As Batman Inc. becomes an integral part of the Bat-Universe, writer David Hine is exploring what the worldwide implications of the organization — while also tying the event into the ongoing Azrael series.
In December, two new Annuals by Hine — starring both Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne — will explore what the concept "Batman Inc." means around the world. The two-part story, drawn by Agustin Padilla, will be released in Detective Comics Annual #12 and Batman Annual #28 (Click the image on the right for the combined cover).
Also in December, Hine's ongoing series Azrael finally reaches the ending point that was revealed months ago, as the lead character apparently commits suicide after being approached about Batman Inc.
What comes next for Azrael? Will there still be an Azrael? How does Batman Inc. get to France? And why is the Question involved?
Newsarama talked to Hine to find out more.
Newsarama: David, what's the idea behind the story for these two annuals?
David Hine: This is a two-part story, running through this year’s Batman and Detective Annuals, which follows through on the idea of setting up a branch of Batman Inc. in various locations around the world.
In this story we’ll see how that works in Paris. It’s an interesting location because there is traditionally a degree of friction between the French and American cultures. France is always resistant to the intrusion of American influence, politically and culturally, but at the same time, there is a fascination with all things American.
So I’ve explored that aspect a little. How does Bruce convince the French authorities to allow a US-sanctioned vigilante to operate in Paris?
Co-incidentally, Bruce is in Paris at the same time that a series of assassinations is stirring up civil unrest between various political elements. Paris is burning, and if Bruce can find the perpetrators and shut them down in time to save the city from complete chaos, he will have proved that his organization can be a crucial asset to international policing.
Along the way, we’ll be meeting Nightrunner, who may just turn out to be the perfect candidate for the French Batman. It will be cool to have a new French hero. I toyed with using The Musketeer, from the Batmen of All Nations, but I decided that France deserves a more modern hero. Nightrunner is a Parkour athlete. Parkour or Free Running originated in the deprived urban environment in France, so it’s an appropriate background.
Nrama: What's your approach to the Question? And how does she get involved in the story?
Hine: I’m in the process of writing The Question’s scenes right now. She’s going undercover, so we’re mostly seeing her as Renee Montoya. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but we will be seeing her using the training in mental discipline that she was given in Nanda Parbat to prepare her for her role as The Question. I’m also re-reading all the back issues of Gotham Central. [Ed] Brubaker and [Greg] Rucka did a fantastic job creating a realistic, down-to-earth character, and I hope I’ll be able to recapture that personality.
Nrama: How does the setting for this story play a role in the plot? Did you pick that setting?
Hine: Yeah, the location was my choice. I have a lot of ties to France. My partner is French, our son is bi-lingual and goes to the French Lycée, and I’ve lived in Paris. So Paris seemed the obvious place to choose.
There are some great locations in Paris. We open with a chase over the rooftops of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the gothic architecture provides a splendid backdrop for Batman – well two Batmen actually. We have both the Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne versions active in this story. We’re also using the Catacombs of Paris for a lot of the action. There are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels under Paris, some of them used to house 6 million skeletons disinterred from the city’s overcrowded cemeteries. It’s a powerful experience to walk for the best part of a mile through this Necropolis of passages lined with skulls and I’ve wanted to use the setting ever since I first visited it.
Nrama: How does Batman Inc. play a role in the coming issues of Azrael?
Hine: The current version of Azrael has a very troubled relationship with Batman. Michael Lane was one of the three cops trained by Dr Hurt to take over from Batman. That screwed with his head pretty badly, and Bruce Wayne has had visions of this Bat Ghost becoming a major threat in the future.
Then in the Azrael Battle for the Cowl mini-series, Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight, he fought Dick Grayson, and Dick ultimately allowed him to keep possession of the Suit of Sorrows.
Now Dick has to face up to his responsibility for the violence Azrael is using against the criminal element in Gotham.
