The Bat Signal: Of "Sin & Salvation"

DC Comics' Gotham City faces angelic judgment this April when Azrael and the Angels of Death put the entire city and some of its colorful characters on the metaphorical chopping block in the upcoming crossover "Sin & Salvation."

The story spans the comic trifecta of "Red Robin" #22 by Fabian Nicieza and Freddie Williams II, "Gotham City Sirens" #22 by Peter Calloway and Andres Guinaldo and "Batman" #709 by David Hine and Guillem March. When the Angels of Death decide to raze the City of Sin to the ground, it's up to Batman Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Selina Kyle to prove the city's worth saving. Of course, when it comes to purity, those particular three might not serve as the best of examples. The story picks up on events from the end of the "Azrael" ongoing title, with Hine masterminding the crossover alongside fellow scribes Nicieza and Calloway.

The three writers spoke with CBR News for a special BAT SIGNAL interview about the upcoming crossover, the part their titles play and how each of their leads rank on the scale of Sin and Salvation.

CBR News: Looking at this crossover at a whole, how exactly did it all come about? Who got the ball rolling?

David Hine: The story grew out of the last arc in the monthly "Azrael" book. This is the culmination of Azrael's journey into madness and religious fervor that we've been following. The story grew out of discussions with Azrael editor Rachel Gluckstern and Mike Marts as group editor of the Batman titles. I wanted to push Azrael's madness to the point where he is no longer a defender of Gotham. Quite the opposite, in fact, as he plans to cure the city of sin by destroying it, like a modern version of Sodom and Gomorrah. As we talked about it, Rachel and Mike suggested tying the story in with other Gotham-based heroes. With the cancellation of the ongoing series, the main action has shifted to the Batman title and we're seeing the story more from Dick Grayson's perspective.

Fabian Nicieza: David had been herding all the subplots from "Azrael," not the least of which was Ra's Al Ghul's manipulation of Michael Lane and the Order of Purity. It made a lot of sense to David -- and His Holy Seer Mike Marts -- to fold many of those storypoints in to a fun, self-contained, one month, Gotham City extravaganza. The things David had done with the "Azrael" book after I left him dregs had been nothing short of phenomenally cool, and it gave me a great chance to explore aspects of faith in Tim Drake's life, so I thought it was a great story opportunity for Red Robin.

Peter Calloway: I got involved in early December, when I got a call from DC, asking if I was interested in including "Gotham City Sirens" in the event. My answer was an emphatic "Yes!" I got excited about it, since it seemed like a great opportunity to use Catwoman. Plus, the idea of teaming her up with Dick and Tim was just too cool to pass up.

What's it like working with the others on this story? What's the dynamic like?

Hine: This is my first experience of taking the lead on a crossover event. It's very small-scale, with only three titles involved, but it's given me a taste of how complex it can be to co-ordinate these things. With other events I've been involved in, I was very much on the margins, with most of the plot lines already in place. On this one, I worked very closely with Fabian on "Red Robin" and Peter on "Gotham City Sirens," and they have been incredibly helpful and enthusiastic. We've exchanged notes and plots from day one and gone back and forth with suggestions to make sure the story is cohesive and the plot is watertight. The whole thing takes place in the space of 24 hours, so we had to be sure everyone is in the right place at the right time.

Nicieza: I'm sick and tired of all these nice, friendly, supportive and cooperative freelancers who want nothing more than to work together to make the story better. I had to endure nothing but kindness and professionalism during "The Road Home," then enthusiasm from J.T. Krul on the Teen Titans storyline and now I have to cope with a gentleman like David and a positive, hard-working nice guy like Peter Calloway? Enough with all of them. What happened to those glorious old daze on anything with an X on it, where writers all had knives out, ready to plunge them into you the second you turned your back? Those were the days when writers were callous, selfish boors. Actually, just to put the churl in his place, I still owe David "15 Ways Tim Drake Could Find Out Any Secret Azrael Has."

