While DC Comics serves as home to a host of the world’s best known superheroes, from Superman to Green Lantern, the most popular fixture of the DCU arguably remains the Dark Knight Detective himself — Batman. With a dozen or more titles featuring Bruce Wayne and his army of crimefighters shipping to comic shops each month, keeping the heroes and villains of Gotham City straight can be a daunting job. That’s where Mike Marts comes in.
Though he’s been at the helm of DC’s Batman group for a few years now, the editor today watches over a number of moving pieces for the stories starring the caped crusader including two Batmen, a growing network of international heroes loyal to the cause and multiple heroes, heroines and even villains who star in their own adventures. With so many of these comics from “Batman” and “Batman Incorporated” to “Red Robin” and “Batgirl” ramping up for the next wave of Bat-events, it was the perfect time to shine the light of CBR’s regular column THE BAT SIGNAL on the line’s editor for a look at where the world of Batman is headed and how it got there.
Below, Marts opens up on how the “Batman Incorporated” era kicked off with an October creative summit around the New York Comic Con, the way Grant Morrison’s plans to spread Batmen across the globe have impacted the lives of the other Gotham superheroes, what shadows from Dick Grayson’s past are turning Gotham City into a nightmarish playground and how all these threads will synch up as 2011 rolls on under the threat of Leviathan.
CBR News: Mike, I want to start by going back a little, to the planning phases for the current run of Batman books. I know back in October, you had a bunch of the writers at the DC offices to make grand plans for the line. What were some of the biggest issues and ideas you were discussing? Were you just setting the teams on each book, or is there a larger picture developing between the monthlies?
Mike Marts: It was a little bit of both. One of the things about the Bat books that we’ve always prided ourselves on is that each one has its own distinct voice, and each writer or artist that comes on to each book is bringing a different style to the storytelling. So on the one hand, we were kind of defining what each of the books were going to be and defining what each of the books were going to sound like. At the same time, we were bringing guys together and getting them on the same page to have them understand and get excited by the fact that they’re all playing in the same sandbox. What we got out of the meeting was much more than I anticipated, and now we’ve got all these great relationships amongst the creators — between Scott Snyder and David Finch and Tony Daniel and David Hine and Fabian Nicieza. All of these guys are now talking constantly and are really on the same page about the Batman family as a whole and its direction.
We’ve spoken in the past about the way Grant Morrison often sets a playbook of sorts for what he’s looking to do with Bruce Wayne that the other writers can tap into as they wish, but it really feels like, since “Batman: The Return,” Grant set in place some very specific goals for the characters, between giving Dick Grayson Gotham or finding a task for Batgirl to accomplish. Does part of Grant’s bigger brewing plan for the line involve the entire Bat-Family?
Yes. Definitely. Grant, as always, has very big ideas and an epic plan in place. The beauty of “Batman Incorporated” is that it’s big enough so Grant can tell his epic, long-form storylines, but at the same time, there are opportunities for the other books to play into that. We’ll be seeing upcoming issues of “Batgirl” tie into things established in “Batman: The Return,” and then we’ll follow through with that in “Batman Incorporated.” And we saw a little bit of that in the “Batman” and “Detective” annuals that we did in December, where we touched upon the Batman Inc. ideas. All of that is stuff we’ll be touching on, maybe not in all of the books, but in some of the books. We’ll see how this new structure of Batman Incorporated is affecting all the various titles and characters.
The response to that David Hine story with the Nightrunner character certainly was interesting. Were you guys at all taken aback to the more left field responses to the idea of a Muslim Batman in Europe?
We were focusing on the story, primarily. What we set out to do was to establish that Bruce Wayne is expanding his franchise and moving to different areas in the world — inviting new people into the Batman fold or bringing former allies in. There’s always going to be different reactions to stories. We experience that in a lot of comics we do, but our focus is always primarily on story and character. We’re extremely happy with the new characters being introduced, not just in the annuals but also in “Batman Incorporated.”
How is Editorial doing in terms of keeping track of how many Batmen there are and where they are? I imagine you in front of a world map with push pins going, “We haven’t introduced the Batman of Canada yet!”
It’s a very careful plan, and it’s very well thought out. 98% of this is coming from Grant so far as the introduction of new ideas to “Batman Incorporated” goes, and he’s very detailed. We’re trying to go about it in a smart way and not be too aggressive. It’s easy to get caught up in an idea like this and start creating new characters all over the place, but each character being incorporated into the fold is really there for a specific reason.
I wanted to talk a little about each Batman, starting with Bruce. I get the feeling that part of what those who are working with him are enjoying is having a Batman in the DCU again who’s always prepared and can almost do anything.
There’s a little bit of that. I think that both Grant and David [Finch], through the type of stories they are telling, tackled two aspects of Bruce’s personality. Grant went more for the mega picture and the mega story — looking at a specific mission that Bruce was implementing — whereas David took Bruce’s character as Batman and focused more on the intimate side of things, keeping things a little closer to home.
Speaking of “home,” that immediately brings Dick’s status as the Batman of Gotham to mind. So many of the new writers on the book have spoken about always wanting to write a Batman story, but it seems a lot of them have gravitated towards Dick as a protagonist. Was splitting the books between the characters a task made easy by the writer’s interest?
