SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Batman” #6, on sale now.
For a guy who says he loves Batman, Tom King sure is putting the Dark Knight through the wringer.
The red hot "Batman" writer told CBR that the first supervillain he chose to feature in his DC Rebirth run, Psycho-Pirate, is not only be able to defeat even Superman, but now that he's aligned Hugo Strange, Bane and Amanda Waller as adversaries for the World's Greatest Detective, he's more dangerous than ever. And that's all before the end of his first arc, illustrated by superstar artist David Finch for the first five issues, and the dynamic duo of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado for "Batman" #6, which is available today.
King shared spoiler-ific details about the epilogue to the series' first arc, which features a powerful (and deeply personal) scene between Batman and Gotham Girl. The writer also teased what's to come in "Batman" in the months ahead, as the 'I Am Gotham' story continues far beyond the upcoming 'Night of the Monster Men' crossover.
CBR News: Why juxtapose Batman, a man without superpowers, just like the rest of us, against the super-powered Gotham and Gotham Girl to launch your run?
Tom King: We always have to remember that we know all of Batman's secrets, but the world doesn't. We think of Batman as the best of mankind and the kind of the ultimate human. But if you're in Gotham, and you are a 15-year old boy and you see Batman save you, he becomes this bigger than life figure. It reminds me of "Batman: The Animated Series" when the three kids are talking about Batman around the fire, which I know is based on a comic. They don't know that Batman doesn't have superpowers. They don't know that there is not something magical about him. When [Gotham and Gotham Girl] went into the world seeking to become like Batman, they sought superpowers.
And yet, when Gotham comes to this conclusion in "Batman" #5, he finds the notion the troubling. He is obviously under the influence of Psycho-Pirate, who is able to project emotions onto people, but still, he can't stop repeating, "You're just a man in a mask. Just a man in a mask."
Yes, but it's also inspiring. One contributes to the other, because it's shocking, because it's frightening, because he's going out there with just his mask against villains and threats that can take on Superman, That's insane, but it's also what every one of us wants to do every day. I think that's the appeal of Batman. All of us have our struggles every single day. Sometimes we don't even want to get out of bed, but we do, and even though we know, or at least we think it's impossible, we get up and we go on.
I think that's what Batman is. His mission, what he is trying to do, is utterly impossible. It cannot be accomplished with the tools that he has. And yet, still, he gets up and does it, and at the end of the day, he finds a way to win. That's what it's all about.
We talked to you and David Finch when your run started, and you both said you wanted to bring the 'Hell Yeah' to "Batman." You've delivered, but I think my favorite moment to date is a scene in this week's issue when Batman simply comforts Gotham Girl. I have in my notes: "World's Greatest Listener."
[Laughs] Thanks. That moment was really personal for me because my grandmother, who helped raised me, died while I was writing this story. I had this issue scheduled with Gotham Girl, so I wanted to write a little about what it's like when someone dies and you just can't lose them. Everyone tries to fix you with words, but you can't be fixed. When you are writing Batman, a character that has gone through that kind of terrible loss, you are able to show someone who can relate to that kind of loss. He can be empathetic. He can say, "You are going through something, and that's normal. And you are not alone while you are going through it." I think Batman does that for me on a meta-fictional level, and I wanted him to do that for Gotham Girl, too.
It's also another tool that Batman has. When you are dealing with crime and you are dealing with the lowest of the lows, the fact that you've been there. He can say, "I know you're in Hell. I know what it's like to be in Hell. I saw my parents killed in front of me." That's a tool in his toolbox that he can use to accomplish what he needs to do to make Gotham a little better.
I'm sorry for your loss, and it makes that scene with Gotham Girl even more special. Similarly, Bruce's relationship with Alfred is summed up perfectly in this issue when Alfred -- despite filling in for Batman admirably -- suggests that he has failed the Dark Knight as a mentor. And the proof is that Bruce is Batman.
Everyone can probably see this pretty clearly but the Batman-Alfred dynamic is my favorite thing to write in the series. I write comics like "Sheriff of Babylon" and "Vision" and "Omega Men" in a minor key. They are written as if no true 'superheroes' exist. And when I write "Batman," all of that stuff is in there, but I also want to stretch my muscles for humor. Essentially, I'm an optimist even though I write all of these pessimistic comics so in "Batman," I put a lot of [optimism and humor] into Alfred, and I get to put a little vaudeville into the middle of the comic, too.
