DC Comics’ ongoing “Batman and Robin” monthly series has spent over two years following Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as the new Batman and Robin, stirring up trouble and taking out bad guys in Gotham City. Though DC’s September relaunch looms ever closer and carries with it the promise of, among other things, the return of Bruce Wayne as the DC Universe’s sole Batman, August’s final issue of “Batman and Robin” is not done putting Dick and Damian through the ringer.
Written by David Hine and drawn by Greg Tocchini with a surrealist cover by Chris Burnham, “Batman and Robin” #26 transplants the Dynamic Duo to France where they must round up escaped insane asylum prisoners with the Francophile’s own Batman, Nightrunner. THE BAT SIGNAL decided to swing its light across the pond to catch a hold of Hine, and the busy British writer gladly answered the call, speaking out about the Nightrunner controversy, surrealism and his thoughts on the last days of Dick Grayson as Batman.
CBR News: All right, I will kick off this interview by admitting I am an uncultured geek — what is the painting the cover for your issue references?
David Hine: There are a number of references. I asked Chris Burnham to get the feel of the surrealist movement as well as elements of Dada. The artists I suggested he look at were Dali, de Chirico, the illustrator MC Escher and of course Magritte. The levitating man in the bowler hat is a recurring motif from Magritte’s paintings. In the most famous example, the man in the bowler hat, known as “The Son of Man,” has an apple floating in front of his face. I asked Chris to replace it with a floating orange as a nod to “A Clockwork Orange.” Also the way the city snaps upwards at a right angle is a reference to a scene in the movie “Inception.” Melted bodies, strange landscapes, mysterious figures, all reflecting the dream imagery and playfulness of the greatest modern art movements.
From that cover it looks like Dick and Damian are in for a fairly trippy adventure. What can you tell us about the story?
This was always intended to be an offbeat story but it ended up being a little more experimental than I thought it would be. I originally pitched it as a longer, multi-part arc, but with the events of September looming, I had to reduce it to 20 pages. I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to do with the French version of Arkham Asylum, known as Le Jardin Noir, and a lot of inmates to introduce. I wanted the whole thing to resemble an art-project and with the curtailed page count it made sense to make it a work in progress. It’s almost a collection of ‘sketches’ for a finished piece. Each page has a scene title and the story is quite elliptical. I’m hoping readers are intrigued enough to want to fill in the gaps some time in the future.
Essentially the story is that some of the inmates of the asylum have been freed by the Son of Man, who proceeds to unleash their transformative powers on Paris, turning a whole area around the Louvre into a work of performance art. Batman, Robin and Nightrunner have to unravel the working of the Son of Man’s mind to uncover his motivation, so they can figure out how to put things back to normal.
How does Le Jardin Noir differ from the American Arkham?
The inmates we meet, unlike most of Arkham’s residents, aren’t really villains. They are there because they are mentally unbalanced and possess paranormal powers. They’re all metahumans and their powers all relate to altered states. They can mess with reality or unhinge the mind, so it’s all very Freudian.
You also wrote an Arkham Asylum one-shot and Arkham in “Detective Comics.” What is it about the Asylum that fascinates you as a writer?
I like to write crazy characters. The great appeal of Batman is that his opponents don’t follow the normal rules of behavior. Ever since the Joker’s first appearance it’s been clear that Batman will always be about the dark side of the mind, the breaking of taboos and the exploration of what we choose to call evil. There are a lot of grey areas in the Batman stories and I find that fascinating to write about. Gotham’s atmosphere and architecture seem to reflect the lunacy of Batman and his opponents and that feeds back into the behavior of the citizens in an endless cycle that is always centered on the asylum.
I understand this issue involves Nightrunner. What role does the French Batman play in the story?
