THE BAT SIGNAL: Grant Morrison, Part II

While the latest arc on DC Comics' signature "Batman & Robin" series (wrapping this week with issue #15) carries the ominous title "Batman And Robin Must Die!" the Dark Knight is in better shape than ever as he barrels down on a November-relaunch that will see the entire Bat-line reinvigorated with new talent, new titles and even new Batmen.

Before the next phase of caped crusadering hits Gotham City, CBR's ongoing discussion of the entire world of Wayne - THE BAT SIGNAL - returns to its special two-part discussion with the mind behind the biggest moves in Batman's world: Grant Morrison. From his initial "Batman & Son" story that introduced the world to 11-year-old assassin turned dynamic Robin Damian Wayne through the twisty turns of the psychological sci-fi mystery of "Batman R.I.P." and from the #1 smash hit "Batman & Robin" to the current time-travel epic "The Return of Bruce Wayne," Morrison's work has redefined the Dark Knight for a new era - and he's not done yet.

In part two of our discussion, Morrison delves into the future of the Dark Knight, from the final fate of Darkseid in "Return of Bruce Wayne" to "Batman, Inc.'s" international manga villains to his remaining connection with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne.

Editor's Note: This interview took place prior to the New York Comic Con

CBR News: The "Batman: The Return" one-shot that you're doing with David Finch on November 3 will be the connecting tissue between your second act and where "Batman, Inc." will go. In the past when you've made a big change in your stories, the rest of the Batman line has fit around you, but it feels this time as though you're discussing a bit of what you've got cooking with the other writers coming on to the books like Finch and Scott Snyder, etc. Have you been trying to make the line feel more of a group piece moving forward?

Grant Morrison: I think there's going to be a little bit more of that. I'm going into DC on the Monday after the convention in New York to do a writer's conference with everyone. I'm not the sort of person who likes to tell people what to do, and these are people who have very good ideas for what to do on their own. But I think, because of the "Batman, Inc." concept, which is kind of a simple one to grasp, you're probably going to see a lot more of that crossover and collaboration between the books to some extent. I think we're on a track now where everyone's almost joining in and we all know where we're going. But each book has got its own flavor. You think if there's 100 Batman books on the market, they've got to be quite different. One of the things we wanted to do was to make sure that everyone's taking the Batman concept from a very different angle and looking at it in an unusual new way.

Is it hard for you to give up Dick and Damian at this point?

Oh, it's killing me! [Laughs] I didn't realize how much. I just kept thinking - because obviously some of the plans I've got for the future involve them again - that I'd always be writing these guys. But suddenly I realized the other day, while wrapping up dialogue on "Batman & Robin" #15 and 16, that I was quite sad. I'll never get to hang out with these guys in the same way again. But I'm looking forward to how they branch out now. Damian's always been quite a big breakout hit, and I think everyone wants to use him now. It's fun to watch that happening after he was hated for so long.

Looking at "Batman, Inc.," you've put a lot more work into Bruce Wayne as a character than some past writers have. In many Batman comics, the Dark Knight swoops in as a figure while the human drama revolves around someone else, but your stories have taken a personal interest in Bruce's character. How are you picking that personal level up now that he's back in the present?

That's been good because, as you say, there's been a lot of work done to Bruce. The whole point of "R.I.P." was to put him under threat because often stories show someone else under threat until Batman leaps in to save the day. I wanted to put the character himself under threat and see what he might have as vulnerabilities I think made him more relatable. So the idea of "The Return of Bruce Wayne" is quite genuinely that Bruce Wayne is back in a big way. He's the dominant force in Batman now. He's recovered who he is and what he is and what he's all about. There is a big focus on that character, and "Batman, Inc." has made it really fun to reconnect with him - with that super mind. [Laughs] I mean, the other guys are a bit more human, but when you're talking Bruce Wayne, you're talking about a guy where it's Batman at his peak. It's not Batman at the beginning of his career or the end of his career like "Year One" or "Dark Knight." This is an open Batman is the prime of his life. It's always fun in the same way it was with Superman to write about someone who is so smart and so trained and so clever and all those things. It's quite elevating for me to write a persona about that.

