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Tynion Elaborates on Batwoman, Clayface’s Roles in “Detective Comics'” New Team Dynamic

by  in Comic News Comment
Tynion Elaborates on Batwoman, Clayface’s Roles in “Detective Comics'” New Team Dynamic

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “Detective Comics” #934, on sale June 8.

Writer James Tynion IV knew if he was going to introduce a team of heroes to Gotham City in “Detective Comics,” he needed to toss a wild card into the mix. But if anyone named “Clayface” in the office pool, they’d have likely been laughed out of the lunchroom.

Yet, here he is, the actor-turned-monster spilling out of the background of Eddy Barrows‘ cover for “Detective Comics” #934 behind Batman and more notable allies: Tim Drake (Red Robin), Stephanie Brown (Spoiler), Kate Kane (Batwoman) and Cassandra Cain (Orphan).

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With the launch of DC Rebirth, “Detective Comics” returns to its original numbering and now ships twice monthly with rotating teams of artists headlined by Barrows and Alvaro Martinez. But while it’s a return to the classic numbering, the series’ focus on multiple heroes defending Batman’s city is decidedly different.

CBR News: When it comes to writing a team book, it must not get any better than actually forming the team?

James Tynion IV: It’s awesome. When we first started talking about this book, we knew pretty quickly that this was going to be a team book in a way that really hasn’t happened in Gotham City before. Obviously, there have been books like “Batman and the Outsiders” in the past, but that’s been outside of Gotham and using non-Gotham characters doing more super-heroic adventures. We wanted to ground something in Gotham with people who are members of the Bat Family, but are also a group of people who are unfamiliar with each other. It’s a combination that’s never really happened before. You really have to balance the personalities and really have to balance the talent. You have to ask and answer, “What is the role of every single member of the team?” What do they bring to the team and how do they play off of each other?

It was incredible. I remember sitting in the boardroom with the whole Bat team and Geoff Johns. We are going through all of the characters and discussing what the most important things about all of the characters. We decided that maybe some of them needed to held out until the second or third arc.

In “Detective Comics” #934, Batman asks Batwoman to serve as drill sergeant for his Bat Boot Camp, giving her a primary role on the team and within the context of the book. Does this mean Bats is taking a back seat in this series?

Knowing Batman, if there is one thing that he’s not good at it, it’s letting go of things. Batman not taking a part of running things will prove very difficult for him, and we’ll see that in the next couple of issues. Even though Batman knows that he brought in Batwoman for her expertise and her ability to work with a group of people, as opposed to one-on-one, which is how Batman has always worked, and she comes from a military background, there is conflict there in terms of how they both think the team should be run.

But, no, to answer your question: Batman is definitely one of the main characters going all of the way forward. He’s in pretty much every issue and if he’s ever not in an issue, his absence would be substance. Batman and Batwoman are really the co-leads of the book. And particularly in the first arc of this book, the story will balance between the way both of them want to operate in Gotham City, and which path forward is going to be the best for the team and for Gotham City.

Readers love it when the world’s greatest detective gets gobsmacked, and you delivered a major smack to the head in your first issue when Batman reveals to Batwoman that he is Bruce Wayne. Of course Kate Kane has already figured it out! Is that just further proof that Bats has proven his “partner” — her word, not his — wisely?

Honestly, I had a lot of fun writing that scene. It was a moment that needed to happen up front. She is Batman’s equal — she is not a secondary figure. They’re cousins, so they are very similar, down to their hearts. I wanted that moment of equalization. Batman thinks he is doing Batwoman this huge favor by letting her in to his biggest secret — and she already knows it, because she understands Batman as much as he understands Batwoman. That was a turning point in writing that first issue and understanding their relationship together. It really presented itself on the page, and once I wrote it, I knew this was the way to handle it moving forward.

There are some obvious choices for inclusion that make absolute sense but let’s start with the most surprising recruit to the team: Clayface. What does Batman, or more importantly, what do you see in Basil Karlo that makes him the right choice for inclusion?

You need a wildcard. You need a character that you’re not really sure why they are there, or what they are up to. And, in a very practical sense, you want a character that has a very different power-set than anyone else on the team. Right at the beginning, I remember sitting down and trying to figure out who would be the perfect person for that team and for that position, and Clayface just kept coming back to me. Clayface is such an interesting character — there has been so many different iterations of Clayface over the years. He’s been part of the Batman mythos for decades. 

For me, the most powerful iterations of Clayface have always been those that have the tragic past, and that’s what I wanted to do with Basil Karlo here. The prime version of Clayface as I see it, is the man whose life was destroyed by an accident and kept pulling himself towards the worst parts of humanity. Deep down, if Basil had never become Clayface, he would never would have become a horrifying villain in Gotham City. That wasn’t his plan. His plan was to become one of the great actors. That’s what he wanted more than anything, and that’s what always been the perfect balance because, as Clayface, he can be any person.

But as established by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Clayface has lost track of being able to transform back into his actual form. He can’t hold himself together anymore into the man he was. He’s lost himself in the role, and there’s something so tragic, and something so human in that. I wanted to play with a character that is on a redemption arc and isn’t as altruistic as the other characters are. He doesn’t necessarily want to be one of the greatest heroes in the world, but he wants to be the best version of himself because he knows that his life twists down a dark path. It’s really neat to play with a Batman that wants that for him.

