Batman first debuted in 1939’s “Detective Comics” #27, which makes 2014 the iconic crimefighter’s 75th anniversary — as you’re no doubt aware given DC Entertainment’s year-long public commemoration of the event. The latest celebration took place Saturday afternoon at New York Comic Con, with the “Batman 75th Anniversary” panel.
On the panel: “Batman: Earth One” and “Justice League” writer and DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns, revered Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy (who greeted the crowd with the line, “I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!), legendary artist Neal Adams, current “Batman” creative team Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, plus DC co-publisher and “Hush” and “All-Star Batman” artist Jim Lee. DC marketing’s John Cunningham served as moderator.
Cunningham asked the panel who their favorite member of Batman’s famed rogues gallery. Johns said he thinks Joker is the best villain in fiction.
Conroy said he’s a bit biased towards the Joker because of Mark Hamill, leading to him discussing how the Joker can be continually reinvented with different performers. “I never thought anyone would top Mark Hamill, than Heath Ledger came along,” Conroy said. “They’re both brilliant in different ways.”
“I’m tempted to say the Joker, because I can’t pronounce the name of my favorite villain — Ra’s al Ghul,” Adams answered. Capullo and Snyder both picked Joker, with Snyder describing the villain as “the Devil’s tongue in some way,” and a character he finds “endlessly interesting.”
Lee had a different take “Catwoman is my favorite. I’m a big fan of the Julie Newman Catwoman.”
Using that transition to discuss the 1960s “Batman” TV series, which will get a long-awaited home release on Nov. 11, Lee said it was a show he took very seriously as a kid, despite its campy nature — and the Joker particularly scared him, due in part to Cesar Romero’s mustache being visible under the makeup. Capullo shared that “the very first superhero drawing I ever did was Batman and Robin, and it was from the opening of the ’66 TV show.”
Adams had a different perspective of the series, saying he was excited when the show was coming on originally, as he thought it would be more serious in tone. “I tried to hold my sense of disbelief through the show until, on the first show, Jill St. John climbed on top of a cyclotron and somehow fell into it while dancing, and Batman said, ‘What a way to go-go.’ That pretty much said it for me.”
Asked to speak of his famous collaboration with Denny O’Neil, Adams said he was struck at the time about how dark some of the writer’s stories were. “Denny always said that I drew realistically enough to actually do what he saw in his mind, and he didn’t have to tell me what to do.” Adams also discussed his “Batman Odyssey,” story which was a very different type of Batman story from his previous work — including the character “[punching] the shit out of dragons.”
The next topic of discussion was Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 story “The Dark Knight Returns,” which Capullo called his “go-to book” and a game-changer for him — and something he made sure his 12-year-old son read, despite his general disinterest in comics. Snyder said it’s his favorite book — not just comic book, but book. “It was totally transformative for me,” the writer said. “I was 10. I still have my original four issues.”
Lee said that every tie he revisits the story, he finds “new levels and new connections.” “It’s a masterpiece. It was life-changing, for sure.” Johns had a similar take, saying he was especially affected by the portrayal of Harvey Dent in the story.
Turning to “Batman: The Animated Series,” which debuted in 1992, Conroy admitted he never expected the show to have the type of impact and legacy that it has had. “I only knew the Adam West series,” Conroy said. “I had no idea how it would go.” He was surprised to learn the show was planning a “noir, dark” direction.
Discussing how much the show means to its fan, Conroy shared a story where he recently was asked what the overarching lesson of Batman was. Conroy said it was to “never, ever, ever give up. He doesn’t give up, no one should ever give up.”
Next up was the Lee-illustrated “Batman: Hush,” a 12-issue 2002-2003 story written by Jeph Loeb. Lee characterized it as a “love letter” to the creators who worked on Batman before he did, and that Loeb designed the story for Lee to get the opportunity to draw multiple characters from the Bat-mythos, since the artist wasn’t sure he’d get another chance at them.
Additionally, Lee told the crowd that he initially worked on the pages for “Hush” in secret, to prove to DC Comics that he could make the monthly schedule and the story could be a part of the main “Batman” series.
Lee also talked “All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder,” which he drew and Frank Miller wrote. Lee said he loves how the line “I’m the goddamn Batman” has become part of the lore. Someone yelled “finish it!” from the crowd — “That is the most common question I get,” Lee responded. “There are scripts written. There are pages drawn. That’s all I’ll say.”
Johns discussed the “Batman: Earth One” original graphic novel series, which he writes and his frequent collaborator Gary Frank illustrates. Johns said he wanted to start with a Batman that hadn’t yet become the highly competent Batman that fans know, and even his Alfred is “extremely different” — more blue collar and military-oriented.
The second “Batman: Earth One” volume is slated for release in 2015, which will depict Batman learning to be a detective. “The second volume is all about identity,” Johns said. “We have a very different take on [Killer] Croc.” Johns shared that there are plans for “several more” volumes beyond this point.
Moving to Snyder and Capullo’s current run, Cunningham pointed out how quickly elements from their work has become part of the Batman iconography — pointing to the Joker and Court of Owls masks released with the “Death of the Family” and “Court of Owls” collected editions, respectively. “It fits strangely well,” Snyder said of the Joker mask.
Capullo thanked the fans for their support, saying the team is doing “the best we can with all the love in our heart.” Capullo also gushed about getting flattering words on his Batman work from Adams, something the artist said “fuels” him.
The very latest “Batman” issue, #35, is the start of the “Endgame” story arc, which starts with Joker-ized versions of the Justice League. Snyder said that was timed to announce to readers “how crazy this story is going to be.” Like Snyder said in an interview this past week with CBR, if “Death of the Family was a “comedy,” “Endgame” — which has been in the works for at least two years — is a “tragedy.”
Snyder said he and Capullo have been talking on the phone more to plan “Batman” stories. “We’re having a blast,” the writer said.
The panel ended with a quick mention of Fox’s recently debuted “Gotham” TV series, as a trailer played on the big screens.
Keep reading CBR all weekend for the latest from New York Comic Con!
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