When DC Comics began announcing their new roster of books for the company-wide relaunch in September, one of the first titles out the gate was “Batwing,” a brand new series focusing on DC Comics’ first ever in-continuity black Batman character. Batwing, whose real name is David Zamvimbi, was created by Grant Morrison within the pages of “Batman Incorporated.” Appearing briefly as the Batman of Africa in “Batman Incorporated” #6, David is now getting a chance to shine in his own monthly ongoing series, taking on everything from international super villains to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s corrupt police force.
Featuring art by Ben Oliver and written by “Power Girl” and “Justice League: Generation Lost” writer Judd Winick, “Batwing” expands the DC Universe by taking place in Africa, making David Zamvimbi both the first black Batman and one of the few characters headlining a series outside the United States. With the first issue slated for release alongside the rest of DC’s 52 relaunched number ones in September, Winick took the time to speak to CBR News about the new monthly series, how Batwing differs from Batman, and the challenges of writing a comic that takes place in Africa.
CBR News: Batwing is a brand new character, originally introduced in the pages of “Batman Incorporated.” Starting in September, are you the permanent writer on “Batwing?”
Judd Winick: As far as I know! [Laughs] It’s a regular monthly and I’ll be writing the series; this is my book. I think part of the attraction for me was to do a character like this, who is a blank slate. Across the board with the 52 new number ones coming out, there are a handful of characters that are absolutely brand new that DC has given us permission just to run with. This is one of them.
Now, this is not only a new character, but it is a new landscape as far as telling a story in Africa. It’s really something that’s been kind of untouched for DC Comics. And when I say Africa, one really has to think about it as the continent. It’s a very, very, very large place, much larger than America. Batwing will be a very international hero, going around and about not only his own continent, but as Batman has wandered around the world, so will he. Primarily his focus will be in one very damaged city in Africa — which, when I say Africa, I mean in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our city is called Tenasha, which is based on an actual crime-ridden Western city in Africa.
But it’s a superhero story. I should preface it with that; most of the story arc is Batwing fighting bad guys wearing crazy costumes. That is our plan, that is our edict, that is what we are going for. It just happens to be set in this amazing and, for comics at least, untouched landscape in a significant way. Africa is both tumultuous in terms of its history and its politics, and it allows us to go in so many places we really can’t go when it comes to talking about the United States. Because the reality in Africa is that it is a beautiful, majestic and also incredibly dangerous continent. When writing about superheroes here in the States, there is a lot of stuff I have to make up. That’s just my function. In Africa you truly do have revolutions and wars being fought, dictators being overthrown, governments trying to be instituted where there are warlords or entire armies made up of children — just crazy, over the top stuff that should be the stuff of fiction but isn’t. These are the things we get to tap into, this is the landscape we get to work in and the canvas we get to work on, along with the superheroes. It is high adventure, don’t get me wrong. Lots of guys in costume, lots of super bad guys, but set against this volatile landscape, which will make it interesting.
It’s also interesting that you are choosing to base Batwing’s home city off a real African city.
It’s a fictional city, but based much in the way Metropolis is supposed to be New York City and Gotham, depending on who you want to debate about it, is either a dark version of New York or based on Chicago just as far as geographics and the general feel of it. We are actually basing this off a couple of cities in Africa, just because Africa is, again, a whole continent. If you think of one city in North America it’s very different than another on the continent — Toledo, Ohio is very different from any number of cities you might find in South America. So for sanity’s sake we are choosing to focus in on a couple of different Western-type cities. But we wanted it to feel very much like Africa. In Africa they live cheek to jowl — you have very Western-type cities with office buildings and universities just a couple of blocks away from slums and then just a few miles out the city it is incredibly rural villages. It’s all right there, right on top of each other.
Besides super villains, are you also going to be tackling some of those real-world issues including child soldiers or the diamond mines or other current problems in Africa?
I’ll say yes with a lowercase y. Any of the things that feel like politics or social issues I’m dealing with will be in lockstep with the superhero story to the point where it won’t feel obvious. That’s not the point. I’m not trying to politicize this comic in any way, shape, or form — I am actually just trying to tell these big old superhero stories. But it’s there because those things are there. Because it is set in Africa, to tell the story honestly these are some of the issues that will be coming up. I think revolution will be a huge part of our story, and that might seem [like] politics to a lot of people, but to me it’s a little bit of both: it’s a superhero story and it’s got war.
Let’s talk about the man at the center of this all, David Zamvimbi. Will your first issues serve to tell his origins and set up his mission, or are you dropping readers in the middle of David’s continuing adventures?