Yeah. The whole process came about very naturally. I thought that we might have creators fighting over who got to write Bruce, and what I got was a nice mixture of people who wanted to write Bruce and who wanted to write Dick. I think the stories that we’d done since Dick became Batman, whether they were by Grant or Paul Dini or Peter Tomasi, have been great stories. He’s really grown into the role — though he’s still learning on the job — and embraced it, and I think because of that, creators want to do more with him. They want to tell more stories with Dick as Batman.
We have a lot of fun stuff on that front coming up. We’ve got a new limited series debuting in May called “Batman: Gates of Gotham” which really puts Dick at the forefront of a major mystery involving Gotham City and the history of Gotham City. It’s co-written by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins and drawn by Trevor McCarthy. That’s a great group of guys who have all been really creative in coming up with a lot of new ideas for the series. And then we’ve got the great stories that Scott Snyder, Tony Daniel and Pete Tomasi are telling in their respective titles.
The driving force between everyone doing stories with Dick and Damian seems to be that they’re introducing new villains to match the new era, to a certain extent.
One of the great advantages of the Batman group is that we do have the strongest rogues gallery in all of comic books, but that doesn’t mean that we have to rely on those characters. If we keep going back to the well and it’s just another Penguin story or just another Riddler story, then we’re not doing the readers any favors. It’s on us to create new characters, new villains and new challenges. And that’s what all the guys have been doing. A lot of these characters are sticking. That’s just fantastic because then we’re expanding that rogue’s gallery even more.
In particular, this week we saw a new face in Tony Daniel’s issue of “Batman.” With so many pieces of Gotham and the cosmology of the DCU in play, how does this new threat bring some of his story threads together?
Tony, as a writer, is a lot like Grant in that he’s always thinking ahead to what the long term goal is, what the long term reveal is. Before one story has concluded, he’s sewing threads for the next one coming up after that. In “Batman” #707, we get to the end, and there’s a dramatic reveal involving someone who is speaking to Riddler and who is in possession of Two Face’s coin. We don’t know if this is a character we’ve met before or if it’s someone brand new. But immediately, Tony establishes the feeling that this is a character of great significance and importance who’s probably capable of pulling the strings within the characters of Gotham City. There’s a real sense of dread and a real sense of anticipation as to what Tony’s creating here.
The last cornerstone of the Batman line outside our two Batmen is the “supporting cast” of sidekicks and allies who star in their own books. We spoke about Batgirl having a role in bigger stories, but we’ve also got a crossover in April between “Gotham City Sirens,” “Batman” and “Red Robin.” How did that event come to be and what does it portend for that piece of the line?
This story arc within the titles is something that came out of the New York Comic Con meeting back in October and ideas that had been kicking between Fabian and David Hine. We then brought Peter Calloway into the mix on “Gotham City Sirens,” and the story is essentially a judgement on Gotham. We’re pulling in story elements from “Gotham City Sirens,” from the “Azrael” title and from Dick Grayson’s past, and there’s a lot of things coming together. It’s a real exciting mix of characters to play with.
“Streets of Gotham” is about to wrap the “House of Hush” story and its run. How did the one factor affect the other?
We conclude the series with issue #21 which is where the series comes to a close as well as where the whole story between Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliot comes to an exciting climax. That story has been going on for several years now. When Paul and Dustin first did “Hear of Hush” in “Detective,” we knew that Bruce was going to be going away for a while, but we also knew that he was coming back. So we planned out a long term story that involved Tommy Elliot taking over the role of Bruce Wayne, knowing that this sequel story was in the offing.
There are so many titles in the Batman family in any given month, and we’ve covered a lot of ground on the basics of the core books here, but are there any titles that you worry might not get the notice of readers or could fall through the cracks?
Well, something that we haven’t spoken about yet, where everyone’s going to be paying attention to it but I’d be silly not to mention it is the debut of “Batwoman.” That’s going to be such a fantastic series. J.H. Williams is doing superb work. We have full artwork in on several issues, and it’s going to be a beautiful, beautiful book co-written by Hayden Blackman with some gorgeous colors by Dave Stewart. This is one of those situations where you know you’re going to have a perfect comic book. So we’re really excited about that, and I’ll also say that with “Gotham City Sirens” we’re having an awful lot of fun. Peter Calloway came on a few months ago and has been doing terrific work. And also, David Finch’s work on “Dark Knight” is great. We’re so proud of the work he’s creating there.
We know “Batwoman” has taken a while to come together, as did “Dark Knight” before it, but it feels like you guys have been looking to manage the line in a way that defers to the creators finishing their work more so than pumping out monthly product on every single title, if that makes sense.
Our main focus is to give the readers the best we can give them, and that’s what we’re doing right now on “Dark Knight.” We’re taking steps over the next weeks and months to improve the schedule, but our main focus is to deliver the best possible product we can.
Looking forward, two elements that seem to be central to the entire line are this notion Scott Snyder’s been playing with in “Detective,” that Gotham is changing in some way to being an even more nightmarish place, along with Grant’s continued tease of this thing called Leviathan. Can we expect those threads to pull together as 2011 goes along?
[Pauses] Yes. [Laughter] That is the answer to all of that. There’s definitely going to be the mixing of storylines moving forward. We’ll see echoes of what Grant’s doing in “Batman Incorporated” with Leviathan in other books, and the way Scott and the other writers have established Gotham City as almost a character itself will reveal a lot of cross-storytelling in other titles as well. Things Scott is doing in “Detective” will show up in “Gates of Gotham,” and we’ll see even more of that later on in 2011 with other things Scott’s doing.