As Peter Tomasi told Newsarama last week, Damian Wayne was brought back to life in this month's Batman and Robin #37 because the creators wanted him back.
But this week's Robin Rises: Alpha, featuring art by Andy Kubert, threw another resurrection into the mix — Talia al Ghul, young Damian's mother, is back alive too.
Going forward, Damian's powers also provide a "wrinkle in the father-son relationship," Tomasi told Newsarama, providing a new dynamic for the duo when Batman and Robin returns in January with issue #38 and regular series artist Patrick Gleason.
But for this month's story-concluding Alpha issue, Tomasi got to showcase the father-son relationship and bring to full circle the Batman and Robin "uber story" he told Newsarama about years ago.
The issue also gave Kubert the chance to return to a character he co-created with Grant Morrison in 2006 and featured in an "alternate reality" story, Damian: Son of Batman, which was based on the future-set Batman #666 story he co-created with Morrison, showing what the world might be like in the future, with Damian as Batman.
In a follow-up to last week's interview, Newsarama talked to both Tomasi and Kubert to find out more about this week's issue, how it mirrors an earlier story from the Batman and Robin run, and what the return of Talia means.
Newsarama: Pete and Andy, after reading this issue, it just felt like you guys wanted to have fun with this situation. In fact, the whole storyline felt that way — and Pete, I know we talked about this some last week too — but this issue felt particularly balls-to-the-wall, framed by a couple tender moments. Was that the intent going into it?
Peter Tomasi: You hit it pretty much right on the head, Vaneta. It was about just letting Andy just go crazy — and even Pat, the issue before. It was just about letting them go to town and give them stories where all the character moments come through action, and just let the action dictate their motivation.
Andy just kicked serious ass on it. It's a beautiful issue.
When you read a lot of comics, you realize sometimes they're just not as expansive and comic book-y, sometimes. And that's what this story ended up being, really embracing, you know, getting into Apokolips, doing crazy stuff.
Honestly, that was the first thing, I remember, when I was pitching it — I said I wanted it to really feel like a comic book.
Nrama: Andy, you must have enjoyed drawing some of this stuff. I mean, the Penny being used as a weapon, and Titus biting Kalibak's tongue… just crazy, fun stuff.
Andy Kubert: Well, I've got to tell you, working with a writer who can gear his scripts to… I guess, he's looking at my strengths or whatever you want to call it.
When I read that script, I just pictured it in my head, how to do it. And everything just clicked, and it just rolled off the end of the pencil.
And yeah, it was so much fun to do — not only the penny scene, but the thing with smashing the Batmobile, and really, coming through the Boom Tube. I never drew Boom Tubes before. I drew it in Omega.
It was just so much fun stuff to do, and stuff that I've never done before. And doing things that you've never done before, it just makes you go that extra mile. And it happened with this script. It was just a lot of fun to do. I had a lot of fun doing it.
Tomasi: I mean, let's face it. When does an artist get a chance to draw Batcow taking a dump and having somebody slipping in it?
Kubert: I can say: never!
Tomasi: You are the first and the last, my friend.
Nrama: Andy, I talked pretty extensively last week with Pete about Damian's return, but I think this is the first time we've talked about the fact that you're bringing back Damian, a character you helped create. Were you wanting to be one of the first people who got your hands on him after he came back?
Kubert: Yes. When I heard he was coming back, I did want to be involved with this project.
You know, when we first were working on the character, when I first started working on him Grant — and Peter was the editor on it at that time. Pete, you tell me if I'm wrong, but we didn't expect the character to even last, nowhere near this long, right?
Tomasi: Oh, no. I mean, Grant wanted to kill him off pretty quick. And it just kept getting pushed back further and further. We just kept on going with him for, what was it? Seven or eight years?
Kubert: And he got very popular and everything, you know? I think, since we first started him, you guys added a lot more dimension to the character. Instead of just a snotty brat, I mean, there's a lot more emotion to him, to make him more of a well-rounded character. And I think that's played into his longevity.
Tomasi: Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of people at cons — it was always, "I hated this guy. He was such a little brat." And then they began to love to hate him. And then they just sort of saw where he was coming from.
I'm happy to see that I've been able to — a character you and Grant created — to just have fun with it, and just keep it going and everlasting. When you're a writer, you want to be able to build on other people's stuff in comics.
Kubert: Yeah, so by the time I got ahold of him again, there was so much more complexity to the character that he wasn't the same as when I left him, you know? I think I drew him for, what? Six or seven issues at the most? So when I got to draw him again, it wasn't the same character.
So I approached him a little differently because it was new to me. I went back and looked at what Chris Burnham had done, I looked at what Pat Gleason had done — and they did tremendous things with the character. And I tried to say, OK, what can I do to put my own stamp on this guy, yet again, even though he was a guy I started out with.
