SDCC 2014: BATMAN 75: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT - Frank Miller, Scott Snyder, More

The Dark Knight Returns
Credit: DC Comics

DC Comics brought together some of their biggest Batman creators across the character's 75 year history for a panel celebrating it all.

John Cunningham moderated an utterly packed panel, with Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, and Geoff Johns all on the dais.

Each creator was given their own, lengthy introduction, with copious applause for every one of them, including a massive pop for Frank Miller, and several shouts for every other creator.

Cunningham then moved into questions for the hefty panel. "Batman is arguably at his cultural apex right now. #1 comic, the Nolan movies over 2 billion grossed at the box office, over 10 million copies of the Arkham games sold. Why is he more popular than ever right now?"

Morrison said, "He's basically a satanic figure that's on our side. He's also obsesssive and he's a very rich good guy, which is appealing to the capitalist West. Batman just stands up and says 'no, Darkness, I won't have you,' and kicks it out one tooth at a time."

Adams said, "It's doing so well because he's being worked on by some of the best creators in comic books!"

O'Neil said, "I just don't understand when it become respectable! When I started, we were one step away from pornographers. Now it's respected as an art form. There have been a lot of low points, but by God there have been a lot of high points, and it's been amazing to sit back and watch it."

Miller's first words on the subject were next. "Batman, given that he's older than any of us here. He took on the character of a folk legend, and became the body of creative collaboration that spanned generations. I remember when I was a kid, discovering Neal and Denny's Batman, and all of a sudden I woke up out of the fever dream I'd been in about the Adam West show. I realized that what they contributed - even Neal's touches of taking scripts written, set in daytime, and putting them into nighttime. I have to give my props to these guys, because I never could have done Dark Knight without them."

Lee said that "Batman comics have always been inviting for creators to come and make their mark on the characters."

Miller added, "There's also the fact that Batman is sexy. He's the good guy who dresses like a bad guy, and throws people through windows! This cynical rich kid transformed himself into the pinacle of human beings."

Adams said, "When the comic book industry started creating superheroes. When Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman, he doesn't have any superpowers. Batman is what we would rather be. He's at one end of the superhero scale, the opposite from Superman. Everything else is between them. Batman is you... and me."

O'Neil said, "I've written both Batman and Superman, at a stretch simultaneously, and Superman is a bitch to plot for. Batman is the smartest guy in Gotham City but it's so easy to get him in trouble - any death trap will do! It's why I cut Superman loose and kept going on Batman. You can put him in danger, and you don't have to slow the story down."

Miller, "It's also the fact that Superman is a good ole boy. He obeys the rules his parents' taught him. Batman looses his temper, and when he does he's pretty fearsome. Kids seem to grow up being either Batman or Superman fans. I know which side I'm on."

O’Neil echoed what Morrison said, “He looks like a Devil off a medieval painting, but he's here to save you."

Snyder, "I think my job on this panel is to not faint or cry." to laughs. "I think he's so iconic because he turns himself into this thing that swings in the sky, dresses like a bat, puts himself out there as a target, but he says, 'If I can train myself to be this, then you can overcome the terrifying things in your life.' He's terrifying and sexy, but he's also incredibly inspiring. For me, as a kid, in NYC, I looked to Batman to be able to be defiant. 'I'll do the crazy thing that I think I can't do.' That's the thing that makes him endlessly interesting. He knows the terrible things that are coming and it makes him endlessly interesting."

Miller, "Yeah, but he also runs around with a kid in bright tights who is a living target. And for years on end, he had a giant yellow circle around his bat. One of my proudest achievements was getting rid of that g-d damn yellow."

Johns said, "I'm new to the Batman universe - I've only written one book and am working on Gotham now. But people share the primal instinct to want to do better and want to fight back. It's a complex thing, but also, his motivation is so simple. There's a baton that we pass to each other - if you see someone on the subway reading a Batman comic or wearing a Batman t-shirt, there's an instant bond there. And it's one of the most recognizable symbols in the world."

O'Neil said it's interesting to see how Batman has become the symbol, more than Superman or Spider-Man. "It's because we've grown up in a world that's not very safe. You guys have grown up in a world where bugs are mutating, and lunatics in the middle east are getting their fingers on buttons, and a political situation that's hopelessly broken. Batman reflects that, as he reflects every kid's nightmare: seeing your parents killed. If he didn't exist, someone would have to create him, because he's really a perfect character for the world we live in."

