Joker's War Goes Psychological in BATMAN & ROBIN
Out of all the characters involved in "Death of the Family," there's one who is related to Bruce Wayne by blood and whose death at the hands of The Joker would surely be Batman's undoing:
Batman's son, Damian Wayne.
"The thought is always in the back of Bruce's head, when he sees [former Robin] Jason Todd's outfit in the cave," Batman and Robin writer Peter Tomasi told Newsarama. "He knows the last thing he needs to be thinking about is Damian in the sights of The Joker. And that's why he's like, 'You cannot leave the cave. I don't want you in The Joker's path.' It's like, I don't want you to get hurt, but at the same time, he's thinking, how could I survive that again?"
Over the course of the last 14 issues of Batman and Robin since the title relaunched last year, Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason have been exploring the strengthening bond between father Batman and son Robin. While Batman and Robin has been packed with plenty of action — featuring various villains and physical threats — the relationship between father and son has been the glue that holds the comic together.
And since issue #1 of the title, Damian Wayne has evolved from a sniveling brat who cared only for himself to a caring son who treasures time spent with his dog, Titus, and his father, Batman. Nowhere was the evolution of Damian Wayne more obvious than at the end of Batman and Robin #14, when the boy presented his father with a single pearl from Martha Wayne's necklace — a pearl he had dug through the sewers to find, just because he cared about his father's feelings of loss.
Yet just as the two characters are seemingly nearing the peak of their growth and relationship, Batman and Robin #15 starts the title's two-issue tie-in for "Death of the Family." As part of the line-wide Batman event, Batman and Robin will show what happens when young Damian Wayne is targeted by The Joker.
With Batman and Robin #15 being released this week, Newsarama got a few preview pages for the issue and talked to Tomasi to find out more about his Joker story, the evolution of Damian Wayne, and the "uber-story" he previously promised was coming up in 2013.
Newsarama: Peter, as you're beginning these Joker issues, you really set up in the last issue how badly Bruce still hurts over the death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker, as he talked about the Robin costume still memorialized in the cave. But it feels like there's even more of a connection now, with Joker's threat to Damian, because this is Bruce's blood son. You've spent the last 14 issues establishing how much the bond between father and son has been strengthened. As we head toward your "Death of the Family" issues, are Bruce's worst nightmares going to be realized as his son becomes Joker's target?
It's one of those relationships where they each chance in a specific way, and of course, the thought is always in the back of Bruce's head, when he sees Jason Todd's outfit in the cave, he knows the last thing he needs to be thinking about is Damian in the sights of the Joker. And that's why he's like, "You cannot leave the cave. I don't want you in the Joker's path." It's like, I don't want you to get hurt, but at the same time, he's thinking, how could I survive that again? I couldn't deal with that, with the Joker taking you away from me just like he did Jason.
So it's that fear, and he's not going to put his son in harm's way.
Nrama: You mention "fear," and that almost feels like there's some truth to what the Joker has been saying in the Batman issues of "Death of the Family" about Bruce's family making him "weak" and "scared."
Tomasi: Yeah, I address that in "The Death of the Family" issues that I'm doing. That's one of the key scenes, is The Joker really trying to explain to Damian what being Robin means to Batman, and its detrimental effect.
Nrama: So Joker's laying a psychological head-trip on Damian.
Tomasi: Yeah, he actually tells Damian he's "Batman's burden," and having to have you nipping at his heels all the time — just think of how he could soar without you.
And he just really rubs salt in the wound, so to speak, and starts to make Damian question what serving at Bruce's side really means.
So there are some really good psychological stuff between Damian and The Joker. And The Joker really give him some psychological body blows, to really make him think about his relationship as a Robin to Bruce's Batman.
Tomasi: No, not one iota. The Joker's going to definitely be able to surprise even Damian, who of course thinks he's a pure warrior poet and can handle anything. So it's going to be a surprise for him that The Joker's able to get over on him, so to speak, and put him in a compromising situation.
Nrama: Are you getting the chance to get to write The Joker?
Tomasi: Oh yeah. How could you not? To be able to play with that character, such an iconic, amazing villain, I had a blast. They were two issues that were just so much fun. Writing his voice and getting into that stuff was really a lot of fun. It's one of those things where I was thinking, you know, "I think I could do another 12 issues of this." But at the same time, you're like, "Phew, I'm glad I don't have to do 12 issues of this," because man, being in The Joker's head for a little while, as much fun as it is, it is a little crazy.
