like a really interesting visual – it was so wrong for Batman! The idea suddenly popped into my head “How can you make this so right? How can you tell a story where that could almost be justified again?” Just by looking at that ludicrous costume, it kind of cracked open Batman a little bit. It allowed me to think, “What if he wasn’t the grim avenger or the Dark Knight? What if he was on earth as this crazy Batman of Zur-En-Arrh?” It gave me another look into the whole character, really – kind of a way to escape from the more gloomy, brooding Batman over Gotham kind of stuff. And I liked that stuff, but I just wanted to open it up to other influences.
You’ve talked a lot about how the current “Batman & Robin Must Die!” arc is in a lot of ways a flip on the story structure of “Batman R.I.P.” How does revisiting that structure at the end of what is your “second act” with the Bat-Universe bring all the elements you’ve been playing with back into focus?
It did kind of seem good to come in that way. I knew that Doctor Hurt was out there, and I wanted to finish that story. That had been such a big part of my “Batman” story, and I wanted to bring it to a big conclusion. And I knew the Joker would probably have to come back because he’d promised to kill all the members of the Black Glove and Doctor Hurt, and I figured Batman and Robin would be caught up in the middle. That sort of got the idea thinking, “This is a lot like ‘R.I.P.’ anyways, but let’s play up the more farcical elements of it to suit ‘Batman & Robin.'” So in “Batman And Robin Must Die!” it’s all kind of upside down. It’s not really a Batman story. It’s a Joker story. Batman and Robin are kind of back on the wrong foot because Batman was a little more controlling, and you see Robin in a coffin.
It did seem appropriate to kind of twist it at the end – to make it a bookend of those stories with Doctor Hurt in a way that ties into his character – the idea of this demonic specter, the black mask, the Satanic rite. It’s a really interesting way of turning that upside down too tied in with the Professor Pyg character who also talks about “the topsy turvy world” and upside down things. Remarkably that all fell into place. These were things almost handed to me that made the story themselves. I didn’t have to think too much.
One of the things that struck me about “R.I.P.” and the Doctor Hurt thread as a whole is that it’s a kind of anti-mystery. It’s not like a “locked room mystery” like we saw in issue #700, that has pieces of evidence all pointing to a logical conclusion that let’s us figure out the plot. You’ve talked about the stories making readers more interactive with the series, but how hard is it to play up those elements without making it about guessing the plot or the identity of the villain and more about guessing the why of it all?
I think the readers have kind of done that themselves. I tried to obviously direct people into the gaps and the spaces, and the whole thing with Doctor Hurt was that he was “the hole in things.” That’s how he describes himself. We see him in the form of this missing painting and as this gap in the story. Like you say, it isn’t really a mystery because we kind of knew the guy was there since the Black Glove. We knew Doctor Hurt was the Black Glove, but who is Doctor Hurt? Is he the Devil? Is he Bruce’s father? Is he some other person? I wanted to do that so people would engage with it and talk about it. And they really did. Everyone came up with their own ideas, and I love that about that particular character. He is that kind of empty space in the story that people can plug their own imaginations into. At the same time it comes to an end now, so we learn a lot more about him, but I did want to keep a little bit of that ambiguity in there because that’s what he’s all about.
Well, a lot of theories have come out online over the past few months, and a lot of them have dug into their own “Batman” collections for ideas. Some folks have pointed to this character of Thomas Wayne. Have you seen anybody who’s gotten it right in terms of what we’re going to learn about Doctor Hurt?
Oh yeah! Of course people have got it right because these are smart people who have been studying all their old “Batman” comics. The mystery of who he is isn’t really a mystery. I’ve given it away several times in “The Return of Bruce Wayne,” and we’ve set him up to be potentially several different people. It ties into the old Bob Haney stories where Bruce had this twin brother who was confined to Wildwood Asylum. What we’ve now revealed is that Wildwood is the psychiatric military hospital, which is basically Arkham Asylum before it became Arkham Asylum again in recent Batman continuity. It kind of wrapped up everything into this. The fans have been following all these threads so that everyone who’s made a guess is right basically. [Laughs] There are a few streams and tributaries that feed into what Doctor Hurt actually is, but most people got at least one part of it right.
In the most recent issues – from Frazer Irving’s “Batman & Robin” splash page that was an homage to David Mazzucchelli’s work in “Year One” to the use of the pearls and the gun in “Return of Bruce Wayne” -Â you’ve built the recent stories on this iconic images from Batman’s original myth. And with “Batman” #701 and 702, the character has kind of literally become his own myth in the story. How does that change the character moving in to the final phase of his return?
In terms of “Return of Bruce Wayne,” really that’s what it’s all about. It’s about the myth of Batman, how it came to be and what’s behind it all. Issue #6 wraps that all up, and as you say, I’ve been playing all these elements -Â the pearls, the bullet, the gun -Â which are kind of the themes of Batman as you would themes in music. They’re all running simultaneously and appearing in slightly different forms. We’ll find out why there’s been a theme and what that actually means in “Return” #6. I’ve been trying to play with all of those primal elements of Batman but to give them a much bigger stature and show them, as you say, as the mythic elements of Batman’s existence. There’s a reason why it’s those specific elements, and you see why on the first page of “Return” #6.
On the other side of things, you’ve pulled a lot of influences into “Batman & Robin” that are not those primal elements from the origin of Batman. Images like “Robin, Joker and a crowbar” or even Dick as Batman using the batons he had as Nightwing feel like much more recent pieces of Batman lore to incorporate. What is it for you that kicks a piece of the past into a kind of canonical idea you can pick up on and play with?
I think this all has to do with reading. Obviously, there are things like I’ve picked up a lot of stuff form Peter Milligan’s “Dark Knight, Dark City” series with the Riddler. There are some supernatural elements in that that kind of played into what I was doing, so I thought, “Okay, if there’s any continuity like that it means we can use it.” I tend to use these things that fit into the structure and refer to them because it’s nice to have the endorsement of Batman history to make these things up as well rather than just use bizarre elements that don’t fit the character. I’ve tried to ensure that the bizarre elements at least come from previous history.
And yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff. There’s ’90s stuff and ’80s stuff and ’70s stuff. A lot of people tend to think because they love to focus on these things that there are a lot of Silver Age elements to my stuff, but those are only part of Batman’s vast history. So yeah, we’ve got a few of those things in there as well, but this stuff goes from the earliest Batman right up to quite recently.
Everything is building to a head as “Batman & Robin” wraps and “Return of Bruce Wayne” wraps, and all along there’s been a real sinister element to the proceedings. Superman said in “Return” that Darkseid has somehow turned Batman into a weapon as he travels through time towards this box Hurt has. As this all hits, will it change the tone of your Batman run from that less gritty take you spoke about?
We tended to actually bring all of that to a close. By the time this story ends, we’ve dealt with the furthest out sci-fi Batman I can think of, which is in “Return” #6. It’s almost “Batman meets Jack Kirby.” We’re wrapping up the supernatural and horror elements. The new “Batman Inc.” stuff is very different tonally. This one is really about closing off all those elements. I feel like I’ve taken to the limit with Batman. If I push it any further, he might just become ridiculous. [Laughs] I kind of wanted to take the sci-fi Batman and the supernatural Batman to very natural conclusions so we could move on from there.
Check back to CBR in the days ahead for part 2 of our interview with Grant Morrison where the writer discusses the future of the Dark Knight from the final fate of Darkseid to “Batman, Inc.’s” international manga villains to his remaining connection with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne.