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INTERVIEW: Tom King Breaks Batman, Again

WARNING: The following interview contains spoilers for Batman #71, by Tom King, Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes, on sale now.

We're rapidly approaching the final year of writer Tom King's run on Batman. But with DC Comics twice-montly shipping schedule and a number of Bane-ful mysteries yet to uncover, his 100-issue epic has a lot of ground to cover yet.

First and foremost is the showdown coming in July's Batman #75. The current "The Fall and the Fallen" arc continues in this week's issue #71, and alongside artists Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes, King is calling back not only to the many tragedies he's made the Dark Knight suffer since the Rebirth era launched, he and his artistic partners are also remixing imagery from one of the biggest Bat stories ever: Knightfall.

CBR spoke with King about how his current story draws inspiration from the first tale to break the Bat, the late '90s epic that introduced Bane into Batman's world. Below, King explains his own history with Knightfall and why his story is different, shares what elements from earlier in his run will reappear before the finale, and digs into why a broken Batman will give fans the story they want, even if they don't realize it just yet.

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CBR: As we head into the final phase of your Batman run, the thing I keep thinking about is the classic '90s Batman story Knightfall.

Tom King: Knightfall came out when I was right at the right age to be obsessed with Batman. I just remember utterly gasping at the issue where Batman was broken, and I remember the lead up to that, with Batman being out in the cold and having to fight every villain until he was too exhausted, then climbing up the stairs from the cave. That issue is part of my comics DNA, so that story was totally in my mind.

And another thing that was in my mind as we were planning our story – beyond "Knightfall is amazing!" – is that when you're reading that, the one thing that's disappointing about that whole story is once Bane takes over the city, he doesn't do anything. [Laughs] He breaks Batman, and then a few issues later, he's just defeated by Az-Bat. That part of the story was interesting to me. What are Bane's goals, and how would they play out?

But that issue [Batman #497] is something I remember so clearly. I grew up in L.A. in Culver City, and on the day I bought it, I couldn't even get home to read it. I went to the McDonald's next door, and still remember ordering a Big Mac just so I could sit down and read it right then. [Laughs] It's one of my favorite comic memories.

One major difference I see between the two stories is that while Knightfall was a story about Batman taking on all his villains physically, your story has been much more of an internal battle. We saw that recently in the run of issues you did, where he was strapped into a nightmare machine. Is that a key distinction you've made for yourself?

Yeah. This will be made explicit in #72, but the idea of the metaphor is that what Bane did when he broke Batman's back was, he literally lifted him up and brought him back down on his knee. He lifted him, and then slammed him back down. But this time, instead of physically doing that, he's doing it mentally. It's actually deeper than mental. He's broken his soul. He brought Batman up higher than he's ever been – almost perfectly happy – and then over the course of 25 issues from #50 to #75, he's brought him back down. And the story we're telling now with "The Fall and the Fallen" is when he's going to land on his back, and the crack comes. So yeah, what was physically done to Batman is now being done interiorly...is that a word? Whatever. I'm a writer. It's a word now. [Laughter]

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With #71, we're getting to an external battle, though, and it's another fight at Wayne Manor. What does Bruce's home mean for the story?

I think it's that idea that as we go forward, nothing is safe. What Batman thought was solid is completely made of liquid. The entire ground he's walking on is caving in. So his mansion is a sacred place, and Bane is attacking it. People who he always thought would stand by him are gone during "The Fall and the Fallen." So Gordon has already split from him. In the next issues, he'll have trouble with the family and trouble with Alfred. He's lost that love with Selina. Everything he thought was solid in his life is falling away. And if you read the "Knightmares" arc, which is so important to this entire thing, you see that the one thing he can depend on is this vow he made. He's always believed in that. But now he's starting to think that maybe the vow was a mistake and it's driving him crazy. Maybe that's the thing that broke his marriage up. He has almost nothing, and that's what it's all about.