In a way, Basil Karlo’s story mirrors Bruce Wayne’s.

Yes. You see this with a lot of Batman’s villains — he wants them to recover, he wants them to find the positive path, because the worst thing in the world happened to Batman when he was eight years old. That’s what sets him on the path to become Batman. He knows that a dark moment can send you spiraling in different directions, but he has to believe that you can pull yourself towards the light. Having a character on this team that as fun to write as Clayface, and as fun to play with because of his abilities, is great. I also love that he used to beat up Batman all of the time. There are some good lines coming up in the next few issues. Honestly, putting Clayface on the team is what glued the book together. It’s that one extra thing that shows that while Batman is not the friendliest guy in the world, he is an optimist who wants the best things for the people around him — even his villains. When he sees the chance for redemption, he pushes for it.

While Kate Kane/Batwoman and Cassandra Cain/Orphan/formerly Batgirl, are two entirely unique and important characters in the Batman mythos, casual or new readers might be confused. What distinguishes the two from each other as well as from the rest of the team?

I see them as very different, and their roles on the team are entirely separate. Kate Kane is a very pulled-together, deliberate hero who has been operating as a hero for a long time. She is a professional superhero who has been operating in stranger, darker shadows than Batman. She is the military-trained Batman. She is a force of nature all unto herself, and is much more of a leader.

We just re-introduced Cassandra Cain in “Batman and Robin Eternal.” We will be building her out from where we introduced her in that series, but now she’s at a point where she is much more the core, iconic version of Cassandra as people will remember her from the late 1990s and early 2000s, which is when I met her and fell in love with the character. Honestly, Cassandra Cain is the best fighter in the DC Universe. She was trained to learn body language before she learned [spoken] language, so she can effortlessly read the way that somebody is about to attack her.

What she really doesn’t have are interpersonal, human interaction skills. She knows some words, but she’s not that good at communicating. She’s a very silent character, and she is figuring out herself and her role. She has to throw herself into her work a little too much. You’ll see in the next issue that Batman has set her up with her own apartment, but she’s never been there. She’ll crash on Stephanie Brown’s couch in the middle of the night, and Stephanie wakes up and finds Cassandra in her bloodied costume, watching TV, having clearly beat the crap out of some bad guys. [Laughs] She is in a formative place.

Batwoman is the professional who is trying to find out what is the greater path for herself. What is the endgame for being Batwoman? What does being Batwoman mean in the larger sense?

Orphan is trying to figure out what her place is in this world. She knows she was built to be a weapon, and she wants to wield herself as that weapon for good, but she doesn’t know how to balance human life with that. Those are two very different journeys that we are taking those characters.

The first team members we meet in “Detective Comics” #934 are two former Robins: Stephanie Brown and Tim Drake, A.K.A. Spoiler and Red Robin. These two share a long history, both professionally and romantically. What is the status of their relationship in “Detective Comics”?

There is a reason that I introduced them together, and I think that’s something that I want the readers to discover as the series moves forward — but we are definitely going to play off the fact that they have a history. Their relationship in the Chuck Dixon run in the 1990s on “Robin” was when I met and fell in love with Stephanie Brown., and a lot of that drives my take on Steph. I’m going to be playing into elements of that, and you’re going to see it unfold over the course of this arc, but they are definitely pretty close these days. [Laughs] We’ll let the readers see where that goes from there.

There’s a panel or two in “Detective Comics” #934 that teases that the Watchmen may be watching events in Gotham unfold. Can you confirm that the Watchmen are involved in this series?

I think that’s a thread that’s being played out in the larger DC Universe. Whether or not it touches on the series is something that everyone is going to have to wait and see.

Eddy Barrows brought a lot of energy to the first issue. Why does he work so well in Gotham City?

Honestly, for me, it’s just seeing Eddy outthink every page, every panel I put in front of him. It’s down to the little bats in a spread of the city. It’s down to the way that he highlights certain character beats by making it stand out on the page.

The moment I really knew that I was working with a real phenomenal talent was when Eddy tackled the first appearance of Batwoman in this book, and the fact that she was just perfect. It was really just the perfect spread, the best image of Batwoman in years, and I was thrilled because it got to happen in my book. The next thing was the Clayface sequence in this issue. Eddy brought such pathos to the character, bringing him to life in a way that I’ve never seen before in comics. I think Eddy Barrows’ Clayface is about to be the definitive take on the character for the next generation of Bat-fans and it all started with that scene. I am thanking my lucky stars every freaking day.

Eddy is a next-level talent, and I couldn’t be luckier working with him, our incredible inker Eber Ferreira, and our phenomenal colorist Adriano Lucas. Thanks to them, this first issue is something truly special, and you have no idea what’s coming next.

The first sequence in our second issue is a show-shopper and when Eddy sent that page in for the first time, I almost fainted I was so thrilled with that I was seeing. And that’s not even talking about our second art team, who joins us with our third issue (“Detective Comics” #936), headlined by the phenomenal Alvaro Martinez. There isn’t a single page of a single issue of “Detective Comics” that these guys haven’t knocked out of the park.

“Detective Comics” #934 by James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows, arrives Wednesday, June 8.

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