But that's part of the fun of doing this stuff, is trying to figure that out again. It's like putting together a puzzle.
Nrama: I think in this issue, Andy, the way you drew Alfred — and the way you wrote him, Pete — is particularly fun, with the gun-toting and the tea-toting.
Kubert: You want to know something? All that was in the script. Pete wrote all that in there, with the gun, looking all disheveled, and his emotions in there. That was all Pete.
Tomasi: Yeah, and Andy drew that kick-ass scene where he's just kind of disheveled and he's getting his hair back together, and you see he's still tired, but all of the sudden, he gets the special weapon he's got. And he's ready to help Batman and the family. He's suddenly lean, mean Alfred.
And at the end, to be able to capture — to go from a shot where, like, in the one page, Andy shows him exhausted, sort of a little depression, waiting on this mission to come to a close with something good hopefully, then he's ready to help and he's all business, and then at the end, he's back to being that family confidant, the man who's basically a father to Bruce and Damian. It's showing him in all his complexities.
I've said before, I could write a monthly on Alfred, I think. It would be fun to write.
Nrama: And this issue really brings your run full circle, doesn't it Pete?
Tomasi: Yeah. And people will notice that issue #8 of Batman and Robin — this mirrors that whole sequence.
Nrama: You mean the end here, by the graves? That's right, you had a scene where Damian threw the ball for Titus out by the graves in that issue.
Tomasi: Yeah, that was issue #8.
People will also see in this issue that there are a bunch of moments that I asked Andy to sort of mirror from some of our earlier Batman issues. When Batman is under the water after Kalibak gives him a major slam, and they both hit the water, and we see Damian reaching under the water to pull him out — all that stuff, there are images from that that has happened in the entire run of Batman and Robin.
Tomasi: So the readers who have been with us the whole time will get these little Easter eggs and go, wow, how cool is that? 'Cause I love it when other writers do it, so to see it visualized and the way Andy brings it to life after Pat's first stab at it now is great.
Seeing this whole book complete like this is just amazing.
Nrama: Pete, we already talked quite a bit last week about the superpowers Damian now has — and how you're going to be playing with that dynamic over the next three months. But you threw another new character into the mix in Alpha with Talia coming back to life. Is that something you're continuing when we pick up with the next issue of Batman and Robin in January, or are you leaving it open-ended for other writers?
Tomasi: At this early a juncture, I probably just have to say, it's a cool moment.
Obviously, there she is. And who knows where Talia's story takes her?
But there's nothing like a naked woman in the snow taking on three guys without any weapons whatsoever and putting them down lickety-split.
When those pencils came in from Andy, I was like, all right!
Nrama: The way the issue ended, with father and son being Batman and Robin again — Andy, you drew Batman for awhile, and obviously Pete, lately you've been dealing with a very torn-up Batman as he's dealt with the death of his son. What was it like for you both to see a happy ending like that?
Tomasi: It was important for me, at the end of Andy's issue, to give the readers who've been with us and also the readers who've maybe jumped on board recently… I needed it to be a father and son reunited and together and doing the stuff that they do best, out there, keeping Gotham safe.
It was really important to me that the ending came across as a catharsis, in a way. You know? After all this — I mean, this is what I told you way, way back: a three-and-a-half-year "uber story."
When people read these in trades, I think it will feel like one big novel. And the shot on that last page captures that little bit of joy, of father and son, out doing what they do.
Nrama: Andy, do you think DC will let Damian grow up to be Batman, like you've written and drawn him before?
Kubert: I hope not.
Kubert: If you read 666, he does, but in this timeline, I hope not. I like him just the way he is.
Tomasi: Yeah, me too. He's the perfect Robin. Damian is the perfect Robin. He's 10 years old, and he's got all the skills you want a 10-year-old to have in this dangerous world. You can validate it. You can justify it. To me, Grant and Andy created a character that I hope spans through the ages.
I told you last week, I wanted him back.
So I'm glad me, Pat and Andy were able to bring him back, in all his glory.
Kubert: I agree. And I think a lot of younger readers would resonate with a 10-year-old character. They would find something they have in common with him. He's a great fighter and he's really smart, and I think it's something they can relate to.
Tomasi: At the cons, it's been a lot of young kids — like age 11 or 12 — who point to Damian. They say, "Oh, that's how I'm like with my dad." And they think it's cool to see a father and son relationship. And we have a lot of female readers who've specifically enjoyed the relationship between these two. A lot of women and girls have come aboard and told me they've really gotten hooked on this book and they're invested in these characters.
It's the same way for me as a writer. The action stuff is great, and when you get somebody like Andy to kick ass on an issue like this and blow your socks off, it's awesome. But at the same time, if the character's going through that action and you don't care about them, the action doesn't mean anything.