This week's release of Batman Eternal #1 not only started a new weekly-focused strategy by DC Comics, but began a story that will spin through the Bat-books — and will literally set Gotham City ablaze by its conclusion.
The issue, written by Batman guru Scott Snyder and his frequent collaborator James Tynion IV (with art by Jason Fabok), showed both the beginning and the end of the year-long weekly's story. According to a flash forward that framed the issue with its first and last pages, one mistake by Jim Gordon will set off a chain reaction that will eventually see a villain taunting a helpless Bruce Wayne, as he watches Gotham burn.
Over the next year, Tynion, Snyder and three other writers will reveal all the moments that come between the Jim Gordon arrest and the burning of Gotham. Working with writers Tim Seeley, Ray Fawkes and Kyle Higgins, Tynion and Snyder promise to explore all the corners of the Bat-world, including the introduction of characters like Stephanie Brown and the integration of fan-favorites like Tim Drake.
Newsarama talked to Tynion to find out more about the goals for this week's #1 issue of Batman Eternal, and what readers can expect from the next chapter, which hints at a new-but-familiar villain shaking things up in Gotham.
[Throughout the interview, we have preview art for Batman Eternal #2 courtesy Hero Complex, and Batman Eternal #3 art courtesy comiXology.]
Newsarama: James, we've seen a lot of flashes forward with the Bat-books lately, but it seemed to me that the goal of the first issue of Batman Eternal was to show the very beginning of the story, and the very end. Is that an accurate perception?
James Tynion IV: Absolutely, absolutely. We always had this inciting incident — where this story began — but we wanted to show the scale [of Batman Eternal]. It's a little moment. As big as the little moment is, the story begins with the shot fired in the subway system, but it ends with Gotham burning, and Batman strapped to the shattered Bat-Signal on top of this new building that we're putting together over the course of the series.
We just wanted people to know from the first page the immense scale of this story. We wanted people to know this is a story that's worthy of being told — that could only be told — in 52 issues.
So, yeah, that was very much the intent — the beginning and the end, all in one.
Nrama: Without guessing too much about the end that's coming in a year from now, it implies that there's one villain behind all of this, someone who knows Bruce's name and is taunting Batman. Are you giving away a little of your hand here? Or just setting the tone?
Tynion: I think it shows the grander plan, but I would caution people — there are certain pieces that are implied in that moment, but the full picture of what's happening there at the top of the building is something that's going to take a full year to unravel.
Nrama: So we can't just take one clue and extrapolate from that — there's much more to it.
Nrama: But I would assume that when we get to the end, and we look back at the first issue, we'll say, "Ah ha! There were clues!"
Tynion: Oh yeah. There are definitely clues. And there are clues that run through the whole series — little hints here and there that will seem pretty innocuous until you read the whole thing through.
But yeah, this isn't a story that we launched into thinking, OK, we're just going to tell a bunch of really cool, smaller stories for an indefinite period of time.
We know the ending. We know it very, very clearly. And as we've been writing the series, all pieces are building toward that ending, including little pieces thematically in that first issue that will play out in a very big way.
Nrama: So it's not a dream or "possible" future?
Tynion: No, that is where the story is going.
Nrama: Let's talk about the beginning. So often, Batman stories tear down what we expect of Batman — they challenge his faults and weaknesses. But this issue went straight for Jim Gordon, although it looks like his mind is being tampered with somehow. Can you tell me about the choice to make Jim Gordon the one thing that, when he falls, the other problems begin to happen? Why is he the key player in the "inciting incident?"
Tynion: When we started [putting together] some very abstract thoughts about what a Batman weekly series would look like — and those conversations began well over a year ago — the thing we came to very quickly is that we wanted to find the one piece, the one thing we could do to Gotham that would throw everything out of balance and make everything wildly dangerous and new.
In New 52 continuity, Jim Gordon as been there at Batman's side for his entire career. He's been there as his partner, from the very beginning. We're seeing that play out in Zero Year right now, that partnership. It's so important to how Batman operates on every level.
And if you strip that away from Batman, it throws a huge wrench into his operation. The way that having Gordon on his side allows him to operate in Gotham City — all of that's gone now, right after this first issue. And we're going to see what happens.
What is Gotham City without Jim Gordon in a position of power?
And it's going to be very, very dangerous for Batman.
Nrama: We see quite a bit of the Gotham Police Department — this issue implies that they play a central role in Batman Eternal. I know you've already said that you're going to look at a lot of corners of Gotham, but how important is the role of the GCPD?
Tynion: The GCPD — and Jason Bard in particular, as a sort of focal point through that storyline — they are absolutely central to the entire storyline.
We wanted to create a series that was all of Gotham. Besides the Bat-family, the other organization in Gotham that's the most important through the Batman mythology is the Gotham Police Department. And we really wanted to play into that and build on the cast of characters to show what they do, and how they keep the peace in the city with Batman, and what happens to them without Jim Gordon at the helm?
Nrama: Can you speak to Jason Bard's character? He's been important in the past to Batman's world, before the New 52 began. Why did Jason in particular appeal to you guys, and does he serve as the window or the "everyman" that walks in anew to Gotham City and sees the story unfold from beginning to end?
Tynion: Yeah, because this series is so much about what Gotham City is, and what Batman's relationship to Gotham City is, we wanted a character who could take an outside perspective on that.
It's like in Year One, when Jim Gordon first showed up. We wanted to have a character who fills that kind of role, who comes in and sees this with fresh eyes.
As we see Gordon fall, we wanted to create a character who has the potential to become the kind of man that Jim Gordon was and has been in the Bat-story, but with a lot of differences as well.
And we're going to be seeing a lot of those differences as the story moves forward, that I can't really get into yet.
But this is a character who has had such a long and storied history with the Bat-characters, and this seemed like the perfect place to introduce him into the New 52 continuity.
Nrama: On the other side of the coin, so to speak, is Major Forbes, who was always a jerk in The Dark Knight, and he's still a jerk. Was he really being that obvious about being corrupt and on the take? Was that on purpose?
Tynion: We wanted a character who singularly represented the GCPD before Gordon, the idea of someone who's been on the force as long as Gordon has, so he remembers when Gordon was just a lieutenant, and he remembers how the department used to work under Loeb. That was a very, very different police department, as we're seeing play out over in the Zero Year storyline. It was a more corrupt department, because Gotham City is a very dark and corrupt place.
And someone who has that diametrically opposed position from Gordon — his character is going to be very central in the next section of the story. I can't get into it too much, but we're going to be seeing a lot more of Major Forbes.
Nrama: Then to finish up, what will we see in next week's issue #2?
Tynion: In issue #2, we're going to see the first appearance of a major villain of this storyline — a villain who has not made his first appearance in the New 52. Just like what you saw in this first issue, we want to completely shake up all of Gotham City in a single moment, and this guy showing up in Gotham City changes the city in a single moment.
So that is the real purpose of the next issue.
In the next issue also, we start seeing the reactions to what happened in the first issue, and that's where the story starts spinning out into the full Bat-family. That's going to start happening very quickly.
We're going to see the much larger cast coming in. We're going to see Batgirl, Batwoman, Red Hood, Red Robin, Harper Row and Catwoman start looking into this storyline.
So yeah, the next issue — we wanted to really keep raising the stakes.
I'm so excited for the next issue to come out. It is one of my favorites, and I think people are going to be really, really excited when they see who we're bringing back to Gotham City.