A bit of both. The first couple of issues we are hitting the ground running, even though he is one of the few characters who is nearly completely new. But because he is completely new we will be tapping into who he is and where he came from and how he came to be a soldier in “Batman Incorporated,” but not right away. Again, you are not going to see any origin issues with the number ones for DCU. We are going to hit the ground running. We are going into his story months and months and months into his tenure as Batwing.
As the writer and the creative force defining him, who is David? What sort of person is he?
Hmm, how to tell without telling? [Laughs] The broad strokes are unfortunately not that interesting. He is someone who is a bit new to this as far as slapping on the costume and fighting bad guys in this way. But he has a rich and dark history, which makes him perfect for the job, that’s why Batman tapped him to do it. He is much more emotionally aware than Bruce Wayne is. He has his demons and his monsters and we will be getting into that in a big way. To be honest, he is a Batman! There is an unfortunate terrible history that got him to here. I think he’s a little more conscious of how to deal with it and a little more aware of who he is and what he is, but he also lives by a moral code, just like Batman does.
Bruce Wayne Batman villains are pretty entrenched and are often reflections of his own psyche or darker versions of himself, at least in modern comics. Is this a theme you are going to play with in “Batwing?”
I will simply say yes!
All right, sweet and simple! Now is building a supporting cast a high priority for you on “Batwing,” or is he more of a lone force against evil in Africa?
Nope, he’s got some people around him, somewhat of a similar feel to Batman in many ways, which we will flesh out. Along with them, many folks in the Bat family will be popping up in arcs in the not too distant future. Not the first couple arcs because we want to get our feet wet, but he is very much part of the Bat universe and he’s an extension of the Bat family. So we’ll see other folks running around in the books, not just in Africa.
What is Batwing’s modus operandi? Is he the Batman for all of Africa, or is he primarily hanging out in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Well, that’s a whole country! [Laughs] A little bit of this, honestly, is going to educate some readers on what Africa actually is. Africa is a big, gigantic continent — like if one can comfortably envision Batman running around Alaska one issue then making his way down to Florida then skipping off to Hawaii. We will go where the stories take us. Is he the defender for the entire continent? Yes and no — he’s the defender of Africans. He’s primarily based in one city and that’s where our stories will take place but there will many field trips.
How do you approach the world building aspects of “Batwing?” Are you doing a lot of research on Africa?
I have been researching and speaking to a number of folks and professors heading up African Studies at a couple of universities. I want to get it right. We don’t want it to feel like a cartoon about Africa. I think our readers are much more sophisticated than that. Again, the truth is much stranger than fiction. To be very blunt, it’s not him running around the jungles. This isn’t Tarzan. That’s not what Africa is actually about. It’s about the beauty and the danger of this amazing place. In Batwing’s city we portray the police as being corrupt. In the States, yeah we have dirty cops — in Africa it’s pretty much accepted that the police are fairly corrupt, even on the lowest level. In general they are thought of as being ineffectual and they demand bribes on a regular basis. So coming from that I’m placing Batwing surrounded by a very ineffectual and corrupt police force and that’s the mainstay. I think what he would like to do is make it so it’s not just about him. Unlike Batman, David doesn’t see himself as a one-man army. He is thinking larger than that. I think he is looking to the police force as something that can be reformed, can be used, and can be an army unto itself — if he manages to do that.
There’s been a lot of scrutiny and buzz over the fact that this is the first black Batman. Do you feel like there’s added pressure on you to tell the stories as authentically as possible because of his race and nationality?
I wouldn’t call it added pressure — for me it’s the standard level of pressure! I work very hard to get it right. It’s added pressure in the sense that I’m not just popping in and writing an established superhero who has decades behind him and the story is told in the United States, which I know quite well. I don’t live in Africa and I’m not a student of African Studies. This is a black African who is a Batman, so I want to get it right. I want it to feel authentic. I don’t expect this to be a textbook on Africa, and no one should, but it should not feel like a big massive stereotype and it won’t.
How did you get tapped to write “Batwing?”
Oh, just in conversations — that’s just how these things come about. We were talking about September and the number ones and the books they wanted to do and this came up in an organic conversation. In that conversation I raised my hand and said, “I’d like to do that!” [Laughs] I like the idea of doing a character that’s never been done before and I like the idea of tackling this guy and this world. In it we are sort of creating our own DCU; there will be villains and other heroes who are coming out of Africa who have been around for decades or longer who we haven’t heard of or seen before who are entirely new ones we are going to make up. I think it’s going to be fun, that’s why I jumped at it!
“Batwing” #1 is slated to hit stores in September.