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Getting Knighted: Helfer Talks “Batman: Journey Into Knight”

by  in Comic News Comment
Getting Knighted: Helfer Talks “Batman: Journey Into Knight”
“Batman: Journey Into Knight” #1

Bruce Wayne planned to become Batman, Gotham City’s guardian against the forces of crime. He did not plan for Batman to become The Dark Knight, a grim crusader waging an obsessive war on crime. So what turned Batman from a semi optimistic crime fighter into the cynical Dark Knight? This August writer Andrew Helfer and artist Tan Eng Huat answer that question in “Batman: Journey Into Knight,” a 12 issue maxi-series from DC Comics with covers by Pat Lee. Helfer spoke to CBR News about the series, which explores the events that turned Batman into the character he is today.

“Journey Into Knight” has been in development for a number of years. The roots of the series come from the original run of “Legends of the Dark Knight,” of which Helfer was the first editor. “The original idea of it was these were all kind of ‘Year One’ stories and I hoped they would feature a younger Batman who was less informed on the realities than the Batman of present day,” Helfer told CBR News.

When Helfer reread “Batman: Year One,” which was the inspiration for “Legends of the Dark Knight,” he came to a realization which sparked “Batman: Journey into Knight.” “I realized that ‘Batman: Year One really isn’t so much about Batman as it is about Gordon,” Helfer explained. “Batman is kind of a cipher character who aside from seeing his origin, he basically comes in, does his thing and escapes. The story development, the development of the character is really all on the Gordon character. So I realized that there really wasn’t a ‘Batman Year One’ there was a kind of ‘Gotham/Batman Family Year One,’ but the Batman character was kind of given short shrift.”

Another impetus for “Journey into Knight” was Batman’s motivation. “One of the things that’s always gone through my head is that at some point the obsession of the Bruce Wayne character just doesn’t seem to hold in my mind,” Helfer stated. “This life long obsession, this life long burden and this goal to avenge the deaths of his parents.”

“Batman: Journey Into Knight” #1, Page 3

One of the reasons Helfer feels this way is the impact the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents had on his life. “One of the things I deal with fairly extensively in the story is the idea that Bruce Wayne’s life has not been filled with the consequences of his parent’s death. If they were a poor working class family and the mother and father are gone and the kid goes to foster homes or the kid is on the street the burden of his parents death is thrown upon him and remind him constantly of the consequences of that moment in time where his parents were killed and his life is destroyed by it,” Helfer explained. “But Bruce Wayne, he had a trust fund, he had a man servant. It was basically Richie Rich. Not to say that it wasn’t meaningful to him, not to say that it wasn’t a traumatic event in his life, but the subsequent events in his life would never really reinforce the trauma. Everything that happened after that almost kind of pushes him away from living with trauma. Aside from the fact that his parents are gone, which is definitely a big thing, he had all the comforts.”

When the story begins, Bruce Wayne has been Batman for awhile and now he’s starting to feel the pull of a normal life and the attraction of a life of pleasure. This leads Bruce to start having doubts about his career as a costumed crime fighter. Helfer explained, “He’s thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Am I doing this for my parents? Am I doing this for myself? Is this what my parents would have wanted me to do? They gave me this money. They gave me this stuff. Do they want me to spend my time running around in the middle of the night beating up bad guys and risking my life? Or do they want me to use that money to enjoy my life my life, to build the foundations and run the company and go into the family business?’ ”

Bruce’s doubts and questions about his parents begin to effect his psyche. “He starts getting hounded by these dreams and these nightmares of his father and mother,” Helfer said. “His parents ask him in his dreams, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The father says to him, ‘By doing this they win. Because it’s as though you had died along with us. Because this is not the person we wanted you to be.’ ”

Along with his doubts and nightmares, Bruce also must contend with the responsibility of running a company when he receives his inheritance at the beginning of “Journey into Knight.” “There’s a bunch of people who have, since the father died, become very comfortable in running the business the way they want to run the business. As Bruce gets involved, he comes to realize that they are not running the business in a way that his father would have approved. In one of the story lines there’s a housing project that Thomas Wayne initiated and it has fallen into disrepair. It has been the subject of a bunch of fire bombings. Somebody is clearly trying to destroy it and Bruce Wayne/Batman gets involved. He finds connections between the arsons and the people who are running the company. That’s an undercurrent that goes through all 12 issues.”

