As Batman, Incorporated #13 comes out this week, Grant Morrison's epic Batman story comes to an end with an issue the writer himself describes as "super bleak" and "nightmarish."
But for Batman, Inc. artist Chris Burnham, working on the series (and being added to what he calls Morrison's "creative harem" of artists) exposed his art to a whole new audience and gained him a new set of fans.
And although Morrison has finished his Batman story with this week's issue, Burnham isn't quite done dabbling in the world he created in Batman, Inc.. In August's Batman, Incorporated Special #1, he's writing a story and drawing an eight-page story as part of an anthology based in the "Inc" world, featuring work by several other writers and artists. In Burnham's story for the Special, he'll return to the Japan-based characters he wrote in Batman, Incorporated #11.
Newsarama talked to Burnham to find out more about issue #13, what comes new for the artist, and whether he's hoping to write more comics.
Newsarama: Chris, as you finish up your run on Batman Incorporated, are you at all surprised by the turns the comic has taken? Or did you expect the unexpected when you started this project?
Chris Burnham: I read the outline for the series before we started, and I'm still surprised! The spirit and general direction remained the same, but as far as the plot details and contents of each issue are concerned, the outline went out the window with issue #2!
Nrama: Grant Morrison told Newsarama that he honestly thinks readers will hate tomorrow's issue #13. Do you agree?
Burnham: I thought people were going to hate Bat-Cow, so I have no gauge on what people's reactions to anything are going to be.
Nrama: I read somewhere else that editors thought the issue was so touching and meaningful that they teared up after reading it. Why do you think Grant said some people will hate it?
Burnham: It made for a good headline? Expectation management? Stupid offhand joke blown out of proportion? I have no idea.
Nrama: Or maybe he's just more humble than any of us suspect. OK, let's talk about how you approached this final issue. Is there anything you did in the issue that we should look out for?
Burnham: It's definitely going to be extra rewarding for people who have re-read the series recently. There are a lot of subtle callbacks and such. And one page that's a mirror of a much earlier page with the same character on it. Bonus points to the first person to spot it!
Nrama: I think the last time we talked, the issue where Damian died was just about to come out. After the issue was released, what was that like for you? Did you, like, get angry looks in San Diego or anything?
Burnham: I got a few friendly "I'll never forgive you for that"s, but no tear-filled vitriol.
Nrama: Now that you've had some time since the issue, how do you view the death of Damian and the fact that you drew it? Any wistful thoughts?
Burnham: They're all wistful! It's a tragic story, and the only time I get to draw Damian now is convention sketches! Who the hell does this Gary Moriston guy think he is, anyway?!?
Nrama: But Damian's time in the comics isn't over, with him already showing up in Andy Kubert's October series, Damian: Son of Batman. What's your reaction to the announcement of that series?
Burnham: I'm really looking forward to reading it. Andy's a dynamite storyteller and the co-creator of the character, so there's no one else I'd rather have in charge.
Nrama: Looking back at your time on Batman, Incorporated, are there any scenes or panels you drew that you remember fondly? Or are you your own worst critic?
Burnham: There's a whole lot that I remember fondly, and not too too many pages that I hope people will quietly flip past without notice or comment.
One good one that's leaping to mind is the page in #6 where the Heretic is in the stairway with a giant boulder tied to the nooses around all those hobos' necks. Figuring out the camera angles to effectively communicate the complicated setup and payoff was really tricky, but I think I pulled it off.
I think there's some pretty good stuff in #13 as well. There's a Talia vs. Batman sword-fighting page that's a nice echo of the Ra's vs. Batman fight from 40 years ago while standing on its own merits. I think it bounces the eye around the page in a pretty pleasing way, and I can't help but hear the "chang clang" of a sword fight when I look at it. Good work, me!
Nrama: It's interesting to hear you talk about some of the complicated setups you were given by the scripts on Batman, Incorporated. How has it been working with Grant Morrison, and why do you think he obviously likes working with you?
Burnham: Working with Grant is awesome and maddening. There's always something impossible to draw, and it's never boringly repetitive.
You'd have to ask him why he likes working with me... I'm as surprised as everyone else! I suspect it's because I draw every little thing he asks for and then pile my own stuff on top of it. Maybe that's it? Hopefully I'm clarifying and enhancing his vision rather than replacing it with my own. I don't know. I've read everything he's ever written, other than The New Adventures of Hitler, so maybe he's been subconsciously grooming me over the last decade to become the newest member of his creative harem?
Nrama: [Laughs.] Grant's illustrious harem aside, you've also had the chance to write some of Batman, Inc. How did that opportunity come about?
Burnham: Grant was extra behind the deadline 8-ball when #0 came around, and Mike Marts, the editor, knew I wrote occasionally. I think he liked my Fear Agent story and drug the still-undrawn Alfred story that I had written for Legends of the Dark Knight (someday… someday…). And probably, more importantly, he knew that I was as familiar with the characters as anyone else in the world. It would be a lot of homework to bring a totally new writer in for that one.
So I co-wrote #0, and Mike liked it enough that he asked if I would like to write a few old-school-dreaded-deadline-doom fill-in issues. We only ended up doing one of them, and that was #11, with Batman Japan & Canary vs. Lady Tiger Fist!
Nrama: That issue was a lot of fun to read, and I know you're revisiting them in August, in the Batman, Incorporated Special #1. What's your story about?
Burnham: Some kids who frequent Jiro’s (Jiro Osamu is Batman Japan’s secret identity) manga shop find a human hand in a vending machine, and we follow the trail that leads to punching and kicking and super science and grossout gags and stupid jokes. COMICS!
Nrama: Issue #11 was a blast for fans, so I hope you're going to be doing more writing — and finish that Legends of the Dark Knight story! Is writing something you want to continue doing?
Burnham: I’m definitely looking forward to bouncing around from writing, drawing, and doing both. Get those creative juices sloshing!
Nrama: Any other projects you want to tell your fans about?
Burnham: The last few issues have been such a sustained deadline dash that I haven’t been able to get my next big project up-and-running to the degree that I’d be comfortable announcing it. Hopefully we’ll have an announcement at the New York show?
In the meantime, I’ve got an utterly contemptible story in the August issue of Heavy Metal. If you were ever a hate-filled 13-year-old boy watching the ‘80s Heavy Metal movie on a third-generation VHS dub in your friend’s basement, it’s going to be right up your alley!
And Joe Casey and I are re-issuing our graphic novel Nixon’s Pals. I just need to draw a new cover and we can finally get this thing solicited. It’s one of my favorite projects and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with my newfound fan base.
Nrama: Then to finish up, as the final issue comes out this week, is there anything else you want to tell fans about your time on Batman, Incorporated?
Burnham: Thanks for having me! I did the toil-in-relative-obscurity thing for a long time, and being welcomed with such open arms onto the main stage really means the world! As far as Batman, Inc. #13 goes, I hope you like it! We certainly busted our humps on it!