When the book is closed on the past ten years of Batman stories, Judd Winick’s work will doubtlessly loom large. Over his mega “Under The Hood” arc that launched in early 2005 flipped the Dark Knight’s world upside down with the mysterious return of Jason Todd – the second Robin, murdered in DC Comics’ legendary “A Death In The Family” storyline.
This summer, that story finds new life on “Batman: Under The Hood” -Â an original animated DVD movie written by Winick and set to debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego this July. On top of that, the writer has returned recently to the Batman comics both in the just released in trade “Batman: Long Shadows” where he chronicled the first solo adventure of Dick Grayson’s tenure as Batman and in the newly launched “Red Hood: Lost Days” miniseries with artist Pablo Raimondi filling in the gaps of the “Under The Hood” storyline. To top it all off, Winick will chronicle an untold tale of Dick Grayson from the wake of Bruce Wayne’s death in “Final Crisis” starting in September’s “Superman/Batman” #76 with artist Marco Rudy.
This week, CBR’s THE BAT SIGNAL gets Winick to open up on all these projects from his earliest days with Jason Todd to the challenge of writing the character for both comics and animation and an in depth look at how he views the Batman universe as a broader part of DC.
CBR News: Judd, you’ve just had the first issue of “Red Hood: Lost Days” hit in comic shops, and you’ve spent the past year plus working on the “Under The Hood” DVD. How did those two projects play off each other? Did it feel the same writing the character for animation as it does for comics?
Judd Winick: Two different animals really. When talking about the DVD, it was about boiling down two years of story into what turned out to be about 75 minutes. I was going back to a story I’d told before and getting it to its bare essence, whereas the miniseries is completely comic book. It’s really, utterly everything you can do in a comic. It’s a very introspective look at a character and not a big, broad story with multiple superheroes and all that. It’s purely about these in between days that a comic fan might be interested in. Or I guess anyone, now. Anyone who sees the DVD might be curious as to where this all started. We take that story of Jason from when he returns from the grave through when he becomes the Red Hood and how that all came about. So it’s really two different animals, but that said, I’ve spent a lot of time with Jason Todd for the past year and change. And despite how dark and terrible he is, it’s kind of fun.
That’s interesting to think of this as fun. I know some people who, when they’re writing characters who are villainous, really enjoy cutting loose and writing a bunch of crazy violence that they’d never dream of experiencing in real life. Do you have a part of you that digs into the catharsis of making things bloody and crazy?
Um…no. [Laughs] I’ve never been one that gets my rocks off in that way. It’s just for the story, and in the case of Jason Todd, he’s created to be an anti-hero. He’s not a good guy. And that’s something we sort of keep coming back to -Â that I was surprised how much readers embraced the darker side. He had professed that he wanted to become a better Batman, and it was odd how much readers took to that in a positive way even though we weren’t doing much to make him positive. But I think people sort of sympathized. I guess I didn’t give readers enough credit to see the three-dimensional aspects of the character. There’s a little bit of depth in that he felt he’d been wronged, and if they couldn’t agree with that, they could see where he was coming from. So to get back on point, I don’t make him tough because it gives me some kind of pleasure. It’s more about the fact that that’s the character he is, and it shows who he is.
The first issue of “Lost Days” is seen entirely through Talia’s eyes, and there’s a connection there, not just in the plot, but also in the way that she has a very villainous side to herself as well, though Bruce Wayne is probably the one person she won’t ever directly stab in the back for her father. When you were planning the arc of the issues, did you want some of those elements of Talia to transfer to Jason once he got his mind back?
Beginning with the first issue on, Talia, to me, was just one of those untold chapters. And I like her. I agree with everything you just said there -Â she’s a very complex character in that way. I like a lot of hypocrisy that comes with the villains. They’ve got a code of honor, but they’re willing to break a few legs. And that was an interesting build up for Jason. Talia isn’t quite like that. She thinks she’s a moral person and doesn’t really believe she’s wrong just like her father. He doesn’t believe himself to be evil. Ra’s Al Ghul believes in the greater good. He has a methodology and believes in his mission and goals. That’s why he’s walked the earth for 700 years trying to do these things over and over again rather than retiring to Miami Beach or doing Vegas or whatever. [Laughs] He wants to save the world. Talia believes in her dad, and yeah…all of that kind of transfers to Jason. Jason doesn’t believe he’s a bad guy. He believes that his methods are much harsher than anything Bruce ever taught him, but he’s got a goal. Talia as a starting place was a story ready to be told.