One thing we saw in the "Knightmare" arc is that you've been doing follow-ups or callbacks to previous stories in your run. As you head into the final phase of the story with #75 and beyond, are there ways you're looking to tie in the smaller threads or details from early on back together?

I wouldn't exactly say it that way. This is all something I've planned from the beginning, but things are definitely hanging in the air. I feel like I've thrown a bunch of knives up in the kitchen, and I'm waiting for them to come back down and stab everyone. For example, when Batman defeated Bane with this mega headbutt in issue #18 or something, obviously that's not how you defeat Bane. You can't really beat him with a headbutt. But that was a clue. It's something that we can come back around to now. So there's a trail in this story, and everything is coming together. It's the easiest part to write, really, because everything is already set up, and the momentum of the book can just carry you.

Throughout the whole run, we've been seeing your story echo back out into the DCU. Joelle Jones took Catwoman's story and all that has played out in the solo series. Nightwing was shot, and that fallout has appeared in his title as "Ric Grayson." As you get to the end, are you wanting to pull some of those characters affected by all this back into the mix, or is it natural that that stuff will defuse?

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Well, I can't speak for Ric, but this whole arc of 100 issues has been about two things: Bane is evil and Batman loves Catwoman. Those themes will continue on through the end. I think that's essential. The moment of the wedding was at issue #50, and there's a reason that fell at the halfway point. We started this whole thing with Batman on a plane, about to die and facing his own mortality. Issue #50 is him realizing what could make him happy and then losing it. Now we have to find out what happens in issue #75 and #100.

Dick Grayson, to me, is the fourth pillar of the DCU. No one can destroy him. They can only injure him until it's time for him to come back, which I think is cool. So I don't feel like I've hurt that character in any way, but what happens in that book is up to them. I don't control Nightwing in any way. And that's fine.

Over this run, you've had an expansive roster of collaborators on art. But while there have been a lot of artists, many of them have been able to keep coming back for more stories. As you've written this latest story, were you able to plan everything out so you could give specific moments and pages to the artists you wanted?

I always write for the artist. That's the first thing I do. I generally know where everything's going, but then when I learn who's drawing the issues, it impacts how I do it. Of course, all that stuff is dictated by real life. Sometimes someone can't draw an issue because they get sick. So you always have to roll with real life and make sure the artist is doing what they want. But after I know who the artist will be and what they want to draw, I structure the issue around that.

For "The Fall and the Fallen," it's Mikel and Jorge doing double duty. And so I've leaned into a lot of Jorge's strengths, like super elaborate backgrounds and the way he uses scale. Playing to Mikel's strengths, I know he draw people prettier than anyone else. And we're doing an issue in the desert, which is a callback to when Mikel and I did together in Grayson #5. So it's all structured around the artists. And it helps that when you're on Batman, you get the best artists in the world.

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All of this is leading up to Tony. Tony is the master of the epic Bat story. No one does it better than Tony Daniel. I feel like we've waiting for Tony to come back at #75 and just make an explosion – bring the blood and bring the violence and just bring the kick-ass stye that I want to see in this book -- and hopefully other people do, too.

As you head towards issue 100, do you have a checklist of concepts, characters or collaborators you want to work with before it's all done?

I think I've done everything that I wanted to do -- including super obscure things. Ra's is the one who I haven't done anything with, and he's coming up in a future issue. What I really want to do is wrap up this story and bring this story to its emotional conclusion. All stories are about building up tension and releasing it. That's the way storytelling works. My plans for the next 25 issues is that I've given so much tension – I've put everyone in this horrible position where you're going, "Why is Batman losing it?" . So now I want to give you that release. I want to give you the endorphin high that comes from seeing the story end.

And the artists I'm working with are Tony, Mikel, Clay Mann and Jorge. Those four will close out the arc, which I think is perfect. I'd like to see Joelle come back at some point, and if I can find something else for Lee Weeks to do, that'd be great too.

Batman #71, by Tom King, Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes, is on sale now.

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