Under the Hood with Judd Winick, Part I

Abraham Lincoln is often misquoted as saying, "You can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time."

And while the 16th President of the United States never actually uttered these words, Judd Winick certainly knows how he feels. An Eisner-nominated writer, Winick helmed critically acclaimed runs on both "Green Lantern" and "Green Arrow" and his stories - about a gay supporting character in the former and an HIV-positive superhero in the latter - generated national headlines. Even still, he had his detractors.

This divide was never more apparent than during his run on "Batman" during the time of DC Comics' Infinite Crisis event. In "Batman" #638, Winick resurrected Jason Todd, the second Robin -- who years earlier had been killed off by DC after polling readers using a 1-900 number -- as an anti-hero to play off the Dark Knight in the storyline "Under the Hood."

With Winick set to return to "Batman" in June (with art by Ed Benes and Rob Hunter) after the Battle for the Cowl event concludes, CBR News sat down for an extensive interview with the always candid writer and within minutes, we were speaking about why he digs Jason Todd, what to expect during his run on "Batman," and perhaps more importantly -- for his haters, anyways -- what not to expect.

CBR: Is the Batman that you're writing in "Batman" the same Batman that will be in Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's "Batman and Robin?"

Judd Winick: Yep, Batman's Batman. Across all the books and all the titles, Batman will be the same Batman. I can go out on a limb with that one without checking with DC.

We just spoke with Greg Rucka about writing "Action Comics" without Superman, and while you're writing "Batman" with Batman, it's not Bruce Wayne. Was that part of the appeal of taking on this assignment?

For us as creators, it's always been, "How do we get a fresh take on this character?" The last time through, it was about Jason Todd. That was a story that hadn't been told yet, as far as I was concerned. And coming back to it now, well, internally we've been talking about me coming back to "Batman" with editorial since I left. But for me, there wasn't a story that I really wanted to tell. There wasn't one that really felt that interesting to me. But this one did. We'll call it this "new take" on Batman to keep things sort of simple. But that interested me more than anything else, really.

It's a new take on an old character. And that becomes a fresh story. I think we're all sort of in agreement with that. That was the draw. But that's just the starting point. It is about this new take on this character, as well as a mystery that will spin out of it. And not the obvious one. Not the one about possibly getting Bruce Wayne back in the cape and the cowl. That really isn't the ongoing. That will be part of it, if ever.

I think each title has its own arc and own trajectory and a thing that it's going for. "Batman" will be a very different book in story and in tone than "Batman & Robin." Grant's book will be very Grant Morrison. It's going to be very fantastic and fantastical and big and wonderfully broad and expansive and looking at Batman in a very new way. My book is going to be a little more introspective. It will be about Batman examining who he is. And what it means to wear the cowl.

It sounds like your run isn't going to be about searching for Bruce Wayne. There's going to be some good old fashioned Batman adventures with the Dark Knight cleaning up Gotham City, kicking ass and taking names?

Exactly. That's at the heart of it. I am talking broad strokes. The much smaller brush strokes are just that. We're talking three-issue arcs, four-issue arcs where it's Batman whooping it up, kicking ass, getting his ass kicked and coming back and kicking some more ass. This is a superhero book and it's one of the things that I enjoy. I mean, I do enjoy Batman as a masked detective but I myself enjoy Batman beating the living hell out of people in various ways, shapes and forms. I like him to mix it up. And we'll be seeing that in spades.

You have quite a history with these characters. You've written "Batman" in the past, most notably the return of Jason Todd, and you've written Nightwing in both "Outsiders" and "Titans." If someone was going to be writing "Batman" coming out of Battle for the Cowl, you certainly have the pedigree. Do you agree?

Yeah, I'm the jerk who brought back Jason Todd. I've written Nightwing for a number of years. And I have some quasi-recent history with the character. And I have the fortunate or unfortunate mantle to be one of the people they always bring in for the rather troublesome storylines [laughs], depending on who you ask. But again, I'm always attracted to the story. If it's going to be a fun story to tell. Or a different one to tell. If it's a way of looking at Batman a different way. And if it's a way of making the words come out of Batman's mouth different from what you've heard a number of years ago, because he's kind of a different dude. That's compelling. It really, really is.

We know you can't say whether or not he's the new Batman but you mentioned him, so let's talk about him. What do you love about Jason Todd? Because when you brought him back from the dead, there was some outrage.

There wasn't rioting in the streets over bringing Jason Todd back. And quite frankly, he was very, very popular and still is very, very popular. For all "outrage," I think we were pretty much redeemed in telling the story. I know people were quite pleased about it. I also often hear about the controversy about Jason Todd. It's not CNN for Christ's sake. It wasn't in the newspapers. It wasn't constantly covered or what not. We are talking about a very loud micro-minority that didn't like it. Didn't like it on spec. Just didn't like the very idea. And by the way, Jason died in 1985. It's a long time ago. But I think people liked the idea that it was something that was going to stick. And I get that. I totally get that. And I was right there with them until this idea occurred to me, of how wonderfully tragic it would be if Batman's greatest failure was to come back and haunt him in this way. I like that story. And I know people really enjoyed the run "Under the Hood."

