Eight months and thirty-six issues later, DC Comics‘ weekly series “Batman Eternal” has begun the final countdown, entering its third act as mysterious back-stories are explained, villains revealed and the series ramps up to conclude in 2015.
Helmed and written by “Batman” scribe Scott Snyder along with James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, Tim Seeley and Kyle Higgins (who replaced the originally solicited John Layman), “Batman Eternal” pulls double duty as a sprawling Batman story, bringing in everyone from Vicki Vale to Killer Croc, and as a spine for the rest of the Batman line of books, such as Selina Kyle’s crime syndicate turn spinning off into the “Catwoman” solo title, or Arkham’s destruction launching the new “Arkham Manor” series. And while the ambitious series is just one of three weeklies DC began this year, thus far “Batman Eternal” is the only one to be tentatively announced for a second year, entering hiatus when the title concludes in March.
One of the biggest books in DC’s line requires one of it’s biggest writing teams, and as the latest issue marks the beginning of the end, Tynion, Higgins, Seeley and Fawkes joined CBR to discuss issue #36, the pitfalls of Batman fandom and how they’re ramping up for the big 2015 conclusion.
CBR News: We’re getting closer to the end of “Batman Eternal” and a lot of big stuff is revealed in this issue. For you guys, structurally I know you have been thinking about this in terms of acts. Where does this issue fall within the big master plan and in ramping up for the big finale in March?
James Tynion IV: Well, the way we see this actually is #35 and #36 together serve as the first part of the third and final act of “Batman Eternal.” We’ve broken a lot of toys in the toy box so far; Jim Gordon is in prison, the police are in the hands of someone who is working actively against Batman, Arkham Asylum has been destroyed, the Wayne fortune is gone and Wayne Manor is now the new Arkham Asylum. All of these major, major turns have happened, and now we set the stage for a very dramatic third act. So much has happened to [Batman] in the last few months, and now we’re going to see him stepping up his game majorly and going after every last sign and piece he can uncover.
Kyle Higgins: My issues are later in this arc so I don’t really have a ton to say! [Laughs]
Tynion: Well you wrapped up the major Hush storyline right now.
Higgins: I brought the bang with #31, #32 through #34!
Tynion: Yeah! There you go! [Laughter]
Well on that, one of the biggest things people have been trying to figure out is who is the mastermind behind everything that’s going on in “Batman Eternal;” who is setting up the pawns and pieces? Clearly at the end of this issue, to get a little spoilery, we have the Riddler coming out of the shadows. While speaking with Scott on “Zero Year,” I mentioned how it feels hard for any other villain to follow Ed Nygma, since he basically destroyed Gotham. I know you guys have been planning this for a long time, but when you talked about having Riddler come in as this big figure in the end, were you capitalizing on what Scott had been doing in “Zero Year?” Is that an idea you were playing with that you wanted to have in “Batman Eternal?”
Tynion: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I mean I think that probably the incarnation of the Riddler we saw pop up in “Zero Year” very much indicates what we’re doing with the character here, and it also puts him in a very, very limited group of people: the archenemies of Batman. The people who have done the most to completely dismantle everything [Batman] stands for and everything he tries to protect. So that’s his place here, and he’s also someone who obviously understands how a big mystery comes together, and in this moment Batman has a huge mystery out in front of him. Riddler could potentially be the person who sees how all the pieces connect — and could potentially be the one who connected them in the first place. This is a Ray question for sure!
Ray Fawkes: [Laughs] Well, I think James said it, this is the same Riddler who was in “Zero Year” and we know Riddler has the capacity to do the same damage to Gotham City that he did in “Zero Year.” So as we move into the third act I think it’s very important that Batman confronts the Riddler, because Riddler has disappeared off the radar for most of “Eternal” but he left a few messages. I think it’s time for those messages to be brought to light and for Batman to figure out if Riddler is the one behind all this turmoil.
Something else you guys have been leading up to, we also finally find out what Jason Bard’s deal is and that — in a weird way — fandom has screwed up his life and he’s really taken that to heart. As much as you guys have talked about “Batman Eternal” being about figuring out what’s eternal about Batman and the Bat family, it seems like this is a series equally about fandom: you’ve got a fan directly messing with Bard, you have fan favorites like Spoiler in here, etc. Looking at “Batman Eternal” in the big picture, is there a specific message about fandom that you wanted to put out with this, or a certain aspect of fandom that you wanted to explore in this weekly series?
