PETE TOMASI: BATMAN & ROBIN's 'Uber-Story' & Title Change

Batman and Robin #18

Sometimes, there are no words.

As readers found out Monday ...

[editor's note: if you did NOT find out Monday and don't want to find out until Wednesay or later, STOP reading NOW. You have been SPOILER WARNED.]

... Damian Wayne, Batman's son and current Robin, will die in this week's issue of Batman, Incorporated.

Now that Damian is gone, readers will see an all silent issue in March's Batman and Robin #18, as writer Peter Tomasi relies completely on his collaborator, artist Patrick Gleason, to tell the story of Batman's heartbreaking loss.

Following that issue, Batman and Robin will show Bruce Wayne going through the five stages of grief. And in the absence of the "Robin" named in the comic's title, Batman will team up with various members of the Bat-family over the coming months (for example, issue #19 will be called Batman and Red Robin, issue #20 is Batman and Red Hood, etcetera.)

It makes sense that the exploration of Bruce's grief would take place in Batman and Robin, because Tomasi and Gleason have been focusing on the evolving relationship between Bruce and his young son since the title relaunched in 2011. Although it found time for plenty of action, at times, Batman and Robin highlighted emotionally powerful, personal interactions between Bruce and Damian, as the latter learned the meaning of selfless love.

And for those who follow Tomasi's comments to Newsarama, it should come as no surprise that the father-son team is now part of a huge event. Tomasi has been promising Newsarama readers an "uber-story" for awhile now, dropping hints that the father-son dynamic highlighted in his comic was coming to an important crossroads (for proof, see our interviews with the writer after Batman and Robin #5, just before the comic's issue #10, and when the comic was heading into "Death of the Family").

Newsarama talked to Tomasi about how he approached Damian's story in Batman and Robin, how long he's known that the character would die, and how that affected the way he and Gleason created the comic.

Newsarama: Pete, I bet you knew this was coming for awhile, huh?

Peter Tomasi: I did indeed, Vaneta. A few years actually. That's why I kept referring to it as our uber-story every time we spoke.

Nrama: OK, before we get to the uber-story that's happening now, let's go back to that first time you were tasked with writing Batman and Robin, knowing what you knew about the end of Damian's story. How did you see Damian's story arc as you took over Batman and Robin, and how much did his impending death play into your initial thoughts about where you wanted to take the story?

Tomasi: Damian's death was front-and-center when I was constructing the story. It was our emotional ending since the actual physical imagery of Damian's demise would be over in Batman, Inc. — it was the moment that Pat and I would be building toward for over a year and a half. Our arc for Bruce and Damian was simple: start them out at their respective corners of the boxing ring, hit the bell and let them throw punches as the shadows around the ring close in around them, taking its toll, each round a learning experience, each round slowly gaining respect for each other until through the blood and pain they throw their arms around each other with unconditional love as it all goes to hell.

Nrama: You mentioned all the times we've talked since you launched Batman and Robin, and in just about every interview, we've discussed how much Damian has evolved since you first started writing him over a year ago. How would you describe the journey on which you've taken him in the time you were writing him?

Tomasi: The journey boiled down to nature versus nurture and going from resentment to respect, to fighting inner demons, as well as outer ones, through a gauntlet of evil and horror that always threatened to pull him into a black hole, but in the end becoming a hero in his father's eyes in more ways than one. Damian was wrestling with himself, against his own natural instincts that were ingrained in him under Talia's harsh upbringing.

The arc/journey of Damian and Bruce's relationship went from seeing Bruce/Batman as an iconic legend to eventually loving and respecting him simply for the fallible and all too human man he is.

Nrama: I'm going to have to go back and look at all that symbolism we've been discussing the last few times we talked. If I go to earlier issues of Batman and Robin, will I find symbolic clues about this eventual outcome for Damian?

Tomasi: Absolutely, right from the get-go, we wanted to start building visual cues of Damian's impending doom into the series.

Batman and Robin #19

In the first issue where Damian is lying in bed, we wanted it to seem as if Damian was dead, lying in a coffin and Bruce was going to wake him up. This visual cue of Damian in bed plays into issue #17 and #18 too.

Even in the first issue where they're sliding down the cave poles, I had a note for the future issue after Damian died that Bruce would see blood running down the pole.

As you can see when you look at issue #1, there's a bunch of visuals that we knew we'd be harking back to later in the series — like the sewer scene and the paper boat along with the biggest touchstone being the pearls, and how Damian would search for one to give to Bruce a year down the line.

