Though DC Comics is home to many long-running iconic heroes, in recent years none have proven as popular or as versatile as Batman. Between each month seeing eleven (and counting) Batman and Batman-related books hitting the shelves, the upcoming Christopher Nolan film “The Dark Knight Rises” and numerous animated televisions shows, Batman is a hot a property and no one knows this better than DC Comics’ Batman Editor Mike Marts.
The man in charge of overseeing the entire Bat family line, Marts’ tenure has seen myriad events and crossovers, including last year’s epic “death” and return of Bruce Wayne storyline by writer Grant Morrison, as well as the New 52 relaunch, which restored Bruce as Batman while shaking up the status quo in Gotham City and beyond.
In fact, 2011 was a rollercoaster year for the Bat family for a number of reasons. While DC’s New 52 relaunch generated phenomenal sales numbers it also generated controversy, beginning with the newly un-handicapped Barbara Gordon and continuing with the furor over Starfire and Selina Kyle’s depiction in “Red Hood And The Outlaws” and “Catwoman,” respectively.
Answering the clarion call of THE BAT SIGNAL, Marts spoke with CBR about the books under his purview, including Morrison’s evolving role in setting the pace for the entire Batman line, editorial reaction to New 52 fan reaction, and his overall goals for the Batman books in 2012.
CBR News: Mike, this is the first time we’ve spoken with you since the relaunch — how has the New 52 impacted your plans for the Batman line, especially considering the Bat books were one of two franchises Dan Didio singled out as working extremely well already?
Mike Marts: The New 52 was a really good opportunity for us to basically present all the classic Batman elements, whether they’re villains or supporting characters or important places in Gotham or important moments in Batman’s history, to kind of re-present them in a new way and to a lot of readers for the first time. So while the Batman books were doing pretty well previous to the New 52 we didn’t want to just coast into the new stuff, we really wanted to hit the ground running and present new ideas, new villains, new storylines — but at the same time take in all the classic elements of the Batman mythology and present them to readers in a new, exciting way.
Along those lines, the first story arcs for many of the new books are fairly long such as in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Batman,” which is slated to run eleven issues. Were these first long story arcs part of the idea of setting the stage for everything that comes after the initial relaunch?
Yeah. We first approached the storylines for each of the first issues in different ways, and while some of them might have longer storylines we think of it more like a TV season model where each issue is equivalent to an episode on a TV drama, which can be enjoyed in one viewing as a self-contained single issue of entertainment. But at the same time it’s part of an ongoing storyline. I think you’ve seen that in what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing on “Batman.” Each issue is its own thing and a different piece of the puzzle but it’s all leading towards something very big. Similarly, we have the same thing going on in “Batman And Robin” with what Pete Tomasi and Pat Gleason are doing with Bruce and his son Damian and some of the new characters we’re introducing there.
Now, before the relaunch Grant Morrison’s books were definitely calling the plays for the rest of the Bat Universe, but obviously since the relaunch and the delay on “Batman Inc.” that has changed. Will Morrison’s future Batman work again set the pace for the Batman universe or will his focus be more on developing his own self-contained stories instead?
With what Grant will be working on in the future, he is instrumental in providing forward motion for us on the books just the same as our other writers are right now, like Scott Snyder and Pete Tomasi and Tony Daniel. So when Grant returns to doing work with us, it’s going to be much like what he was doing in the previous few years.
Jumping into the first Batman anchor title, obviously Court Of Owls is the big arc happening in “Batman” now, but I know from talking to Scott that even bigger things are going to pop up for his Batman after #7. Is “Batman” one of the main Bat books that not only is getting bigger in scope but will have ramifications felt across the Bat book line?
Most definitely, yeah. With Scott we have such a great thing, we’re talking about storylines that are going into year two and year three and what he’s created in the Court of Owls and the Talons are just some great characters, some great history to Gotham City, and these are going to be story elements we can play with long after the Court of Owls storyline is concluded. Readers can expect some exciting revelations about existing characters in the Batman universe, secret things about Gotham City’s history that we didn’t know previously. So its just a great opportunity to not only expand the Batman franchise sideways with different characters and villains but also front and backwards, through time and through history.
While Tony Daniel and Scott Snyder switched books, the themes they are playing with in “Detective Comics” and “Batman” are pretty similar to what they were doing before — Tony’s got his more horrific, villain-oriented Batman and Scott is pitting Bruce against Gotham. With the switch, what do you see as the difference between the two comics now?
I think both writers approach their issues a little differently. Scott’s storyline right now is taking a wider approach, a bit of an epic approach, kind of treating the storylines as a saga, whereas Tony is keeping things a little closer to home and getting a little more into the head of Batman and Bruce Wayne and also closer examinations of Batman’s rogues gallery, whether it’s classic villains like the Joker in issue #1 or the Penguin in the current storyline, or if it’s new villains like the Dollmaker. So both guys are approaching the stories a little differently, and hopefully what we’re doing is offering readers unique, interesting takes on the characters that can be enjoyed.
We also have a third primarily Batman-centric book in “Batman: The Dark Knight,” which Paul Jenkins has taken over the writing. With this third book focusing on Batman himself, what niche does “Batman: The Dark Knight” fill?