Tynion: It’s interesting to put it in the terms of fandom because it’s very astute. I think that what we were really were going after, and we talked to this before, we wanted to explore all the avenues of Batman. Every kind of Batman story and every little facet of Batman as a character over these fifty-two issues. Part of that is all about the response to Batman, the way different people respond to him. That comes from the villain side and also the fact that sometimes Batman has a very negative impact on the people he interacts with. Sometimes there are unintended consequences for there being a Batman. When we made the decision to re-introduce Jason Bard, we knew that as dark as the character was going to go he needed to maintain a sense of moral fortitude in feeling like he’s doing the right thing. I think what you see here is he’s willing to ally himself with Hush, he’s willing to do all this because he believes the system is better served in the way he would serve it. And now we’re seeing Batman fight back against that and we’re seeing the police department turn against him, but from the very beginning it wasn’t making Jason’s arc go from upstanding citizen to cackling villain. There’s a reason Jason Bard, outside the flash-forward in issue #1, is the character who says the first line in “Batman Eternal” #1. His arc is one of the most crucial arcs in the entire yearlong story, and now we’re entering the final phase of it.
Higgins: For me, the end of the second act and seeing the choices Bard kind of has in front of him really is crucial. Like James said, the consequences of there being a Batman — that’s really where the idea for doing all the caches that were built by Wayne Enterprises and that Batman justified using to save lives. Then when Hush turns them against not only people but Bard’s people in the police department, to me we’re getting to the final straw where Bard realizes the extent of the mistakes that he’s made.
Tim Seeley: I would also say that nobody knows the consequences of being Batman like the guys who have to write him all the time. [Laughter]
Tynion: Nice one, Tim!
So you’re saying we’re going to see all of you dashing around with Batman costumes, messing up Bard’s life.
Seeley: Oh yeah, I’ve got my Batman cape hanging two feet from me right now.
Tynion: It’s all he’s wearing right now!
Clearly we’ll need a picture for the interview. [Laughter] Ok, let’s take a moment to talk about your individual parts. This “Batman Eternal” project has been really ambitious, not just in terms of the scope of the story you’re telling but in the fact that there’s so many people — all four of you are involved, Scott Snyder is involved, there are so many different artists involved. Then you take a hiatus with part two to follow. Now that we’re heading into the final stretch of this season one/first year of “Batman Eternal” and you know what the work is like and what the scale of this is, is there anything you would have done differently at the beginning of this, or would want to approach differently for the second year of “Batman Eternal?”
Tynion: Of course there are always things that we started realizing early on — like, I think you’re seeing the pacing of the story as we moved further on get a little tighter and all that. I think this is the first time all of us worked on such a large-scale collaborative comic book series. There were little growing pains here and there but what we ended up with is something we’re extraordinarily proud of, and I think it’s a story we can all stand by. The key thing with this is we came at it with a singular idea and explored that idea to all its strange corners and came up with a story that needed to be told weekly, that needed to be told in fifty-two issues. If or when we talk about what comes next, as long as we have that same sort of vision that will guide us to telling another great Batman story. That’s a ways off right now. Right now we still have over four months of amazing weekly Batman comics coming out, bringing us to the end of this incredible story. So I just can’t wait for people to see that there are lines in the first issue of “Batman Eternal” that will be wrapped up in the last, and when you have something with that kind of design you can’t help but be proud of it.
Fawkes: All I would say is that we learned a lot of things in this one together, and I love the grand intricate design, the complex pieces and the way each of our own voices put four smaller machines together into one bigger machine. I had never done this before and I absolutely loved doing it, and I guess my takeaway is if and when we begin to design another year of this or another huge story I would just want to make sure we made it another super intricate, super complicated piece because it’s so exciting to see it unfold at this breakneck pace that we’re keeping up for fifty-two issues. I would just love to do it again.
Seeley: I think one of the interesting things in this aspect that I was super surprised of was how easily we all worked together. We didn’t have any conflict, everybody trusted James and Scott’s decisions, and then we never had any conflict over what a character should be, there was no fighting. It was pretty cool, and probably kind of unusual.