And also something the readers picked up again -Â where again I might not be giving them enough credit though it’s kind of wonderful -Â is that to me this really laid the seeds of what happens between her and Damian. Jason represents her time with what would be her son. Her motherly instincts sort of kicked in. But starting with the next chapter, we’re back with Jason running and seeing what happens next to him. And Talia will be floating in and out as that motherly influence.
I saw you speak to the idea that you really liked Grant’s version of Jason as the “red-headed stepchild” of the Batman family, and even though it was different from your take in a lot of superficial ways, there were also a lot of underlying sensibilities shared by the two stories. In fact, a lot of what you’ve been able to do on the Bat books these past few years has been coming in to a set of circumstances set up by other runs and then working your own unique take on things. Is finding those angles part of what brings you back to the line again and again?
That’s kind of the nature of writing for comics, really. You’re basically allowed to write between A and B, and you don’t really get the entire gamut. These characters can’t die. These characters can’t be killed. And these characters can’t even be in your story, because they’re over here getting involved in whatever event over here. There are very specific parameters in which to write comics, and it’s very interesting to try to tell stories within our finite realm. We’ve got this characters who have been around for 75 years, so you can only change them so much since they’ve got to be around 75 years after us. That’s just the gig and the nature of this kind of storytelling. And writing in general is really always about parameters. Stories can only be a certain length, and you can only subject your readers to so much. There are rules.
When it comes to Batman, or specifically Jason Todd, I think what I said earlier was that Jason was like a song I wrote that people got to go out and perform. I really like Grant Morrison’s take on Jason. It’s really Grant Morrison! [Laughs] It’s these outlandish costumes and a little bit crazy and broader and wilder. I think that’s great. I like what other writers have done with it. I don’t take ownership in that way since Jason didn’t start with me and there were a whole lot of other writers who came before me. Jason came back and became the Red Hood under my mantle, but now it can go elsewhere.
One of the things I think stands out about your Batman work in general, back from the first run with Dustin and Doug through the arc with Mark Bagley, is that you really pull the DC Universe into Gotham in a way we don’t always see. Not too often do we see Two-Face and Warp on the same page. Is it just a natural inclination for you to say “I know these characters are in this world, and they appear in it” or do you consciously try to bring in more superhero sci-fi stuff to Batman stories?
I think it’s everything across the board there. I think in general, we, as a collective, try to keep Batman a little more terra firma. That’s in most of the Batbooks. In the Justice League and elsewhere, he can go interdimensional or into other stuff, but in the Batbooks we really try and keep him on the ground in Gotham with a hint of realism. That said, it sometimes drives me crazy that we’ve got all this history and we won’t lean back on these other heroes sometimes. That’s where it comes from for me, like when it’s Jason Todd coming back from the dead, Bruce Wayne reaches out to his friends. Who’s he going to talk to? He’s going to talk to two friends he knows very well who have died. [Laughs] He talks to Green Arrow and Superman. He just wants to pick their brains for a second, and that’s Batman’s way of reaching out and emoting. He might not be aware of it, but he’s frightened by what’s going on, and he doesn’t want to feel alone in that.
In the case of villains and whatnot…it’s called organized crime, even though it’s not that organized. Guys with influence and brains in a world of superheroes are going to reach out to other supervillains now and again. I like the idea that Batman in the Batbooks is shackled to Gotham City, but he can reach out to the rest of the DCU. It was one of those notes we’d gotten while doing the DVD that’s not any big spoiler because it’s in the trailer, but we put Amazo in there. And there was some discussion about not putting Amazo in because it brought in this whole idea of the rest of the DCU that isn’t touched upon. We went back and forth, and the answer became simple. Look, we could put some other giant thing in there that we’ve never seen before, or we can put Amazo in. And the ones who recognize Amazo will be excited that he’s in there showing what’s living outside Gotham somewhere, and for those that have never seen Amazo before, it’s just a big robot thing. [Laughs] It won’t matter to them. We can give one nod to the fanboys like those of us working on the movies are, or we can create our own robot that’s never been used at all.