We treat “Dark Knight” as just as important as “Batman” or “Detective,” it’s a core Batman title. In my eyes I have two titans in the industry working on this book right now between Paul Jenkins and David Finch; their resumes are so impressive. These guys work great together, there’s really good chemistry, and what Paul has done for Dave is allow him to express himself creatively in a plotting capacity so that Dave can contribute to the stories themselves but at the same time giving David even more freedom to work on his artwork and concentrate on his artwork. He’s really proven a lot of his detractors wrong; he wanted to prove he could get out there and draw a monthly book and right now he’s one of our speediest artists. We’re well into issue #6 on “Dark Knight” and he’s not slowing down at all, he’s been able to do additional covers in the meantime, so right now it’s such a great book with Dave firing on all cylinders and giving us some of the most dynamic Batman artwork we’ve seen in years from anybody.
I think you also have two big talents working on “Batman And Robin” with Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason continuing on that book post-relaunch. With “Batman And Robin,” what did you feel was the biggest challenge of that series going forward? Was it just getting readers onboard with the Bruce and Damian dynamic right after they had settled into the Dick and Damian dynamic?
I think the challenge was that we wanted to keep a book called “Batman And Robin,” but we knew no matter what it was going to be different than what Grant had done on the previous run. So we decided let’s focus on the characters in the title of the book — let’s focus on Batman, let’s focus on Robin. Here we have a father and son who barely know each other; they have one of the most interesting family dynamics in all of DC Comics if not all comics, so let’s concentrate on that, let’s concentrate on the relationship between these two very interesting people and let’s go through ups an downs with them. And that’s worked out great so far. I think that in working with Peter and Patrick it’s almost like working with one creator because the two of them work so well together over the years and they really have this shorthand that they’ve developed together, so it’s really been rewarding working with them on this book.
Focusing on the relaunch itself, of the New 52 Bat books, two immediately got big, vocal responses the minute their first issues came out: “Red Hood” and “Catwoman.” When the reactions to the first issues came back to you at DC, were you taken aback by how strongly fans reacted to these two books?
Well, yes and no. Primarily our main focus is delivering solid story with the best creators that we can put together on a book. We’re looking to tell interesting stories and sometimes that means taking chances. All our story decisions aren’t going to be met with approval by 100% of the audience. So we always go in expecting that there could be some reaction, but you know, we learn from things, we move on, and we just try to improve the stories from issue to issue. That’s basically that.
After the responses came in was there an effort to take a step back and look at the books, or did you have confidence once fans got a chance to see where Scott Lobdell and Judd Winick were taking the books the stories would pull people back in?
Well, the storylines that we had planned for both series are ones that have been in place for a long time and we haven’t deviated from the stories. We have nothing but the utmost faith in Judd and Scott, we’re really confident with them as the creators on these books.
Turning to the other books, “Birds Of Prey,” “Batgirl” and “Nightwing” all not only all have histories with each other but we’ve already seen characters crossing over. Now with “Batwing” having an issue set in Gotham that brings in all of these supporting characters, is the game plan for these books not only to tell their own stories but to flesh out their interconnected corner of the Batman universe?
For most of the books we did want them to exist on their own for the first few issues so that readers could really get acquainted with who these characters are and what they’re about, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and after a few issues of existing on their own we felt it was okay to cross over with other characters, but only where it could happen organically. There’s a reason why Nightwing and Batgirl get together and team up and join forces and there’s a reason Batwing is coming to Gotham City in “Batwing” #7. So we don’t want to force guest appearances or anything like that on the readers, we’re really trying to reinforce the idea that this is a family of characters, a family of books, and we want the meeting of these characters to feel organic and natural.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Batwoman,” which is a much more insular book by comparison but has gained acclaim and recognition across the board for its art and storytelling. What are your goals for “Batwoman” in 2012? Is it just to continue on with the story JH Williams is laying out?
Yeah, I mean with this book we’ve struck gold, it’s the perfect combination of character and creative. We have a unique character in Kate Kane, she was developed a few years ago and we have such an amazing talent working on this book with JH Williams and his co-writer Hayden Blackman and then eventually [artist] Amy Reeder coming on to do some issues. This is such a great creative team and such a great character that I’m not surprised that what these creators are turning out is being received so well. I mean, JH and Hayden have a long story planned out, we have story beats going into the third year so there is a lot of story here to tell — a lot of it with Kate, we have some guest stars from other areas of the DCU coming in, we have appearances by Batman and other members of the Bat family, so a lot of exciting stuff to look forward to in this title.
Looking over the entire line, what are your main goals on the line for 2012? Are we going to see more miniseries, like those for “Penguin” and “Huntress,” or are there more crossovers in the offing?
Our focus is going to be on the monthly titles themselves, that’s first and foremost. We’re looking to do more with the villains, whether it’s re-presenting classic villains like Penguin or Scarecrow or Two-Face for the first time to readers, and we’re also looking to develop new villains like we did with White Rabbit or Dollmaker or Massacre. And then other goals include following up on important story beats, things we’ve layered into the stories, little Easter eggs. We’ve been developing subplots for a while that are going to come to fruition in 2012 and even beyond. I think there are a lot of surprises there for readers, things they won’t be expecting but when they get they’re going to be really pleased and surprised.
Stay tuned to CBR News and THE BAT SIGNAL for more on DC Comics’ Batman family of titles in 2012.