“Batman: Journey Into Knight” #1, Page 4

“Journey into Knight” is one large series that is comprised of two six part stories. “There is a 4 month gap between issue 6 and issue 7,” Helfer explained. “There is a lot of stuff that happens in those intervening months that we don’t go into, that hopefully someone will pick up at some other time. That was really one of the goals of the series in the first place: to create enough holes in that story that other people would go in with the character and fill those holes.”

The other goal of “Journey into Knight” was to take Batman on a transforming emotional journey. “The story takes place over a year long period. The point of the story is to add to the character of the Batman. So, that by the end of the story he emerges after a second equally horrifying trauma, which was never dealt with before, he emerges the Dark Knight,” Helfer stated. “He goes from being Batman in the beginning, which is that lighter crime fighting character, to being the Dark Knight.”

The villains of “Journey into Knight” play a major role in Batman’s transformation into the Dark Knight. “There is the share of the kind of perverse classic Batman villains, but they’re all new except for one who doesn’t appear until the end of the story,” Helfer said. “Without giving too much away, this classic villain inevitably has to play a great part in the transformation from Batman into the Dark Knight. That’s in the 11th issue.”

The first new villain Batman faces is Carrier, who comes to Gotham City from another country and possesses a lethal ability. “Carrier is a guy who comes up from South America after having survived a bite by a bat in a cave. He is now a carrier of a disease that kills people. He comes off a plane into Gotham and he’s leaving a trail of dead people in his wake.”

“Batman: Journey Into Knight” #1, Page 5

Another new villain Batman must contend with is Sister Leila, a woman who uses her mind control powers for personal gain by preying on Gotham’s lonely hearts. ” She’s also a gun for hire,” Helfer said. “She takes commission work. She gets people to do stuff to cover her trail. Some thug says, ‘There’s a guy who hasn’t paid his insurance in six months and I want you to destroy his store.’ She gets 15 lonely women to come in there with machine guns to destroy this store. When the cops bust in, they say, ‘What’s going on? We don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ”

Aside from Alfred & Lt. Gordon, Helfer said most of the supporting cast in “Journey into Knight” is composed of new faces . “There’s a love interest. There’s the people that he works with, the chairman of Wayne Industries and the co-chairman and some other people, but they’re all new.”

For the continuity buffs in our audience, “Batman: Journey Into Knight” takes place after “Batman: Year One” and after Batman’s first encounter with the Joker. “In the context of the continuity my goal was to give myself some pin points, but then to not be dwelling on it,” Helfer explained. “It’s not like I don’t know this continuity, it’s just that I’m trying to not get to involved in the continuity because the more you get involved in the continuity the less you have of a story. Continuity is this kind of amazing crutch that allows you to lean on it all the time and forget that you still have a story to tell.”

The tone of “Journey Into Knight” differs from other Batman stories because Batman is trying hard to fight against cynicism and emotional darkness. “It’s situationaly noir, but the Batman/Bruce Wayne character is really trying to get above it,” Helfer said. “When you read a Batman comic, it’s the Batman that’s kind of bringing the story down into noir. In this situation it’s the world that’s bringing it down to noir. So Bruce is attempting at least to be optimistic. He’s attempting to be lighter about things, a little more jovial, a little jokierm but the circumstances of the world are just heavy. So it’s an interesting switch. He’s almost trying to fight that flow. He’s trying to maintain his perspective. To be precise, the word perspective is a very important word in this story.”

Helfer is happy to be working with Tan Eng Huat, the artist on “Journey into Knight.” “Tan is doing great work. Tan is a dear friend of mine. I just got back from China, where I was with Tan for a week in Shanghai,” Helfer stated. “My wife graduated and got her MBA. Her final project was to go to Beijing to work with the Chinese on a project there. So I went out there for two weeks.” When Helfer met Huat in Shanghai it was the first time they actually got to work together in person. “It was wonderful. This is a guy I’ve been working with for five years, but I’ve never worked with him face to face. We sat down in a Starbucks in Shanghai for four hours going over an issue,” Helfer said. “It was wonderful. He’s a wonderful and talented guy.”

Finishing up, Helfer said that “Batman: Journey into Knight” is a complex and carefully crafted story. “What I was dedicated to do was to create a book for readers as opposed to people who want to see 15 page fight sequences. This has all been plotted from the ground up in a very pain staking way that’s kind of unique to comics.”

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