Milligan On Capitalism, Batman & "Legends Of The Dark Knight"

While Batman patrols the DC Comics Universe in print, the publisher's "Legends Of The Dark Knight" digital-first series brings the character to the digital comics realm. With a rotating roster of writers and artists, the latest creative team behind "Legends Of The Dark Knight" is writer Peter Milligan and artist Riccardo Burchielli, the two weaving a tale of a broke Bruce Wayne in their story, "Return Of Batman."

Know by many fans for his offbeat Marvel Comics series "X-Statix" with artist Mike Allred, Milligan's DC work includes "Red Lanterns" with artist Miguel Sepulveda and Vertigo comic "Hellblazer" with artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, which ends its epic three hundred issue run this month. He is also a writer who spent a large chunk of time in the '90s writing Batman, and with "Legends," he's putting the Bat back in Gotham -- albeit one divorced from the continuity of the New 52.

Speaking with CBR, Milligan discussed his version of the Dark Knight, the challenges (and freedoms) writing for the digital format and why he loves Batman.

CBR News: Peter, over the course of your career you've written a huge range of heroes for multiple publishers. For you, what is the appeal of Batman? What makes him stand out from the other superheroes you've written?

Peter Milligan: What I like about Batman is the fact that he seems to have a rich inner life. There are some complex, real dark places there. I know that other superheroes have complex inner lives too but with Batman there seems to be an interesting contrast and tension between what you know must go on inside that brooding skull and his outward dedication to decency, to not taking life. You just know it would be so much easier for the poor fellow to kill and be brutal with all those sick bastards he has to deal with. But some inner strength stops that happening.

So far in "Legends of the Dark Knight," readers have seen a Batman who cuts corners. How does this version of Batman differ from the Dark Knight you've written previously?

I don't know if he's cutting corners, exactly. Maybe he's become a little complacent, or has forgotten something about where he came from. The story deals with someone who has come to depend too heavily on his technology and the financial apparatus that underpins that technology. That's different from how I've portrayed him before.

What was your first introduction to the character? Were you a Batman fan as a kid growing up in the UK?

I couldn't say I was a huge fan or anything, but like most kids in the UK I saw the comics. I liked him because he seemed moody and dark.

You've also written a version of Ra's before in things like "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" story arc. Did that story plant the seed for wanting to explore Ra's more as a character?

It really worked around the other way. When I had the idea to write this story I needed a suitable villain. And as you say, I have history with Ra's. In fact, as it turned out Ra's is a perfect villain for Batman in this story. Once I knew I wanted him for the story I started to think about him more as a character. Unlike most of Batman's characters who are indisputably psychotic, evil, or both there is something noble and decent about Ra's motivation. He's not interested in personal gain or world domination. Of course, his methods at getting what he believes is right might offend our liberal sensibilities, but he really does believe he's doing the right thing, as much as Batman believes he's doing the right thing.

Thus far, readers have seen Batman battle both Ra's and potential financial ruin. Bruce Wayne's wealth is something comic book readers have come to take for granted and not consider what being Batman would actually cost. Is this assumption the reason you wanted to play with Wayne going broke?

Well, yes, exactly. This is the crux of the story. I think most readers have taken his wealth for granted, and I think Batman took it for granted too. Just as we all took for granted that the multi-national banks couldn't fail. I wanted to think about the unthinkable, a Batman who loses his money. Who's screwed by the very same capitalist system who has made Batman what he is.

Recently you've been working within the world of the New 52 and fitting your stories into company-wide continuity. Do you find that the non-cannon nature of "Legends" allows you to stretch creative muscles in a different way than you normally do?

Yes. Yes, and yes again. Did I say yes? I really like the freedom of these "Legend" stories. Though I'm not sure if they're exactly non-canon, just out of regular continuity. I mean, I think all of these stories should be possible, and shouldn't go against canon. Like, I don't think Batman should lose a leg, or marry Alfred or something (though I'd quite like to see that last story). There's nothing in the story I'm writing that contradicts what's happening in the current monthly comic. It just happened in some indefinable time before. It adds to rather than changes the myth.

Similarly, "Legends" is a digital series. Do you approach writing for the digital realm differently than you do writing for regular comics?

This was one of the things that really interested me about this project. This story is one that would have worked equally well in a regular comic, but the actual practicality of mapping out and writing the script have to be adapted to the specific requirements of the digital format. It's not an awful lot but you have to be aware of when the digital page would end, that kind of thing.

For this four-part digital series you're working with artist Riccardo Burchielli, who many fans know best from Vertigo's "DMZ." Was Burchielli's work depicting New York City -- the real life Gotham -- part of why you wanted to have him depict Batman's Gotham?

That, and the fact that he's just generally bloody good. I was really happy to have Riccardo on this project and he's really bringing something to it.

Finally, your story is called the "Return Of Batman," but so far we've seen what might be the End Of Batman between budget cuts and faulty equipment. Thematically, how would you sum up your story? What's the central idea you're playing with?

Well, so far you haven't got to the end of the story. I think I've gone into the theme: It's about coming to rely on something so heavily you maybe forget who you are, what made you. Batman stories seems to be more and more tech-heavy (especially the films) and it struck me how reliant Batman was becoming on the vast amounts of money- ie the capitalist system -- it must take to keep buy and maintain all this kit. Somehow that seemed like a good metaphor for us too.

"Legends Of The Dark Knight: Return Of Batman" is available on iTunes and comiXology.

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