And in the last page of issue #8, as Damian runs off, he is positioned between the headstones of Bruce's parents, a visual cue that soon he will be resting with them. There were so many others that I can't even remember them unless I pulled out the issues and unfortunately they aren't handy at the moment.

Oh, and one bit that no one ever picked up on was in issue #3 and #4, the car that Nobody put Batman and Robin in is a dilapidated version of the Lincoln Futura that the 1966 Batmobile was based on.

Nrama: I had a feeling that gravestone scene might come up. But Pete, I can tell from our conversations that you care about this character. Has it been at all difficult for you to write him, knowing what was coming for the little guy?

Tomasi: Actually, as a father it's been very hard at times to write, especially the last few issues. When you connect and invest in a fictional character, they start to live and breathe — become flesh and blood that you start to hold near and dear to your heart. Damian became one of those characters for me, and though I didn't create him, I still felt very protective of him. So writing issues #17 and #18 were hard.

Nrama: I want to talk about those issues in a minute, but first... did Pat know what was coming? I mean, I have to say, his Joker issues were amazing. It feels like he's been pouring his heart and soul into this title.

Tomasi: Yep, Pat of course also knew from the get-go that Damian was going to be killed, and he was just as bummed too, knowing that our end point was Bruce burying Damian.

And damn straight, Pat has indeed been doing phenomenal work on an insanely consistent basis. He's about to start work on issue 20, and including the Zero issue he's basically done 19 out of 21 issues which keeps a wackadoodle writer like me shocked and awed each and every month. Those Joker issues -- not only did they scared the crap outta me -- but they also had me cackling with glee when I saw what Pat was doing not only with the Joker's face, but how he approached every small detail of the story. Pat is a man possessed.

Nrama: OK, now let's talk specifically about your issue #18. Are you paying homage by telling a story from the past? Or is this an aftermath issue?

Tomasi: Issue #18 is a pure aftermath issue. All emotion. Heart on the sleeve.

And most importantly, it is an all silent issue.

Batman and Robin #20

No word balloons, no sound effects, no nothing, just the amazing artwork of Patrick Gleason pouring his heart out onto the page. It had me choking up when I saw the pencils. I'm hoping we can run the script and the penciled pages when the story is collected.

Nrama: Why silent?

Tomasi: When I write a script I'm notating dialogue all the time, so I was halfway through the issue when I realized I hadn't written a line of dialogue coming from anyone, so I realized I had to get out of the way and let the story be silent and completely visual.

Nrama: Let's talk about what comes next. What does Batman and Robin deal with over the next few months? Is it Bruce's reaction? Or will we see other characters' reactions?

Tomasi: It will be mostly centered on Bruce and Alfred, but we will see how the rest of the Bat-family reacts or doesn't react. The next arc deals with the "5 Stages of Grief," but of course in a distinct way that only Batman can.

Nrama: You know, everyone keeps talking about how this will affect Bruce, but I can't help wondering... what about Titus? Poor pup. Will we see the aftermath as it relates to the dog?

Tomasi: We will see how it affects Titus as time goes by, and also how Bruce now views Titus as a living, breathing touchstone to Damian. Aside from his memories of him, Titus is all Bruce has left of Damian in a way.

Nrama: Man, I'm already tearing up, Pete, and I haven't read one issue of this stuff. It's got to be a little disappointing for you that solicitations have been leading people toward figuring this out over the last couple months. Do you kind of wish we could return to the before-internet days when most people had no idea what was coming?

Tomasi: Freakin' a! That would be great! It's like going back to when Gwen Stacy was killed and pulling it off the rack and being floored — not seeing it coming from 3 months out. But what are you gonna do? That's the way it works today — not just in comics but in movies and everything else. It's how you build heat and expectation for retailers and readers in a world that wants instant gratification and can't stand to wait an extra millisecond for a website to load, or have to see and critique movie trailers giving away the whole flick six months away from opening day to build word-of-mouth so it's not tracking soft.

Nrama: OK! OK! I won't ask for more details of what's coming up. But Pete, I have to ask about the future of the title itself. I mean, it's called Batman and Robin. Unless someone else is becoming Robin... there has to be a change, no?

Tomasi: Well, Vaneta, as of issue #19, the book will be titled Batman and Red Robin, followed with issue #20 being titled Batman and Red Hood...followed by...I'm sure you can guess what's to come with the rest of the titles.

Nrama: Yeah, there's another former Robin and a few other Bat-family members. But Pete, if this is what you described to me as an "uber story," then how would you describe what comes after?

Tomasi: We're going from uber-story to uber-epic — that's what's coming next. Big plans for the title in the next year, which everyone will realize shortly, as seeds are sown and a kick-ass emotional story shifts into an even higher gear.

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