As he makes this worldwide trip to train new Batmen, Bruce is going to cross paths with the villain Lord Death Man in issue #2. That character came to prominence in the past few years with the release of the "Bat-Manga" anthology of '60s Japanese Batman comics, but even that was really based on an older story from "Batman" #180. Did you read the manga book when it came out and instantly kind of gravitate towards the villain?

Oh sure! I got the manga book way back and just loved the strange look of it and the way that they did the Death Man character. I've never been into that old "New Look" story - it wasn't that great of a character. But the idea of someone who dies and comes back to life is kind of cool, and they didn't do much with it. But the Japanese version of it is kind of creepy and weird and slightly off center. I mean, the fact that they call him Lord Death Man instead of just Death Man is so much cooler by a factor of ten! So I thought immediately he was someone to play with, and again, I wanted to incorporate as many elements as we possibly could into the series. We can go, "Okay, let's take the Bat-Manga and ask 'What if those stories were real as well? What if there was a Batman of Japan and he does fight Lord Death Man and Professor Gorilla as well?'" That's another fabulous Japanese villain!

So this is the story of how that guy came to be and of Batman finding his own version of a crimefighter in Japan who can take over for him. But as always, it's not without problems. That's why we've got a nice two-part story here. What can I say? It's Batman creating "Bat-Manga" essentially. [Laughs] And of course, Professor Gorilla gets some page time as well.

From the Great Ten to a bunch of other characters you've played with and introduced over the years, you've used your stories to help diversify the makeup of the DC Universe. Is the b-side to Bruce Wayne's journey in "Batman, Inc." about giving back some more of those characters than we've already seen you do?

I've just always felt that. I love the whole idea of the International Batmen from the Club of Heroes kind of thing, and it's always fun in a story to switch locations and play with a different backdrop - Batman in a new setting. Just to see Batman in the streets of Japan surrounded by all this neon and flashing lights is really cool. I've always wanted to diversify the DCU, but usually when I do it, James Robinson comes along and kills them all. [Laughs] But certainly we try. To me, I look out the window and see all kinds of people walking down the street, and I want to see that reflected in the superhero community. I'm sure a lot of readers would like to see themselves represented as well. It's always been a focus of mine to widen the scope of DC's characters internationally and ethnically.

The thing that's put this all in motion, from "Return" on, is the Omega Effect which has sent Bruce through time and done probably plenty of other things as well. We haven't seen the New Gods characters since "Final Crisis." Will those threads be continuing at all in "Batman, Inc." or in your other upcoming DC work?

Like I said, "Return" #6 is almost like "Batman meets Kirby." The New Gods don't show up because we're mostly playing with Darkseid, and I want to save the actual New Gods and what's happened to them for "Multiversity" where they definitely make a big comeback. It just seemed the right place to do it. This [sixth issue] is the final fate of Darkseid because I think he's the one we're mostly dealing with.

Do you think there's a reason why the DCU has absorbed Darkseid as a broader villain apart from the New Gods story cycle he was originally intended for?

Darkseid's just such a great character. He's probably the best villain in comics. There's Doctor Doom, maybe, who is fine, but I think that Darkseid's whole setup with Apokalips is so much more grand. Kirby did create the best villains, and this was his peak villain. Obviously, he works really well as a Superman villain, he works really well as a general DCU villain. He'd work great as a Green Lantern villain, and he's fought the Legion in the past. But I think that's why people have been attracted to the character: he represents everything we hate. He's Hitler meets Torquemada - a real bad guy plus.

Check out "Batman And Robin" #15 this week for the final chapter of "Batman And Robin Must Die!" and then check back with CBR in the days ahead for a special BAT SIGNAL discussion with artist Frazer Irving!

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