Bruce would like to bring Azrael under the Batman Inc. umbrella, rather than have him running around as a loose cannon. But he will have to sign up to the rules of engagement. Batmen do not kill. Azrael has a different and more extreme mandate. He is God’s Avenging Angel. Expect some friction between Azrael and the Wayne/Grayson duo if Azrael doesn’t accept the offer to join Batman Inc.Azrael #15 Nrama: December's solicitations also revealed a pretty shocking cover to Azrael #15. Can you tell us how Azrael's story leads to his apparent death? And how Bruce gets involved?
Hine: One of the caveats against donning the Suit of Sorrows is that anyone who wears it for an extended period is guaranteed to go stark staring bonkers. Michael Lane’s mental state was already in the balance before he became Azrael, so on the face of it, he wasn’t the ideal choice. He has lost most of his close family and had his head messed with by Dr Hurt and now he has to live with the many hundreds of not-quite-departed souls who impregnate the suit. He hears the voices of everyone who ever wore the Suit of Sorrows and everyone who ever died at Azrael’s hands.
Anyone who has been following the recent storyline in Azrael will know that he is also facing some big questions regarding his relationship with God. In Issue #14, it looks like this has driven him to suicide.
I’m not giving anything away there; Fabian Nicieza handed me that little problem when I took over the series. Back in the first issue of the current series, it was established that in six months time, Michael Lane kills himself in a bizarre and inexplicable fashion. Fabian did leave me with a couple of clues as to how he was going to get the character out of that mess.
Batman’s task will be to explain the inexplicable. In Issue #15, he plays the role of a genuine detective, poking around to uncover the truth behind the mystery. Ultimately, it will tie up a lot of loose ends relating to Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul, Dr Hurt and the Pope.
Nrama: Will the Azrael comic end in December? Or does it evolve past this issue?too
Hine: Hmm, that’s a point. We haven’t solicited past December yet have we? Will Batman solve the mystery? Is Michael Lane really dead? Will sales pick up with a major guest appearance from the Man in the Cowl? Nah, I’m just teasing. The last four-issue run with Guillem March on art has been very well-received. Guillem has done the very best work of his career on it, and the art I’ve seen so far from Cliff Richards on the new arc is also fantastic.
I think we have a really solid book. It’s very difficult to reverse a downward trend in sales, but we have some very faithful fans out there who are spreading the word, and I’m hoping that will translate into stronger sales in the coming months. Azrael is a fascinating character and I have plotted an outline for at least the next year.
Nrama: You're finishing up a really well-received run on Detective Comics. How has it been working in the Batman office during this time of transition in the world of Batman?
Hine: To be fair, the Impostor storyline has had a mixed reception. There have been a few fans who are miffed that Batman isn’t readily identifiable as either Dick Grayson or Bruce Wayne. That was deliberate (making Batman non-specific, not annoying the fans. I would never set out to annoy Batman fans!) My brief was to write this story with an archetypal Batman whom regular readers could identify as either Dick or Bruce. Knowing that readers would be looking for clues, I was very careful to make the character plausibly ambiguous. You never see Batman without his costume and in the flashback scenes, where Batman first meets the Imposter Joker in his civilian identity many years in the past, I made sure both Batman and Robin were present at the key moments, so the present-day Batman could be either Dick or Bruce. It’s a quirky one-off story that does indeed fill the gap between Battle for the Cowl and the return of Bruce Wayne leading into the Batman Inc. event.
I don’t see it as ‘filler’ in a negative sense though. I’ve had a lot of fun doing a lighter story that plays with the relationship between Batman and the Joker through the Impostors. It’s got a lot of humor but the humor does get increasingly dark as we get to the end of the story and the body count rises.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about what you have coming up in the Batman Universe?
Hine: Up until now, my forays into the Batman Universe have been played out on the edges of continuity. The upcoming issues of Azrael and the Detective and Batman Annuals are more closely woven with the rest of current Batman titles. I can’t give any details yet, but I’m talking with group editor Mike Marts about another Bat-related project for early next year. In fact, I’ll be in New York for the convention, so I’m sure we’ll be talking about it then.Who else should become an international Batman?