Grant Morrison: The Batman and Robin to Come

Dan DiDio: 20 Answers, 1 Question

Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Batman and Robin #1

Grant Morrison has taken the Dark Knight to some of the strangest places of his 70-year career, from Arkham Asylum to Gothic to Batman RIP. With Bruce Wayne currently dead/missing/a caveman/trapped in the Omega Effect/we’re not sure, his former sidekick Dick Grayson has taken over the cowl, with his genetically-engineered hothead son Damien taking over as Robin. The Battle for the Cowl is over, and now Batman and Robin are on the streets of Gotham, with Morrison at the wheel and longtime collaborator Frank Quitely penciling the first arc. With the first issue in stores, here’s Morrison on what you can expect from the series…

Newsarama: Grant, how is Batman and Robin distinctive from your other Batman stories, or indeed, what you would typically view as a Batman tale?

Grant Morrison: It’s different because Batman is a different person under the cowl. I don’t want to stray too far from what makes the character successful, so this has all the action, adventure and excitement you’d expect from a Batman book, although with perhaps a slightly more upbeat tone than we’ve seen for a while. The darks are very dark, but the light is neon-bright.

It’s always important to remember that Gotham isn’t some derelict hellhole, it’s the most larger-than-life, exciting city in the world. It has to be like New York plus or no-one would want to live there, so we’re emphasizing the excitement and color and buzz of the place, as well as its more familiar gloomy and gargoyle-y shadows. Gotham is where Crime becomes Art, after all.

NRAMA: With Batman RIP, you deconstructed Batman down to his absolute core, similar to his arc in 52. Now, obviously there's a while before Bruce Wayne comes back, but you do have this rebirth of Batman and Robin in the new series. Aside from what we've seen in Battle for the Cowl, what is the status quo we're looking at for the new series?

GM: The status quo is fiendishly simple: The ex-Robin is now Batman and Batman’s evil son is now Robin. They’re based at Wayne Tower in Gotham City’s midtown, and use the subterranean Bat-Bunker as a base of operations rather than the Batcave. And they have a flying Batmobile, as well as lots of other new vehicles and gadgets. Their mission, however, is the same as it’s always been - protect the innocent and rid the streets of weird criminal scum.

NRAMA: Dick Grayson as Batman was briefly done in 1994, with the moral of that story being that Dick felt better off being his own man and forging his own legacy. What is your take on Dick as Batman? He knows Bruce better than perhaps anyone (well, maybe not Alfred), but at the same time, there is a sense that he's playing a role, rather than being the Bat Bruce was. What is your take on Dick in this role?

GM: A lot of the first arc is about how Dick responds to “playing the role”, as you say. I think he’d much rather be Nightwing, ultimately, but he’s known all his life that if anything ever happened to Bruce, this is what he‘d have to do.

In the Prodigal storyline, Dick knew Batman was still alive and determined to recover, but this time, he has convincing evidence that Bruce is dead, which makes it all a bit more serious. Dick Grayson knows Batman is more important than Nightwing in the long run and, quite simply, he doesn’t want anyone tarnishing the legacy of Batman - especially not Jason Todd.

Batman and Robin #3

NRAMA: For that matter, might we find out all this is a novel Alfred was writing? Hey, it's been done

GM: Yeah, those were good stories. I referenced that era in JLA #8 and #9 a little bit. This time it’s real, and people get hurt.

NRAMA: You've been pretty up front about the fact that Damien is, to use terms that are perhaps unprofessional in the world of journalism, a little {explicative deleted}. Well, at least you've been up front about the fact that he's very bratty and a bit of a psycho, though at least no one's called for him to be beaten with a crowbar and blown up. What can we expect from Damien-as-Robin? What is his relationship with Dick like, and how do you see him evolving over the course of this series?

GM: He makes a pretty cool Robin, I have to say. Yes, he’s bratty, but only because he’s rich and spoiled and probably the best 10-year old fighter on the planet. His sense of entitlement and privilege can be nauseating at times, but shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to anyone who lives in the modern world.

On the positive side, Damian is tough, fearless and intelligent. He’s carrying the DNA of Bruce Wayne and Ra’s Al Ghul, and is certainly a better and more dangerous fighter than any of the previous Robins. He’s no more a psycho than Bruce ever was (!) but he’s had a fairly severe upbringing among some of the world’s most evil master-villains, and it‘ll take a little time to shake off that bad influence. For sheer combat skill, however, this is the uber-Batman and Robin team. Criminals beware! Readers rejoice!

Damian’s relationship with Dick is…spiky to say the least, but that’s something we’ll see grow and develop over the next year, along with Damian himself. There’s much more scope for drama and personal conflict with this partnership and I plan to take advantage of that.