Nrama: Not only does Bruce obviously care deeply about Damian, but your comic has shown how the boy evolved to care about his father as well, as evidenced by that last scene in Batman and Robin #14, when Damian presents his father with the single pearl he found from Martha Wayne's necklace. You set that up all the way back in Batman and Robin #1, and followed up with scenes of Damian down in the sewers over the last year. Was this the pay-off you'd always been building toward since #1? Because I think most readers expected Damian's secret work in the sewer to be something diabolical and wrong.
Tomasi: Yeah, that's what I was hoping for, that people would think there was some weird villain discovered in the sewer, or some weird element that would come back to screw everything up. I was hoping that people would think that way, because right from the get-go, one of the first things when I was thinking about the book was, I wanted Damian to just — I wanted that Willy Wonka moment at the end. You know? Where Charlie goes and he puts the Gobstopper next to Wonka, you know? "And so shines a good dead in a weary world" kind of moment.
It was always, in the first little liner notes that I had that I was writing in my book: Damian finds the pearl and gives it to Bruce, and that's when it makes them connect and shows he's not selfish and he does think about other people's feelings and cares.
That was, right from the get-go, the one thing that I had that I knew would be the through-line. And that was just in that sort of subtextual way that I could hit upon and bring to be a tangible moment later on in the book.
Tomasi: No, no, it was definitely a growth chart for him. He was selfish. It was about him. And he was like, "oh, your parents are dead, I'm glad you're moving on, rock and roll, let's go fight the bad guys." You know, he wasn't thinking about Bruce's loss and what that meant to someone he would eventually even learn to care more about.
Batman was away for so long, so when we stepped in on the New 52, at that moment, in issue #1, [Damian] really hadn't experienced Bruce as a father for too long. And we saw what that hole did in his life. There's even a sense of resentment, a little bit, in my mind.
So this was a nice, full arc for him to suddenly, at the end, be thinking about getting that pearl and making that connection to Bruce, and showing his father that it wasn't all about him being selfish. He showed that he could have an open heart.
Like you said, in issue #8, he's like, "Don't give up on me father." And then he follows through with that, basically saying, "I didn't give up on myself either."
Nrama: As you tie Batman and Robin into Batman, it also emphasizes how this comic does such a good job of tying into what else is going on in the Batman world. (I think you're one of very few writers mentioning what's going on in Batman Inc.., like the bounty hunters just a couple months ago in #13.) Do you feel like your experience as an editor helps you to work in this shared universe, functioning between some books that don't always line up exactly?
Tomasi: Yeah, sometimes that's tough. Sometimes there's a sense of signposts that you have to hit to help tie it in and make it all feel like it's one big universe.
But yeah, the editorial skills from the years at DC definitely help because, you know, I'll request scripts and make sure that I'm up-to-date on stuff. And if there are little elements that I can pull out from the other books — be it a name or just a fact check. It's the little things that make it feel like we're all reading the same stuff, or at least we're all on the same page, like you said with the ransom, or there have been other things I've touched upon, as well as other writers. You know, I'll open up Batman Inc., and Grant will mention Titus or there will be little things like that, which are always good.
So yeah, I mean, so far so good. We've been given the ability by editorial to play in our own sandboxes, but at the same time, at least once in awhile, let somebody run through it. You know?
Nrama: This run on Batman and Robin has always utilized what I think will go down as one of the legendary creative teams: Tomasi and Gleason. And Pat's drawing these upcoming Joker issues, right?
I didn't think he could make him look any scarier than what Greg was doing, but he just — I think it made Pat say, "hmmm.... let me try it." He just did an amazing job. And Mick Gray and John Kalisz coloring it, the book is just a great looking issue.
Nrama: That's fantastic. But Peter, I have not forgotten you talking about an upcoming "uber story" in one of our recent interviews. Is that major storyline still going to happen?
Tomasi: It is! This is all — in the next few months, people will see it's a big, uber story, and what it all means. And where it all goes.
It'll be interesting to see people's reaction to everything, as the next couple months come to a close.
Nrama: That sounds ominous. I'm amazed at how much I'm rooting for Damian to survive this, which I know you can't tell me. So as we finish up the interview, is there anything else you want to tell fans about what's coming up in 2013?
Tomasi: Yeah, 2013 has a lot of big stuff coming. I can't even hint at it. It's that intense and that big. So any kind of small, little clue would break the internet apart. So I'll have to reserve the rights to keep things under wraps for just a little while.