Calloway: It's been great. You're probably thinking I have to say that, but I'm being honest. I come from TV, where the stories really are collaborative, and so often, when writing comics, it's just you and your keyboard. But David, Fabian and I had this big email chain going back and forth, talking about the issues, the event, the characters, etc. There were several instances where David, Fabian or I would have a question/concern and we'd throw it out to the group. More often than not, someone had a good idea right away of how to answer/solve it. Mike Marts and Rachel Gluckstern were instrumental as well, throwing in ideas and weighing in on the direction the group was headed. It really was a team effort, but as it's an Azrael driven event, David was the one really leading the charge.

What can you say about the events of the crossover itself? What can readers expect to see in general and in your title specifically?

Hine: Azrael has become increasingly unstable over the past months as he learned The Order of Purity created the Suit of Sorrows and the Swords of Sin and Salvation with the expectation that they would one day be inherited by a second Messiah, who would lead humanity in a new world order. After committing suicide and rising from the dead, he has come to literally believe that he is that Messiah. Now, he has decided Gotham is a city so steeped in sin, he can no longer judge people individually. Instead, he wants to make an example of it, as God did to Sodom and Gomorrah in ancient times. God promised Abraham to spare the cities if he could find ten righteous men. Azrael is more generous. If just one of Gotham's heroes can demonstrate that they are truly righteous, the city will be spared.

We've used that concept as a springboard to examine the characters of Red Robin and Catwoman, as well as Dick Grayson's Batman. I've tried to allow both Fabian and Peter the space to use the story to examine the motivations of their characters -- to explore what truly makes a character heroic. This examination uncovers a hidden aspect of each of the characters -- a secret sin that once revealed, exposes them to Azrael's judgment. In the case of Dick Grayson, we learn a secret from his early life that predates the death of his parents, and gives us a new insight into why Dick became what he is today.

Nicieza: It involves a plan by Azrael and Crusader to purify Gotham City and purge it of all its sin. The only hope of saving the city is to see if the moral fortitude of either Dick, Selina or Tim can qualify as strong enough to spare the city. Through it all, Ra's is keeping a very interested and very vested eye on the proceedings.

Calloway: Hmm, this one's tricky. What drew me to the idea, and something I know is close to David's heart, is the way we all deal with faith; what role it plays in our lives, what's it mean to be a hero, how far will you go to save the people and city you love. Those are the issues that are at the core of the event. There are some pretty great revelations in the crossover. We learn a lot about both Tim and Dick, and Selina's story in all of this, with her sister Maggie, well, I won't say too much, but it's meant to help illuminate the complicated relationship between the two.

What part does your lead character play in the story overall and how do the Angels of Death affect them specifically?

Hine: Dick gives us a new perspective on Azrael's madness. He is ultimately responsible for Azrael's actions because it was he who allowed Michael Lane to inherit Azrael's swords and costume, back in "Battle for the Cowl" miniseries "Azrael: Death's Dark Knight." Dick was run through by Azrael's Sword of Sin shortly before Azrael's suicide. The Sword reveals the sins of its victims and in Dick's case it has stirred memories that he has suppressed all his life. Dick needs to confront both Azrael and his own past and he actively avoids bringing Bruce back to Gotham. This is something he has to handle on his own. Bruce has effectively handed Gotham over to Dick's safekeeping while he sets up Batman Incorporated, and this is Dick's first real test of his ability to play the role of Gotham's official guardian. If he goes down, Gotham goes with him.

Nicieza: Tim is being tested. He has a certain amount of time to save an immoral man, but obstacles are placed in his path that put people in jeopardy. The test is: what choices will you make to save a man of "standing and power" at the expense of "nameless innocents." It's a one-hour roller coaster ride with some very interesting moral complications at the end. The issue reunites me with my old Robin co-conspirator, Freddie Williams II, who is giving regular artist Marcus To a breather. Freddie's art, as usual, is blowing me away. He missed Tim and he missed Gotham and it shows, because he's drawing the daylights out of the character and the city!

Calloway: Selina plays an interesting role in the event. As the most villainous of the three, obviously, hers is a different burden in the event: she doesn't ever claim to be a hero, yet she's being judged like one. But she brings a unique sensibility and morality with her as she operates in a reality where moral choices are one big grey area. Her world isn't as black and white as Tim and Dick's. As for Ivy and Harley, well, I can't really answer that question without giving away what happens in "Gotham City Sirens" #21.

