This week, one of DC Comics longest running titles crossed a threshold both in terms of time and story as Grant Morrison and an all-star lineup of artists released "Batman" #700 to comic shops.
And while the "Batman" title holds a long history of looking back at its past triumphs in its centennial issues, the seventh such celebration presented an all-new story that crossed from the campy "new look" era of the Dark Knight's not so dark '60s stories through to the post-apocalyptic future teased in issue #666. Bringing Morrison's "Time And The Batman" story to life and coordinating the art team that included Frank Quitely, Tony Daniel, David Finch, Scott Kolins and Andy Kubert was Bat-editor Mike Marts who returns this week to CBR's THE BAT SIGNAL to delve into what it took to make the story happen and more.
From the secrets of the many future's glimpsed at the end of the issue to how the story thematically links to Morrison's now three-title Bat saga and how "The Return of Bruce Wayne" will reach all the way across the Batman line in the months ahead, Marts brings a behind the scenes look at one of the biggest A-list comics of the year.
CBR News: Mike, you've been editing comics for a while now, and I'm sure you've done a few anniversary issues over the years. When walking into a project like "Batman" #700, do you have a certain kind of benchmark for what you want to include in the comic either as a centennial story or as a Batman anniversary issue specifically?
Mike Marts: You always approach one of these big anniversary issues a lot different than you would a normal issue. Actually, when we started working on "Batman" #700, I started thinking back to whether I'd ever worked on a big centennial issue, and I don't think I had. I know I've worked on 50s and 150s and 75s and other numbers that are divisible by 25, but I don't think I'd ever gotten to do a 100 or 200 or something like that. So I knew off the bat that we had to make this issue extremely special. And fortunately, Grant Morrison had an amazing plan already in place. He had stared talking about a storyline that was split into three different parts, and as we talked about it, it started to evolve into a storyline that was split into three different eras.
So he thought up the idea of using three different artists, which was great. We knew right off the bat that no matter who we got to draw the issue, we'd have three great artists, so already it was shaping up to be pretty special. Additionally, with anniversary issues you want to have bonus content that you wouldn't have in a monthly issue -Â pinups, special features and things like that. Those are things you take into consideration when planning one of those issues.
In a way, the book reminded me of issue #600 where Ed Bruabaker wrote kind of fake "classic" stories with artists aping the style of Dick Sprang or whoever. Grant's story also fits that "we're going to have classic material here" idea but pushes those previous eras past reprints or homages and reveals a bit of secret history.
Exactly. Nothing against reprinting old stories from the past because they are classic stories, but we have a whole trade paperback department that handles that side of things. This time around, we didn't want to go back and reprint old material. We wanted to make each page within the issue new content.
The focal point artist for each of the issue's chapters is Tony Daniel, Frank Quietly and Andy Kubert. The thing that jumped out at me about Tony's art was not just that this was a specific callback to the "new look" era headlined by Carmine Infantino but that the little quirks - particularly with Batman's mask -Â were drawn from the Adam West TV show as well. Those are things Grant has talked a lot about as inspiration, but we haven't seen him write in that era. Did he put notes in the script about different visual cues, or did you work with the artists to pull out reference to match each era?
Grant was fairly specific about that at the beginning of the story. At the beginning of each chapter, he gave each artist a bit of art direction, primarily with Tony because there we were going back into an era from the past. The Silver Age approach was very intentional for the design of the chapter. With Frank, it was mostly asking him to continue all the great stuff he'd been doing in his "Batman & Robin" run. And with Andy, it was going into the future and bringing the same style and sensibility he took when he did "Batman" #666. But I think maybe the most challenging chapter was also the shortest one which was the David Finch-drawn feature at the end. That required a lot of extra thought and imagination on David's part. Grant did a great job describing all these brilliant futurescapes, but it was really going the extra mile with what David had to bring to it.
I don't think everyone realized that each of those story fragments were inspired by past "Batman" comics, one of which Grant had written himself with Batman One Million. But is it hard for you when Grant draws on a bunch of left field comics of old that he's gotten his hands on but that you may not have any direct reference for in the Bat Office?Is there a need to match some of those old comics, or did you just let the artists run wild?
You know, it's a mixture of all of the above. With some of the elements, it's pulled from past Batman continuity so we're drawing up old back issues and getting the reference from there. For example, Professor Nichols was an old character, but it's not somebody who had appeared in Grant's run previous to this so we had to go back and find him. Other elements that Grant has used draw from past continuity, but the elements that he has already incorporated into his run, modernized them and made them current - things like the Thomas Wayne Batman costume that Doctor Hurt wears or most of the stuff from "Batman R.I.P." like the Zur-En-Arrh costume. That's stuff that's been brought into the current run in a new way.
