THE BAT SIGNAL: Fialkov Puts the Crime in "Superman/Batman"

Superman and Batman, two of DC Comics' oldest and most iconic characters, are rolling back the clock to the beginning of their superhero collaboration thanks to comic book writer Joshua Hale Fialkov. Starting with "Superman/Batman" #85, Fialkov, best known for his Top Cow horror series "Echoes" and the Eisner-nominated crime graphic novel "Tumor," picks up the reins on a new three-issue arc that occurs during the early years of the Superman/Batman partnership.

Taking the crime-fighting duo through the mean streets of Gotham to solve a murder, Fialkov tests the heroes' relationship with each other and introduces Clark to the terrifying villains and seedy characters lurking in the city's shadows. The story is brought to life by two separate creative teams -- Adriana Melo and J.P. Mayer on #85 and Tomas Giorello on #86 and #87 -- Fialkov is the latest of many writers to sweep through the pages of "Superman/Batman," one of the few ongoing DC series that doesn't rely on long story arcs or permanently entrenched creative teams. Since its creation by writer Jeph Loeb in 2003, "Superman/Batman" has gone everywhere from alternate worlds to distant futures, and now thanks to Fialkov, back to Batman's home turf.

Of course, if it takes place in Gotham THE BAT SIGNAL is there! Catching a hold of the prolific writer, Fialkov spoke with CBR News about his approach to writing Superman and Batman, what bringing Superman into gritty Gotham will do to the boy from Kansas and why he thinks the team up has lasted as long as it has.

CBR News: What can you tell us about your upcoming three-issue story arc in "Superman/Batman?" I understand that your story brings Superman into Gotham City to solve a murder?

Joshua Hale Fialkov: I think fans of my independent comics will be pleasantly surprised. The Batman and Superman that really reverberate with me are the golden age pulp versions of the characters, and I tried my best to steer the story in that way. Rather than having Superman come to Gotham, instead I have Clark Kent, Reporter come to Gotham, and he finds himself immediately having to make decisions that Superman would never have to, especially involving his new "friend" Batman, who he admires and doesn't quite understand at the same time. So, you throw in a murder that very clearly points to the Dark Knight, and Clark is just about swallowed up by the gray that is Gotham and Batman.

Does putting Clark in Gotham allow you to explore aspects of the city that you don't get in a normal Batman story?

Sure. The two cities have evolved into arch representations of the characters. Gotham is the filth and the sickness of modernity, while Metropolis is the hopes and dreams of tomorrow, which is also a pretty convincing description of both characters, as least thematically.  By taking Clark -- who has certainly seen evil and corruption and all of those things -- and placing him in a city that those things are the rule, rather than the exception, you introduce some of Bruce's psyche into Clark's, and then open up a whole new world for him to face.

Superman wouldn't be effective in Gotham, he's a big picture guy and Gotham is a one at a time city. So here he is forced to do one-on-one work.

Now, the solicits say these next three issues will take place during the early days of Superman and Batman's partnership. Does this mean it's taking place far in the past, before Dick Grayson took up the cowl? Will this be Bruce Wayne Batman?

Oh yeah, this is probably year three or four of Batman's career, probably a tiny bit earlier than that for Superman. You know, for me, Scott Snyder is just murdering over at Detective, and I couldn't even come close, so I went the other way.

This early into their partnership, what is Superman and Batman's relationship with each other?

They know each other's identities and are friends both as heroes and as men, but, again, they have such wildly different approaches to what they do and how they do it that I think there's still some tension. Clark still sees Bruce as eccentric and a bit dangerous, and Bruce sees Clark as a genuine threat with the potential to start the apocalypse. Trust, y'know, is an issue.

How do you approach writing these two incredibly iconic figures?

I tried to keep both of them feeling modern, while still preserving the status quo from this early in their relationships. The thing about these two characters is that any comic reader worth their weight knows exactly what they sound like, how they'd react and what they would do in almost any situation. So the trick becomes putting them in situations that there is no answer for. The world of noir, specifically, is a world in which you have a man with a special set of circumstances, put in a situation where he can't use what makes him special and forced to come to terms with the confusing world around him. That to me sounds exactly like the Clark Kent side of the Superman equation. So, while Batman has no problem using and abusing Bruce Wayne, shaping him as needed, Clark is a reporter because he believes in truth above all else.

And yet... he's a liar. And in my issues, I really wanted to play with what that means. Batman holding up a fun house mirror to Superman and asking, "How different are you, really?"

With your emphasis on it being Clark Kent the reporter entering Gotham and dealing with the lie of his dual identity, do you ascribe to the theory that Clark Kent is the real person and Superman is the fake identity? Or the flipside, that Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne is the fake identity?

I'd say that's probably just Quentin Tarantino talking. Superman without Clark Kent is General Zod, right? I mean, you take away his earth given morality and he's just a yellow sun fueled demi-god. With Bruce, for me, he gave up being himself when his parents died. That trauma is just too much for a kid to have, especially with the guilt he would feel over talking them into leaving the movie early. That sort of psychological damage created Batman, and with the support of the Family, he's sort of come back from that a bit. But, the truth of it will always remain that Batman is Bruce Wayne, age 6, psychologically speaking, for me.

What is it about these two characters that make putting Superman and Batman together feel natural?

Well, just the idea that they represent the dark and the light, two flip sides of the same coin. Almost from the minute of creation you had Batman as the cynical and Superman as the hopeful, and it defines the sorts of stories they told. I think they represent the two different core hopes of American society. To be the best, and to beat the odds.  Superman, obviously, as the Ubermensch, the ultimate hero, Batman as the regular man who does more than should be possible. That's capitalism and the American way all in one. But, at the same time, when you put them together, by reflecting off of each other, they so much more about our psyches then they could possibly alone.  

Are there horror elements in your story? The terrifying bat-creature on the cover of "Superman/Batman" #86 implies a pretty dark tone!

Everything I do, whether I mean to or not, has some horror in it. I think the horror in this story comes from Clark being in an unwinnable situation and Bruce realizing he's getting in the face of a man who can crush him like a bug. For me, Clark isn't just questioning his friend's motives, he's questioning his own. He's being forced to think about the decision he made to hide his identity and portray himself as something he isn't. Realizing that you aren't quite up to the standards you judge others by, let alone yourself, is something that can shake an honest man to his very foundations.

Are you just doing these three issues of "Superman/Batman" or do you have any other DC work in the pipeline?

Well, there's some exciting stuff down the line, but nothing I can talk about just yet. But there is the hardcover collection of my graphic novel "Echoes" that's coming out from Top Cow/Image in July, and of course, my Eisner-Nominated graphic novel "Tumor" which is available now!

"Superman/Batman" #85 hits stores June 8.

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