I think what hurt us, in hindsight, was fanboys being fanboys, the hardcore fans being the hardcore fans, wanting to know from the jump, "How did he come back to life?" At every page turn, it was, "How did he come back to life?" "When are you going to tell us how did he come back to life?" And every opportunity that I got to say it, I'd say, "You're not going to find out for a long time." And for me, it's not as important with what we're going to do now. The fact that he is back now and why he is back is not nearly as important as what he's doing when he is back. And I said that until I was blue in the face.

Now, a couple of things on that. Collectively, meaning editorial, way back when we were hatching up Infinite Crisis -- this is me and Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio and Eddie Berganza in a room on the Warner lot -- and I'm going to write "Batman," and the thing that we had discussed many times, and one of the reasons why I jumped on Batman, was because I wanted to bring back Jason Todd. And it had been decided pretty simply, right from the jump, that it would be tied to Crisis. And one of things decided in the room was that Earth-Two Superboy was going to be trapped and imprisoned. And by smashing the walls of his prison, he was going to undo a lot of continuity. And we had a laundry list of things that were going to happen - a lot. One of them was Jason Todd.

Now, what we wound up doing was less than we actually did. It was just a handful of things. That was at inception. It was just one of things that we were going to do. This was a good nine or 10 months before a single Jason Todd issue was even coming out.

And then over the course of doing the title, people are liking the story and it's going very well and people gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair out at the same time but the general reaction is that pretty much, people are digging the story, which is good. At this point, I go to Dan and say, I think they are going to string me up by my toes if we go for the Crisis answer, which is Superboy. Because we have told this story that is so terra firma. It's so Batman. It's so visceral, on the ground, blood on the asphalt, broken bones and teeth. There's nothing spacebound, metaphysical, out-there, inter-dimensional about this. It's really bound right here on the Earth. So I think if we do this, they're going to kill us. And Dan agreed. And for a couple of days, it was just what we were doing. Then Dan comes back to me that he's been to about four conventions in a row and he said, "We've put it out there that he's coming back. And I've met the fans, we've talked about it. I didn't bring up Jason Todd. They brought up Jason Todd. One, everybody loves Jason Todd coming back as the Red Hood. It's working. Two, we told them that it's tied to Crisis and that's what they want to see."

At the time, in the moment, those weeks around making that decision, everything on planet Earth for DC Comics and the readership was Crisis. It was hard and it was fast and it was working and it was exciting and it was raging and it was all great and Crisis was very, very successful. And we were very much a part of it and delightfully caught up in the thick of it. So after coming back from those cons and everyone is just so amped up about Crisis and this Jason Todd story is crescendoing, yeah, I agreed. Let's tie it to Crisis.* So the terra firma solution, which I had, I tossed out and we went back to Superboy.

That being said, that shit ripens on the vine. I don't think it holds up nearly as well as it did at the time. At the time, I think it really kicked butt. Looking back, when we're not in the thick of Crisis and not every single issue is tied to it and we're not all swirling in it and Geoff is writing these massive fights and Earth One Superman is dying and all this super stuff is happening and all this great shit, without that, it becomes a little rough. And I think it sullies the story looking back. That is my opinion on that.

I love the "Under the Hood" story. It's one of my favorite things that I've ever done in mainstream comics. And I love Jason Todd and I love what he represents. I love that he's a bad guy just from the jump. I remember when I was talking about Geoff Johns about it, when he wanted to bring him into "Teen Titans" with Robin, I said, "It's all fine and good, but don't forget, he's bad [laughs]. They can come to some sort of understanding or what not but at the end of the day, he's a bad guy." Maybe bad guy with a little "b," not just a villain but he's doing the wrong things.

So yeah, I dig Jason Todd. I think he works. And I don't think Jason Todd is going away any time soon.

Without belaboring the issue, the fact that he's not going away somewhat mitigates the "outrage."

I think there is genuine outrage floating around. Well, you know what, I'm noticing the outrage is not as big as I thought. No one thinks, and I'm not saying one way or the other, that Bruce Wayne is truly dead and gone and not coming back. I think enough has been called into question that we don't see this. I'd say everyone is being a bit patient. I think they really, really want to see how this plays out. I think they are more patient about that than what a few folks have told they are saying about my run. Despite any jokes I have made to deflate any accusations that might get thrown my way. The jokes have already started. "Who is going to be gay in 'Batman?'" Or "who's going to contract HIV?" Or some fucked up nonsense like that. So maybe I should put that out there right here and now.

This is a "Batman" title. And I don't think it will have any of the social commentary, which I've done maybe five or six times out of 10 years I've written comics. Which apparently, everybody thinks I do in every single issue or something. But I think those things that apparently bother a number of people, they won't see those types of storylines. And I don't mean they're knocking gay people. There's going to be nothing viewed as an after school special in this run of "Batman." There's lots of touchy-feely shit along with the beating up of bad guys. And explosions and dangling from sides of buildings and what not because I like writing humanistic characters but all that crap that everyone usually whines about that I do, I obviously won't be that doing here.

Check back tomorrow, when CBR News talks more with Winick about his two unpublished issues of "Battle for the Cowl," the importance of Alfred, and why writing "Batman" is great for dinner parties.

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