I liked in “Batman Returns,” Tim Burton’s second Batman outing, Alfred mentions something about “You’re going to fly, sir? You don’t have to be like that fellow in Metropolis.” Ah ha! Superman exists in Batman’s world! It’s just a little thing to mention Metropolis in the Batman movie, but it’s cool to see that stuff.
Speaking of which, you’ve got an arc coming up in “Superman/Batman” that follows up on “Final Crisis.” I know that DC for a while had a conception of that book following up on big events. Did they approach you about this arc knowing you had a take on Dick Grayson for that time period, or did you want to tell this specific story?
It’s all less sexy and interesting where I was talking to Eddie Berganza, who was my editor for years on “Outsiders,” and we’re good friends. He said, “You got time to work on some things?” I was like, “Yeah! Do you have any books where you need a writer?” And “Superman/Batman” was it. [Laughs] It was something where we were drinking and hanging out and got to talking about it. I had a few ideas pop in my head, and the timing worked out for us to do it. I don’t want to spill too much outright, but the idea was the story of one Superman and two Batmen. We begin with Dick Grayson as Batman, and we end with Bruce Wayne as Batman. That’s all I have to say. [Laughs] We’ll see Superman’s relationship between the two of them.
While you’ve brought a lot of big DCU ideas into your Batman stuff, a lot of what your stories have been about is emotional fallout. In general, you always focus on characters in your writing, but has there been some circumstance that’s led you to those fallout stories time and again?
I just don’t care otherwise. Everything is plot-driven for me, first. I really, really feel that. I’ve talked to friends who, when they’re writing something original or even about superheroes, they want to figure out what the characters emotional content before the writing. And I’ve been seeing that in the DCU, the push is to know what’s in the heads and hearts of the characters. I’ve been arguing constantly that I want to know what the story is, first. I want to know what they’re doing! I really want to know what these guys are up to first.Â Who’s going to be the one to steal the thing, the MacGuffin that takes us there? What’s the story? And once I have the story, it’s always about figuring out where the characters hearts and heads are at going through the adventure. I don’t think the characters should dictate the adventure. I think it should be the other way around.
That said, I only want characters I find interesting. Batman in particular, and also Jason Todd. With Jason, I’ve told this a number of times, but in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s “Hush” where Hush reveals himself to be Jason Todd, I turned the page and went, “Oh my God! This is great!” I didn’t see it coming, but I saw the whole story roll out in front of me for how Jason coming back would be this horrifying, tragic thing. It was going to be awesome and terrible. Jason returning from the grave and Bruce having to deal with being turned against with by this new villain who knows everything about Batman. It was going to be awesome…and then it turned out to be Clayface. [Laughs] I talked to Dan Didio about it not too much later, and I said, “I think Jason should come back.” The motivation was clear cut and obvious to me, and it became this opera that was “Batman.” So I’m always attracted to the emotion of the characters. I just want to know where the story goes.
The DVD is coming out soon. How are you planning to celebrate that? Do you just say, “It’s been two years, and now it’s out…next project!”? Have you seen it already?
We’re rolling it out at San Diego Comic-Con. It’ll premier either Friday or Saturday night in the big room in front of a huge audience. That’s how I get to say hello and goodbye to it – in a room full of fanboys and fangirls watching it and giving it thumbs up or down. That’s how one should do something like that. That’ll be a first for me and should be wonderfully cool. And there’ll be a Q&A afterwards where we get to find out if it sucked or if it’s the greatest Batman animated movie ever. [Laughs] These things will be answered and asked. To roll it out in front of people live is kind of neat.
And I’ve seen it. It’s in the can with all the bells and whistles, and I really think it’s terrific. The animation is wonderful and spot on, and the vocal performances really got the job done. Great acting from both the voice actors and in the animation. Sometimes that doesn’t come across well. And it’s in many, many ways very close to the source material. It’s a very emotional story coming from an animated film, which is nice. It’s the sort of direction I’m hoping Warner Premier continues with the superhero stories. Animation is a genre that taps into a different kind of storytelling. You’ve got live action, which is very broad and for the masses and very realistic. They’re amazing. On the other side we have our comics which are introspective and deal with continuity in these ongoing serialized stories. Somewhere in between is animation, and we all know that animation has come so far in the last decade. It’s dug into the mainstream, and we can do so much with it. And I think in the superhero realm we should be able to produce more things that are challenging and interesting. Hopefully things will continue in that trend.