If you look back at the early Dick Grayson Robin stories, he’s a bit of a brat himself, and is constantly disobeying Batman’s direct orders, so in some ways we’re only going back to the rebellious roots of the character.

NRAMA: How does the flash-forward story from #666 tie into this?

GM: Considerably…

NRAMA: (mumbling) Lousy Scottish tease…

Tell us about some of the new characters we'll be meeting -- it's always fun to find out about your notes on these.

GM: Because the focus for the first arc is on Batman and Robin themselves, I wanted to introduce some new villains who didn’t need much backstory, and could spark off a good first adventure without taking too much of the spotlight away from the big drama between the leads. Professor Pyg was a villain I created for Batman #666, and I felt there was some potential there to be developed, so he’s being set up here.

The name ‘Professor Pyg’ comes from “Pygmalism,” a Kahimi Karie song written by Momus (who also has a song entitled “Three Devils” which, quite coincidentally, is the name of a group of Batman foes from the 1940s). “Pyg”, short for “Pygmalion,” refers to George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which was turned into the musical film My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.

Batman and Robin #2

Shaw’s book, and the musical based on it, use the Greek legend of Pygmalion as the basis for a “nature vs. nurture” story about a man - the domineering Professor Henry Higgins - who bets he can transform even the lowliest street urchin into a well-spoken society lady (like some early version of the “ladette to lady” “Gs to gentlemen” reality shows). Higgins uses simple rhymes and mnemonic exercises as he teaches Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle how to enunciate her words in the style of the posh ladies of Edwardian high society, until she too can pass among them undetected.

Movie enthusiasts will know that Rex Harrison also played Doctor Doolittle, who by strange coincidence was famed for teaching barnyard animals to speak proper, so our Professor Pyg mixes all these characteristics and influences together to create a monster who wants to make everything and everyone “perfect,” as he sees it, by transforming them into grotesque brain-damaged “Dollotrons.”

His associates, the Circus of Strange - Mr. Toad, Big Top, Siam and Phosphorus Rex - are classic old school circus freak types - lizard man, vastly-obese bearded “lady,” conjoined kung-fu fighting triplets and the ever-popular man with his head on fire! Quitely runs wild with these designs ,and the big fight scene in issue #2 blew me away when I saw what he’d done with it.

“Revenge of the Red Hood” then introduces two major new characters to Batman’s world but we can talk about them nearer the time.

NRAMA: Will some classic characters that haven't been seen in a while show up, and if so, what can you tell us about them?

GM: We’ll see a couple of old favorites during the run - Talia will obviously make an appearance, checking in with her son. I’d like to see what’s going on with the Joker and have an idea I don’t think has been done before with him. Doctor Hurt/Thomas Wayne/The Devil from Batman RIP will be making a comeback to finish what he started. I’m trying to think of fresh angles for all of them, but mostly its new situations and characters.

NRAMA: How is the way Frank draws Batman and his world different from the way he renders Superman?

GM: It’s much more kinetic. Batman and Robin is a heavily action-oriented book unlike Superman which was plot-driven, very tightly constructed and controlled. The work here has a little more of the We3-style energy and fragmentation about it.

We’ve had a lot of fun working out the different fighting styles of Batman and Robin - Dick Grayson is more slender than Bruce Wayne, and younger. His moves are more gymnastic, exuberant and acrobatic when he fights, with lots of somersaults and Le Parkeur-type stunts.

Damian is like a little war machine - direct, brutal and deadly. He takes it all very seriously. As I’ve been writing his scenes and seeing the art come in, there’s something about the whole “pint-sized scrapper” aspect of his character that’s reminding me of early Wolverine. He just won’t give in. He’s a badass kid who thinks he’s invulnerable - and because his organs can be harvested and replaced at his mother’s expense any time - he practically is!

NRAMA: Tell us about your work with the other artists on the series.

GM: . I’ve just started on my arc with Philip Tan and looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do with the Red Hood story. I’m encouraging him to do the really moody, high-contrast noir-ish stuff he’s so good at.

I know Frazer Irving’s coming on to do an arc and I’m very excited about working with him again. I’ve been dreaming of how the Frazer Irving Batman could look since we first worked together.

NRAMA: There have been some classic Bat-foes reinvented the last few years -- Gail Simone has made Cat-Man a player, for example. Are there any oddball Bat-villains you'd like to remold, such as Dr. Double X or the Signalman? Dare I ask, the KGBeast?

GM: I’m doing a bit of a reinvention on the Red Hood but that’s about it. Didn’t James Robinson kill the KGBeast ? (I like names like that - the CIAlien, the FBIdol, the PTApe…)

NRAMA: Well, the Beast’s head was seen floating around in a jar in Nightwing, so his self-dismembering menace could always return…!