Cunningham brought up the end of Batman #33, and Scott Snyder's speech for Bruce Wayne, talking about Gotham City. It's about Gotham being "ours" at any given time. So what's the version of Batman you fell in love with?

Johns, "I got the second issue of Dark Knight Returns. That book really defined the character for me."

Snyder, "It's strange how Batman was always there. I remember as a kid rushing home to see Batman '66 and not realizing it was campy. I thought everything was life and death! Dark Knight Returns, for me, and on top of that Year One. Suddenly Batman was in a world that I lived in, there was grafitti and gangs and it was the NY I grew up in. You could take a Superhero that belonged to everybody and make a story that was so personal all at once. That opened my eyes to Batman."

Morrison, "Yeah for me it was also the TV show, and like Scott I thought it was Greek tragedy! When I got older it was Denny and Neal's work in the 70s that really turned me onto the character. Brilliant work that showed me what could be done with the character. Then again Frank came in and did Dark Knight Returns. So for me it was all three iterations of Batman, and they're all quite different. They all show aspects of the scope of what he's capable of being."

Lee, "You'll see a lot of us pointing to the same things. I was a senior in college when Dark Knight Returns came out and it was the reason I wanted to work in comics."

Miller, "First off thanks, and it's been a dream for me too. I first discovered Batman when I was in a department store in Vermont, where I grew up. They had 80-page giants that cost a quarter. I opened up this book and it was Jerry Robinson's artwork, it showed gigantic shadows going down buildings and utter outbreaks of unspeakable violence and scary characters like the Joker. I fell in love on the spot.

"That love faded over time as he became more and more bland. It wasn't until Denny O'Neil took over that I realized that the character had not just a legacy, but a future."

Adams, "One of the things I realized when we were moving toward this 75th anniversary of Batman. At the middle of this, there's one invisible character. His name is Bruce Wayne, Batman. The rest of us are circling around him and trying to tell his stories. There is a Batman who we all know, and we're all interpreting our way. But at the center of it all, the thing we're circling is Batman, he seems real. For some reason none of us get it 100% wrong - in fact, we all get it right. He does all this stuff we wish we could do. He's standing right here, and we're circling around him telling his stories. In the middle is Batman, and he's almost real."

O'Neil, "yeah, I don't think there has ever necessarily been a wrong Batman. It's been right for the time. The 50s stuff was not my taste, but may have been right for the 50s. The Batman I saw when I was 6 and was instrumental and getting me to read, but I didn't understand him. Superman wore a cape and could fly, but Batman wore a cape and couldn't fly - why would you wear a cape if you can't fly? But when I started writing him, it was really FUN telling his stories. You can say his origin in one sentence, and then you can put him in virtually any dramatic situation you can think of."

Ben Affleck as Batman
Ben Affleck as Batman
Credit: DC Entertainment

Miller, "If I can sum that up, Batman is a very large, multi-faceted diamond, and you can do anything with him and make it work. You can do comedy, campy TV shows, you can do the darkest version possible. You can throw the diamond against the floor, the walls, the ceiling, it will not break. Everything works."

They then put up the Ben Affleck in the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Cowl. "He looks pretty badass," said Johns.

Morrison was quoted as loving Batman: Arkham Asylum the game and how it represented the future of Batman.

"It was so close to feeling like Batman. I don't think it'll be too long before we're walking through the 3D environments of Arkham Asylum.

"But Batman's future is assured - it's like King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood."

Miller added, "Anyone who says there's no future for Batman or that he's limited is declaring themselves old."

Fan Q&A time brought forth quite a few people in line.

Q: What are your favorite iterations of Batman in film?

Morrison, "I loved the recent Christopher Nolan stuff. It copied a lot of the stuff that Denny and Neal and Frank did. But as a Batman fan, I love all of them, even the dumb Schumacher films!"

O'neil, "Yeah, I can answer that in two words: Christopher Nolan. I created one of those characters and I thought 'my God, he's doing it better than I did!' He's a man who has a great respect for the source material and is a master of his own craft."

