All year long, DC Comics and conventions across the country have been celebrating Batman's 75th Anniversary with panels featuring significant Bat-contributors past and present. This past weekend, Long Beach Comic Con honored the occasion with "Batman 75/Tales of the Dark Knight," moderated by Comic Book Resources Managing Editor Albert Ching and featuring "Batwoman" writer Marc Andreyko, "Batman Incorporated" artist Chris Burnham, "Detective Comics" co-writer Brian Buccellato, "Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet" co-writer Ralph Garman, legendary writer Marv Wolfman and new "Batgirl" artist Babs Tarr.
The room was packed with fans, some of whom cosplayed favorites like Harley Quinn and the Joker as well as less frequently seen gems like a Mad Hatter and a gentleman offering his interpretation of Batgirl's new costume.
Ching kicked things off by asking the panel about their earliest memories of the Caped Crusader. "My first impressions about Batman was the TV series starring Adam West from 1966 through '68," said Garman. "That was my Batman for the longest time. And through that TV series and loving that, it introduced me to comic books and I started reading the work of geniuses like Marv and other folks. That and 'Superfriends' I guess would be my first introduction."
West was also Buccellato's first exposure to the character, but said, "I think I really loved him, probably the most, in Tim Burton's 'Batman.'"
"I guess for me it would be the cave drawings, I'm a little bit older than them. It was Bob Kane standing there with a chisel and Bill Finger was there moving his hand," Wolfman joked. "I started reading Batman when he was fighting aliens and fighting stupid characters that looked stupid. But every so often there'd be a detective story or a real story in the midst of all the stupid. And I thought, 'Gee, he's worth following, can we get rid of the stupid?' And they finally did."
Tarr's firsts were the Burton films and "Batman: The Animated Series," the mention of which drew applause. Andreyko also cited "Superfriends" and the live action "Legends of the Superheroes" roasts, which he described as "awful but wonderful." He also mentioned an appreciation for Hawkman and his costume.
Wolfman was then asked about transitioning Dick Grayson from Robin to Nightwing in a time before rumor mills and fans knowing details about comics months ahead of release. "It was very strange because back then, you have to remember, Robin was only appearing in 'Teen Titans.' It's not like he was 'Batman and...' He hadn't been for several years. He was written out of Batman completely. One of the decisions that I had made from the day that I started Titans was that I was going to make Dick Grayson the actual age he should be rather than 12, so I was aging him and George [Perez] certainly was drawing him much more as an adult and that's the way we wanted him.
"What happened was Denny O'Neil, who was the editor of the Batman books, wanted to have Robin back and wanted to make him young again," Wolfman continued. "Fortunately a couple of things -- one, 'Teen Titans' was selling really well and Batman unfortunately wasn't at that particular time. But we were able to convince them that maybe we can keep Dick Grayson and you can have a brand new Robin and you can create a whole thing about it -- it's the first time in comics history a new character has come in as the partner. It's a handing off of the costume and all of that. And DC loved the idea and Denny loved the idea. So I got to keep Dick Grayson, who was the character I wanted, and Batman got a new Robin.
"There was no negatives in there because readers were already conditioned to the older Dick Grayson and the older acting Dick Grayson," Wolfman explained. "It probably would've been a major to-do if they took Dick back into Batman and made him 13, 14, 15 again, that would've caused problems. But what we did, actually everybody was happy and it all came out fine. Of course nobody knew it until we did it. Today you know four months ahead of time so you have four months to get angry. With us you read it for the first time and 'Oh, oh, it's not that bad.'"
That led to Ching asking Tarr about the reaction to Batgirl's new look as the series changes hands and welcomes Tarr along with writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher. Tarr said she was prepared for the worst by Stewart, who told her that change isn't always taken well. "But it was the exact opposite. We just got this outpour of love and support and this great reaction," said Tarr. "It was unexpected but also expected. [We knew we were] doing something good and important and what needed to be done with her -- but it's been pretty amazing so far."
Next, Garman was asked about his experience writing "Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet" with Kevin Smith. "It was my first time writing comics but I had written film scripts and television, and I was surprised -- luckily we had a great editor, Jim Chadwick who [is] also the editor for 'Batman '66' proper -- and he was a great asset in making sure I learned the new rules and guidelines. But I didn't find it all that different from writing screenplays or television because basically you're describing what happens in the frame, in this case it's a panel, and you're writing dialogue for character.
"Because I knew the characters so well and I had such love and affection for this series and for these characters, it was relatively easy to knock out the book," Garman continued. "I loved that show for so long and Adam's a friend and it's nice, after so many years of that show sort of being -- you weren't allowed to like '60s Batman and also the comic books. It was forbidden. And now it seems like the industry and fans have sort of come around and it's OK now to embrace that version of Batman as well. It's a pleasure to be part of it."