With the inmates from Le Jardin Noir on the loose, Nightrunner is clearly out of his depth and is forced to appeal to Batman for help. Once they arrive they work as a well-adjusted team to combat the bizarre forces ranged against them — or, they screw up in spectacular fashion and go surreal on us! Some of what you see on the cover does come to pass. Given the restricted page count, I’m afraid there won’t be a lot of in-depth exploration of Nightrunner’s character here. That will have to wait for another time.
Now, Nightrunner has proved a very controversial figure — did you always intend for him to polarize readers as much as he has? Or were you surprised by the vehemence of reactions to him in America?
I had no intention of creating a controversial character and as far as I’m concerned there is nothing intrinsically provocative about having a character from an Algerian Muslim background, any more than from any other ethnic, national, racial or religious background. The polarization you’re talking about is between a tiny but vocal minority whose views I find deeply repulsive and a massive reaction from reasonable intelligent people who were as surprised as me by the so-called controversy. I don’t really want to play into that at all. As I’ve said elsewhere, the fact that Nightrunner is not White Anglo Saxon Protestant is simply a reflection of the diversity of French society, and incidentally of DC’s readership in America and globally through all its foreign editions. Kyle Higgins’ scripts for the Nightrunner stories were sensitive and built an intriguing character. That’s it. Nothing partisan, or endorsing any particular creed or political stance except perhaps a degree of tolerance that is notably lacking in some quarters.
Turning to the comic’s two leads, how do you approach the Dick/Damian relationship in your issue?Â Does setting Dick and Damian in a foreign country outside their comfort zone radically affect their dynamic?
It’s not so much being away from Gotham as the breakdown of reality that’s happening around them, that provides the challenge. It requires a cool head to deal with the situation and as usual, Damian leaps before he looks, while Dick attempts to apply logical deduction. Their opponents don’t have any obvious motive for their actions. Id and Skin Talker are messing with people’s minds, Sister Crystal is altering bodies in a deadly fashion and Ray Man distorts reality like a sculptor molds clay. It’s not a situation that can be resolved by martial skills or logic. It’s more of an intuitive process, and even then the only way to really gauge how successful they are is by counting the casualties. Does that make sense? Hopefully not. I’m more interested in playing with the elements of the story than providing a resolution.
You’ve previously said in interviews that you are sort of used to coming into writing “Batman” books in the middle of an event — but how does it feel to come into the books at the end of Dick Grayson’s run as Batman?
Yes. I’m rarely in full control of the direction or outcome of the stories I write for Batman. In this case I’ve embraced the lack of resolution to create an open-ended story that raises all kinds of possibilities for future stories, rather than attempt to define Dick Grayson’s role as Batman.
As both a fan and writer, how do you feel overall about Dick’s run as the Dark Knight?
These have certainly been interesting times. After the death/disappearance of Bruce Wayne there was the question of who was fit to wear the cowl and I guess it was inevitable that Dick would inherit the role of Batman. In the last year or so he has proven himself perfectly capable of taking on all the responsibilities that entails, and he’s done a pretty good job of protecting Gotham, though they have been testing times. It was interesting to see a less brooding figure. Ever since Dick first appeared as Robin, he has been the one who really enjoyed his role, getting a kick out of the action. Now he has matured and shown that he can assume a leadership role too. He has acquired a certain gravitas that he didn’t have before, but he’s also carrying a few extra scars too. I’ll be interested to see how he develops when Bruce is back as Batman. Will he resent the nominal demotion?
Finally, we’ve got the French Arkham — what would the British Arkham be like, David?
The British have a reputation for eccentricity rather than madness, I suppose. I can imagine characters like Gilbert and George, pretending to be statues, getting drunk and making toilet jokes. We should definitely lay claim to The Mad Hatter and bring him home, and maybe incarcerate a couple of Lord Mayors of London — Boris Johnston and Ken Livingstone leading opposing factions of deranged inmates, including most of the Royal Family. Prince Charles as a male Poison Ivy? He does talk to plants.
“Batman and Robin” #26 hits stores August 10.