So with the future stuff that David tackled, some of it was drawing on reference like "Batman Beyond" or some of the more Frank Miller-inspired sequences, but other elements were purely created out of Grant and David's imagination.
Well, specifically with the "Batman Beyond" page that everyone jumped on was the implication that it's Damian we're looking at whose the mentor to Terry. Is that something we can assume?
The character there is Damian, and a lot of that is really open to the reader's interpretation. I don't know if we're saying that this is the direction that things will necessarily take, but it is a possible direction.
#700 rides a fine line between being a truly stand alone issue that also ties into Grant's bigger run, however it doesn't tie in in the sense that the plot is key for figuring out "The Return of Bruce Wayne" or the bigger mysteries at stake. Was that something you didn't want to get into considering the anniversary nature of the book?
Exactly. The story of "Batman" #700 serves two different groups of readers. It can be read as a stand alone for people who haven't been following along. They can read this as a single adventure -Â epic in scale and aggressive in what it's attempting, but at the same time it stands on its own. Though there are elements that carry though and are a part of Grant's larger epic that's he's been working on with Batman. In that way, I think we really succeeded in pleasing two groups of readers.
And we were extremely lucky that the four main guys on the book agreed to work on the book. We could have rolled the dice a different way, but I couldn't think of a better mixture of guys that could have contributed to this issue. Tony's been so linked with Grant throughout the last two years of Batman, Andy was the guy who got the whole run started with "Batman & Son," Frank was so integral in getting "Batman & Robin" off the ground and doing the covers from there, and David will play a big part in the future of our books. The mix of artists there has me amazed.
And even though he was there to help bring the book in on time, Scott Kolins seemed to change his style in order to meld better with what was already happening in Frank's pages.
He did. We were extremely happy to have Scott involved in the issue as well. In an issue of this size and scope, a lot of times we have to call in extra hands to help out, and we were fortunate that Scott was available for a few days to help out.
Let's talk about what's next. Grant is getting ready to put a lot of pieces back in place to see Bruce in the present, specifically in #701 and 702 coming up with Tony again. At what point in the creation of this whole thing did you guys decide to turn back to that gap between "R.I.P." and "Final Crisis"?
There are a lot of things going on at the same time right now. The two-parter in "Batman" is the lost chapter of "R.I.P." and bridges that gap to "Final Crisis," but you've also got the ongoing plot in "Batman & Robin" with the reveal of the Joker and the presence of Doctor Hurt out there. Then there's also "The Return of Bruce Wayne" and Bruce's presence throughout time. The three things may seem separate, but they are all important spokes of the wheel for lack of a better term that all lead to the center, the hub that Grant is leading towards. And no one spoke is greater than the other. They're all leading in the same direction, and it's all very intentional in the way it's laid out.
We're just around the corner from September solicitations, which means a new artist for "Batman & Robin." We know that at one point Frank was going to come back for an arc, but is there anything you can say about what's on tap there?
Not yet. Issue #16 of "Batman & Robin" will be an artist that we know from Grant's Batman projects. It's someone readers are already familiar with, but we can't say just yet who that'll be.
We spoke last time about how the whole Batman line has a role to play in Bruce Wayne's return. We recently found out how Paul Dini's "Streets of Gotham" story will delve into some of Bruce's past with Tommy Elliot and even further back. Have you started to see other books fall into a similar pattern or place to prepare for Grant's next phase?
Yeah. We've been planning different things in each of the titles. And each of the titles is moving towards a similar spot, preparing for the eventual return of Bruce Wayne. But each one is approaching it differently depending on who the main characters are. The story for "Red Robin" will be different than it will be for Catwoman in "Gotham City Sirens," and the same thing goes for "Azrael" and "Outsiders" and Tommy Elliot. They're all different characters with ties and relationships with either Bruce Wayne or Batman, so each title is approaching things differently.
After reading Fabian's first issue of "Red Robin," the book feels like Tim as a character is rotating back towards Gotham, and that seems like something that will reach out across some of the other books. After "Battle For The Cowl" shattered so much of what we expect from the city, do you plan on pulling that cast back together?
That's intentional. As we're drawing closer to the end of the "Return of Bruce Wayne" series, the characters in the various titles are kind of gravitating back towards Gotham City. That being said, with books where locations outside of Gotham are important, we won't be abandoning that. We will be returning to other locations. For example, part of the flavor of "Red Robin" is the very James Bond/Jason Borne feel to it -Â the idea that we can be cosmopolitan and visit different exciting locations. That'll still be a part of the book, and likewise with "Azrael" while Michael Lane's adventures will begin in Gotham City, the nature of who is he and what he's about will take him to exotic locations around the globe.