Asked to hint at coming stories in "Detective Comics," Buccellato teased the appearance of Anarchy as the primary villain starting issue #37. "It's sort of our version -- I don't want to give away too much but there definitely is a movement involved," the writer said. "Sort of taking the idea of if you could have the opportunity to level the playing field and redefine who you are, what would you do?" He confirmed that this version of Anarchy is not anyone who has previously appeared in the New 52.
Working on "Batman Incorporated" with writer Grant Morrison was a "crazy" experience for Burnham, who likened it to being "picked up from the minors" and immediately getting to the plate in the big leagues. "Getting on the best character in comics with my favorite writer in comics -- I got to draw Damian [Wayne] get killed. When I was first reading the comics, I hated Damian along with the rest of you," said Burnham. "I totally grew to love the guy, he became my favorite guy to draw. And I knew from the first time I drew him that we were going to kill him. So the more and more I liked drawing him, I would [lament], 'We're two months closer!'"
When Andreyko took over "Batwoman" somewhat late in the production cycle, he was told it was going to be a double issue, which came as a surprise. But, he said, "It's been a lot of fun. [Artist] Jeremy Haun is finishing his run and moving on to 'Constantine' now. [Artist] Georges Jeanty is going to start on issue #35. I just saw the first issue and it's really, really gorgeous," Andreyko said. "The book's getting really, really weird. Issue #35 takes place in outer space. Batwoman's going to be kind of a team book with her, The Demon, Ragman, her sister and Clayface. Getting to write Ragman and The Demon is so much fun. Except I started writing Etrigan rhyming -- don't ever do that if you write Etrigan. It's like every bad poem I wrote in high school coming back." He added that writing Etrigan is a thrill because the demon is his favorite non-Marvel character created by Jack Kirby.
And what about Maggie Sawyer? "This is a soap opera," Andreyko said. "Things change. Nothing is forever." He also mentioned that he loves that Batman/Bruce Wayne knows about Batwoman/Kate Kane and that she has no interest in getting too involved with him.
With each of panelists discussing their work, Ching opened the rest of the panel to questions from the audience. The first fan at the microphone asked Wolfman about the process of killing off the second Robin, Jason Todd, and introducing the third, Tim Drake. "Outside of [being told to create] a new Robin and agreeing, that was all up to [editorial]. After Jason was unceremoniously killed -- because you should never leave it up to people, it should always be part of a story -- I was to create Tim Drake, but I had nothing to do with Jason."
Ching asked Wolfman to expand on the qualities he wanted to instill in Drake. "My goal was to come up with a character who, first of all, was not at all like any of the other Robins," he began. "[He] wanted to be Robin, who was obviously very intelligent, was able to figure out who Dick Grayson was even though he was two years-old and visiting the circus the day Dick's parents were murdered. That fixated in his head, as it would when you see two people suddenly die in front of you. And his whole life is based on that one incident. I wanted him to have a family, I wanted him to have a normal upbringing. We always invited into our world these freaks, these characters that are damaged in some way; we do that because they're great story material. That's why we want to make sure that people have problems because you can keep milking those stories forever.
"I wanted to do the exact opposite of that and find out if you can make a character, who came from a real family, whose family was still alive, who was very intelligent and realized he had another goal in mind, if we could do something with him," Wolfman continued. "Tim was put together over, I guess, about a month's time. I submitted and that's the one they went with so I was very happy. He's gotten very popular since and I have to credit all the guys who followed because I came up with the story, but then Chuck Dixon and all the others that wrote the follow up material did a wonderful job with him."
Asked if he'd like to write either the main "Batman '66" title or a team-up sequel, Garman replied, "There's been talks about me writing some stuff in the 'Batman '66' book because the Green Hornet series has gone really well. People seem to like it so I am going to take a shot at some standalone stories with Batman and Robin, some of the villains from the series. We're also talking about the possibility of maybe doing a sequel to the feature film storyline which had Batman and Robin against the major four villains -- Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, and Joker -- and maybe doing another shot at the storyline as well."
The next fan wanted to know which characters, other than the titular hero, Tarr enjoys drawing in "Batgirl." "Some pages leaked so I can say this -- Dinah's in it, Black Canary. She doesn't suit up but she's probably my favorite to draw. They're in a fight right now [so] she kinda has this stink face the whole time. It's probably my favorite kind of face to draw."
As the panel came to a close, Tarr took a moment to recognize all of the fans who cosplayed the new Batgirl costume, paying special attention to the aforementioned crossplayer.