When Batman's son, Damian Wayne, died in a story earlier this year, the character was popular enough with fans that many decried his demise, voicing a desire for DC Comics to bring him back somehow.
In October, those fans will temporarily get their wish, as DC launches Damian: Son of Batman, a four-issue mini-series written and drawn by Damian co-creator Andy Kubert.
But it turns out the mini-series is not a result of fan outcry. Kubert told Newsarama that he's been working on the mini-series (off and on) since 2008, back when Damian Wayne was a fairly new character. (And that explains why there were some rumors a few years back that Kubert might be doing a Damian mini-series.)
Damian: Son of Batman is a continuation of the concepts and characters introduced in Batman #666, an issue that Kubert drew back in 2007 when he was working on the Batman title with writer Grant Morrison. In the issue, it was 15 years later — in a "possible future" — and Damian was the new Batman.
It was clear in Batman #666 that Damian had taken a rather dark path in the years since his father's death. But the peek into that possible future only lasted one issue. The question Kubert will answer for fans is, what was that path? What turned Damian into the brutal Batman of this almost dystopian Gotham future? And what's the story behind some of the compelling concepts Morrison introduced about the future in Batman #666?
The Damian mini-series not only challenges Kubert in a new way as he tackles writing, but he's also inking his own pencils. The artist, who is the son of legendary artist and Kubert School founder Joe Kubert, has already established himself as a superstar artist in the comic industry, but says he is trying to "up the ante" on Damian.
Newsarama talked to Kubert to find out more about the story and what artistic techniques he's using to depict this possible Gotham future where Damian doesn't die young, but instead grows up to become Batman.
Newsarama: Andy, before we start talking about this series in particular, let's talk about the death of Damian Wayne, because I'm not sure we've heard from you about that recent event. Did you know up front — when you were first creating the character — that Damian Wayne would eventually die in Grant's story?
Andy Kubert: I had heard rumblings that the character could have been cannon fodder. I don't think anyone ever figured that he would get as popular as he did. But Grant did some great characterization with Damian and he became a fan favorite.
Nrama: What were your feelings when you read the issue that depicted the character's death?
Kubert: Even though I co-created him, I knew a long time before "Requiem" that he was going to get killed off. It didn't bother me…he's not real! And I thought Grant and Chris Burnham did a great job with the way his death was depicted.
Nrama: When Grant's "death of Damian Wayne" issue came out, did you already know you'd be revisiting the character in this Son of Batman mini-series?
I had my mini series all written and figured out back in 2008, years before DC had even planned to kill Damian. I had to put the series down when I started working with Neil Gaiman on "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader." I hadn't been able to pick it up until this past spring when my series were to be put on DC's publishing schedule.
Nrama: So if this was conceived years ago, does it not tie into Damian's death?
Kubert: No, Damian's death doesn't tie into my series at all. Again, I conceived this series way before his actual death was planned.
Nrama: OK, then let's talk about your choice to write the book. Drawing this "possible" future world holds some obvious attraction for the "artist" side of you, but why did you want to write it?
Kubert: I had always wanted to write. In talking with editor Mike Marts, he suggested I come up with a mini-series I would like to write and draw. I loved working on the regular Batman title, but working at my father's school kept me from keeping up with the deadlines. I wish I could have continued a bit more with it before taking myself off the monthly. I was especially fond of #666. I really loved that Batman and the whole world that Grant dreamed up. So I thought it would be fun to do a story of how Damian actually becomes that #666 Batman.
Nrama: When we saw grown-up Damian in Batman #666, he looked an awful lot like Grant Morrison, actually. Does he still look like Grant?
Kubert: It's funny, a lot of people say he resembles Grant and I guess he does, but I didn't intend for that at all. I just drew him as a bald guy and it went from there. There was nothing intentional about making him look like Grant.
Nrama: In Batman #666, Damien is already Batman, and it's about 15 years in the future. How would you describe the Damian Wayne you're writing/drawing in this comic?
Kubert: He's the same wise guy we've always seen. But we'll see how he matures. He has to make some difficult choices that will make him
grow not only as a superhero but a young superhero into adulthood.
Kubert: [Laughs.] Wish I could tell you but I wouldn’t want to spoil it!
Nrama: Fair enough. But what about the setting? Is it an even darker, dystopian Gotham? And will we see more than just Gotham?
Kubert: I always try to depict Gotham as dark as possible. This one is even darker and creepier. There are some other locales that are necessary to tell the story, but it's mostly Gotham based.
Nrama: I hate getting over-technical about continuity... but as you know, there's been a reboot since Batman #666, so there are some things that appeared in the story that don't line up with the New 52 — for example, future Barbara Gordon is in a wheelchair. So have you tweaked that future universe, or are you sticking with Grant's vision, since it's only a "possible" future?
Kubert: I used Grant's version, especially since when I had started the series, that's the only one that was there. But I used it as a springboard for my series.
Nrama: Then let's talk about the art. What does this story offer you as an artist?
Kubert: With every project I take, I always try to up the ante in whatever I do. Whether it works out that way or not, that's always my intention.
Sometimes I'm successful and it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I'll always try and think of some kind of game plan with the art. From Ka-Zar, to Wolverine: Origin and 1602 to Batman, Flashpoint, [Before Watchmen: ] Nite Owl and everything in-between, I try to come up with something a bit different. That's the fun part about doing this stuff. It doesn't have to be the same. And frankly, doing the same thing over and over again year after year would get really boring to draw, and it would get boring to look at and read. Thinking about the art differently brings an excitement to me when I sit and work, and I hope it comes through to whoever reads it.
Nrama: So how would you describe what you're doing to up the ante? You've said that you're trying to "push the boundaries" between line art and color. Can you explain that further?
Kubert: I can do more experimentation with the art when I pencil and ink myself rather than working with an inker. Not that working with an inker is a bad thing; it's just that the total art isn't all me when I'm just penciling. The downside to me inking is that I am painfully slow at it.
With this series, I'm using a combination of ink, ink wash, pencil and whiteout to achieve not only a look, but I'm trying to direct the reader's eye through the panels using contrast. That means I'm trying to get the reader to look first at where I want them to look first, and then let their eyes drift over the panels and look at all the other stuff. There's a lot of thought that goes into each and every panel.
I don't know about "pushing the boundaries" — J.H Williams is doing that! — but I'm trying to get the line/wash art to work in sync with the color artist. I couldn't just get anyone to work on the color. I really needed someone that would understand what I'm doing and take it from there. After going back and forth with Brad Anderson on a few pages, he picked it right up and ran with it. He's doing the best work of his career on this series. The guy's a genius and if you haven't noticed it before, these pages show it.
Nrama: You said you've always wanted to write. So how does this four-issue series fit into your hopes going forward? Not to corner you on your plans, but are you hoping to do more writing, and more out-of-continuity type stories where you can experiment like this?
Kubert: I would love to do more writing and someday I will. I know what project is next for me after Damian and I'm not writing it.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Damian: Son of Batman?
Kubert: As I see the finished color work come in, and get to go back and forth with finalizing the dialogue with Editor Mike Marts and Associate Editor (and niece) Katie Kubert, I couldn’t be happier with the effort that everyone is putting into this project. I just saw the cover designs incorporated with the logo and it looks great! We are all trying our very best. And I think it will show in the final product.