Tynion: Also I think a lot of that, if we’re talking about how the ship has stayed righted this entire time, we’ve had an amazing group of editors on this book from the very beginning with Mike Marts and Katie Kubert, then into Mark Doyle and Chris Conroy, we’ve just been working with some of the best editorial talents in the industry, streamlining this into a seamless process. We’ve been well ahead of the game from the very beginning to the end, up to now, so we were able to dig in there and make changed on the fly just to make the story better. With a weekly book and the relentless schedule that comes with that, the fact that there are sections in the center of the story that we literally sat down in a room, decided could be better, and made the changes based on that, we were far enough ahead that we were able to do that. That’s something — you won’t hear that story from other projects of this scale. So I think that’s a real testament to the entire editorial team, and everyone working on this book.
Seeley: We do work together surprisingly easily, but I do think without that editorial staff at least two of us would be dead right now. [Laughs]
Tynion: That’s true, yeah!
Higgins: The MVP has to go to Chris Conroy who is the guy who meticulously reads every script and lines everything up in a way that would drive any normal human insane! [Laughter]
There are a lot of little pieces coming together here, and James mentioned there are even lines in first issue that point to things in Bard’s life later on. Speaking to your own arcs the four of you have been doing on “Batman Eternal,” are there other pieces or little details that people should pay close attention to? Or any other parts we should go back and re-read or take a second look at as we enter the third act?
Tynion: That’s a really good question. Right now we’re picking up all the threads; nothing is being left behind in this story. One of the things we’ll see coming to a head very soon is a thread that goes all the way back to issue #5, the nanobot virus that’s been slowly seeping through Gotham that the Bat family still doesn’t fully understand. On top of that, the biggest thing I’d have to say is that part of the fun on working on a project of this scale is there are a lot of major characters and major villains who maybe haven’t gotten their time in the sun yet, and I’m just saying there’s a whole third act coming. This isn’t the quiet act! This is the act where everything goes completely insane! This is the act where everything ratchets up 100 percent; it turns Gotham into the most dangerous place for Batman. There are things here that will set up everything that is to come. This and “Endgame” together sort of recasts a whole corner of Gotham and what the series is going to be moving forward. I’m sure other people will have their individual threads to pay attention to, but right now all the threads are important, every little mystery could become a big mystery, the misdirects could become incredibly important and the things you think are incredibly important could become misdirects. Everything is fair game, so I’m just really excited for people to read it.
Higgins: Again, my stuff comes up a lot later in this arc so it’s tough to talk too much about it. Can I talk about Bluebird at all?
Tynion: Absolutely! Go for it!
Higgins: I just wrote the introduction and first big appearance of Bluebird; obviously she appeared in “Batman” #28 in the flash forward, but I got to deal with the circumstances that see her putting on the costume for the first time and see her going out on her first kind of virgin mission. It doesn’t go as smoothly as you would think! [Laughter] It was a lot of fun.
I wanted to call the issue “Black And Bluebird All Over” but I got vetoed. [Laughter] But that’s the idea behind it. So often we see people become heroes and the transition happens very quickly, they seem to be a natural at it immediately, and that doesn’t interest me. So I’m pretty excited for those two issues, #41 to #42, and the end which I guess I can’t say anything about! [Laughter]
Fawkes: All I have to say about it is I think we’ve been careful to make sure every little piece we lay out in the early parts of this series pays off in the end. It’s hard to say what readers should pay attention to; hopefully they’ll page back to almost any one of the early chapters and go, “Holy crap, this is important, this was all important! Everything we’re seeing here matters!” There’s no extraneous details in the early part of the series, and as the readers get closer and closer to the end of the series they should be seeing everything pay off, every little thing. All the stuff with Spoiler, all the stuff with Arkham Asylum, all the stuff with the nanobots and Vicki Vale and Jason Bard and everything, everything factors into it. I think part of the fun when the story is over, is that people can flip open to any page in the early chapters and say, “Oh my god, there was a clue, there was a clue, there was a clue.” Know what I mean?
Seeley: Also I’d like to note in addition to the big players we also did — and it’ll be fun for readers to see — the little plots for side characters so everybody gets their story. Alfred gets something and Batgirl and Red Hood, and these guys even let me do a mini-arc with Killer Croc of all characters! So you can see we have room for all the individual moments we decided to pack in.
“Batman Eternal” #36 is out December 10; “Batman Eternal” concludes in March 2015.
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