From Joker to the Penguin, Batman has stood tall against some of the most heinous supervillains in the DCU over the past 75-plus years, but in terms of a superpower, Psycho-Pirate's ability to project emotions onto his adversary is pretty diabolical. Is it the perfect weapon to stop Batman?
Yeah. I mean, if Superman came up against Psycho-Pirate, Superman would lose. That's how powerful Psycho-Pirate is. Even though Psycho-Pirate has no muscles and he's really kind of scared -- he's a timid kind of guy, he's very easily manipulated -- but he can beat Superman by putting on a mask and making a face. That's amazing. But you'll see in "Batman" #6 -- and it's also a bit in "Batman" #5 -- that what Batman really sees in Psycho-Pirate is a possibility to cure Gotham Girl.
Gotham Girl has been infected by this fear, and she can't get it out of her. Batman is going to become more and more obsessed with saving Gotham Girl. He feels that he owes that family that the parents died and the son died and all that's left is the daughter. He has to save her, and the only way he can do that is through Psycho-Pirate. That's going to be the driving force the next two parts of the trilogy.
And Psycho-Pirate isn't even the alpha predator in this food chain. You'veve also introduced Amanda Waller, Hugo Strange and now Bane to this story.
Apart from the storytelling, Amanda Waller was a no-brainer because I love Amanda Waller. The John Ostrander/Kim Yale "Suicide Squad" run is my favorite ongoing superhero comic of all time. I basically wanted to pay tribute to that.
In terms of storytelling, Amanda Waller is not intimated by anyone, including Batman. That's amazing because everyone -- even Superman -- is intimidated by Batman. That creates such a great dynamic. I wrote all of this stuff without knowing it, but in the "Suicide Squad" film, the scenes between Batman and Amanda Waller got the most cheers. It's so obvious.
I also wanted to expand Batman's universe beyond Gotham. We know it, but Batman exists inside the DCU. All of those villains and all of those heroes interact with Batman.
The Hugo Strange part of the story is what will become the "Night of the Monster Men" crossover. That's his plan. At the end of "Batman" #6, Hugo Strange makes a deal with Bane. He exchanged Psycho-Pirate for the venom that makes the Monster Men. Psycho-Pirate is now Bane's problem. Once we hit "Batman" #9, the Psycho-Pirate thread will continue. It will become a 'suicide' mission into Santa Prisca with Batman leading a Suicide Squad made up of inmates from Arkham Asylum.
The thing with Bane is that he can defeat Batman. Unlike the Joker, unlike the Riddler, unlike Mr. Freeze, the evidence is that Bane has defeated Batman. I remember as a kid reading Bane breaking Batman's back and throwing him off the building. I remember how shocking that was, and how everyone in my school talked about it. That was the one thing that owned the comic book conversation that year.
I thought he was very cool in the movie, even though a lot of people make fun of him in "The Dark Knight Rises." I had actually forgotten about him, and it was Andy Khouri, my editor on "Omega Men," who asked if I knew his origin. I was like, "Yeah, he was raised in a prison." And he was like, "No. Do you know his origin?" And I said, no, I guess I don't remember. And he told me that not only was Bane raised in a prison, but he was stuck in a cell for 17 years that flooded every night. And he had to tread water while eating fish that were biting at him and leeches that were sucking off of him and then the water would go down. He'd almost die every night. It reminded me of Conan pushing the lever around. The will to have gone through something like that is the only thing that could challenge Batman. And then I became obsessed with him. [Laughs] I wanted to see these two in the ring. I wanted to see the two of them in a death match, where one of them could emerge.
There have been a number of references to classic Superman pages and panels in the first arc of "Batman." Why the Superman love in the lead Batman book?
That's all thanks to the genius of David Finch. He's doing a lot of tributes to a lot of his favorite artists, and I love it. There's also a lot of Batman tributes. There's a great "Year One" reference in "Batman" #5 that I love, where Dave says, "Look what I can do!" And he does a whole page that looks like David Mazzucchelli. What?
May I take a second to brag about Dave Finch? DC Rebirth has been an amazing relaunch and an amazing success, and a lot of people have been working very hard, but Dave Finch is the only artist who did five issues in a row of double-shipping. And he's the most detailed artist in comics. It's an amazing tribute to that man.
And he will be back after the "Night of the Monster Men" crossover, right?
We are just wrapping up the first part of the trilogy, which is "I Am Gotham." And then there's "I Am Suicide." He'll be back for "I Am Bane."
"Batman" #6 is available now.