How do the other characters -- Batman, Red Robin or Catwoman -- play into your title and how do you see the dynamic between the three of them?

Hine: When The Crusader starts setting fires in Devil's Square, a number of people are drawn to the action, including Batman, Red Robin and Catwoman. Azrael's delusional worldview tells him that if they are there, it's for a pre-ordained purpose, and he decides that those three will decide the fate of Gotham. Whether they really have been brought there by Fate or whether it's pure chance is a question that I've left open. Azrael is so out of touch with reality that he can make any eventuality fit in with his vision of the world and his role as God's weapon of vengeance.

Each of the three has a 'weakness' that Azrael interprets as sin. Tim's sin is related to his intellectual judgment. Selina's is much more instinctive. She has never claimed to be an innocent, but there's an event in her own life that still burdens her -- a sin that she has never been able to purge herself of. Her response is a purely emotional one. Dick's sin relates to the sense of personal responsibility he takes for all his actions. Each of them has to take Azrael's test as an individual, but in the end all three of them have an equal hand in the outcome. If there's a single sin they share, it's the sin of Pride, and that's a hard one to shake off.

Nicieza: You don't see too much of it, honestly. Each character has to face their individual tests on their own, or else it'll be considered "cheating" and the city will burn. So, in my issue, Tim is in contact with Dick during the story, but he's really on his own. It is a self-contained story with a beginning/middle/end that can be read as part of the "Sin & Salvation" whole or if you're a regular reader who doesn't want to sample the crossover, you'll still get a complete story out of this single chapter!

Calloway: Both Tim and Dick play a big role in the issue. Tim plays a larger one than Dick, but both are instrumental and the event will ripple across the coming arc of "Sirens." In fact, we've got a revelation planned for GCS #26 that I hope will knock people's socks off. Mike, Harvey and I talked about it, and we're excited. I'm dying to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, but I'm sworn to secrecy! As for the dynamic between the three, I think it's a subtextual one. But now that you mention it, wouldn't it be great to do a series with Tim, Dick and Jason?

The central concept behind this obviously involves sin, salvation and finding the good among darkness. That said, who do you feel is the most noble and pure person in Gotham?

Hine: That's not a question I would want to answer. This whole story is about judgment and how concepts of "sin," "good" and "evil" are open to interpretation. In the end, the most noble and pure should be the one who is most true to his or her principles, and that would appear to be Azrael. He starts out as the one who is most confident in the reliability of his own moral compass, because his mind is entirely open to the will of God. But that would be turned on its head if his direct line to God is actually a delusion. All our characters are conflicted, except perhaps The Crusader, who simply worships the ground Azrael walks on. Because he's given up personal responsibility for his actions, he's actually amoral. I guess what I'm saying is, each reader will have to make their own judgment.

Nicieza: Yes, it's totally Tim. Everyone else is a syphilitic, drunken sailor compared to Tim. Azrael finds out the hard way how morally incorruptible Tim is. So, yeah, Tim should be able to spare Gotham by Part 2 of the story. Except of course -- it's a four-part story. So, hmmm -- maybe that one "secret" Tim has that might prevent him from personal salvation, much less saving the city. "What is that secret?" the intrepid journalist would ask next. And what do you think my answer would be? Read the issue and find out! It will be sure to get a lot of people talking!

Calloway: That is a terrifically hard question. I guess it depends on what you mean by "pure." Uh oh, here's my philosophy background coming out. Do you mean pure in terms of intention? Or pure in terms of having the cleanest history? Or are we talking who is the most moral? I guess what I have always loved about Gotham, and Batman in particular, is that there are never any easy answers. Everyone is complicated, everyone is a bit tainted and everyone, the heroes, at least, are doing the best they can at any moment. However, that can and does go spectacularly wrong a lot of the time. But, in the interest of not feeling like I avoided your question, and if I have to choose, I guess I'd go with Commissioner Gordon. Or maybe Alfred. I love Alfred. As for how Selina stacks up, I think you'll find the answer to that question in "Gotham City Sirens" #22!

"Red Robin" #22, the first chapter of the "Sin & Salvation" crossover, ships to comic shops on April 13.

PREVIEW: Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1

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