For that matter, you brought to light some forgotten classics of Bat-lore with The Black Casebook. Any other eras of Bat-history you'll be drawing from for this story, or are there any periods of Batman stories that you feel have been unfairly neglected?

GM: Not so much with this one. We’ve borrowed and updated the Pop Art sensibility and the self-aware sound effects from the ‘60s TV sho, but other than that, these stories don’t refer much to the past. They don’t rely on any knowledge of anything more than the cultural basics of Batman and Robin. This run is quite different in tone from RIP and is not as somber or gothic. It’s more like a bad trip on a funhouse ride, I like to think.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about your arcs on the series?

GM: Geoff Johns and I were talking last year about the unstoppable popularity of “event” comics, and we decided the only way forward in this Darwinian scenario was to make every story arc an “event” of its own - then make every page, every panel an event!!!! - until all comics explode on contact with human flesh, pulsing with the sheer radiant energy of their own importance! Batman and Robin is an attempt by my artistic collaborators and myself to realize that dreadful dream.

The “Batman Reborn” opener introduces the new Batman and Robin team as in a first movie. The second is “Revenge of the Red Hood.” The third one deals with the mystery of what happened to Bruce Wayne, and it‘s our big DCU superhero team-up arc, including a visit from Batwoman and a return for Squire and Knight. As for the final arc of the year…

NRAMA: You've spoken of your enjoyment of The Dark Kmight, which has helped shape the perception of Batman for many audiences. Yet, it's also a more "real-world" take on Batman, contrasting the mythological figures with a "how could someone realistically be a superhero?" type of story. This is somewhat in contrast to your most recent run on Batman, where you're embracing more fantastic elements, ranging from Man-Bats to Bat-Mite.

This is all a rather long-winded way of asking if The Dark Knight has influenced your take on the Batman comic, or if you're going in another direction (or perhaps embracing aspects of the film, but applying them to a different, more fantastic aesthetic).

GM: I’ve been influenced by all the different takes on Batman. As far as I’m concerned, RIP wasn’t too far in tone from the recent Batman movies. Even Man-Bat could fit into the Christopher Nolan world, and although I used Bat-Mite, it was pretty clear he was being deployed in a very different context from any of the more openly “magical” Batman stories of the 1950s.

By making some of these alien worlds and impossible creatures into drug hallucinations or products of abnormal psychology, I was actually trying to bring an entire rejected era back into canon ,and ground Batman’s ‘50s world in a more emotionally believable place a la The Dark Knight.

Otherwise, I know I’m often wasting my breath and electronic ink saying this, but the “real-world” is a pretty weird place where lots of inexplicable things happen all the time, and I like to catch the flavor of that too. It just seems more modern and authentic to me as a storyteller. The “real world” doesn’t come with the neat thee-act structures and resolutions we love to impose on it, and if repeated doses of movie and TV-storytelling have convinced anyone that it does, it‘s time to get out and about a bit.

The real world is filled with ghost stories, non sequiturs, inexplicable mysteries, dead ends and absurdities, and I think it’s cool to season our comfortable fictions with at least a little taste of what actual reality is like.

NRAMA: Tells us about some of your upcoming projects – many readers are particularly interested in Multiversity.

GM: I don’t want to say anymore about The Multiversity until nearer the release date - way off in 2010, where they made that film. I’m currently wrapping up issue 5 – “Captain Marvel and The Day That Never Was!” - but beyond that last word, my lips are sealed until next year!

NRAMA: Any final words for our readers on Batman and Robin?

GM: I’d just like to thank all the enthusiastic readers who’ve helped make the Batman titles some of the most successful I’ve ever worked on. Thanks for supporting the books ,and hope you enjoy the upcoming madness.

The advance orders for Batman and Robin have been DC’s highest in years and the Batman RIP hardcover has been floating with the creamy bits at the top of the New York Times graphic novel hardcover bestseller list since March 2009. Every-bloody-body loves Batman!

Oh, and at the opposite end of the popularity scale, check out Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye!, my Vertigo book. It’s got a reputation for being “weird,” and since “weird” is apparently the worst thing a superhero comic can possibly be these days, it’s flying so far under the radar it‘s like black ops.

If you sometimes tire of the usual amusements, and yearn for a dark, satirical Philip K. Dick-ish/Prisoner-ish take on superheroes and life as we know it, with astonishingly good artwork by Cameron Stewart, theme parks in ruins and cartoon characters on fire, then there’s really only one comic that can satisfy your need, and Praise the Almighty, it‘s here! That’s S.E.A.G.U.Y. Seaguy. You have been plugged.

Batman and Robin (not to mention Seaguy) can be found in comic shops now.

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