Q: First off, you're all amazing, I'm in awe of all of you...

Johns: "And we're in awe of you."

Miller: "I'm not"

(laughs)

Q: If you had the chance to reinvent any of the female supporting cast for Batman, who would you choose?

Miller: "All of 'em."

Adams: "I agree, all of 'em. They're boring."

Johns said, "I do think Barbara Gordon is a really good character. Her origins were from the show and were a little campy, but the fact that the daughter of Comissioner Gordon sees Batman and wants to connect with her father but do her own thing, and that's fascinating."

Q: What's your personal favorite story you've done for Batman?

Miller, "I can't really pick one. I leave that to you. When I was doing Dark Knight and then Year One, my blood was on fire with Batman, so my memory of it really isn't that clear."

O'Neil, "I'm reluctant to even - I don't really re-read published work unless there's a continuity question. I think we had a dozen that I would take to the grave with me. Maybe it's not a good idea to spend too much time looking at the past."

Snyder, "For me it's the one we just did, Zero Year. It's big and sprawling, but for me it's an attempt to do a story that tries to live in the spirit of something like Year One, and has pieces of the stories I loved by Grant and Denny. It's so intimidating, to tell stories after all these guys. When I started Zero Year, I bumped into Grant at San Diego, and I told it to him, and he's been so supportive. To know he and Frank and all of them have been so supportive is amazing."

Miller said, "Stay afraid!"

Lee, "These are the conversations we had when we were working on All-Star Batman and Robin, he'd leave me these messages."

Snyder, "Miller read these and said, 'and you gave him a good goddamn haircut!'"

Q: Any memories or anecdotes about meeting Bob Kane or Bill Finger?

O'Neil: "It really is nice weather here in San Diego! (laughs) We talked at another panel about Bill, he was one of the first people to ever really understand how to work on comic books. Bill knew that from the get go. You look at those early comics, and those guys were from the pulps - they were used to writing for a print (newspaper) format.

"As for Bob, it's lovely weather here in San Diego!"

Miller: "I met Bob Kane here in San Diego, and he was quite bewildered by Dark Knight, and asked me why that woman had swastikas on her butt."

Adams: "My interaction with Bob Kane was, 'Well you draw Batman right? Well I had a cartoon show, too.' And I told him I wanted to hear about his time with Batman, and he went into a twenty minute story about Batman but mixed his cartoon in too, and I walked away confused."

O'Neil, "Someday someone will write a novel about Bill Finger. He's a great American tragedy. And the way it's been told to me, there wasn't malice on anyone's part, at least in the 1940s, but Bill was a shy man who wasn't going to beat his chest and fight for his rights."

Morrison, "He also just kept coming up with new ways of talking about Batman! He also came up with the word Masterfiend to describe the Joker, and someone needs to name their band that right now. It's the greatest word in the world, and it was made up by Bill Finger!"

Q: a young female fan asked, "What do you think represents the spirit of Batman most of all?

Adams: "I"m guessing you're asking me. I think it's an amalgam of everything we all do. I think that we haven't found it yet - I think we have sort of found it in comic books, but in film we haven't quite done it yet, and I'm hoping that the people who do it now can find a way to do it. And I know no one asked me about Ben Affleck, but I think he's terrific."

Miller: "All I can say is that the best way to experience Batman is in comic books."

Adams: "At least we don't do nipples!"

Lee: "I think what you're talking about, that aside. When you look at Bruce Wayne and Batman, very powerful, top of his game, you still see that 10 year-old boy who is very fragile. He's a character that would give up everything to change what happened to him as a kid. When I think of Bruce Wayne I go back to that, and I'm so protective of my kids, and I feel protective of Bruce Wayne too."

Morrison: "To me, Batman is all the versions of Batman. A person, sometimes they're happy or sad or angry or funny. He's been allowed to be all these things over the years. Like Frank was saying, you've seen him from all these angles. That's why he's human, you can see these contradictions of opinions."

Miller: "I think I found the answer to your question: The very best Batman is the one YOU like the best."

O'Neil: "There have been five maybe six radically different interpretations and none of them are wrong. If you love them, they're great."

Johns: "I just think you're asking about the spirit of Batman - you're standing here in a cape and a mask: you ARE the spirit of Batman."

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